A nationwide school bus driver shortage, the worst in decades, is hitting the Chicago area right as schools get back in session.
Now, some school districts are being forced to tier bus schedules, with buses making multiple rounds in just one morning to prevent overcrowding.
Cook-Illinois Corporation, which owns 17 local bus companies throughout Chicagoland is seeing the worst shortage of drivers in 30 years. As of Tuesday, C.O.O. John Benish Jr. said around 400 positions remain open.
“Some places get 10 or 15 applications a week. Now we’ll be lucky to get two or three,” said Benish. “We’re competing with the Amazons and all the food delivery services.”
Benish says they’ve raised wages, offered bonuses, held job fairs and even go door to door. Still, only a handful of applications are coming in.
He attributes the shortage to mass retirements and furloughs during the pandemic. Not to mention, many drivers are hesitant to drive a bus full of children during a spike in COVID cases.
Last week, High School District 214 in suburban Arlington Heights decided to tier bus schedules in the morning and afternoon.
Stephanie Kim, a spokesperson for the district, says the changes aren’t permanent.
“Some students are going to be coming to school a little earlier. Other students are going to be leaving school and getting home later,” said Kim.
Kim added that student enrollment in clubs and after school activities could help alleviate congestion on buses as the school year gets underway.
However, with new bus driver training lasting at least four weeks, the shortage could last well into the fall semester.