Why America has a school bus driver shortage
September 27, 2021 2:38 AM   Subscribe

~81% of districts reported not being able to find enough school bus drivers to fill their needs. TLDR: Driver demographic is particularly susceptible to Covid19. Poor pay. Rough schedule. Amazon! An answer: busses with stripper poles. From The Hustle.
posted by gregoreo (76 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
 
A good friend of mine (68 years old) drives a bus for one of Indy's wealthier northern suburbs. He's driving double, and sometimes triple, routes because the school system is down 50 drivers.

When the school system went to remote learning last year, they paid the drivers a stipend to hold them over. But, when they went back to in-person classes, many of them decided to just not go back. My friend really agonized over the decision to go back. Even in the best of times, being in a schoolbus with dozens of kids is somewhat like sitting in a petri dish, but covid made things really concerning, even though he's fully vaccinated and wears a mask.

Federal law, apparently, mandates masks on schoolbusses and, by and large, the kids are cooperative. Some parents, though, continue to try and put their kids on the bus sans mask, and get incensed when my friend refuses to let the kid on without being masked. It's a hard-core republican suburb, of course. He sees lots of Trump flags on people's yards on his routes.

He's just hanging on until April, when he can quit and collect the meager pension he's earned.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:41 AM on September 27, 2021 [26 favorites]


A job with poor pay, weird hours, a high chance of getting Covid and the job duties include getting yelled at by crazy anti-vax parents who refuse to let their kids wear masks? Where can I apply?
posted by octothorpe at 4:54 AM on September 27, 2021 [61 favorites]


A better headline: "Why aren't we paying bus drivers enough to keep them coming to work?"
posted by metahacker at 5:09 AM on September 27, 2021 [92 favorites]


A better headline: "Why aren't we paying [any workers even remotely considered 'service'] enough to keep them coming to work?"

ftfy

Honestly, I wish I had the copyright for "Now hiring. All positions/shifts" signs. I'd be retiring to my own private island real soon.
posted by Thorzdad at 5:32 AM on September 27, 2021 [11 favorites]


I'd be retiring to my own private island real soon.

Only if you could find the workers to make the signs...
posted by clawsoon at 5:41 AM on September 27, 2021 [18 favorites]


First few weeks of school in MN have been one day of on-time pickup, followed by no afternoon bus (at all, ever, for the entire timeframe), two weeks of no morning bus, with a second bus coming 2-3 hours late to pick up kids for school (yes, I will just have my kid wait until noon to go in, that makes sense). Finally a new morning driver, who is combining multiple routes and doesn’t seem to know the best way to drive, so was very late on the first day and we just gave up and I started driving our son in myself. It’s not too far out of my way but means I’m getting to work 15 minutes late every day, and unless there is soccer practice, my wife is leaving work every afternoon for about half an hour to go get him (because like many working parents we are not done with work at 3 PM when school gets out). If there is soccer practice, I’m getting him, but that means I’m staying at work at least an extra half hour because it makes no sense to drive home first then go back and get him. So our personal work schedules are pretty much screwed to hell, but we are at least lucky enough that our bosses understand and allow us the flexibility. I have no idea what we’d do if we were working retail or food service, where being late repeatedly means rapidly being unemployed.

Kid made the soccer team, but there have been no games at all, because the school drives the kids to games, and there are no buses for that. It’s maddening.

We get a small payback from the school for driving him in ourselves - something like $70 - that is not enough to make up for the time lost from work for a parent using sick or vacation time to make it work.

We don’t have him on the bus because we want to. We live a block from his old school. The school that the city moved him out of for the next 2 years in their district redesign. Something like 75% of the elementary age kids in Minneapolis had to change schools due to the reorganization. Guess what? The school district hired an outside company to consult on the design of this reorg - turns out it was the contracted busing company. So somehow the reorg “saved” money by consolidating bus routes - but ended up putting more kids on buses, at a time when the district knew for at least 5 years ahead of time that there was a driver shortage. The pandemic accelerated the problem for our community but the driver shortage is not new. It’s just incredibly compounded by poor planning and allowing a bus company to influence the school assignment planning.
posted by caution live frogs at 5:44 AM on September 27, 2021 [34 favorites]


So many more cars in my daughter's middle school lot for drop-off & pick-up that the town bulldozed a short road through the woods to connect to a nearby street, to improve traffic flow.
posted by wenestvedt at 5:55 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


This article drives me extra crazy because when I was a kid, I was in a carpool. Everyone carpooled! Parents would take turns and no one had to fuck up their schedule five days a week. Why is this not even being mentioned?
posted by phooky at 6:04 AM on September 27, 2021 [7 favorites]


So many more cars in my daughter's middle school lot for drop-off & pick-up that the town bulldozed a short road through the woods to connect to a nearby street, to improve traffic flow.

There are a couple of middle/elementary schools in my area that regularly have parents backed-up into major thoroughfares, waiting to pick-up their kids. It's another one of those situations where the parents scream bloody murder at the schools, but then vote against increasing funding. It's not like the schools can just start throwing money at people if there isn't anything in the budget to allow it.

There's also the issue (at least in my area) where drivers have to have a current CDL license and pass a physical. It's just high enough of a bar that a lot of people don't want to fuck with it for low pay and pressure.

