As the school year proceeds, Williamsburg-James City County Public Schools’ transportation department continues to try and fill a gap in bus drivers.
“We’ve had shortages along with every other school system,” said John Lambusta, director of transportation for WJCC. “We are still able to function properly, but we are doubling up our buses on certain routes on certain days.”
Lambusta said the transportation department oversees 11,000 students going to and from school each day. However, over the past few years this has become more difficult as the shortage of qualified bus drivers persists.
Short-term solutions to the problem are to either double-up routes, where students from previously separate routes ride together, or to double-back routes, where buses drop students off and then go back out for the other students.
Doubling-back on a route takes significantly more time, Lambusta said, so the department is placing more students on the buses.
Each bus has 26 seats — at the elementary school level, that means limiting buses to three students a seat, up to 77 students on one bus, and at the middle and high school level, it means two students in each seat, up to 52 students.
“We always do it safely, it’s never over-crowded,” Lambusta said. “We never let our children stand on the aisles or stairwell. If there is overcrowding, we will call a second bus.”
Lambusta said the district is constantly working to recruit more drivers but they’re still not totally filling the need. In addition to advertising, he said the district will go to job fairs and put out notifications for positions through the Human Resources department.
According to WJCC 2017-2018 pay grade classifications, school bus drivers make $12.26 per hour.
Lambusta said he doesn’t know the exact cause of the shortage, but he has heard from drivers that it’s because of a strong economy. When the national and local economy is weaker and jobs are harder to find, he said it tends to be easier to fill the positions.
But in the near future, there might be a little bit of an ease on the issue.
On Oct. 14, the department will be hosting a driver’s training class for seven potential candidates, he said. Even with that training, it doesn’t mean that the drivers will automatically fill the positions. They have to pass a series of background checks and drug testing in addition to a three-week training process.
If all goes well, Lambusta said they expect to have at least a few new drivers with the department by November.
In the meantime, Lambusta said he recognizes the concern of parents in getting their children to school safely and on time.
“We certainly have had late buses,” he said. “It’s something we continue to try to refine and improve on with our routing and timing. But it’s nothing unique to WJCC; if you talk to any operation at any school, late buses will be on the list of issues.”
To help know when buses might be late or routes will be changed, parents can download the Here Comes the Bus app, which tracks the route and arrival times of buses in the district.
Additionally, parents can stay up-to-date through the department’s Twitter feeds, where bus information is relayed on a daily basis. While this doesn’t necessarily stop the buses from being late altogether, it does provide parents with an idea of when their child can expect transportation.
“I don’t think there is any other office in the school system that puts in as many hours as we do,” Lambusta said. “We all want to make sure we do things as safely and efficiently as possible.”