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Transportation & Infrastructure

Michigan school districts cut runs, routes due to lack of school bus drivers

School bus
Bill McChesney
/
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A shortage of school bus drivers had some districts scrambling to find drivers earlier this summer, offering hiring bonuses and other incentives to attract talent. Now that the school year is underway, some districts are feeling the full impact of that shortage, often resulting in disruptions.

School bus drivers organize their routes into runs. A run encompasses the area for a high school, middle school, or elementary school. A route has all three categories. The routes and runs are organized by bell times at specific schools.

In order to adapt to fewer drivers, districts have cancelled transportation to athletic events, consolidating routes and rerouting, and even delaying and cancelling runs.

Wayne-Westland Community Schools in Wayne County is one such district. Rhonda Lyons is the transportation director for the district.

According to Lyons, they have 55 routes, two of which need a full-time driver. Two of the district's four relief drivers will fill those positions, and a third will fill a position that's opening at the end of the month. That means that by October, Wayne-Westland will have a single driver to cover any and all absences, cancellations, sick days, and requests for time off.

"We've had staff that aren't drivers be out driving, which would be our office staff, our routers, garage supervisors... myself! I'm out driving also," she said. "Unfortunately, when we are really short-handed, and we can't rob Peter to pay Paul and have other drivers pick up certain stops just to get those kids picked up, we've had to make the decision to cancel runs that morning."

That's really tough for Lyons.

"That really weighs on me because that's the only way for many kids to get to school. And we don't know sometimes until that early morning that we can't provide transportation for the day," she said.

That also means tough decisions about what runs stay and which ones have to be cut.

"It's rough to come in and hit that button to see how many people are not coming to work that day, and you know, have to figure out, okay, what can we get covered, and who can we not transport for that day," Lyons said.

Lyons said staffing shortages are a problem across education—not just transportation. She said that the big question is how to address those. One solution may be changing driving requirements from a CDL (commercial drivers license).

"Or looking at potentially, you know, increasing hours, maybe look at offering some type of underemployment benefit level for drivers through the summer time, if the state would be willing to look at that. That's an option that I think really needs to be looked at," she said.

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