Shortage of drivers leave school buses late, disrupts class time


Nafez Zohbi

Mr.Vincent awaiting the buses after school to arrive properly.

Nafez Zohbi, Staff

After the ringing of the 8:30 a.m. bell, Grady students continue to trickle in throughout first period because of late buses.

The culprit: an insufficient number of bus drivers.

At the start of the school year, Atlanta Public Schools opened up numerous positions for bus drivers because the transportation needs for students were not met. APS was not alone in its shortage of bus drivers; Dekalb, Clayton, Gwinnett and Henry counties are all facing the same problem.

Candra Ponder, the South Region supervisor of the APS Transportation Department, said the shortage arose out of the nature of the driving job.

“Everybody knows that a bus driver has such a flexible schedule; people are just here for a limited time; they are moving on,” Ponder said. “They take this job because it’s a part-time job. School transportation is a revolving door, and it will always be like that.”

In addition to the temporary nature of the job, drivers also often switch routes to drive students from other routes because their regular drivers are sick. Drivers coordinate to make sure students are picked up on time and all routes are covered. When there is a shortage of drivers, it’s even more difficult to get buses to arrive to school on time since drivers are covering multiple routes.

APS is trying to hire bus drivers quickly enough to meet student needs, but the district has an extensive hiring process.   

According to Ponder, the process takes an average of four weeks as APS searches for drivers with Commercial Driver’s Licenses (CDLs) with good driving records to go  through the training process faster. Those CDL-licensed drivers also have pass a background check and drug test.

“Unfortunately, many drivers who want to be bus drivers don’t pass a simple drugs test, therefore, not meeting all the criteria,” Ponder said.

After APS advertised several positions, hundreds applied. Even as the hiring process progressed, six drivers resigned, further contributing to the shortage. As a short-term solution, the district  is using some drivers recruited and referred by a staffing agency, John Franklin, transportation director, said in an email.

Assistant Principal Willie Vincent keeps up everyday with every bus’s arrival and departure time. He often observes driver changes.  

“I may not know the specific reason why there is a different driver, but I do notice that there is a different driver, or a different bus,” Vincent said. “Some bus drivers have told me due to a shortage of bus drivers, or if they are sick, they had to go on and pick up routes for other people.”  

Vincent said more buses are on time than a year ago. “The beginning of the year is always the most hectic, but it certainly has gotten better,” Vincent said. “We don’t have five or six buses coming at 8:20 anymore, and we have had significantly [fewer] late bus passes [than] last year.”

Grady students agree arrival times improved.

”We used to be late almost every day, mostly because our route had way too many stops,  and the bus was extremely overcrowded,” Robert Weimar, a Grady senior, said. “This year has certainly had its problems, but in the past, similar issues have eventually been worked out and riding the bus is just fine for the rest of the year. ”

Late buses are frustrating for students — they miss valuable class time. Dil Green, a senior, takes Uber rides if his bus is too  late in order to minimize time missed from first period.  

“I can afford to do that, but I know other people can’t do that,” said Green. “Students rely on the bus to get to school, and the fact that they don’t get to school and are missing class because the bus didn’t come on time, is awful.”

Some drivers go out of their way to create pleasant experiences for students, despite the problems.

“My bus driver is really nice and gives us candy during the holidays,” said senior Hannah Prausnitz-Weinbaum. “She is always punctual. However, one thing I have noticed is that the buses break down pretty often.”

Vincent said drivers need empathy for all they do.

“School bus drivers have the hardest job in the school system,” Vincent said. “That’s why we have to value them and continue to show appreciation. We must treat them with a reverence beyond comprehension for doing a job that most people aren’t equipped emotionally to do it. I couldn’t do it.”