Bus Driver Shortage Complicates Student Commute

Schools have been suffering from a severe bus driver shortage all over the U.S. Although the Covid-19 pandemic has caused the problem to become severe, a few other things have also contributed. Some bus drivers have retired, and pay for bus drivers has been an issue for some time. 

According to a National Public Radio (NPR) story entitled, “National Survey Finds Severe And Desperate School Bus Driver Shortage,” reasons for the shortage include bus drivers being laid-off during the school closures at the beginning of COVID-19 and bus drivers retiring. Also, for the past year and a half, many departments of motor vehicles (DMV’s) have been closed or have had limited operating hours. These closures cause a problem because new drivers can’t get the required license to drive a school bus. 

One of the impacts of the bus driver shortage is bus drivers having to do extra runs. Luciana DiValentin, who has been a school bus driver since 2015 and drives for Longfellow, says drivers have to make extra trips during their time off, and Andre David, another Longfellow bus driver, says that some bus drivers end up overworked. 

“Being on time is one of the biggest [challenges], but we also know that we can’t speed; safety is our priority, so we do our best,” said DiValentin. 

Aside from extra runs, another issue causing lateness is the morning traffic in front of the school. 

“There’s a lot of Kiss’n Ride going on right now, and we get stuck coming in here, which causes us to be late for our next run, which in effect causes us to be late for the run after, etc.—it’s a ripple effect.”

When asked what administrators could do to help solve the problem of the bus driver shortage, David said that he believes more financial incentive is the biggest thing that can help solve the problem.

“The area is expensive,” DiValentin added, “and for a lot of people, this [job] is all they have.” 

According to a WUSA9 story in September on the bus driver problem, FCPS increased pay for new drivers to $22.91 per hour with a $3,000 recruitment bonus and $35 per trip for driving for afterschool programs. As a result, they did see an increase in bus driver applicants; however, the pay still doesn’t meet that offered by other counties. In addition, drivers who remained on the job got a 2.5% raise which advocates feel does not fully compensate for the time bus drivers put in, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic protocols in place. 

Kimberly Adams of Fairfax Education Association spoke to WUSA9, expressing frustration with FCPS measures. 

“Workers in transportation have been increasingly frustrated with the perceived lack of respect from supervisors when it comes to all issues they face on the job,” Adams said. “During a global pandemic, FCPS drivers and attendants have rolled with the punches and continued to show up for work even without many of the same provisions that surrounding counties offer (higher starting pay, better benefits, more accountability from supervisors). The least they deserve is proper compensation and respect for their time.”  

The bus driver shortage has affected many schools all across the country, and FCPS is working hard to encourage more people to become bus drivers.