Fixing Montana’s Bus Driver Shortage

Tanner Avery

Director of The Center for New Frontiers

Tanner Avery
/ Blog
October 22, 2021

Fixing Montana’s Bus Driver Shortage

While often implemented with good intentions, studies show that regulations increase the cost of doing business and hamper economic growth.

“In far too many situations, state and local governments impose unnecessary occupational licensing regulations that stifle competition, thwart innovation and threaten economic liberty—causing real harm to workers, employers, consumers and our economy as a whole.” – Maureen K. Ohlhausen, Former Chair of the Federal Trade Commission

Regulatory reform is in the news again as school districts across Montana are scrambling to find school bus drivers to fill dozens of unfilled positions. Helena transportation director Tom Cohn explained in an interview with KTVH that they started the school year with 20 drivers less than their goal of 72 drivers. In order to compensate for the shortage, districts are combining routes, putting more students on busses, taking multiple trips, and canceling events. Even after increasing wages, guaranteeing more hours, and adding benefits, schools are still not seeing an increase in bus driver applications.

Why haven’t these efforts helped? It may have to do with Montana having the second most burdensome restrictions in the nation on who can drive school busses. Brian Gartner, maintenance/transportation director for Darby school, points to the raft of credentials prospective drivers are required to obtain before even applying.

The bus driver shortage highlights the need for regulatory reform. Compared to our regional neighbors, Montana has the second most regulatory restrictions per capita. While often implemented with good intentions, studies show that regulations increase the cost of doing business and hamper economic growth. The economic downturn during the pandemic is demonstrating that now more than ever, Montanans need comprehensive regulatory relief.

For Liberty,

Tanner Avery

The Latest

Protecting Our Forests

  1. As we get into cooler weather local and federal agencies have begun to implement forest management plans across the state. In Flathead County, the Tally Lake Ranger District is engaging in prescribed burns to protect Whitefish’s water supply by reducing the likelihood of “high intensity wildfires.” The Whitefish Municipal Watershed Fuel Reduction Project will also “increase resilience to insect and disease, improve wildlife species habitat, and aid in the restoration of whitebark pine.”

Our Take: When state and federal agencies implement active forest management plans the likelihood of a catastrophic forest fire diminishes drastically. Research is clear that a build up of fuel plays a significant role in the likelihood of a catastrophic wildfire. Controlled burns and thinning projects are one way that agencies can work to restore healthy forests.


  1. Make sure to check out Frontier Institute CEO Kendall Cotton’s latest article in Lee Newspapers about freedom in education.

“As political battles in our public schools continue, it’s unlikely the pressure from parents for a greater choice in their child’s education will decline,” he writes. “Hopefully, lawmakers in the next legislative session will listen to parents and adopt measures to bring more freedom in education to Montana.”

Rent Increases

  1. The national median rent has increased by 16.4% since January, according to a new study by Apartment List. For comparison, rent only increased by 3.4% from January to September in the years 2017 thru 2019. A key metric in rising inflation is quickly rising housing costs, which accounts for about one-third of the Consumer Price Index.

Our Take: A major factor in skyrocketing rent is the shortage of available housing. Figure 1 demonstrates this connection – when housing supplies are low, prices for housing increase. Strict zoning requirements limit the number of homes being built and further exacerbate supply shortages. If Montana towns are serious about creating affordable housing then they will have to get serious about reducing zoning regulations.

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