CANTON, N.Y. (WWTI) — The commercial driver shortage has continued to impact the North Country into the New Year.

This shortage has left agencies begging for drivers and urging people to get their commercial driver’s licenses.

“There is a huge driver shortage in St. Lawrence County,” County Transit Manager Rena Ryan said. “Whether it be passenger buses, school bus drivers, it’s a huge responsibility.”

However, in September 2022, Jefferson Community College and the Arc Jefferson-St. Lawrence launched their Zero to Theory Training for Public Transit Drivers and Behind the Wheel training.

These programs offered the state-required training drivers must complete in order to take a commercial driving road test.

As required by New York State, for one to obtain a CDL, they must complete both classroom and road training, which is provided through the program.

Robert Archer is one of the instructors for the program and has been a driver with St. Lawrence County Public Transit for almost a decade. He sits in with students during the “Behind the Wheel” training.

“It gives them the experience of driving a heavy vehicle,” Archer explained. “They have to learn the ins and outs of the whole bus. We do road tests, parallel parking, backing up and offset parking.”

The program was deemed a success after all eight of its inaugural class passed their Class B CDL skills exam on their first attempt in mid-November.

This included James Parlow, who along with his classmates now drives for St. Lawrence County Public Transit.

“The process was pretty good,” Parlow said. “I had classroom time up to a week and then I spent time driving around with a paid instructor. I took the road test for my passenger endorsement and Class C and I passed.”

According to officials, these eight new drivers helped to fill the dire need for public transit drivers as the county operates 20 routes.

With the new drivers, Ryan said the County was able to reopen three routes and give original drivers much-needed vacation time. She noted that this will help keep buses on the road.

“We need to keep the CDL community going because there is always a need,” she shared.

More information about this program can be found on the Jefferson Community College website.