CCPS addresses ongoing transportation issues

The+bus+loop+at+Clover+Hill+High+School+has+seen+an+increase+in+late+and+double-back+busses+throughout+the+2021-2022+school+year.

Ben Schneider

The bus loop at Clover Hill High School has seen an increase in late and “double-back” busses throughout the 2021-2022 school year.

By Ben Schneider, Clover Hill High School

This year, Clover Hill is experiencing transportation issues as a result of the widespread Chesterfield County Public Schools bus driver shortage which, among other problems, has resulted in students arriving and leaving late.

Administrator Roscoe Johnson has seen the effect that these issues have on students. As a result, his main goal is to ensure they are caught up on any missed instruction.

“When class starts at 8:30 and it’s ending at 9:20 and some of these buses are not rolling in until 9:10 or 9:15, they’re missing their first block class,” Johnson said. “I just think that’s instruction that they’re missing, so that just means on our part that we have to pinpoint and get those kids and catch them up and help them out a little bit with what they’re missing.”

Chesterfield County transportation director Calvin Frye is working to fix the bus driver shortage. It has been a nationwide issue for years, but the pandemic has caused the number of bus drivers to decrease rapidly.

“With many drivers leaving the profession during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, this year was the worst on record,” Frye said. “CCPS needed approximately 485 drives to cover planned routes alone;  we were short about 135 drivers at the start of the year.”

The county’s accomplishments in the last few years include improving their route planning, creating new positions, upgrading technology and transportation, refining bus driver training, and purchasing new buses. According to Frye, the county is now focusing on fixing the most significant problem, the bus driver shortage.

“The only way to fix on time arrivals and departures is to have a fully staffed Transportation Department, which has not been possible due to the nationwide driver shortage and has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Frye said. 

Frye believes that there is hope for the rest of the school year because of the initial response to the county’s changes.

“The county appropriated additional money to increase drivers’ starting pay rate to $20.21/ hour,” Frye said. “This has created a surge in the number of bus driver applicants that has not been seen in decades.  Once applicants are vetted and hired, they start as full time employees in our bus driver training program.”

Junior Owen Cosner regards the new policies as beneficial in the push to end the bus driver shortage and improve the efficiency of transportation at Clover Hill and beyond. 

“Ultimately, I think that the new changes will work in favor of the county,” Cosner said. 

The modifications have started to have a positive effect on the transportation system, as more Clover Hill buses have arrived on time in recent weeks.

“As of [Nov. 12] we have hired 64 new drivers and continue to hire many each week as they complete training,” Frye said.

Johnson has witnessed the improvement in bus arrival times since the struggles at the start of the year and hopes to see them continue to improve until every student arrives before the tardy bell. 

“At the beginning we had no bus drivers and it was a new system, and [we had] new drivers learning new routes,” Johnson said. “It’s a lot better than what it was.

  He supports the pay raises for the bus drivers due to their importance as well as the value of the transportation system as a whole.

“I think that they’re a crucial part in the education of our students and they deserve to be paid accordingly,” Johnson said. “Their job is to bring the students to and from school, and I think it’s important that we have them and we help them any way we can financially.”

Frye believes that ensuring that every student has reliable transportation is essential to education.

“Although transporting most students is not required by law, providing transportation to all students helps ensure equal access to education and the programs they elect to attend throughout the county,” Frye said.

This story was originally published on Cavalier Chronicle on December 9, 2021.