Gov. Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul speaks Sunday during Syracuse University’s make-up 2020 commencement.

ALBANY (AP) — New York is taking steps to address a mounting shortage of school bus drivers across the state.

Gov. Kathy Hochul on Sunday announced several short-term and long-term initiatives, including opening up new testing sites for commercial drivers license applicants, expediting the testing and permitting process and conducting outreach to law enforcement, firefighters, military and other organizations that already have trained drivers.

A study by the New York Association for Pupil Transportation two years ago found that eight in 10 school transportation directors considered driver shortages a major concern, and the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem.

A lack of drivers can lead to delayed departures and arrivals and the cancellation of field trips and other extracurricular activities.

“Our schools and public health officials have moved mountains to ensure our children receive an in-person education this year, and we are leaving no stone unturned to make sure schools have adequate bus service to bring students to school and back,” Hochul said in a statement.

The state is reaching out to more than half a million existing commercial drivers license holders in the state, including those who are currently unemployed, Hochul said. The Department of Motor Vehicles will remove the 14-day waiting period between permit test and road test, and county-run DMV facilities will increase capacity to administer the written and road tests.

School staff who hold a commercial license will be able to obtain a permit to drive vans and buses temporarily. Hochul also urged school districts to use incentives such as signing and retention bonuses to hire and keep bus drivers, and said federal funds can be used for those purposes.

HOCHUL ALSO focused on activism in a campaign-style speech at Syracuse University’s makeup commencement ceremony for 2020 graduates Sunday morning.

As she spoke to a crowd of just under 7,000 people in the university’s stadium, Hochul said her own experiences as a student activist at SU in the late 1970s informed her priorities as governor.

She brought up abortion rights, criminal justice reform, climate change and misinformation about vaccines and elections while asking the recent grads to “help me solve these problems.”

“What is the difference you’re going to make in your time living on this great planet?” Hochul asked.

She also spoke of overcoming adversity and implored the graduates to “condemn injustice,” particularly pointing to Kevin Richardson, who was wrongfully convicted of rape and assault in the infamous “Central Park Five” case.

Shortly after Hochul finished speaking, tears streamed down Richardson’s face as he was named an honorary member of the SU Class of 2020, the first person ever to receive an honorary undergraduate degree from the university.

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