School districts across the U.S. are struggling with a severe bus driver shortage this fall, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic but brought on by longer-standing issues. Without diminishing the complexity of this issue, it's worth observing from a Strong Towns perspective that this is one of many examples of how the prevailing American pattern of development has made our basic institutions more fragile.
A National School Transportation Association survey reports over 80% of school districts have altered service, and 51% describe their staffing issue as "severe" or "desperate." This comes at a time when many low-wage industries are struggling to find and retain workers. The pandemic has disrupted lives and expectations and caused many to re-evaluate what trade-offs they are willing to accept for a job. Many service occupations have been among the highest-risk for COVID exposure: transportation workers are second only to those in the food and agriculture sector. Pandemic-related frustrations cut multiple ways: many drivers express fear for their own health, while in Chicago, 70 drivers, about 10% of the work force, quit when the district announced a vaccine mandate.
For school districts, all of these factors are compounded by budget constraints that depend on the political process: schools can't readily raise wages to attract new hires the way, say, a restaurant might. According to the New York Times, the issue extends to substitute teachers and cafeteria employees as well.