While the pandemic has created a slew of all types of shortages, the most recent shortage is affecting Michigan students. A national school bus driver shortage is causing route cancellations in districts all across West Michigan.
"All over West Michigan, there is not a district that isn't short people," Dean Transportation Kent County Regional Manager Kevin Harkness said.
Harkness says they are so short on drivers that routes are canceled almost daily across many of the districts they work with.
Holland Public Schools canceled routes last week and this week. On Tuesday the following cancellations are in place:
- Bus #43 HHS/HMS/HLA
- Bus #20 HMS (PM route canceled, AM route will run.)
Forest Hills Public Schools in Grand Rapids, who have their own transportation department, have multiple routes canceled all this week and next week:
- Bus #64 – Collins Elementary, Northern Hills Middle/Northern High
- Bus #73 – Ada Elementary, Northern Hills Middle/Northern High
- Bus #74 – Central Woodlands, Central Middle/Central High
- Bus #76 – Northern Trails. The following bus will only be running in the morning and will not be running in the afternoon on Aug. 30-Sept. 10
- Bus #95 – Knapp Forest Elementary, Eastern Middle/Eastern High.
"We are so tight on drivers that even if life just happens one day for a driver where they're sick or have a family member that care to it sometimes results in route cancellations for us," Forest Hills Public Schools Superintendent Daniel Behm said.
Behm says they've started offering all types of incentives to help recruit more staff. He says the transportation department even has the director and trained mechanics running routes.
"We've increased compensation, we've made benefits more widely available, we have a fantastic team of drivers, they do a great job, we just need more of them," he said.
According to the Michigan Association of Pupil Transportation, Michigan is seeing a shortage of thousands of drivers statewide and a shortage of about 300 drivers in Kent County alone. Executive director Dave Meeuwsen says a lot of the older drivers are retiring early, to stay safe from COVID-19.
"They're older and they don't want to be in a school bus and possibly come down with COVID," Meeuwsen said.
Harkness says if there are no drivers on the roads the responsibility of transportation then falls on to busy parents who may or may not be able to drive their kids to school. If driving isn't an option for parents, that leaves more empty seats in the classrooms and a more dangerous environment on the roads if more student walk.
"It's very simple. Kids just want to get to school eventually," Harkness said.
Drivers are needed all corners of Michigan to make sure learning opportunities, athletic events and fieldtrips can keep rolling on.
Dean Transportation is hiring, to apply visit their website or call them at 517-319-8353.
Forest Hills Public Schools is also hiring, more information can be found on their website or through their transportation department at 616-493-8785.