Chicago area school districts are dealing with another hurdle as kids are heading back to class — a shortage of bus drivers.
A lot of drivers retired during the pandemic or decided not to return due to the virus.
All school employees will now have to be vaccinated, according to a mandate announced by Gov. Pritzker on Thursday. Another issue is that marijuana is legal in Illinois, but some companies still drug test for it.
“Of course our elderly statesmen that we really rely on decide to retire eventually and we’re having to replace them,” Palatine District 15 Director of Transportation Thomas Bramley said. “This year I’ve seen it nearly four-fold.”
Despite offering incentives, school bus companies are having a tough time competing with Uber or food delivery services.
“It’s just been unprecedented in what we’ve seen,” Sr. VP of Sales for HopSkipDrive Toby McGraw said. “We have done everything we can.”
Some districts are having to resort to having three children per seat to make it work. They said it’s not ideal, but they have no choice.
“We’ll talk to districts where school is starting next week and 20% aren’t available,” McGraw said.
In Palatine, the district has had to hire taxi drivers to get children to school. Some private bus companies, like Cook Illinois, said they even raised driver salaries by 30 percent.
“In a city like Chicago, tough to drive in a sedan let alone a really large school bus,” McGraw said. “So it’s something that’s been a challenge already.”
With CPS starting back next week, the fear is that the district’s shortage will be severe. CPS did not return our emails asking for information on a bus plan.