My friend's school system also subjects the drivers to random drug screenings, which might dissuade a not-insubstantial number of people from applying. Indiana's not a legal weed state, but we do our part to keep Michigan and Illinois dispensaries in business.
posted by Thorzdad at 6:06 AM on September 27, 2021 [8 favorites]


> Like Morgan, many bus drivers have decided that the sacrifices they make aren’t justified by their paychecks.

A lot of people don't realize the true value of jobs they would never in a million years take themselves until workers stop doing them, and the conclusion a large percentage of *those* people immediately leap to is "It's because those workers are spoiled and lazy."
posted by The Card Cheat at 6:31 AM on September 27, 2021 [42 favorites]


Even in the best of times, being in a schoolbus with dozens of kids is somewhat like sitting in a petri dish, but covid made things really concerning, even though he's fully vaccinated and wears a mask . . . Federal law, apparently, mandates masks on schoolbusses

OK, this is mystifying--on the other side of the coin, apparently hundreds of bus drivers in my state are refusing to come to work because Connecticut is imposing the mask mandate (OR weekly testing) for school bus drivers. (Our governor said he'd be willing to deploy the National Guard to drive buses if need be, which I think is a pretty darn good idea.)
posted by dlugoczaj at 6:45 AM on September 27, 2021 [11 favorites]


The school in Boston that hired the (apparently nationally-infamous) party bus with the stripper pole is a charter school at which my wife taught for many years. By all accounts the author of that tweet is in quite a lot of hot water with the school administration, which is kind of sad... I'd have posted the same thing, if only to draw attention to the complete absurdity of trying to handle the day-to-day logistics of making schools work in the madcap time of COVID.

In totally unrelated news, Boston has the most fucked-up school transportation system I've ever heard of, consisting of a bunch of semi-overlapping fiefdoms with attendant power struggles/turf wars, as well as sweetheart backroom deals that provide for (e.g.) dedicated buses from distant parts of the city that transport only students from one of the highly prestigious "public" exam schools. Even in normal years, most parents I know just drop their kids off themselves because buses are notoriously unreliable and are a huge safety hazard for kids. Meanwhile, the budget JUST FOR BUSING in Boston Public Schools is 9 digits, and apparently that doesn't cover paying a living wage to the people driving the buses.
posted by Mayor West at 6:51 AM on September 27, 2021 [3 favorites]


Our governor said he'd be willing to deploy the National Guard to drive buses if need be, which I think is a pretty darn good idea.

National Guard deployment usually means taking those National Guard members away from their family and regular jobs. I'm not sure how compensation works during a National Guard deployment like this.

I'd prefer they just use decent pay and benefits to attract workers to drive the buses, instead.
posted by msbrauer at 6:55 AM on September 27, 2021 [11 favorites]


Our governor said he'd be willing to deploy the National Guard to drive buses if need be, which I think is a pretty darn good idea.

Massachusetts' governor has said the same thing. While that's not as horrifying as many other uses for which the National Guard is deployed, I do have some concerns about military reservists being sent into action working directly with small children, driving vehicles for which they almost certainly aren't licensed. Best-case scenario here still has us losing a whole bunch of light poles and mailboxes on sharp corners.
posted by Mayor West at 6:56 AM on September 27, 2021 [6 favorites]


Everyone carpooled! Parents would take turns and no one had to fuck up their schedule five days a week. Why is this not even being mentioned?

Because in most places, kids are now in some kind of car seat until age 9-10, so you can't fit enough kids in your car to make it worthwhile.
posted by jeather at 6:56 AM on September 27, 2021 [31 favorites]


Our governor said he'd be willing to deploy the National Guard to drive buses if need be, which I think is a pretty darn good idea.

Okay, so what's next, the National Guard is going to work at Wendy's because Wendy's won't pay enough to retain workers? The National Guard will be deployed to provide janitorial services? Then we can start conscripting people into the Guard, I guess, and that will solve the whole "don't want to pay a living wage" problem.
posted by Frowner at 7:04 AM on September 27, 2021 [31 favorites]


Well, I care about getting children to school safely; not so much about Wendy's.
posted by JanetLand at 7:06 AM on September 27, 2021 [3 favorites]


NHTSA recommends kids be in car seats until 12 years old, but school buses don't have seat belts, due to design differences.

Which is more of an indictment of car culture in the USA, than a gripe about busses, since these rules are evidence-based.

let's pay the bus drivers more, if you need a CDL, they should make what truckers make at least
posted by eustatic at 7:10 AM on September 27, 2021 [4 favorites]


I'd prefer they just use decent pay and benefits to attract workers to drive the buses, instead.

So would I, but that doesn't seem to be the issue in CT right now--apparently being anti-vax mandate trumps staying on the job, and I don't know if higher pay and benefits is the answer to that.
posted by dlugoczaj at 7:11 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


Oof, y'all are right about the car seat thing. We don't drive very much and have been using one of the safety vest contraptions with the 5yo, so I'd completely forgotten. I grew up during the "ok, kids, pile in to the back of the station wagon" era of child transportation.
posted by phooky at 7:31 AM on September 27, 2021 [6 favorites]


>> Everyone carpooled! Parents would take turns and no one had to fuck up their schedule five days a week. Why is this not even being mentioned?

