Update and Explanation on the Bus Driver Shortage in PPS9/9/2021
Dear PPS Families,
As many of you know, we are experiencing an ongoing shortage of licensed bus drivers in Portland Public Schools. As a result, we have had, and will continue to have, some routes that have had to be canceled and others that have seen pick-up or drop-off times altered.
First, we want to acknowledge that this shortage is having a significant impact on our community’s ability to get to and from school. We thank you for your grace and patience as we navigate this challenging situation.
Secondly, we want to provide some explanation of the factors that have led to this. The driver shortage has become a major challenge for school districts throughout the nation. A national survey of districts by three major student transportation organizations revealed some stark data, including that 51% of respondents described their bus driver shortage as either “severe” or “desperate.”
In PPS, we and our partner organization, First Student, are down a total of 86 drivers as of today, Thursday, September 9. While our plans cover every route in the district when all of our current drivers come to work, we’ve seen an increase of drivers calling in sick or are unable to work, causing a shortage and dynamic situation every day. In addition to daily absences, several factors have contributed to the reduction of our driver numbers, including:
- Drivers not returning after being furloughed when schools were closed during the pandemic.
- Many drivers (who all work part-time) being retirees who are more vulnerable to the impact of COVID-19.
- Hesitancy among some to receive a COVID-19 vaccination, which is required by both PPS and the state for all school employees to ensure the safest possible conditions for our students.
To help make up for the shortage, we have taken and are considering several improvement steps, including:
- Altering pick-up and drop-off times for routes throughout the district to allow buses to run multiple routes.
- Enlisting staff in our Transportation Department office who are licensed to drive a school bus to take a route, with as many as 10 filling in to drive a route. This, however, has created a shortage in our Transportation Office staff, which we recognize has made communicating difficult and/or frustrating for those that have tried to call.
- Maximizing use of smaller vehicles, including vans and contracted taxi services, and using other transportation methods.
We are pleased to share that currently we have about 50 drivers in training. However, please note that it typically takes about a month for a driver to be fully trained, and the process has been slightly delayed because our trainers have taken shifts as drivers.
We are deeply appreciative of our hardworking Transportation staff who are working around the clock and into the weekend to limit the impact of this national bus shortage on PPS families.
Thank you for your continued patience and understanding.
Chief Operating Officer
Director of PPS Transportation