BOZEMAN — Recruitment, training, and memorizing routes are underway at the Bozeman office of school bus company First Student.
“Before COVID we had 41 routes, eight of which were special needs, and we actually, last year before COVID hit, we actually added nine routes,” Tera Jo Meyer said.
Meyer is the location manager for Bozeman First Student and has worked as a bus driver prior to taking a managerial role.
With the pandemic keeping most students at home, and off of buses, the Bozeman School District payed for the time the drivers would have been on route, to keep a flow of income steady for drivers. With the pandemic seemingly at rest and schools preparing to open their doors, recruitment is underway to ensure students have a safe, reliable ride to school.
“Nationwide, there is a (bus driver) shortage, and with Bozeman getting more expensive, that has made it a little harder for everybody because we are part-time,” Meyer said. “Of course, naturally every year we lose some people, but COVID made it hard.”
Despite the challenges, Meyer and her team had their most successful year and had minimal late arrivals. So who has decided to become bus drivers?
“We’ve got a lot of retirees, students, stay-at-home parents because we allow them to bring their children with them on the bus. Retirees, it helps them feel that they are giving and involved in the community,” Meyer said.
On Tuesday, a First Student trainer was instructing two new drivers.
“They’ve been here for so long, they’ve been able to see the kids in the valley grow up. We are one of the first adult faces they see in the morning, and we are one of the last they see in the afternoon,” Meyer said.