> Because in most places, kids are now in some kind of car seat until age 9-10, so you can't fit enough kids in your car to make it worthwhile.

When I was a kid, it was considered completely acceptable to load as many kids into the car as would physically fit, including in the space behind the rear seat and in pickup truck beds. Seatbelts were not a concern, much less car seats.

In addition, there has been a huge change in the demographics of parenting -- it used to be that most people had a couple of kids; now, lots and lots of people have zero, some have one or two, and then a number of families have many kids. So back in the day, 3/4 of the houses on your block might have children, making organizing a car pool simple. Now, not so much.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:33 AM on September 27, 2021 [11 favorites]


> OK, this is mystifying--on the other side of the coin, apparently hundreds of bus drivers in my state are refusing to come to work because Connecticut is imposing the mask mandate (OR weekly testing) for school bus drivers.

Up here in Toronto, the transit worker's union is fighting the vaccine mandate for city employees, which...I dunno, if I drove a bus or streetcar filled with members of the public, many of whom aren't wearing masks because those rules aren't being enforced, I would want to be fully vaccinated, but that's just me.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:37 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


Because in most places, kids are now in some kind of car seat until age 9-10, so you can't fit enough kids in your car to make it worthwhile.

Car seat rules have gone a bit crazy:
"These children should remain in a booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between eight and 12 years of age."

This is yet another artifact of both schools getting farther from neighborhoods, cars get larger (and then interiors get larger to support giant car seats), roads get bigger to support more and larger cars, cycle of horribleness.

Teenage now means you get out of your booster seat.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:37 AM on September 27, 2021 [6 favorites]


I think there is probably an intermediate safety option re carpooling -- not kids sitting 2 in the front seat and 5 in the back, but kids sitting in seat belted spots without a booster -- but even then we're at what, 3 kids in most cars, 4 if you have big enough kids to sit in the front seat. That's a lot of work to save a few trips, and what if the kid has activities? (My carpool when I was little solved the activities issue by putting all the kids in the same activities.)
posted by jeather at 7:39 AM on September 27, 2021


Just as a data point, in the school systems where I am familiar with the payroll, many, many of the bus drivers supplement their part-time bus driver pay by serving as lunchroom monitors or other in-school functions during the school day. It is common for someone whose main job is bus driver to have two other positions they get paid for.
posted by ob1quixote at 7:42 AM on September 27, 2021 [3 favorites]


Don't want to derail, but when I recently visited my sister in Sarnia (population: about 70,000), I went with her when she picked up her kids from elementary school, and I was astounded by how few children there were who appeared to be walking home, on their own or even with a parent. I asked my mom about it, and when I started kindergarten (in 1978) she walked with me a few times so I learned the route and then after that I was on my own.

I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, because a friend of mine here in Toronto used to live about a three minute walk away from his daughter's school and he had neighbours who would drive two or three blocks to pick their kid(s) up rather than let them walk home on their own or even walk there and back with them. This of course would result in horrific traffic jams every morning and afternoon on the narrow and otherwise quiet residential street, along with all the air and noise (much honk, very anger) pollution that comes along with that.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:48 AM on September 27, 2021 [4 favorites]


Car seat rules have gone a bit crazy:
"These children should remain in a booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly, typically when they reach 4 feet 9 inches in height and are between eight and 12 years of age."


Seem like a good idea based on this link
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:50 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


who would drive two or three blocks to pick their kid(s) up rather than let them walk home on their own or even walk there and back with them.

1. Walking is extremely income-coded (only poors walk).
2. Moms (also parents, but mostly moms) are concerned about crime - neighborhoods are filled with pedophiles and kidnappers.
3. Pedestrian infrastructure on school property is generally terrible (at my kids' elementary school, a parent can drive up and drop their kid 20 feet from the door, but a kindergartner who bikes can't ride their bike on school property (they have to walk it) and the bike parking is around the corner from the door- at the high school, it's a 100 yards from any door.
4. Time constraints - walking there and back home takes time if you are going to use the car to go somewhere else, like to work.

All these factors mean walking is punished, so few people walk.
posted by The_Vegetables at 7:55 AM on September 27, 2021 [17 favorites]


Seem like a good idea based on this link

IDK, maybe. It says 37% are completely unrestrained, but makes no distinction between restrained in a normal car seat and child safety seat. It explains seat belt syndrome (under-restrained kids), but gives no actual numbers of kids suffering from it, nor how many are seriously or permanently injured.
posted by The_Vegetables at 8:01 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]


Car seat rules have gone a bit crazy:
"These children should remain in a booster seat until the vehicle seat belt fits properly


The booster seats here do not take up extra space or reduce carpooling passenger capacity, let's note since that was the context. This is purely raising the child -- or any short person -- to where the car's fixed seat belt geometry doesn't harm them. Self-driving cars hype more money than self-adjusting shoulder belts.

Likewise in the front seat they've got to grow out of the death zone of where the car's explosives will be firing at their head. Self-disabling explosives? No hype.
posted by away for regrooving at 9:07 AM on September 27, 2021 [6 favorites]


I don't understand all this talk about carpooling. Not every parent has a car, and certainly not every parent is able to afford the time to drive all their kids to faraway schools. And when the fucking planet is burning down, replacing buses with cars doesn't seem to make sense. Running buses to get kids to school is a public need if there ever was one.

