What Happened to Our Bus Drivers?


Saya Butler and Natalie Cartwright

Students have a big role to play in solving the nationwide bus driver shortage. Many students have noticed the lack of bus drivers recently. Buses are crowded, they are not always on time, and athletics are struggling to find transportation to competitions. 

According to Principal Desiree Fisher, the Lake Oswego School District is currently functioning at about 75% of ideal numbers. Fisher also added that this is higher than some neighboring districts, with the greater Portland area functioning somewhere between 60-70%. Bigger districts are being hit the hardest. LOSD is actually handling the situation well compared to other districts because of the supportive parent community. LOSD has been able to coordinate rides when buses fall short, whereas other districts may have to forfeit games because they have no way to get the kids around.

This shortage of workers is not just limited to bus drivers. Nationwide, there is a shortage of workers in every industry. Many employers are offering sign-on bonuses, but it is still challenging to find new hires. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, with the national unemployment rate being just 3.7%, all people who are looking for jobs are already employed.

The decrease in bus drivers has been gradual over the past few years, and the Lake Oswego School District began offering bonuses before the onset of Covid-19. Naturally, the pandemic exacerbated the issue, with many drivers quitting and not coming back. According to Fisher, the majority of bus drivers were baby boomers, who decided the pandemic was a nice time to retire. No other generation is large enough to fill the gaps left by the boomers, so this is part of the overabundance of job openings.

According to Assistant Principal Colby Neal, the ultimate priority is getting students to and from school. This means some bus routes have been combined.

“[Routes] 12 and 13 are combined in the morning and combined in the afternoon,” Neal said. “But then they’ll revisit it multiple times as kids get their driver’s license and they don’t need particular routes anymore.”

Extracurricular activities come second, and there is no definitive method for allocating buses to specific sports. 

The bus drivers in the school district are limited to LOSD schools. LOSD uses the bus company Student Transportation of America, while other districts use a different company. Occasionally they are called out to other areas, but only if the district has drivers to spare.

The problem seems to be getting better, but only if students are conscious of the power they hold.

Kindness matters when riding the bus. The steady decline of bus drivers in recent years has led to the bus driver shortage that bus riders and athletes have felt. Interviews with two students who ride the bus gave some insight into what exactly students are doing that causes bus drivers to not like their job. 

The first student that was interviewed, sophomore Campbell Brintnall, described how students treated her bus driver. 

“They don’t listen to what [the bus driver] is saying,” Brintnall said. “And keep doing what they aren’t supposed to do.” 

The bus drivers on her bus change a lot and one of the drivers doesn’t say anything at all to the kids. Brintnall says that she always says thank you as she gets off of the bus and because of this, the bus driver called her their favorite person. 

Her route has been combined with another route leading to her bus being super crowded and loud which added to the disrespect that the bus drivers are experiencing. One day, it was so crowded that some students were forced to sit in the aisle or on top of one another.

The next student that was interviewed, junior Jack Andrews, rides a bus that isn’t as crowded as the previous route but his bus is also combined. 

Andrews’ bus driver was not treated as badly as the previous bus driver. He said that the bus driver is treated fine and he doesn’t really see any more disrespectful actions that are happening to the bus driver compared to middle school buses and their students. The way that the students on this bus treated the driver was described by Andrews. 

“They are pretty mature,” said Andrews. “And say thank you when they get off the bus”. 

Both students don’t particularly enjoy riding the bus and only do so because they have to. Even though they don’t like riding the bus, they still are able to treat their bus driver with the respect and kindness that they deserve. If all of the students that ride the bus are able to treat their driver with the same respect as these two students, it would make the jobs of the bus drivers a lot easier and make them want to keep their jobs. 

Fisher described her idea as to how to fix this problem and how the community is able to help. 

“I think what kids can control right now, especially in our district, is how concerned you are about the drivers. We want them to stay once they commit to being a bus driver for us,” said Fisher. “Are you being kind when you’re on the bus?” 

This question leads a lot of bus riders to really think about their actions on the bus and whether they could be the reason that bus drivers are quitting.