Boston Public School students and parents are feeling outraged and frustrated not knowing whether or not their child’s bus will arrive in the morning or even bring their child home from school in the afternoon. How did we get here? Well, the United States is currently facing a national bus driver shortage with some of the lowest number of bus drivers to date. This stems from the low pay rate, unflattering benefits, and minimal support that the job brings. Once Covid-19 started, many bus drivers quit the field due to the instability and uncertainty of when they would be back to work. Now that many school districts like that of the Boston Public Schools are back to face to face learning, the already slim pickings of bus drivers has become drastically smaller to the point where there are not enough drivers to fulfill the 649 bus routes needed to get all Boston Public School students to school in a safe and effective manner.
Because of the lack of drivers, many students have found themselves waiting at their bus stops for upwards of an hour until they have to come to the ridiculous conclusion that their bus isn’t going to show. This then leads families, many of whom are working, to drop everything and figure out how they are going to get their children to school. This causes immense amounts of stress on the family since it is a wrench thrown in their daily schedules.
On October 6, 2021 the Boston City Council’s Boston Public School Committee held a public virtual meeting to address these concerns, explain why there isn’t a simple solution, demonstrate how it is currently being addressed, and take questions and comments from concerned families.
In her report, Superintendent of Boston Public Schools, Dr. Brenda Cassellius, relayed to the School Committee and to the folks of Boston that she understands their concerns about the bussing situation and is too frustrated. She explains that the issue is far more complex than it may appear. The Boston Public Schools is in a strict contract with a bus company. Before the school year began, Boston Public Schools told the company that they have 649 bus routes that all need drivers. Despite the company stating that they would have the adequate support to handle all of the routes, the ongoing shortage has made that nearly impossible.
The way that the process works is that each morning a driver is scheduled to one of the 649 bus routes, however, the company is unsure which drivers will and will not show up until about 5:00am the morning of. Then in an attempt to replace those drivers for the day so that the children can have a ride to school, the company offers the hours to all nonscheduled drivers in the system who then have the chance to pick up an extra shift. However, because the company only determines how many drivers are missing the morning of when they don’t show up for work, there is a very short window in which alternative drivers can jump in which makes finding coverage despite their efforts pretty difficult.
Which leads to the question, can Boston Public Schools at the least contact families when they know that a certain route won’t be covered so that the family can have at least some time before school to scramble for a plan instead of being kept in the dark and having these kids wait out in the streets for up to an hour after their scheduled pick up time just to find out that the bus isn’t coming. To answer this, Dr. Cassellius reiterated her point of how hard clear communication with the public is to achieve because of the complexity of working with this bus company. She attributes the toughness of the situation to the fact that the company does not know the final number of bus routes missing a driver until around 6:30 a.m. when most students are already outside waiting at their stops. Although this situation is extremely stressful, both superintendent Cassellius and the school committee are committed to streamlining and improving the communication about the bussing situation. She stated that an email and phone call will be going out to all families of bus routes that will not pick up students each morning as soon as Boston Public Schools hears from the company of this news.
In order to address the situation even more, Superintendent Cassellius in partnership with the Boston Public Schools Department of Transportation studied each bus route carefully and was able remap them so that only 628 routes were needed as opposed to 649, decreasing the amount of routes by 21 routes. This way, the Boston Public Schools needs 21 less drivers than they did before so that hopefully those 21 people can step up and cover a missing route if needed to avoid the prevalence of this problem in the future. Extra support is also supplied by Massachusetts’ state governor Charlie Baker who deployed roughly 250 individuals from the National Guard to become bus drivers in Massachusetts due to the shortage.
Moving forward, Boston Public Schools hopes to continue to prioritize improving this situation so that students can focus on being students without having to worry about how to get there. It is their hope that they can put having clear and open communication with their families at the top of their concerns as the situation continues to be solved. They do believe however, with the recent reduction of bus routes and drivers needed the lack of school bus drivers will not be such a big problem. Let’s hope for the families of Boston Public Schools that this is true. Students should never have to worry about their education being reliant on the school bus. Our students deserve better than that.