(Dec. 19, 2014) Do you want to learn to drive a bus? Do you want to get paid to live at the beach? Are you okay with the occasional rowdy person you don’t know but more or less have to tolerate?
If you answered yes to all these questions, the Town of Ocean City needs you.
The resort’s difficulty in finding seasonal bus drivers – and how to fix that problem – was the major topic of discussion at last week’s inaugural meeting of the Ocean City Transportation Committee, with officials discussing ways to relax the city’s hiring parameters to attract a new demographic of drivers.
“You can come live at the beach and we’ll teach you how to drive a bus. That may well be the thrust of the message,” said city Human Resources Director Wayne Evans.
For the first time in memory, the city plans to recruit seasonal bus drivers actively, much as it does for seasonal police officers and lifeguards, given the rate of driver attrition in June.
“We have reached a breaking point, due to the atmosphere on the buses, where we need to go looking for [drivers],” said city Public Works Director Hal Adkins.
In the past, Adkins said, the city has relied upon a pool of local commercial driver’s license (CDL) holders, most of whom are older residents or second homeowners looking for a bit of extra income.
But that pool of human resources has drained in the past several years, Adkins said. The average age of the city’s bus drivers is between 62 and 63. Although 132 drivers worked over the summer, only 76 worked the majority of the season.
“It’s not as simple as saying we have or we need 132 drivers,” Adkins said. “It’s about gross man-hours based on the number of deployments.”
City bus data indicated that the number of deployments – meaning one bus for an eight-hour shift – dropped nearly 20 percent for this past summer over the summer of 2013.
Much of this is attributable to increasing burnout amongst elderly drivers, particularly early in the year when the resort is flooded with June graduates.
“The reality of it is that some of [the drivers] don’t want to work 40 hours anymore,” Adkins said. “Because of the environment on the buses during certain weeks, some do not want to work those weeks.”
In order to generate a bigger pool of drivers, the city plans to have representatives at job fairs and to contact colleges. This, in turn, generated the question of whether the city should change its standards to permit younger applicants.
“If we altered this, would it be an advantage? Have we run into a situation where these requirements are an issue?” asked Mayor Rick Meehan.
Currently, the city requires bus driver applicants to be 21 or older with at least five years of driving experience, which does not have to be commercial. The city will train anyone without a CDL and take the candidate to be certified in Salisbury. Further, applicants can have no more than four points on his or her driver’s license.
The commission concurred that lowering the limit to age 20 with four years of driving experience would open the pool to many more college-age applicants. Drivers as young as 18 can obtain a CDL in Maryland.
Although he cautioned against going too far, City Manager David Recor said he would be fine with allowing his staff to accept younger applicants, given that age is a somewhat subjective standard.
“Given the nature of the ridership in certain months … I think it requires a certain emotional responsibility to deal with the ridership,” Recor said. “Character and fit are very important, as important as experience.”
“I trust you guys that you’re not going to hire a 20-year-old that doesn’t have the maturity to do the job,” Council Secretary Mary Knight told Adkins.
There was also a consensus that the city’s current stipulation of applicants having no more than four points on their driving record could also be loosened.
The intent of the requirement is to keep the city’s insurance rates in check, but most insurers are more interested in actual claims experience, said Chris Parks of the city’s Risk Management Department.
“The net experience in workers’ comp, liability, and property damage [in transportation] is minimal compared to other departments,” Parks said. “It could be an option because the department does such a good job vetting their drivers.”
For instance, Adkins said, he would rather hire a driver who has six points on his license from a DWI violation five years ago, but has had no violations since, than a person who has only four points, but from four separate collisions in the past year.
This would indicate “a pattern of poor driving,” and would be looked on unfavorably by insurers, Parks agreed.
“I think we could require something to the effect of ‘an acceptable driving record.’ Risk Management can deal with what ‘acceptable’ is on a case-by-case basis,” Evans said.
Regardless of how the city tweaks its policies, the key to solving the problem is getting out and recruiting young people, Meehan stressed. According to Adkins’ data, the city had no drivers under age 34 last year.
“Whether we make the age 20 or 21, right now we’re 13 or 14 years away from closing that hiring gap,” Meehan said.
Meehan also noted that he had arranged a meeting later this week with himself, Adkins, City Solicitor Guy Ayres, and representatives from United Work and Travel to discuss the possibility of that company bringing in foreign workers on H2B (temporary, non-agricultural) visas.
The city has concerns over how to verify foreign driving records, Adkins said, and Ayres has expressed concern over how foreign employees could be brought back for court or insurance hearings if they were to be involved in an accident.