Former Durham driver: 'You can't make a living there'

Palmetto Training Inc. is giving a former bus driver a new opportunity to make more money (Brandon Geier/WCIV)

By Sonya

NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) - A former Charleston County bus driver quit before the threat of a strike and is already pursuing other opportunities.

Two weeks ago, Kenneth Applewhite was driving a school bus but these days he is driving an 18-wheeler.

"I knew that something was coming because you can't make a living there but I know something was coming," said Applewhite.

Applewhite drove for Durham for almost three years.

"Getting back on the road to make more money," said Applewhite. "Durham is a great company but you got to make more money to survive in today's economy."

He says he understands how disgruntled the bus drivers feel working part-time with no benefits and no sick days.

"I do understand because you have to earn a living to live and you can't do it on that hourly pay for those many hours. You just can't do it, you can't do it," said Applewhite.

But there is one thing that keeps the drivers going.

"They love the children," said Applewhite. "I love the children. What keeps the drivers there I know is the love for the children."

And that love is making the possibility of a strike tough for some of the drivers to swallow.

"Some want to strike can't, some don't want to strike -- it's a mix feeling thing," said Applewhite. "Most people don't want to leave. I didn't want to leave the children but I got to work for retirement."

So he has moved on and is working on getting his Class A license, which will allow him to drive a tractor trailer for a living.

"I'd say a good 10 percent of our school's population were former bus drivers and they are looking for make better money, better benefits, so on and so forth just to better the lives of themselves and their families," said Caroline Clifton, office manager at Palmetto Training Inc.

And so far Applewhite is enjoying training through the Workforce Investment Act.

"Loving Palmetto through the WIA program has given me an opportunity. It's paid by the state to redefine myself for a better position in life and that's great," said Applewhite. "I got to work for retirement, so I'll be on the road."

And the road ahead is looking bright for Applewhite as he already has a future job lined up with a trucking company.

Charleston County School District and Dorchester District 2 are looking for substitute drivers just in case there is a strike.

"Driving one of the local school buses you'll need a Class B license with a passenger endorsement, which is just a written test taken over at the DMV just like if you were taking a permit test," said Clifton. "But you also have to in order to drive for the school bus system, you must train with them and use their school bus to pass their test as well."

The process of getting a CDL license takes several weeks. {}