Overcrowding, understaffed: School bus conundrum hits all time high

Viktoria Goreski, Staff Writer

With the influx of new and returning  students desperately needing transportation to and from  school,  school bus drivers are cutting it close on how many students they can take with them and how quickly they can go to the schools. 

Junior and bus rider Joshua Sizemore explained that it used to take him 10 minutes or less to get home but now “it takes about 30-40 minutes” based on his bus route.  He also noted that even though the ride “is not the worst,” it is pretty close.  “We are piled on top of a bunch of kids over and over again everyday.”

As a result of the shortage  of school bus drivers, the District  no choice but to double up some of the pickup and drop off routes. Prior to the pandemic, bus driver shortages were already on the rise. When students and employees returned, the lack of drivers was even more apparent.

According to WPTV 5, Palm Beach County School District  is budgeted for 614 drivers to have all students taken to their schools and back efficiently but has only filled 440 of those positions . With there being 497 routes, out of 440, the District has 57 routes with no dedicated driver leaving many to have to double up or even triple up on their routes. 

Sophomore Sophia Lannaccone, expressed her concerns over the crowded buses. Lannaconne noted that it takes her about 20 minutes to get home and during her ride, she passes about three or four until her stop comes up.  Lannaconne went on to explain that her bus experience, “varies on the days, depending on what kids are on the bus and what routes the kids take but usually it’s a pretty … regular experience for a bus.” She further stated, “Yeah, sometimes when all routes are on the bus, it’s pretty packed.”

Lilijana Goreski,  a bus driver that has been driving students  to and from school for six  years knows what this is like. “Three in the morning and three in the afternoon, plus activity after school,” explained Goreski  when asked how many routes she had this year. She has a good record for being on time with her morning and afternoon buses; however, she admits that when doing her double routes, she has been late around 20 minutes. When asked if the office ever told her to take another person’s route, she stated, “always” and further supplied, “per week, ten times maybe.” “Many much more students and many more difficulties in our performance,” voiced Goreskias she agreed that this year is more difficult than it has ever been for her.

Lori Fowler, another school bus driver for the District, has been driving kids around for 22 years. When asked how many bus routes she has right now, she stated that she had seven. Unfortunately, this has caused  her riders  to arrive generally 15 minutes late to school. Fowler further explained  that everyday she is asked by the office to take somebody else’s route as either they are unavailable or they too are taking another person’s route. This, of course, makes a sequence that does not break.  

“They’re  making it impossible to do most routes on schedule due to a lack of drivers,” Fowler noted.

Bus safety concerns  started to appear within the  first two weeks of school. On the first day of school, a teenage driver rear-ended a school bus which resulted in the driver and another teenager present in the car being taken to the hospital. The cycle continued on the second day of school as another driver slammed into another school bus. On the following Monday, two cars collided into another school bus that had stopped to pick up its students. Furthermore, on that Tuesday, another driver rear-ended a school bus while driving to its route.

Even if school bus riders are 70 percent more safe than car riders, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration states that most school bus crashes involving children occur when the bus is in complete stop or is letting the children on the bus or off.

Additionally, according to the School District of Palm Beach Country, since 2019, a trend has started as there have been over 800 incidents involving school buses.

“It’s the frequent stopping of buses if you have a following vehicle not paying attention or being a bit aggressive,” voiced Dr. Eric Dumbaugh, associate director of the Collaborate Sciences Center for Road Safety.  “Both of which are common on South Florida roads, these are the types of crashes you expect to see occur.”

The future remains uncertain  if these conditions will get better for both the riders  and the drivers. . Though our bus drivers are trying their best, some things are inevitable.  Only time will tell.