Why not instead raise taxes and increase bus driver wages? Like, the federal government could help with this since it is literally part of our transportation infrastructure.
posted by splitpeasoup at 9:15 AM on September 27, 2021 [10 favorites]


Per the National Safety Council Injury Facts > School Bus Crashes:
School bus-related crashes killed 109 people nationwide in 2019, according to National Safety Council (NSC) tabulations of data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

A school bus-related crash is defined by NHTSA as any crash in which a vehicle, regardless of body design, used as a school bus is directly or indirectly involved. This includes incidents involving school children getting in or out of a vehicle.

From 2010 to 2019, about 69% of the deaths in school bus-related crashes were occupants of vehicles other than the school bus, and 17% were pedestrians. About 6% were school bus passengers [*], 5% were school bus drivers, and 3% were pedalcyclists.

Of the people injured in school bus-related crashes from 2010 to 2019, about 34% were school bus passengers, 8% were school bus drivers, and 53% were occupants of other vehicles. The remainder were pedestrians, pedalcyclists, and other or unknown.
*School bus passenger deaths are surprisingly low: see the NSC spreadsheet Deaths in school bus-related crashes, United States, 2008-2019. This reflects the NHTSA view that “The school bus is the safest vehicle on the road—your child is much safer taking a bus to and from school than traveling by car.
posted by cenoxo at 9:18 AM on September 27, 2021 [5 favorites]


I hope that the Bus Drivers know they are in-demand and get increases out of this. Just poking around random school districts and online there is certainly a large disparity in pay for what should be somewhat transferrable skills (with some hand waving on transferring a CDL between states, differences in cost of living/taxes in some cities etc., and some unique skill requirements like paratransit experience etc.), but even on a sample of 10 or so school districts (and online job sites) I've seen $12 an hour and a fraction over $30 an hour for what seem at their heart like similar roles.

We drop our kids off as we are up steep windy road that isn't served by any bus - let alone the school bus - and the nearest school bus stop is essentially the last stop before the school itself. That, a lack of footpaths most of the way (!), and the small matter of temperatures approaching or below zero in the mornings much of the winter, make walking/riding for kids frankly dangerous.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 9:40 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


This article drives me extra crazy because when I was a kid, I was in a carpool. Everyone carpooled! Parents would take turns and no one had to fuck up their schedule five days a week. Why is this not even being mentioned?

Trying to co-ordinate with 2-3 other families to make carpooling actually work consistently sounds absolutely hellish.
posted by Dr. Twist at 9:46 AM on September 27, 2021 [7 favorites]


Why America has a school bus driver shortage

Can we just presume, "Republicans"?
posted by Gelatin at 9:50 AM on September 27, 2021 [7 favorites]


I know here you only get a school bus if you are in your assigned school, and you are more than 1.4 km from your school -- but the timing is such that kids are picked up as much as one hour before school starts, as much as 3 blocks away . . . and it doesn't included the extended day/after school program time. (I'm in a city with good public transit, so elementary has this limited bus option; for high school -- there is no middle school -- which starts in grade 7, you're just expected to take regular public transit. This of course works a lot better as long as the kids are allowed to take public transit.)

School buses are great, but there are limitations to them, too.
posted by jeather at 9:54 AM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]


Can we just presume, "Republicans"?

Demanding the world from schools while giving them a pittance is bipartisan.

Why do you think the PTA exists in just about every middle class and above school? It's literally a vehicle for rich towns to bypass state funding equalization.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 9:58 AM on September 27, 2021 [9 favorites]


It's not just school bus drivers (although that shortage has particular ripple effects for suburban rather than urban America). My local city bus service has dropped from 15 min to 60 min headway due to driver shortages. Which means that if you miss the bus, you are SOL. The transit agency has been fare-free for over a year now, and wasn't particularly well-funded before, so they don't have wads of cash sitting around to pay drivers well enough to deal with dicknosers in addition to the other awful stuff city bus drivers have to endure in non-pandemic times.

I don't blame the drivers at all, but as someone who takes the bus herself, it's pretty frustrating.
posted by basalganglia at 10:04 AM on September 27, 2021


I'd also suspect First, the largest private bus owner/operator. Like every successful multinational, they've never met a corner they couldn't cut.

This is a below-the-radar essential service that doesn't pay well. As such, I'm amazed that organized crime hasn't stepped in to "help": after all, they know where you live and where your kids go to school ...
posted by scruss at 10:46 AM on September 27, 2021 [3 favorites]


Our governor said he'd be willing to deploy the National Guard to drive buses if need be, which I think is a pretty darn good idea.

I wonder how that's supposed to work? While there is an MOS for Motor Transport Operator (88M), it's probably pretty rare... and the Army doesn't require CDLs anyway, at least last time I checked. Are they going to somehow waive the CDL requirement?
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:00 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


We get a small payback from the school for driving him in ourselves - something like $70 - that is not enough to make up for the time lost from work for a parent using sick or vacation time to make it work.

What?! You get paid if you don't use the bus. OMG. You're in America? Minnesota?! That's wild. I'm an Oregonian American and we don't get paid not to use the bus. And f whoever put that rule into play so they could "get theirs."
posted by amanda at 11:13 AM on September 27, 2021 [6 favorites]


who would drive two or three blocks to pick their kid(s) up rather than let them walk home on their own or even walk there and back with them.

