Bus driver shortage disrupts routes county-wide

Students+exit+bus+5307+in+the+morning.+%E2%80%9CWe+saw+for+sure+the+first+week+of+school%2C+there+were+some+buses+coming+in+late.+As+of+this+week%2C+there+is+one+bus+were+monitoring+that+we+are+still+seeing+coming+in+at+7%3A45%2C+Principal+Kimberly+Boldon+said.

Photo by Ellie Cowen

Students exit bus 5307 in the morning. “We saw for sure the first week of school, there were some buses coming in late. As of this week, there is one bus we’re monitoring that we are still seeing coming in at 7:45,” Principal Kimberly Boldon said.

Montgomery County is one of countless counties nationwide facing a bus driver shortage, forcing some drivers to do multiple routes. Students on these routes are being picked up earlier in the morning and arriving home from school later, but Principal Kimberly Boldon said administration is working with the county transportation depot to resolve the issue. 

To be one of the unlucky students on a bus with two routes means getting to school noticeably earlier or later than previous years. For senior Sammi Kimbis, that means staying at school 40 minutes after class has ended. “The bus depot didn’t have enough buses or bus drivers this year. So my bus, that’s 5324, takes two trips back and forth from the school, so in the morning it takes people really early and comes back at 7:20 to pick us up,” Kimbis said.  

These disruptions have been felt by teachers as well. The Montgomery County Education Association said in a statement that the union supports efforts to hire more bus drivers. “Educator voice is key to ensuring equitable coverage plans at the building level, including plans that take into consideration, to the extent possible, health and safety needs related to COVID,” the MCEA team said. 

Students arriving to school late also disrupts morning classes, and can disadvantage students who would benefit from time in the morning to connect with teachers. Kimbis said she is arriving at school half an hour later than previous years, making her late to her first period class, AP Literature. “[The bus] has made me late to class every day so far. Since we’re writing the Common App in [class] and everything, it’s kind of stressful,” Kimbis said. 

Bus routes are decided at the county level, not by school administration, according to Boldon, based on enrollment and how many students from each area take the bus. “In our situation, it was based on the number of students we have coming in attached to [a] particular route and how many students are riding the buses,” Boldon said.

Student safety is more important than anything.”

— Ivan Hicks

The disrupted routes have also impacted the security team that monitors buses picking and dropping off students, since students are waiting at school later in the afternoon. “We have to make sure that all students are safe, [after school] would be the time of which we would have to be out there with the students. Student safety is more important than anything,” Security Assistant Ivan Hicks said 

Multiple reasons exist for the hiring shortage, namely COVID risks and insufficient pay. Montgomery County pays drivers less than comparable school districts, with starting pay around $20 an hour, according to the MCPS Transportation website. “The pandemic has [also] done a lot to deter people from applying to be school bus drivers, because of the close quarters that you’re in on a school bus,” Maryland bus driver Kim Hall said in an interview with WUSA9

The county is in the process of hiring more drivers and working with schools, but it is unknown when, if ever, routes will return to normal. “We are fielding questions from parents and students about buses that arent showing up [and] buses that are late. We just try to work with transportation as best we can to figure out what the circumstance was and correct it,” Boldon said.