PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Some students in the Tampa Bay region are getting home hours late because of an ongoing bus driver shortage. Multiple school districts have dozens of bus driver openings to fill. And in the meantime, students have to deal with the delays.
In Pinellas County, the district is currently hiring 40 full-time bus drivers. At the start of the school year, students reported delays spanning hours.
Riley Whitcomb, a 10th grader at Largo High School, said he'd have to switch buses because of his particular route home when a driver or bus was unavailable.
"I've been hopping bus to bus," Whitcomb said. "When my substitute bus isn't there, they don't give them my route. And now I'm stuck on all sorts of buses, and it takes a long time to go home."
Whitcomb and his mother, Melanie say delays have improved since the start of the year. Pinellas County recently combined bus routes with fewer riders to help with delays.
"At the beginning of the year, the first few weeks, they were having a terrible time getting them home," his mom said. "The buses were an hour, hour and a half, two hours, one time even three hours late!"
The delays don't just waste kids' time. It also cuts into their classes if morning routes are behind.
"One of my friends comes in late for study hall, which is my first period, every day," Whitcomb said. He said he's glad he doesn't have a different class at the start of the day because his classmates could be missing important information, quizzes, or tests.
Students and parents can track delays through the county's 'bus bulletin' and tardies are excused when a bus delay is to blame. Sometimes that blame is put on the drivers, many of whom are working double or triple duty.
"We do the best we can with what we have," Jennifer Christenson, one of the bus drivers for Pinellas County, said. "And it is, basically, the district's fault."
Christenson said it makes her sad having to keep kids waiting to get to school or to return home, because she knows the toll it takes.
"So the impact is huge," she said. "Sometimes I've come in at 6:30 p.m. being done with my route that should have been done at 4:30 p.m."
This issue isn't specific to Pinellas County.
Other counties experiencing the same problem include:
- Hillsborough County: 100+ bus driver openings
- Sarasota County: 53 bus driver openings
- Hernando County: 35-40 bus driver openings
- Pasco County: 88 bus driver openings
- Pinellas County: 40 bus driver openings
- Citrus County: All routes covered