Where we lived when my son was in school, there were zero sidewalks or crosswalks. Even the kids who lived across the road from the school had to take the bus because it was too dangerous to walk. No one there thought that was odd.
posted by octothorpe at 11:27 AM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


I spent two years driving bus for our local school district. Despite being paid $32 an hour (roughly 5 hours a day), it's a hellish thing for a retiree like me. Up at 5:30 am, driving in the dark, driving in rural North Dakota has its own set of hazards (I've seen weather and roads that would make most sphincters pucker), and finally, the kids. Whoever used the word petri dish hit the nail on the head. I spent almost half my time either getting, having, or recovering from a nasty cold (and twice a year, despite getting shots, the flu). Early grades will touch everything and anything, spreading filth and disease everywhere (we bus K-12, all on the same bus!). I had a few disturbed/special needs kids that had violent tendencies and almost no way to supervise them. I had two kicked off my last route and two that should have been. This is on top of just the wild behavior of early grades bouncing off the walls after being in school every day. Teens aren't much of a problem, they just want to be left alone to talk or use their phones. It's a thankless job that causes sleep deprivation, stress, and illness. I wouldn't wish it on anyone.
posted by Ber at 11:41 AM on September 27, 2021 [26 favorites]


and the small matter of temperatures approaching or below zero in the mornings much of the winter

The midwesterner in me would like to say that those are the _best_ mornings, because that means the creek has frozen over and I could walk on the ice instead of on the concrete embankment.

And sometimes through the ice. Thankfully usually on the way home and not on the way to school.

This makes it sound a lot more bucolic than it actually was. Otherwise it was very much like jeather's experience, thankfully the suburb I grew up in had decent sidewalks and back routes for the kids, because spending an hour on the bus every morning and afternoon sounded like my version of hell compared to the half hour it took to walk the mile.
posted by Kyol at 12:31 PM on September 27, 2021


The midwesterner in me would like to say that those are the _best_ mornings, because that means the creek has frozen over and I could walk on the ice instead of on the concrete embankment.

Fair, but the cold, combined with no footpaths, 6-8 foot high snowbanks right to the edge of the road, on steep mountainous terrain, county plows, and low visibility makes it quite the adventure even for adults to walk, let alone six year olds. I haven't yet been able to train the local Moose population to carry humans consistently.
posted by inflatablekiwi at 1:26 PM on September 27, 2021 [4 favorites]


Who would want to be a bus driver, if I what I see going on is accurate--I can hear the middle school bus from a block away, filled with screaming children? Bus drivers are required to be fit enough to be able to drag a 125-pound person from the bus in the event of an emergency. Routine though random drug screening. Drivers have to pay upfront for a drawn-out process to get a expensive CDL license (though they can later be reimbursed by some companies) with a school designation (apparently extra), and deal with endless complaints from parents.
posted by etaoin at 1:35 PM on September 27, 2021 [3 favorites]


I wonder how to understand all the labor shortages since COVID. To what extent is it a wide awareness among people recognizing they don’t like their working conditions and that they just won’t put up with them anymore, how much is the pandemic isn’t over and they can’t take the risk or don’t have child or elder care, and how much it’s the fact a lot of people have died or become disabled by this or another medical situation that went untreated because hospitals were full? The pandemic has certainly revealed how fragile our social infrastructure has become.So many systems were so stressed in the before times they’re unraveling.
posted by zenzenobia at 2:01 PM on September 27, 2021 [8 favorites]


Drivers have to pay upfront for a drawn-out process to get a expensive CDL license

For what it is worth almost every job ad I randomly looked at for school bus drivers this morning mentioned paying for that (albeit reduced wages until you get it - so you do pay for it one way or the other...)

Who would want to be a bus driver, if I what I see going on is accurate

No disagreement from what I've seen from very limited exposure of the few months my kids were able to ride a school bus. That said I've idly thought about retiring early and being a bus driver at a ski-resort - though I'm sure that's a different type of hell at times - but if you can swing it so you ski the morning at the resort then drive an afternoon shift...
posted by inflatablekiwi at 2:11 PM on September 27, 2021


We never even had a school bus growing up. I don't think K-12 school busses exist in this town I am in now either. They have county bus and college bus here.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:33 PM on September 27, 2021


basalganglia: It's not just school bus drivers (although that shortage has particular ripple effects for suburban rather than urban America). My local city bus service has dropped from 15 min to 60 min headway due to driver shortages. Which means that if you miss the bus, you are SOL. The transit agency has been fare-free for over a year now, and wasn't particularly well-funded before, so they don't have wads of cash sitting around to pay drivers well enough to deal with dicknosers in addition to the other awful stuff city bus drivers have to endure in non-pandemic times.

I don't blame the drivers at all, but as someone who takes the bus herself, it's pretty frustrating.


It's not just buses. The company that my city contracts out to for collection of recycling doesn't have enough drivers either and we've been under instructions for a while to just leave the bins out for them to tip into their trucks when they can.
posted by emelenjr at 3:12 PM on September 27, 2021


Trying to co-ordinate with 2-3 other families to make carpooling actually work consistently sounds absolutely hellish.

