FAIRBANKS (AP) -- Laidlaw Transit, the school bus contractor for the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, is so short of bus drivers this year that the company is flying drivers up from Washington state to fill in a month at a time on routes with no permanent driver.
''It is just a real tough labor market in Fairbanks this year,'' said Tom Hyatt, Alaska district manager for Laidlaw. ''For about the last three years, it has gradually been getting worse each year.''
It's not that the company hasn't tried. Hyatt said the company has done mass mailings, newspaper, radio and television ads and banners.
''We pay our own employees a bonus if they can bring in somebody that passes the grade and goes to work for us,'' he said. Employees get $1,500 for a successful recruit. Laidlaw has even offered churches and PTA groups headhunter bonuses if they direct a driver to the company.
Yet more than 20 of Laidlaw's 135 driver positions remain vacant, Hyatt said. It's costing the company money, since it can't pass the increased cost of travel, lodging and food for out-of-state drivers on to the school district, he said. And the constant turnover means some of the drivers are less familiar with the routes, the children and local road conditions.
''Certainly your service is better when you have a very stable work force,'' Hyatt said. ''When you are having to bring in fill-in drivers, you lose some of that aspect of the service.''
The situation is serious enough that Hyatt said the company has brought in a team of senior staffers from the Lower 48 up to assess what the local office can do to recruit more drivers. School district transportation coordinator Dennis Cook said his office hasn't been hit with a larger-than-normal amount of complaints because of the driver shortage.
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