From route reductions to hub plans, districts across the country continue to reckon with the ongoing shortage of school bus drivers. - Image: Canva

From route reductions to hub plans, districts across the country continue to reckon with the ongoing shortage of school bus drivers.

Image: Canva

The school bus driver shortage remains a problem throughout the United States.

In Wisconsin, Gov. Tony Evers signed a bill into law that allows school board members to volunteer as drivers if they’ve got a valid driver’s license, an endorsement from the state Department of Transportation, and so long as they steer clear of voting related to school bus drivers.

“School bus drivers play a critical role in making sure our kids across our state can get to school and back home safely,” the governor said in a statement. “This legislation is critical for reducing barriers and helping expand the pool of available folks who can fill these important roles. While there is still more work we must do to address challenges districts are facing to find more drivers, this new bipartisan law is a critical first step.”

The shortage is bad enough for Chicago Public Schools that the district is providing free Ventra cards so students can use Chicago Transit Authority vehicles to reach school. The district also gives families up to $500 a month to cover transportation costs for students who can’t get bus service to special education programs.

Schools in Kentucky’s Jefferson County shut down after a disastrous opening day, when students waited more than an hour for buses to arrive – and some students didn’t get home until about 10 p.m. District officials say they’ve got more drivers than routes, but still face a shortage – especially with several drivers quitting after the district released the new route plan that led to the district shutting down schools for the rest of that first week. The school district had hired an outside firm to optimize the bell schedule and bus routes – it didn’t work out well.

In Georgia, the Savannah-Chatham County Public School System had 328 bus drivers in 2019. Now, that district is down to 154 confirmed drivers. A report in The Current indicates that underfunding of school transportation, as well as high demand for driver skills from logistics companies, ports, and other school districts have helped drain the talent pool.

In Virginia, Albemarle County Public Schools sent 900 letters to families about the district’s driver shortage, with the bottom line that parents must find another way to get students to school.

In North Carolina, right in my own back yard, Durham Public Schools needs five full-time drivers and Wake County Public Schools needs 17. Durham hasn’t seen much impact on its services, but the shortage in Wake affected about 2,000 children, according to WRAL.

In Massachusetts, Framingham Public Schools warned parents that the district was about 20 drivers short and that families might need to make alternate transportation plans for students.

In Alaska, the Anchorage School District indicated that it has 223 of the 227 drivers to fulfill its routes, with another 18 in training.

Hillsborough County in Florida is short about 203 bus drivers, according to The Tampa Bay Times. Neighboring Pinellas County needs 30 more drivers. In the Florida district where I went to school – Orange County Public Schools – parents are encouraged to drive their children to school while the district offers incentives to drivers who perform “double backs,” handling two runs for one school.

The news isn’t all bad. Washoe County School District in Nevada reports that it has enough bus drivers to run normal routes. That’s an improvement over last year, when the district had to hire charter buses to carry students. The district also shifted to a hub system to reduce routes and stops, having children board buses at a central location.

That hub approach is also getting a try in Colorado as Denver metro area schools cut 19 bus routes due to that region’s school bus driver shortage.

In Arizona, the bus driver shortage made it challenging for students to get from public schools to their afterschool programs at The Boys and Girls Club in Chandler. A $1 million gift from a charitable organization called the Chandler Compadres is making it possible to hire a charter bus for transportation.

Is your district short on drivers? What’s working and what’s not when it comes to recruiting and retaining these vital front-line employees? Reach out to School Bus Fleet and let us know.


About the author
Wes Platt

Wes Platt

Former Executive Editor

Wes Platt is the former executive editor of School Bus Fleet magazine.

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