Addressing Driver Shortage: Reducing School Bus Routes
published on June 25, 2021 by Sonia Mastros
It's harder than ever for school districts to find enough drivers for their school bus routes. The driver shortage was a problem even before the COVID-19 outbreak, and now it's only gotten worse. An estimated 80% of schools are having trouble finding enough drivers, and that's a big problem when schools are legally mandated to provide transportation to their students.
While there's no truly good solution to the problem, there are options - and one of the most popular is looking for ways to reduce the number of school bus routes being run at once. Fewer routes means fewer drivers, and that can make a big difference for a district that is understaffed.
Four Ways To Reduce School Bus Routes in Your District
1. Better Route Planning Optimization
Usually, the best option is to start with bus route optimization software. Smart computer systems can analyze millions of potential routes within seconds, creating optimal routing based on numerous parameters defined by the district. While not guaranteed, in many cases these optimization systems can reduce the number of routes a district has to run - bringing huge cost savings along the way.
2. Stagger School Start and End Times for Different Groups
Another option is to run fewer routes, more times. For example, a high school might decide that underclassmen go to school from 8-3, while upperclassmen have classes from 9-4. That allows two separate sets of bus routes to be run, back to back, in both the morning and the evening.
This does mean extra work for drivers, as well as extending school by an hour or so, but it can be extremely effective if the drawbacks don't outweigh the benefits.
3. Deploy Smaller Vehicles
While laws vary from state to state, in general, a person does not need to have a Commercial Drivers License to drive vehicles weighing less than 3.5 tons. In some cases, a district might be able to eliminate bus routes - which require CDL-carrying drivers - by replacing them with vans or other smaller vehicles. These could then be driven by any district staff in possession of a standard car license.
4. Encourage Carpooling Among Parents
As a last resort, a school could appeal to their parents to take up some of the slack with carpooling. This isn't the best option, but if the only other option is raising property taxes to fund more buses/drivers, the parents could be convinced to go along with it.
There's no easy solution to the ongoing problem of bus driver shortages, nor is the problem expected to go away any time soon. Has your district found a good trick or 'hack' for reducing its school bus routes? Please let us know in the comments below!