But the CDL-A and CDL-B classes are only the first step. The VTRC has also applied for a national certification of their driver training school from the Professional Truck Driving Institute (PTDI), said VTRC director Archie Cavanaugh. The approval and certification is expected after the CDL Class A course ends on May 31.
That, Cavanaugh said, "is huge." It will make the VTRC only the second PTDI-certified truck driving school in Alaska. And having a commercial drivers' license, he said, for many Alaskans can mean the difference between unemployment and being able to provide well for a family.
Acquiring the PTDI certification will also be the end of a full year of very hard work on Cavanaugh's part.
"I've worked all my life in this field, but I've never done anything as detailed as this," he said, showing the curriculum and policy books written, as well as all the documentation showing that the VTRC has the infrastructure necessary, and is meeting the standards, of the PTDI.
"But it makes it all worthwhile when people call to thank us from their home communities - and say now, they can make a living, and support a family."
A commercial drivers license is required for anyone driving a vehicle with a gross vehicle weight over 26,001 pounds or a vehicle designed to carry 16 or more passengers. With the VTRC's new certifications, anyone looking at driving a truck for a living or a tour bus in the summers can now get their license in Juneau - if they can get a space in one of the classes, that is.
The first nine-day class, taking only three students, filled up immediately, Cavanaugh said. The class, consisting of eight full days or 48 hours, prepares students for obtaining a CDL-B license --which allows them to drive tour buses, but not school buses. After three full days in the classroom, students go on to five days of field-driving and, finally, on the ninth day, the DMV testing.
"The class provides about about six behind-the-wheels hour per student," Cavanaugh said.
When the VTRC started classes for the CDL-A (tractor trailer license), "we got so many requests for B (passenger driving) that we started researching buses," said Cavanaugh.
There are not too many buses around with the combination of manual gearshift and air brakes that the VTRC needed, but they managed to locate one in North Dakota. Licensed CDL-B instructor Gregory L. Blanchfield flew back there to transport the bus, purchased on Dec. 27 of 2004, back to its new home. He then proceeded driving the old school bus -Ein the winter, across three mountain ranges -Eto Seattle.
"From there, Alaska Marine Lines barged it up for us, Kevin Anderson graciously reducing the fare by $1,000," said Cavanaugh.
After adding some safety features, repainting the bus in red and black (to comply with DMV requirements that student vehicles not look like school buses), and adding magnetic lettering, the bus was ready to go, just waiting for the first batch of students.
Almost, that is: Before the first class, on Friday, April 8, there will be a Tlingit name giving and "blessing of the fleet" of vehicles.
"We will pray over our vehicles that no harm may come to the students and instructors," Cavanaugh said.
For information about VTRC's new CDL Commercial Driving School or any of the other classes offered, lgo to www.vtrc.org or call 463-7375 (in Juneau) or 800-344-1432, ext. 7375.