Albemarle Co. and Charlottesville schools facing major bus driver shortages

Published: Sep. 16, 2021 at 4:49 PM EDT
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ALBEMARLE COUNTY, Va. (WVIR) - As school districts grapple with keeping students safe from COVID-19, there’s another big issue at hand: a major bus driver shortage, causing concern for schools, students, and families.

According to Albemarle County Public Schools, roughly 80% of districts nationwide are dealing with a driver shortage. Some districts in the commonwealth are missing two-thirds of their driving staff. Kim Powell of Charlottesville City Schools says this has been a problem for months, only worsened by the pandemic.

“There doesn’t seem to be a quick end in sight,” Powell said.

ACPS and CCS are now encouraging parents to drive their students to school, if they’re able.

“Even for those families who can make it work and transport those students, that’s not necessarily the best and easiest thing for their family, and we realize that,” Powell said.

Some parents are responding to the call: More than 140 Albemarle County parents pledged to drive their students just Wednesday, September 15, after ACPS released a video explaining the issue.

The county’s director of transportation, Jim Folley, says “more drastic measures.” will have to be taken if the districts cannot hire more drivers soon. That could mean removing students from a bus list if they do not ride for 10 consecutive days ,or live within what the county considers a “walk zone.”

“So elementary may have to walk up to a mile, secondary schools up to a mile-and-a-half. That would cut about 700 students off our list. That might end up being maybe six buses that we’d be able to consolidate,” Foley said.

CCS says routes are being combined, creating longer rides to and from home. That’s already complicated by COVID-19, forcing only two students to a seat instead of three.

Foley says he has picked up shifts driving, as have several staff with CCS.

“My assistant has a van that she’s driving, picking up students. Something that many other staff members here in the division office, ride along or drive cars and pitch in the best we can,” Powell said.

Both districts are now ramping up incentives, like higher wages and more benefits, to get more drivers on board.

“The need is there and it’s a great opportunity for people to earn additional income, have some flexible hours, because there’s all kinds of different schedules available, and really serve the community in a meaningful way,” Powell said.

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