I wonder whether anyone has tried solving this problem with technology. I'm not thinking so much some Uber-like venture-funded business but something like a cross between a local WhatsApp, a Trello board, a restaurant-bill-splitting app and a shared spreadsheet, with an interface optimised for showing routes on a map and helping the participants negotiate whose turn it is.
posted by acb at 3:43 PM on September 27, 2021


I haven't yet been able to train the local Moose population to carry humans consistently.

CAUTION – Moose plow comin’ through!
posted by cenoxo at 6:02 PM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]


School bus by country (WP) – with photos and service descriptions.
posted by cenoxo at 6:29 PM on September 27, 2021


What?! You get paid if you don't use the bus. OMG. You're in America? Minnesota?! That's wild.

Ha. We filled out the form this morning, and it seems that $70 is the high end limit. They pay us back for mileage - at about 50¢ a mile. It won’t be much.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:28 PM on September 27, 2021


I wonder whether anyone has tried solving this problem with technology. I'm not thinking so much some Uber-like venture-funded business but something like a cross between a local WhatsApp, a Trello board, a restaurant-bill-splitting app and a shared spreadsheet, with an interface optimised for showing routes on a map and helping the participants negotiate whose turn it is.

It’s called a group text.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:05 PM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


I hope that this isn't a derail because of its generality, but a policy paper titled "The Demographic Drought" has been making the rounds of senior management at my company today. It purports to explain the origins of the current labor shortage, and its implications for businesses in the future. This relates to the subject at hand because, in the past, many people had no choice but to accept poor working conditions for terrible pay. (A family member used to work for the a state retirement system for teachers and other school workers, it's heartbreaking how small pensions are for cafeteria workers who spent decades trying to feed our kids nutritious meals.) But demographic changes that were already underway before COVID have been exacerbated by the epidemic, and one consequence of that is that people now have more choices than they did in the past. Honestly, given the pay, benefits, and working conditions, I'm not surprised nobody wants to drive a school bus. It's a problem for my high-schooler, too.

It's not all good news, of course. Able-bodied men are participating in the labor force at the lowest levels on record, and they've been heavily affected by things like the opioid crisis. Immigration has also been dramatically lower (per their numbers) the last couple of years, so a source of labor that might have offset some of those effects isn't available. These problems aren't going to go away any time soon.

I'm not saying that this report is the be-all, end-all; I think it does a much better job of identifying trends than it does explaining the causes of those trends. I also have my suspicions that this is simply a tool to drum-up support for increased immigration quotas rather than improved working conditions. (In a video presentation by one of the authors, he explicitly states that he's not a fan of the idea of increased wages.) I still think there's some interesting stuff to think about here.
posted by wintermind at 8:10 PM on September 27, 2021 [2 favorites]


Man this thread is such an indictment of suburban petromodernity.
posted by aspersioncast at 8:23 PM on September 27, 2021 [4 favorites]


A Møøse once bit my sister... No realli!

I had noticed big “Bus Drivers Wanted” signs outside all the nearby schools, but I hadn’t really stopped to think about why.

(Most of the bus drivers at my high school were farm wives. The schedule worked pretty well for them.)
posted by The Underpants Monster at 9:39 PM on September 27, 2021 [1 favorite]


Times have changed, that's for sure. Sidewalks were scarce where I grew up, so those of us that walked to elementary school just walked in the grass by the road. Or in some places where that wasn't possible, in the actual road. Walking or biking is not so practical when your school is five miles away, as they always were after that.

In what most people would call middle school I got a 49cc scooter and rode that to school. Ironically, they wouldn't allow such things in high school, only cars, so I had to walk a mile to the university and wait for my sister to get out of class or walk several miles with a few hundred feet of elevation gain to get home because there was no bus route anywhere near where I lived. Even if the district wanted to it would have been impossible to fit a bus down those roads.

If the trajectory of things doesn't change, I think a lot of people are going to be very surprised to have to make do with completely suboptimal choices that have become almost unthinkable these days. Until recently I would have had more of a "suck it up, buttercup" attitude about it, but I've come to realize that even where the practicality hasn't changed, it's really for the best that kids are treated differently now, at least in most cases.

And certainly with regard to kids walking in the street to school I'm glad that's changed. Before the rise of SUVs it was at least possible to see the 6 year olds over the hood. Not so much these days. They'd get run down left and right no matter how cautious drivers are just because of the physical inability to see them. Funny that we found ways to mitigate school buses doing that and then went and made half the vehicles on the road school bus sized.
posted by wierdo at 1:18 AM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


I have two comments:

1. I don't get how the party bus solved the problem. I mean the issue is lack of DRIVERS right? Not buses? So why couldn't they just get whoever drove the party bus to drive a school bus?

