SAN ANTONIO – Help is wanted across San Antonio for school bus drivers as a driver shortage leads to longer wait times for kids and bus routes being removed to adjust to the shortfall.
“Our drivers are working around the clock to try to make ends meet in terms of meeting all the needs of the routes,” said Tesilia Soliz, director of transportation at Northside ISD.
NISD services 125 schools and over 500 routes. Drivers have been doubling up on some routes to meet the demand, but the district has not had to make significant cuts to the route schedule.
“We have multiple schools that have multiple levels of runs because we don’t have enough drivers to cover. The driver will go and pick up their first round of kids in a particular neighborhood. But because there are so many kids living in that neighborhood, and we don’t have enough drivers, the driver drops them off at the school, then goes back to the neighborhood, picks up the second round of kids. It’s the same thing in the afternoon,” Soliz said.
NISD officials said they currently need about 80 more drivers to make up for the bus driver shortage and changed logistics based on the district’s growth. Soliz said there are times when buses run late due to heavy traffic or a driver calling out, but they are making every effort to notify parents of a delay.
“Our dispatchers and station managers call out, notifying parents that the bus is running late, whether it’s in the morning or in the afternoon,” said Soliz. “We’re sending out messages as often as we can, but if they have any questions, they can just contact their local station. Over the summer, we put GPS systems on all of our busses, so now we’re able to give a better, accurate picture of where the bus is when call.”
Across the city, it’s the same story for North East ISD.
“Right now, it’s all hands on deck. Every single person who is qualified to drive a bus, meaning they have their CDL, is behind the wheel,” said Aubrey Chancellor, NEISD spokesperson. “We have dispatchers, recruiters, people who typically are directors. They are all driving busses any time possible.”
Chancellor said NEISD currently has 42 driver vacancies and doing its best not to cut routes.
“At some point, it may come, so we’re continuing to try to recruit drivers. Our drivers are doubling up on their routes,” said Chancellor. “They will go to an elementary school because it’s an early hour dismissal time there. They will drop all the kiddos off, and then they’ll turn right around and try to make it back to the middle school or a high school route.”
Both districts offer incentives and training for anyone interested in becoming a school bus driver.
“We have an excellent training department, and we offer paid training,” said Soliz. “We offer great benefits, flexible work hours, but just be patient with us,” said Soliz.
“We are ready and willing for anyone to apply. We’re trying to make it as easy as possible. There’s also an attendance incentive that we just recently implemented,” said Chancellor.
Patricia Abraham, a school bus driver at NISD since 2007, said the job has many benefits.
“I enjoy my job because you have flexibility. The hours are awesome,” said Abraham. “You’re the first person they see in the morning, and you’re the last person they see in the afternoon. It’s awesome because when you start their day, you try to be positive about everything, and it’s pretty cool.”
Abraham added that school bus drivers are doing what they can to get kids home safely.
“Parents sometimes are not very happy because we take a little bit longer than we should,” said Abraham. “But all I can say is, ‘Please have patience because we will get them to you.’”