By Sophia Kim
Over the course of this year, schools around the country have faced a bus driver shortage and as a result have struggled to provide transportation for their students. This problem has affected many students at CR North; we all have seen the crowds of students walking home after school. Although the issue has been slowly mitigated over the past several months, many parents and students are wondering what gave rise to this frustrating situation.
Causes of the Shortage
According to Curt Macysyn, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, the national bus driver shortage stems from the changes that schools have endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Macysyn explains that many bus drivers lost or retired from their jobs in the midst of school closures in 2020. When schools reopened for in-person learning, recruiting new drivers proved to be difficult.
Schools were unable to offer their drivers sufficient pay, and many drivers were concerned about exposure to the coronavirus, especially when in close proximity to children under 12, who were unable to be vaccinated until last November.
In addition, the process of hiring new drivers was slowed because many DMVs closed or minimized their operations during the pandemic. Consequently, it became difficult for possible bus drivers to take road tests or update their qualifications. The New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association has estimated that 20% of their bus drivers have not returned after layoffs due to the pandemic, leaving many schools with a severe shortage of drivers.
Effects on Students
In order to understand how this nationwide bus issue has affected North students, I talked to North sophomore Yara Alimam, whose bus has been one of the several vehicles repeatedly not running. Although we all endure the daily ninth-period bus announcements, during which we can guess the unlucky "winners" of the day, not all of us know the stress that comes with those notifications.
Alimam explains that when her bus is not running in the morning, she often receives a notification about 5 minutes before she is supposed to leave home. As one would expect, this does not leave much time to find another way to school.
Both of Alimam’s parents leave for work early in the morning, usually before her bus arrives, which means that she must rely on the school bus. On days when transportation is not provided, Alimam usually must call a friend whose parents are able to drive the students to school.
When Alimam receives a bus notification from the district the night before, her parents decide to drive her to school and go into work late. Clearly, this bus driver shortage has not only impacted students, but also their family members, who may be forced to sacrifice their time and plans in order to bring students to and from school.
When Alimam’s bus is not available in the afternoon, she also must rely on the help of a friend who is able to call a parent for a ride home. Although she has not yet had to walk home, Alimam recalls seeing many students walking home after school. She stated that she feels especially concerned for those students on rainy days, when a long walk in wet conditions seems rather grim.
How are schools dealing with this issue?
In efforts to alleviate the problem, the U.S. Departments of Transportation and Education announced on January 4 a temporary exception to the requirements asked of school bus drivers.
The departments stated that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) would allow states to waive a section of the commercial driver’s license skills test that requires drivers to identify the components of the engine “under the hood.” By waiving this section of the test, the departments are hoping that more people will be able to work as school bus drivers during the shortage. This change came into effect on January 3, 2022, and will expire on March 31, 2022.
On a more local level, Philly Transportation LLC, a school bus company serving schools in Philadelphia, is offering signing bonuses and medical and retirement benefits in order to attract more drivers to apply. Some school districts in the Philadelphia area are even offering families $150 per month as an incentive to opt out of district-provided transportation services and to provide their own daily transportation. Schools are becoming desperate in this unprecedented situation.
While it was evident that the COVID-19 pandemic would affect our ability to learn in-person, we may not have anticipated the many obstacles that schools must overcome even after reopening before we are able to enjoy a sense of normalcy. Transportation is just one issue through which we must persevere in this changed era.