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How a nationwide shortage of plow drivers, could make for a long winter

plow driver shortage
Posted at 12:38 PM, Nov 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-12 12:42:44-05

CHELMSFORD, Mass. — A nationwide shortage of plow drivers could make for a lot of difficult travel this winter, as communities nationwide are desperately trying to fill positions before the snowfall.

Paul Cohen is the town manager of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, where last year they spent nearly $1 million on snow removal. This year, that price tag is about to get even higher because of a shortage of snowplow drivers.

"It's a hard job. It’s a lot of stress and it’s harder for people to take that on willingly," he said.

There are signs up around the city pleading for employees. But so far, Chelmsford is short about dozen plow drivers. They have the equipment; they just don’t have the people.

"For drivers, you don’t know your earnings level because you don’t know the weather. You’re asking someone to commit to you and you don’t know if you’ll have a snowy winter or a dry winter," Cohen said.

To help address the shortage many cities and states are offering massive incentives in an effort to get drivers on the road this winter. Colorado's Department of Transportation is offering drivers a $2,000 performance bonus. Michigan has upped their hourly plow driver rate to $30 plus overtime, and some state drivers in Massachusetts could be making as much as $310 an hour this winter.

To understand what’s happening, you need to back up a bit and up the job pipeline to places like this Commercial Driving School in Concord, New Hampshire, where students come to get their Commercial Driving License or CDL.

Owner James Amico has plenty of students waiting to get their CDL but he's short instructors meaning fewer drivers on the road at a time when they're desperately needed.

"I have trucks sitting because I don’t have the instructors," he said.

And it’s not just the cost of paying plow drivers that is going to hit communities hard this winter. The price of road salt has skyrocketed by as much as 31%.

Back in Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Paul Cohen says his city could be spending an extra $100,000 this winter if they use the same amount of salt as last year.

"The thing is you can’t avoid it, you know the weather is going to come," he added.

But like so many communities preparing for winter, he knows it’s a cost they can’t avoid.