Foreign Workers Eyed To Help With Bus Driver Shortage

OCEAN CITY – The town will be looking to the foreign workforce to ease its need for additional bus drivers during the summer season.

Last month the Transportation Commission discussed recruitment opportunities to hire much needed bus drivers for the summer season. In broadening the hiring pool, the commission voted to make bus driver requirements less stringent.

The town’s former requirements included hiring bus drivers that were at least 21 years of age, driving experience of at least five years and no more than four points on their license.

The commission agreed to lower the age requirement to 20, reduce driving experience to four years and to review driving records on a case-by-case basis.

At the conclusion of the discussion, Mayor Rick Meehan brought up that United Work and Travel Program Director Annemarie Conestabile brought forward the concept of hiring foreign drivers and was willing to meet with commission members to discuss a program that allows for foreign workers to work for the transit system.

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At that time, Public Works Director Hal Adkins stated City Solicitor Guy Ayres had concerns over hiring foreign workers as bus drivers.

“His concern was if we felt the need to tap into the foreign student pool he would not be in support. He has concerns over the ability to verify driving records, and if it resulted in accidents and civil matters how he would get them back for court,” Adkins said at that time.

After that meeting, Meehan and Public Works Chief-Deputy Director Jim Parsons met with Conestabile and United Work and Travel President Kasey Simon to discuss the H2B Program.

According to United Work Program, the H2B Program gives an opportunity to obtain temporary work visa for seasonal manual work in the USA. Offered positions do not need to correspond with work experience or field of study. Work permit is issued for minimum of four months up to 10 months with a possibility to extend it for the period of three years.

According to Meehan, the meeting resulted in all of Ayres’ concerns being answered as well as those brought forward by Human Resources Director Wayne Evans and Risk Manager Eric Langstrom.

Meehan furthered one of the requirements for the H2B Program is participants work a minimum of 32 hours a week.

“Guy [Ayres} was satisfied with their responses … they come here with the objective to make money and work,” the mayor said on Tuesday. “We have a shortage of bus drivers and it will help supplement the bus system just as we supplement our summer workforce with foreign students. This may be a program that is very beneficial to the town.”

One of the first steps in moving forward with implementing the H2B Program for bus drivers is to establish reasonable wages. According to Parsons, all information has been submitted to the US Department of Labor, which will determine the wage.
Once the wage is reported, Ocean City must then demonstrate its need for bus drivers.

According to Superintendent of Transportation George Thornes, that information has also been submitted.

“I sent seasonal ridership data to show how it drops and increases in the summer,” he said.

Parsons furthered H2B Program bus drivers are expected to hold an international driver’s license. However, once they arrive in Ocean City, the town in partnership with the State of Maryland will provide training for them to achieve a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL). Staff will ensure H2B participants arrive in time to receive the appropriate training prior to taking the position.

“I would certainly recommend that we continue to investigate this and follow through,” Meehan said. “Drivers that are reliable 32 to 42 hours a week will also help him [Thornes] work with his current drivers on their scheduling issues and really make our transportation issues improve. We have had concerns the last couple of years over the lack of buses on the road which is directly associated with the lack of bus drivers, and if we can solve that issue we will take our bus system to the next level. It will be more reliable. It will be more dependable, and it will be used more by our residents and our visitors.”

The commission voted unanimously to proceed forward in hiring H2B Program bus drivers for the upcoming summer season.

The H2B visa is designed to address temporary seasonal needs and foreign workers are eligible for all industries except agriculture. Approximately 66,000 temporary workers coming to the U.S. on H2B visas.