News & Politics

Just How Bad Is the Nation's School Bus Driver Shortage?

(AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)

According to a survey of conducted by the National School Transport Association, half of student transportation coordinators nationwide are reporting their bus driver shortages as “severe” or “desperate.”

“This back-to-school period is nothing like the previous periods we’ve seen,” Curt Macysyn, executive director of the National School Transportation Association, told NPR. “In previous years, we’ve seen regionalized driver shortages, but nothing to the extent that we’re seeing today.”

The reasons for the shortages vary. In Chicago, 70 bus drivers quit rather than comply with a vaccine mandate from the district. The move left 2,100 students with no way to get to school. The city is considering using Lyft and Uber to make up the difference.

In addition, drivers were furloughed when the schools shut down last year and many bus drivers went on to other jobs or simply retired. The position requires a specialized CDL driver’s license that was impossible to get when secretary of state offices were closed.

Michigan’s bus driver shortage is so bad that they’re offering $2,500 hiring bonuses. Some Chicago suburban schools are paying families $2000 in lieu of being able to bus their kids to school.

An op-ed in the Lexington-Herald by a bus driver gives some background on the relatively low pay and difficult working conditions of a school bus driver.

Your average school bus is about 35 ft long and weighs about 33,000 pounds. Needless to say, it takes skill to navigate and can be highly stressful, especially in a busy town like ours. You would think other drivers on the road would be extra courteous and give you plenty of room, given the precious cargo you have on board. You would be completely wrong. People will speed around you, cut you off and nearly run you off the road to avoid having to be behind the school bus. People run the stop arm every single day. It’s there for a reason, people. If that stop arm is out, children are loading or unloading. Whatever your hurry is, it’s not worth a child being seriously injured or worse.

Now imagine navigating this thing around town with 50-60 loud and restless human beings on board, not all of which think very highly of you or what you have to say. You might just be shocked at some of the abuses that bus drivers and monitors have suffered at the hands of Lexington’s youth. We have all been cussed out. By students and by parents. This happens frequently and usually in response to rules and regulations that are designed to keep everyone safe, such as requiring that you bring an ID card in order to get a kindergartener off the bus. I know drivers that have been spit on and kicked. Some have been punched and assaulted bad enough to require medical attention.

All that for an average salary of $35,000 a year? Also, consider that a percentage of the check is going to be taken out in order for a driver to receive pay over the summer.

Related: A ‘Moment of Truth’ for Public Schools

The driver shortage makes a little more sense when you consider everything.