Severe shortage in bus drivers cancels routes, leaving students to find their own way to school

The state says the pandemic is leading to a severe shortage of school bus drivers on Oahu, Maui and Hawaii Island.
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 6:46 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 9, 2021 at 9:21 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - State education officials say the pandemic is leading to a severe shortage of school bus drivers on Oahu, Maui and the Big Island, and across the country.

A nationwide survey from School Transportation News says currently 80% of school districts across the country have driver shortages.

In Hawaii, certain schools are telling families to find other ways to get their students to classes because some bus routes are being suspended in the next few weeks.

“If I get a driver that calls in sick tomorrow. I mean, it’s so tight, the bus company doesn’t have the capacity to flip a driver in because there’s no bench. So that’s kind of where we are,” Assistant Superintendent Randall Tanaka said.

In rural Honokaa on Hawaii Island, Darde Gamayo is feeling the firsthand effects. Her granddaughter’s bus route was cancelled this week.

“We’re out in the country. People live as far as six, seven, ten miles away from the school, so the kids can’t walk,” she said. “And then the whole carpool thing, because you’re still trying to keep your kids in a bubble with COVID. So how are we going to do this?”

Gamayo says despite the disruptions, she understands.

“I just mahalo the bus drivers, the aides, the teachers, the principal, the staff of the schools because they’re doing things that they’ve never had to do before. So it takes a lot of patience,” Gamayo said. “They’re trying their best.”

The state Department of Education says the shortage is the result of some former drivers finding other jobs while school was shut down while other drivers are quarantined because of COVID.

The DOE had approximately 650 school bus drivers across the state prior to the pandemic. Now, they are short by roughly 100 drivers.

School leaders are examining one possible solution of transferring drivers from other islands.

One bus driver, who asked to remain anonymous, says they’re doing the best they can.

“It’s going pretty rough,” he said. “Drivers are doing double and triple routes. They’ll take the kindergarten kids to school, then go back and get the elementary kids, and then go back and get the high school kids, and that throws everything off because we can’t deliver all the kids at one time at 8 o’clock.”

He asks community members to have compassion.

“Even though the risk involved, I do it for the kids,” said the bus driver. “Someone has to give them a ride. Just be kind. Bare with it. Pray for us, whatever you do.”

The department is offering mileage reimbursement vouchers for families who are unable to get bus services.

They say special education students will get priority for transportation.

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