CINCINNATI, Ohio — As school districts across the state prepare for an unprecedented fall semester, bus companies like Universal Transportation Systems in Cincinnati are tasked with stepping in to help, no matter what classes will look like.
Tom Nicholaus, vice president of operations for UTS, said doing so means finding the right resources and especially the right staff.
“It’s a challenge even if it’s a non pandemic scenario,” he said.
Nicholaus said UTS needs 25 more drivers to accommodate all of the Cincinnati Public School routes and the new safety and sanitation protocol required.
He said recruiting is a year-round effort but weeks away from the start of the school year, the need is especially urgent.
"Many people are waiting to see what’s going to happen," he said. "We’re at the end of July so what is that doing for someone that is on furlough or unemployment? But we are recruiting and we’ve had a lot of good people come in.”
Brandon Housley is one of them.
Already trained as a driver for UTS's van service, Housley said he wanted to step up for the kids as fall approached.
"Somebody’s gotta get these kids there safely and I feel like I can do it.”
Housley passed his final training exam Thursday, but he said it will take more than good driving to take on the job this fall.
“We really need people here that actually want to work, actually cares about these kids, actually makes sure that everything is sanitized down so nobody gets sick or anything like that.”
Longtime driver and current drivers relations manager Terrie Shearer, Sr. is managing the training protocol, focused on flexibility.
“When you add in the possibility of having to do shorter routes, less kids, having to make more trips so that there’s less children on these given routes,” he said.
As for the work behind he wheel, he said that hasn't changed, though drivers are responsible for a lot more cleaning before and after their routes.
“We’re wearing masks, we’re sanitizing between drivers," he said. "We wipe down the steering wheel, the gear shifts.”
Drivers also wipe down major touch points for students including the seats and bus railings.
“Every driver’s gonna have that same mindset that they’re looking out for what’s best for the kids,” Shearer said.
Nicholaus hopes with these policies in mind they'll be able to keep passengers and staff as safe as possible, though he believes it will take a team effort between drivers, districts, and parents.
In the meantime, he's asking drivers to focus on what they can control.
"At the end of the day though, it’s a caring, conscientious 'what can I do with or for you?' type person," Nicholaus said.
As for Housley, he's hoping a mix of responsibility and optimism will guide him through his first year on the bus.
“I’m prepared for anything that’s going to be coming this way this year,” he said.