2. It seems like schoolbuses are just way over-used.

A) I don't get why so many kids are on schoolbuses (or in cars). I grew up in downtown and then suburbanish Toronto. Both my elementary schools almost everyone walked. I literally can think of ONE kid who took a cab to school every day (paid for by the school) because he had to come to our school for some reason or other and lived kind of far. There were some kids with Downs Syndrome or other developmental conditions. They came by bus. Everyone else walked. My son's school now, everyone walks. I literally have not seen a single kid dropped off in a car.

b). Why aren't more of these kids on just regular public transportation buses? By grade 4-6 or so kids should be fine to take the bus alone (well not really alone, with the hoards of other kids on the bus). Younger kids go with older siblings or neighbours. That's mostly what I see happening around here. Yeah, it's kind of awful when you're an adult and suddenly there are 40 tweens on the bus or streetcar, but they have as much right to use it as anybody. Suck it up, buttercup.f

c) Ditto field trips. We did almost all field trips by bus/subway. Before covid I saw lots of what were clearly classes going on field trips on the buses/streetcars/subways. For high school field trips we met at The Place (e.g. the museum), but it was explicitly banned to have parents drive their kids there. Like it was in the permission slip that under no circumstances could the parents drop the kids off at the museum. Something about insurance? I think the school thought they could get sued if you had a car accident on the way?

Sure...bus drivers have hard jobs in multiple ways (odd hours, boring, involves driving, kids are jerks, parents are jerks etc.) and should be paid more. But it seems like also maybe also just use fewer school buses.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:32 AM on September 28, 2021


I glanced at TFA and scanned the comments... nobody has yet made the observation that if you're being outcompeted by Amazon, of all rivals, because they pay better, you don't have a sustainable labor force.
posted by Aardvark Cheeselog at 8:00 AM on September 28, 2021 [4 favorites]


b). Why aren't more of these kids on just regular public transportation buses? By grade 4-6 or so kids should be fine to take the bus alone (well not really alone, with the hoards of other kids on the bus). Younger kids go with older siblings or neighbours. That's mostly what I see happening around here. Yeah, it's kind of awful when you're an adult and suddenly there are 40 tweens on the bus or streetcar, but they have as much right to use it as anybody. Suck it up, buttercup.f

Um, because public transportation doesn't exist for the vast majority of Americans.
posted by octothorpe at 9:27 AM on September 28, 2021 [17 favorites]


Sidewalks either, in a lot of places. Most cities trust require that new developments include sidewalks, but they have neither the will nor the budget to retrofit them where they were not originally required. In many cases, it's only been 10-15 years since they became mandatory. Some still don't require sidewalks.

Beyond that, neighborhood schools are becoming less and less common, even at the elementary level. They often still exist in/near older neighborhoods, but not in newer ones.
posted by wierdo at 9:57 AM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


Oh, and where public transit does exist, many agencies have had to make savage cuts to already infrequent and insufficiently dense bus services due to their own staffing issues, so even where it exists public transit isn't a practical alternative at the moment.

This is what happens when you drastically shrink the workforce by making them get sick and behind disabled or die in the name of the economy and nebulous freedoms. Even beyond confirmed COVID cases, there are the unreported COVID cases and long term illness/disability and death caused by the inability to access medical care for other conditions compounding the problem. Unfortunately, nobody is willing to acknowledge this drastic reduction in the number of people available to work, so we can't even begin to address the problem in any meaningful way.
posted by wierdo at 10:06 AM on September 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


Um, because public transportation doesn't exist for the vast majority of Americans.

But that's the thing, right? If kids were taking the buses to school, there would be a big bump in the market/ridership for buses AND better political will to keep them running and running well. Kids going to school would be literally thousands of new riders a day in most cities, I would think.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:14 AM on September 28, 2021


US children are more likely to reside in suburbs than urban areas, and US suburbs do not have real public transportation options to begin with. You can't increase ridership on bus routes that don't exist. In any case, many metro bus services are faces driver shortages, too.
posted by LindsayIrene at 10:30 AM on September 28, 2021 [8 favorites]


Compound upon that decades of resistance to adding public transit to suburbs, often with the explicitly-stated reason of "but if we bring busses/light-rail/public transit to the suburbs (which only *those* people ride), then they'll just use it to more effectively steal from our houses!"

(no-joke, I've had this raised as if it were supposed to be a serious issue meriting consideration, and somehow there's a perpetual crime-wave of people hauling flat-screen TVs and gun safes onto busses which only isn't being caught because "defund the police")
posted by CrystalDave at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


Most US suburbanites would never, ever allow public transportation into their townships. Don't you know what kind of people ride city busses?
posted by octothorpe at 10:36 AM on September 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


Frankly I got the same response when I complained about the lack of sidewalks when I lived in the suburbs. "sidewalks are for cities" or some variation is what I always got in response.
posted by octothorpe at 11:20 AM on September 28, 2021


I grew up in downtown and then suburbanish Toronto. Both my elementary schools almost everyone walked.

Big changes happened there in the last few years. Neighbourhood elementary schools in downtown Toronto suddenly shifted from students mostly walking to almost entirely chauffeur driven. Traffic around the local streets at 8am & 3pm just got reallly hairy too. Older elementary schools were designed for children walking in, so they didn't have much space in parking or drop-off lanes.
posted by ovvl at 12:03 PM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


There is a huge cultural resistance to public transport over huge swaths of the US. I was lucky enough to live in a college town with half-decent bus service. My employer provided a free bus pass, which was a much better deal than several hundred dollars for a pass to a parking lot across campus, and the bus stops were ridiculously close to my home and office. I was gushing about this at work one day, and one of my office mates got a look on her face like she’d been shoved into a vat of rotting fish. “The bus stops near my house, too,” she sneered, “But I don’t ride buses. Buses are for school kids and drug addicts.”
posted by The Underpants Monster at 1:38 PM on September 28, 2021 [3 favorites]


I live in rural MN. We are fortunate that the bus has actually shown up every day (except the first one) and taken my kids to school. Their ride is an hour in the morning, because the route is so spread out.

