Mary Habel

Mary Habel sits behind the wheel of a bus at the Illinois Central School Bus location in Monticello.

MONTICELLO — Representatives for Illinois Central School Bus are not sure why they can’t find bus drivers, but they hope the situation turns around, and turns around fast.

Illinois Central, which provides transportation for the Monticello school district, currently has only enough local drivers to cover six of the 13 routes for the Monticello routes. Being a nationwide system has allowed them to bring drivers from other areas to fill in, most of them from Chicago.

“It’s severe,” said Mary Habel, the ICBS Contract Manager for Monticello, who is also one of the six remaining drivers locally.

Company Regional Safety Manager Jeff Wood said the shortage is not isolated to central Illinois, estimating the company needs 100 drivers in its Gateway region that includes Illinois, Missouri, Kansas and Texas.

“In St. Louis, we have drivers from Milwaukee and Waukegan. We have drivers that go to Topeka, Kan. This is not unique to Monticello,” Wood said.

Figuring out why has been perplexing to him, as he sees it as a good, part-time job in a safe vehicle that now pays $20.25 per hour in Monticello after a recent $7-per-hour pay bump. A $2,000 sign-on bonus is included, as well as training for the required commercial drivers license.

Most routes take about four hours per day to complete, but work hours can be increased with optional extra-curricular duty.

Habel said some people may not want the responsibility of transporting children, but Wood said buses have come a long way since he was a youth, joking that “I used to be the worst kid on the bus when I used to ride it.”

“We used to think that the bus scared people off, but it has evolved. Power steering, power brakes, automatic doors. There are so many mirrors you can see everywhere,” Wood said.

He also points to automatic transmission and cameras on each bus.

Potential drivers need to be at least 21 years old, with a clean driving record, and pass a drug screen. A physical is required each year.

Habel, who started driving a bus 17 years ago, thinks it is more than worth it.

“You get a personal bond with those kids,” Habel said.

She enjoys sports, so she jumps in to drive teams to their competitions when no one else is available.

“I went to a soccer game one day and I was sitting there, and a lady asked, ‘Which one of those is yours out there?’ And I said, ‘All of them. They’re all my kids. I bring them all,’” Habel said.

Drivers who have children in sports get first crack at those routes.

“What job could you go to that you could watch your child play sports and get paid while you’re sitting there watching them?” Habel said.

Monticello School Superintendent Vic Zimmerman is trying to do what he can to help ease the driver shortage, encouraging the company to put pay raises in its most recent bid to the district. The district has also tried to encourage part-time school employees to become drivers.

“I’ve met with Illinois Central several times in regard to bus drivers, and they’ve pitched several ideas. In the fall they were giving $3,000 sign-on bonuses,” Zimmerman said.

“I hope they’re successful getting drivers. Our kids are good; our buses are safe. I just hope they can get more drivers.”

Wood has been with ICSB since 1981, and said he will continue to drive when he retires.

“It’s what I’m going to do when I retire. It will give me a reason to get out of bed,” Wood said.

 

Most districts

looking for drivers

Most area school districts with Piatt County connections are looking for bus drivers:

Arthur-Lovington/Atwood-Hammond contracts for transportation with Miller Bus Service, which is looking to hire drivers for the upcoming school year. They are needed in Arthur, Lovington and Atwood. Those interest can contact them at Miller Bus Service, 801 E. Mill St., Arthur, IL 61911 or by calling 217-543-2911.

Bement and Cerro Gordo contract for transportation with Birch Bus Service, which is also looking for drivers for both regular routes and special event ones. For information or to apply, call 217-763-5091 or send an email to Send birchbuscg@gmail.com.

Blue Ridge needs two full-time drivers. A letter of interest and resume can be emailed to Transportation Supervisor Debra Field at dfield@blueridge18.org, or by sending it by mail to Debra Field, Blue Ridge CUSD #18, 411 N. John St., Farmer City, IL 61842

DeLand-Weldon is searching for a full-time driver. Those interested can find an application on its website at dwschools.org, they can email Matt Goldman at mgoldman@deschools.org, or they can call the school office.

Monticello contracts with Illinois Central School Bus, which has several openings. Those interested can apply online at driveyellowbus.com, or by walk-in between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. Monday through Friday at the bus office at 1042 S. Market St., Monticello.

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