Anne Arundel County schools started the academic year Monday with a shortage of bus drivers leading to many routes not being served. That situation got worse as the week progressed.
And with changes to bus routes and stops that launched Monday, many families are reporting crowding on buses. These factors together are leaving some parents frustrated.
On Friday afternoon, 96 out of 585 contracted buses for Anne Arundel County Public Schools were out of service, according to the system’s website, as the number of driver vacancies increased due to resignations. The system has about 60 buses operated by employees, not contractors.
The system has said for months that it expected between 45 and 50 vacancies among drivers at the start of the year. That meant some bus routes were without service on Monday — as many at 47 as was reported by AACPS. And the number of bus driver vacancies increased throughout the week, said schools spokesman Bob Mosier.
“That is the result of some drivers deciding to resign their positions. Honestly, that is something that happens at the beginning of every year across many position types in every school system,” Mosier said. “A driver may have had have every intention of driving this year and once school starts, decide not to do so.”
The system is implementing new start times this school year, which align middle and high school starts with the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics for the benefit of students’ mental and physical well-being. The time change has affected transportation because it has shrunk the window drivers have to pick up and drop off students from various schools.
Mosier said last year if a bus was without a driver, or if the driver was absent, a different bus could pick up its own group of students, drop them off, then double-back to pick up students from the bus that would otherwise be out of service. That is no longer possible.
“As the board has repeatedly stated, the change to healthier school hours in and of itself did not exacerbate the bus driver shortage,” Mosier wrote. “However, one impact has been that the shorter delivery window from the opening of the first school to the opening of the last means that contractors are no longer able to double run buses.”
The system is transporting between 58,000 and 60,000 students this year, Mosier said.
During the first week of school, parents have been frustrated with spotty service and crowded buses.
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Hebron-Harman Elementary School parent Ash Davis said her daughter’s bus had students sitting or standing in the aisle this week.
Mosier said they are aware of such reports and working to address the situation as rapidly as possible. Buses are rated to transport three students in each seat.
The number of buses serving the Meade Village community has been reduced this year, along with stops, Davis said.
AACPS is serving fewer bus stops starting this school year, the result of years of work completed by contractor Primastic Services, Inc. to find more efficiency in how students are transported to school. As part of this change, some students need to walk farther to the bus stop than they have in years past.
Davis said another bus comes by, also headed to Hebron-Harman, that is nearly empty, but that the children on the crowded bus can’t get on because they aren’t assigned to it.
The situation has left her frustrated. Her daughter loves taking the school bus. This week was different, however, as Davis said students were so loud, her daughter put her hands over her ears for the duration of the ride.
“Handle the overcrowding problem. Handle kids being uncontrolled,” Davis said.