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Bus companies look to stay-at-home parents to fill driver shortage

WAUNAKEE (WKOW) — With a month to go before school starts again, bus companies across the state and the country are dealing with driver shortages. One company in Waunakee has found a solution, attracting a few drivers who may not have considered the job, by promising they can bring their own passenger.

Caroline Buss said she was looking for a job that fit her specific needs.

“I was at my sister’s house and I was just kind of talking to her out loud like ‘I just need a job where I can bring my kid with me for a few hours,'” she said.

It turns out that job was bus driving.

Despite her surname, Buss said she never considered the career before. Then when her brother-in-law mentioned a certain perk, she decided to give it a try.

“I love that I get to be home for the most part with my kiddo,” she said. “He gets to come with me and experience part of my day as well.”

Buss started driving for the Waunakee School District in April, bringing her three-year-old along for the ride and she’s far from the only driver who does.

Tom Ludlow, bus operations assistant for Lamers, which staffs Waunakee, said that’s because they’ve faced staffing shortages for years.

“The communities have expanded, the children have expanded, it’s increased the amount of bus routes over the last ten years,” he said.

Ludlow said companies like Lamers have been offering things like new driver bonuses, and other incentives to get quality applicants but he said the creative solutions have lead to the greatest gains.

“Offering people who’ve had toddlers or something bring your children along,” he said. “I mean we’re already hauling children. There’s no reason why you can’t put one or two more on the bus.”

Some fear the extra passengers can pose a distraction but Buss said that hasn’t been the case for her.

“It’s not anymore distracting than all the other kids on the bus,” she said.

On top of that, Lamers supplies her bus with a car seat to strap her toddler in for safety.

Buss said she’s not sure how long she’ll work as a driver but she hopes she’ll be able to see her son off to school someday.

“I have done lots of different things but this is what works for me at this time in my life,” she said.

Ludlow said the Waunakee School District still needs about two or three more drivers but they’re in better shape than most. Lamers contracts with schools around the state and he said they all offer the same option for stay-at-home parents looking for part-time jobs.

Michelle Alfini

Reporter, WKOW

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