Statewide School Bus Shortage Leads To Panic

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Source: WBZ-TV in Boston Pictured above: The National Guard get ready to help transport Massachusetts students to school

By Mia Miller

Imagine waiting outside of your house for the bus to come. Ten minutes go by. Twenty minutes go by. Thirty minutes, fifty minutes. Soon it has been an hour and your bus still is nowhere to be seen. Eventually it is time for the school day to start, and you are still stranded in your driveway with no way to get to school. You may ask, “What’s going on? The bus has always been here on time before, how am I meant to get to school now?” 

This is the reality for thousands of students across the state of New York, from the Williamsville Central School District, all the way to New York City. The Covid-19 pandemic has caused a shortage in bus drivers, and therefore many students are losing access to their only reliable transportation to and from schools. 

According to the Association for Pupil Transportation, the current number of New York State bus drivers is estimated to be about 20% below full staffing levels. Many students have no options aside from taking the bus to school. Some don’t have a parent at home in the morning to drive them, and some cannot safely walk to school (especially with the upcoming winter weather conditions that Western New York is infamous for). 

The problem has gotten to the point that some are advocating to get the National Guard involved to assist with transportation. Even members of the New York State assembly have been supporting this idea. Al Stirpe, a member of the New York State Assembly based in Syracuse spoke on the issue, saying, “This is an emergency situation. We can’t deny this. This is like floods, and wars, and everything else that you would utilize the National Guard for.” Michael Lawler, another Assemblyman based in Rockland County said, “I’m calling on Governor Kathy Hochul to call up the National Guard to act as emergency school bus drivers in districts across New York State, until the bus driver shortage can be resolved.”

Many of those in New York asking for assistance from the National Guard are following in the steps of Massachusetts, which has been facing a similar issue. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker stated on September 13 2021 that as many 250 National Guard members would be dedicated to assisting with the shortage of bus drivers statewide and are now being trained to drive students who need it in vans. 

The worst of the shortage has hit the city of Rochester and their school district. Their first day of school was delayed due to bus driver shortages, an issue that concerned Superintendent Lesli Myers-Small to the point that he considered having high schoolers start the year remotely. Even with the delayed start to the school year, about 300 students still didn’t have access to a bus to school. 

Many school districts have gone to desperate measures to get more drivers on the road, frantically hiring anyone they possibly can. This has concerned many people state-wide, especially parents, as they worry the people being suddenly hired aren’t qualified to drive a school bus and are not receiving proper training as they are being rushed onto the road. Training to specifically drive a school bus typically takes around two months, but districts simply don’t have that time. New York State Congressman Joseph Morelle wrote a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on this issue. Morelle’s letter states, “It is important for all school bus drivers to understand how to safely operate a school bus. However, the CDL requirements pertaining to long-haul truckers are onerous and irrelevant to a school bus driver.” There have yet to be any major accidents in New York State as a result of these measures, but some are simply waiting for it to happen.

This is a problem that may be resolved within a few months, however this is a problem that may persist for years to come. Parents and students alike wait hopefully for a solution to come around the corner and help kids get to their school safely so they can learn in person. 

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