CORONADO, Calif. — A national shortage of bus drivers is forcing school districts to take drastic measures.
Coronado Unified School District is resorting to San Diego Metropolitan Transit System buses to get kids to school. About 50 CUSD elementary and middle school students living in Coronado Cays, Naval Amphibious Base and Lincoln Military Housing received MTS bus passes for the 2021-22 school year.
A five-year contract to provide some students rides ended this summer due to lack of drivers and uncertainty of COVID-19.
Isaiah Price has a 13-year-old daughter and a 12-year-old son who now take public transit to Coronado Middle School because of the shortage. He appreciates the option, but worries for his kids’ safety.
“There’s a lot of risk involved and that is a lot of responsibility for a 13-year-old girl, for my 13-year-old girl and for a 12-year-old boy,” Price said. “They are still my babies and it’s still a big scary world out there.”
In a statement, school leaders said, “We realize that public transportation is not ideal for our students and we are continuing to explore alternative options to restore school bus service.”
CUSD is one of the many districts dealing with the shortage. The transportation director for Cajon Valley Union School District, Tysen Brodwolf, said she doesn’t feel comfortable sending kids on public transit buses at this point. Instead, district supervisors are the ones getting behind the wheel to transport students.
“We are able to break down and double out on routes to get all of our students to school every day,” Brodwolf said. “My supervisor was actually out driving this morning. The big impact we have seen is that our route ride times have gone up a little bit.”
Down seven drivers, this district has condensed the number of bus routes from 42 to 35.
Split shifts and low wages starting at $19.31/hour may be to blame for the lack of drivers.
“Our finances are not supplemented at the rate that our districts are growing and that is a big concern,” Brodwolf added. “We are still struggling to maintain our fleet equipment, maintain our drivers and their training programs.”
Many school bus routes are also tailored for special education students. CUSD said there is no change to transportation services for special education, but for Cajon Valley students, ride times may increase. Transportation leaders said they are working to avoid that.