My 9th grader says that every day just before the final bell rings, there is an announcement that at least one bus just... isn't going to run that afternoon. It's 2:25 pm. There is NO public transportation around here. Most parents are at work. What are the kids supposed to do?

The district to our north is so short-staffed that they have added a second high school run, which picks up 2 hours after the first run. Some of these kids are missing the first 1.5 periods of their classes EVERY DAY and the school just shrugs & tells them to deal with it.

Kids who live within a mile (as the crow flies) have to walk, but this often means walking on the edge of poorly-plowed roads in the dark because there are no sidewalks.

Our district is offering $18.39/hour and I think they really need to raise it closer to $30 to get enough drivers.
posted by belladonna at 5:32 PM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


Big changes happened there in the last few years. Neighbourhood elementary schools in downtown Toronto suddenly shifted from students mostly walking to almost entirely chauffeur driven

My son is in school in downtown Toronto. We all walk. And we run into classmates and other neighbours and walk together, just like we did when I was a kid. If your experience is chauffeur-driven, I believe you, but at my son's school I don't even see where the cars would pull up. With the covid precautions the crowd outside the school is crazy and covers both sides of the street along two sides of the block.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 6:32 PM on September 28, 2021


Beyond that, neighborhood schools are becoming less and less common, even at the elementary level. They often still exist in/near older neighborhoods, but not in newer ones.

Yeah, when I was a kid my suburb had 5 schools, and still had 3 of them when I graduated, but only by opening up our doors to the local major urban center's students. Now they're down to two. My current hometown still has 14 fairly neighborhood-y schools, and we just recently voted a fairly big mill to pay for improvements on hundred year old schools. Hopefully population dynamics will stay steady for long enough to pay off the bond.

But! But changes in population density and household sizes are kind of messing things up:

"74% of the total population loss of these 10 cities since 1950 is attributable to declining household sizes

18% is attributable to a decreased number of households, with the remaining 8% explained by a decreased group quarters population"

F'rex, Milwaukee had 183,330 households in 1950 and is up to 235,410 in 2020 (28% bigger! huzzah!) but the average household size dropped from 3.31 to 2.39, leading to an overall 9% population contraction. It sort of feels like you could maybe conclude that that plays hell with all kinds of peer group child-rearing planning. No carpools because there aren't really that many households with kids on any given neighborhood. Buses have longer routes to drive for the same reason.

Certainly looking at the historic census data for my current house leaves me scratching my head how they managed to fit something like 7 people in here when the kitchen is barely big enough for two and there's only the one bathroom and two bedrooms.
posted by Kyol at 6:40 PM on September 28, 2021 [1 favorite]


It’s possible that the fourth largest city in North America is an outlier in this discussion?
posted by aspersioncast at 8:57 PM on September 28, 2021 [2 favorites]


Yeah, on Toronto:

I grew up in downtown and then suburbanish Toronto. Both my elementary schools almost everyone walked.

The original TDSB (pre-amalgamation) very deliberately planned its elementary school map this way to avoid bussing, and some of the other municipalities followed suit. I think that makes Toronto an outlier.

I will note that decision has rolling consequences...here in my lakeside Scarborough 'burb, our schools have gone to PARC as they are literally crumbling and at between 40-48% capacity, because of an aging demographic and few changes in density. That's very expensive. So, my kids' elementary school has no real music program, a librarian 1-2 days a week, and a lot of split grades and zero choice in teachers because there often is only one grade 5/6 class. Until we the Parent Council put our school into the media's eye, we had a classroom closed due to a leak in the roof for two years.

That's not an argument for bussing, mind you, but it is a lot easier to change bus routes as demographics change than to move walls out into the playground (portables are Toronto's solution.)

On walking-to-school culture: So in Toronto, I let my older son walk/bike to school with his friends starting midway through grade 4. (After school he was in care, something we were not in the 70s, since in general middle-class parents of that era were not both working with long commutes, at least not until we all became 'latchkey kids.')

I had calls from neighbours expressing their concerns. In grade 5 I let my child take a single, straight-shot bus from his camp to his martial arts class at 3:30 pm and one of the parents at martial arts threatened to call Children's Aid (I think, had we been BIPOC, they would have.)

Some of this is related to reality: Middle-class kids are in after-school care or programs, not out in a mob looking out for each other, and there are not as many stay-at-home parents or well-connected neighbours out and about looking after the kids as they walk home. You need crossing guards and a healthy streetscape. But also, the kids are not always going home to a housewife holding a plate of cookies any more.

Even though I had those supports in the 70s, I encountered a flasher, found a premature and dead baby in a ravine, and was robbed by the local Catholic school girls multiple times walking or taking transit home as a kid. I got frostbite when my boots leaked and then froze while I was waiting for a streetcar. One of my friends was hit by a car. It was not a utopia. Nor is driving of course.
posted by warriorqueen at 6:04 AM on September 29, 2021 [3 favorites]


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