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Chippewa Falls school bus driver shortage ‘getting dire’

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The Chippewa Yellow Bus Company has a staffing shortage which could lead to a dire situation, according to Kurt Nelson, the company’s safety director.

“It’s actually been a problem the last 15 years, if not longer. But now it’s getting to be kind of more of a dire situation,” Nelson said. “We’re losing shop personnel and office personnel, and that just leaves us very, very short.”

Nelson said the problem is they don’t have enough applicants to fill the empty roles. People aren’t applying for the jobs because the process to get a commercial drivers license, or CDL, is tedious and time-consuming, he said.

“There’s a lot of hoops to jump through for a CDL,” he said. “But we do the full gamut of training here. They’d have to take the written test at the DMV, but they do all the training, written work and all of the behind the wheel work here in-house. Then when it comes time, I am a third party tester for the state. So I administer the driving tests.”

Doing all the training in-house is a more efficient and a less troublesome process than in some locations, he said.

“We want to make it as easy as possible to get our drivers trained and behind the wheel. Once they complete the tests we start putting them out there with other drivers and kids on the bus to get them used to the noise level, because it’s a little different than driving just an empty bus.”

Nelson said that driving the bus isn’t as hard as some people expect. Today’s buses aren’t like the older models, which were more difficult to navigate.

“Our equipment is very, very modern, and it drives essentially like the Suburban. The visibility is awesome because you have so many extra mirrors that you don’t have on a car and your windshield is three times as big as the car windshield that you’re used to. They are relatively easy to operate,” he said.

The big yellow school buses hold approximately 72 passengers. They are equipped with GPS tracking devices and cameras. These help drivers and reassure young passengers and parents.

But it’s not just about the drivers, it’s about transporting kids.

“Our goal is safety, efficiency and accountability. We want students to begin and end every day on a positive note,” Nelson said.

Nelson’s brother, Terry, is the president of the Chippewa Yellow Bus Company — a family owned business that’s been around for 115 years. It started in 1906 as a delivery service.

For the Nelson brothers, buses are in their blood. They have a lifetime of experience and knowledge.

“We started driving them around the lot when we were 12, just to start cleaning them in the summertime,” Nelson said. “It’s what we do.”

Nelson said if locals are interested in a good paying job, with paid summers and holidays off, they should stop by the business at 510 E. South Ave. in Chippewa Falls.

“Just come in and drive around our parking lot. Take a look. They’d be more than welcome,” he said. “We’ll sit with them and answer any questions they might have.”

“We want to make it as easy as possible to get our drivers trained and behind the wheel."

Kurt Nelson, Chippewa Yellow Bus Company safety director

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