Search for snowplows begins ahead of winter amid Massachusetts driver shortage

WRENTHAM, Mass.—You may not be preparing for snow storms just yet, but plenty of town and city officials are.

“Years ago, we used to start this process in mid-October, but every year it starts a little quicker and is a little more competitive,” Norfolk Public Works Director Blair Crane said.

Massachusetts cities and towns have struggled for years to contract enough independent drivers amid a growing snowplow shortage. Officials say bad hours, expensive insurance policies and unpredictable winters are driving people away.

“I think this is a phenomenon that has been occurring probably the last six of seven years. We’ve had less and less contractors who are interested in coming and working for us in the winter,” Needham Public Works Director Carys Lustig said.

MassDOT set its 2022-23 driver rates and began using road signs last week to advertise the need for drivers. According to the MassDOT website, the state increased its base vehicle rate by 20 percent and offers early sign-up and extended winter bonuses.

“Every year in the fall, MassDOT advertises statewide on VMS boards to ensure there is sufficient equipment and plow drivers for the coming winter months,” MassDOT Spokesperson Jacquelyn Goddard said.

Many towns are forced to raise rates and offer signing bonuses to compete with MassDOT and private contractors.

“We started an incentive program two years ago because I just can’t compete with surrounding towns that are larger than us,” Crane said. “This year we did start the process a couple of weeks earlier to try and get a jump on our competition.”

Lustig said Needham’s number one need is finding heavy equipment.

“We want to be able to have equipment on the road that can really push back a foot of snow in one or two passes and the small pieces just can’t do that,” Lustig said.

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