Bus driver shortage causes problems in and out of SPA community

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Jacob Colton

THANKS FOR THE RIDE. Freshman Deling Chen stands in front of a school bus as she waits for the doors to open. Although there has been a bus driver shortage devastating school schedules throughout the nation, Saint Paul Academy hasn’t had to cancel any bus routes. “[Having to cancel bus routes] hasn’t been too difficult for SPA,” Director of Transportation Melissa Douden said, “For other schools it’s been a very big challenge.”

A shortage of buses has left an increasing number of schools without transportation. This has forced many schools like Saint Paul Academy to find alternative modes of travel.

Schools all around Minnesota have struggled to find willing bus drivers to bring students to and from school. However, according to freshman Lorenzo Good, SPA has managed the crisis well so far.

Good said that “[the shortage] hasn’t affected me much.” He takes the bus to school every day and said that the bus has always shown up on time. Good rides one of the route busses, meaning one of the busses that bring students to and from school. So far, SPA has not had to cancel any route busses.

Director of transportation Melissa Douden manages the transportation for SPA. She said that the main reason SPA has been able to keep all of its bus routes going is because SPA is smaller than most public schools.

“[Having to cancel bus routes] hasn’t been too difficult for SPA,” Douden said, “For other schools it’s been a very big challenge. [Public schools] have to run so many buses and have so many neighborhoods to pick up in, there’s a lot of students that are not getting transportation this year.”

Good said his sister, who goes to a public school, has been affected by the shortage.

“My sister has basically been forced to quit riding the bus to their public school because the bus either never shows up or shows up 30 minutes late,” Good said.

SPA has a lot of field trips, Douden said, which are harder to get drivers for than for bus routes, because they are in the middle of the day and usually get back right before school ends, which doesn’t give time for bus drivers to pick up their usual routes.

Sports teams have also been impacted, and games have been canceled because transportation hasn’t been available.

“We have had multiple games canceled throughout the season. Our homecoming game against Kaleidoscope Academy was canceled because they could not get the transportation for the JV team here due to bus shortages,” junior Maya Coates Cush said, “It is frustrating sometimes when games are canceled, in fact, the JV volleyball game at SPA against Breck was just canceled [a few days ago, October 12.”

Cush says that they don’t usually have a bus available. However, Cush says “for the most part, driving hasn’t been a problem.”

My sister has basically been forced to quit riding the bus to their public school because the bus either never shows up or shows up 30 minutes late.”

— freshman Lorenzo Good

The shortage started before COVID-19, but the pandemic has expedited the crisis. Bus drivers deal with hard hours and relatively low pay. Bus drivers also have irregular schedules. During the summer there is no school, which means there is no demand for school bus drivers. There are also long breaks within the school year, like winter and spring break, another time when bus drivers struggle to find work.

School bus drivers have to pick up students in the morning, then drop them off in the afternoon. This leaves a useless time between the beginning and end of the school day where the bus drivers are neither on duty or off duty. Most drivers don’t have time to drop their bus off and go home, only to drive back and pick up their bus again to head to school. This means that most school bus drivers are on the job from before the beginning of the school day to the end. However, they only get paid for the time they are driving kids. That doesn’t include the time they spend waiting for the end of the school day.

Bus drivers usually spend about 6 hours driving kids, but if you include the midday time spent waiting, it adds up to around 11 hours. The average pay for a school bus driver is $16.67 per hour. The average per year is around $34,670, despite working 11 hours, 5 days a week.

Before COVID-19, schools were able to manage the declining number of bus drivers, with only a few minor cancellations and delays. Now the trend has accelerated. This is in part due to the age of bus drivers: the average age is 56.8 years, with 92% of bus drivers being over 40. Many of the older bus drivers are concerned for their health and COVID-19 risk, so they have left the job.

Minnesota schools have tried different strategies of managing the crisis. Many districts are offering incentives to become a bus driver, such as Minneapolis Public Schools. They are offering a $3,000 incentive to become a bus driver and are reimbursing parents who drive their kids to school.

“I think part of the problem with the bus shortage is that bus companies are actually paying their drivers enough to be a COVID situation with a bunch of kids,” Good said.

SPA hasn’t had to cancel many sports games or bus routes, but with the demand for bus drivers increasing, the bus driver crisis becomes a more and more urgent issue.