ACPS Bus Driver Shortage

Lara Schuerhoff

Staff Writer

October 20 was Bus Driver Appreciation Day, and our bus drivers are working hard this year due to the national bus driver shortage, so be sure to continue expressing your gratitude. 

A national bus driver shortage sparked by Covid-19 and other factors has reached Northern Virginia causing late busses, staggered school starting times, changing bus routes, and overcrowded busses. Transportation departments of school systems all over the D.C. area are working overtime to make sure all students are safely getting dropped off and picked up. 

Fairfax, Stafford, Prince George’s County, and Alexandria City public schools, to name a few, are dealing with major issues involving the national shortage of school bus drivers. For example, students are getting dropped off at the wrong stops and, busses are not showing up. The ACPS Bus 73, which transports students who live in Del Ray, often has changing drivers, routes, and pick up/drop off times. All the while, Bus 95, which transports students who live in Rosemont, has not had any problems this year. 

With Covid-19 safety guidelines to take into consideration, ACPS Transportation Department also has limited resources to work with. Expectations of parents are getting higher and providing additional services such as field trips and transportation to and from after-school programs is becoming increasingly difficult. 

Complications are impacting families without transportation, low-income families, and families with children who have special needs. Parents are becoming restless from delays and even the bus simply not showing up, 

On the other hand, “students and parents expect the same level of transportation services when it is well known that driver resources are not as plentiful,” said ACPS Director of Pupil Transportation and Fleet Management, E. Scott Merriman. This puts a strain on the drivers and the trust between parents and the transportation department. 

Further, regarding the effects of the shortage, Merriman said, “Bus drivers are impacted with the additional workload they are now being asked to perform and creates unnecessary fatigue.”

Some school bus drivers are having a tough time dealing with extra work hours and the pressure of maintaining the same quality and quantity of service that would normally require more drivers. The Transportation Department is “monitoring the morale” of its employed bus drivers. The department is coming up with solutions to help with stress such as opportunities for drivers to engage in self-care practices.

“There is a national shortage of all commercial drivers that is affecting the entire country and has become a crisis,” said Merriman. The shortage of school bus drivers in the United States is not a new problem. Over many years of poor working conditions, low salaries, and the tiring steps it takes to become qualified for the job, a rising number of bus drivers are quitting and a decreasing number of new people applying. 

According to Merriman, there are “competing factors reducing the desirability” of being a school bus driver, and the vigorous training it takes to become a school bus driver does not help. All ACPS school bus drivers must pass a Federal Commercial Drivers License program, a skills test to get certified, additional training to be a bus driver, and finally, more tests to be a bus driver for students. 

Nationwide, many bus drivers were laid off during quarantine due to the lack of students needing to be transported. Some quit due to Covid-19 risks and mandates such as required mask-wearing and vaccination. 

“It will take multiple different recruitment approaches and some service changes by all Northern Virginia school districts to maintain the expected service levels parents and students are anticipating each year and not just for our needs here at ACPS,” said Director Merriman. To deal with the shortage, transportation departments all over Northern Virginia are using old ways and coming up with new ways to attract applicants.

In 2020 and 2021, ACPS bus drivers got Market Rate Adjustment (MRA) wage increases. ACPS school bus drivers’ hourly wage is between 19 and 23 dollars. The average national hourly wage of a school bus driver is about 17 dollars. 

It seems that the start of the school year is always going to be rocky, but with the Transportation Department’s efforts, things are running more smoothly for the bus drivers and riders.

Photo credit Moira Sirois.

Lara Schuerhoff is a staff writer for Theogony. She is in 10th grade.