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U.S. DOE, DOT announce relaxed rules for bus drivers amid omicron surge, labor shortage

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On January 10, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) announced a joint temporary action allowing states to waive a portion of the skills test required to obtain a commercial driver’s license (CDL).

The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is giving states the option to waive the portion of the CDL test that requires applicants to identify “under the hood” engine components. The policy is being waived in order to help states with school bus driver shortages.

The waiver went into effect on January 3 and will expire on March 31. It applies only to drivers using a CDL to operate intrastate school buses and does not apply to any other type of commercial motor vehicle. 

According to a Maine DOE’s press release, beginning February 7, Maine residents can search the U.S DOT’s FMCSA Training Provider Registry to find CDL school bus training.

Some communities in Maine experienced school bus shortages as schools reopened in fall 2021. In September, Richmond was forced to cancel most of its bus routes because of COVID-19 caseloads and quarantine requirements. In Regional School Unit 4, Sabattus, Litchfield, and Wales were also forced to cancel bus routes in September. In November, Portland and Lewiston school officials were warning parents that driver shortages meant bus routes could be canceled. 

In Massachusetts, school bus driver shortages were so widespread that Massachusetts activated the National Guard in September. Also in September, Connecticut faced a school bus driver walkout over a COVID-19 vaccine requirement issued through executive order by Gov. Ned Lamont. While a widespread walkout ultimately did not happen, multiple school districts in the state did condense bus routes.

The Maine DOE advises that individuals interested in being a school bus driver should contact their local school district or career and technical center to find out when school bus driver classes begin. Interested individuals can also contact the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles for information about the state’s CDL requirements.

About Katherine Revello

Katherine Revello is a reporter for The Maine Wire. She has degrees in journalism and political science from the University of Maine. Her writing has appeared in Reason, The Washington Examiner, and various other publications. Got news tips? Contact Katherine at krevello@mainepolicy.org.

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