Leander Independent School District Director of Transportation Myron Wilson said there are 56 open bus driver positions in the district. Currently, there are 180 routes, 152 drivers and an estimated ridership growth of 200-plus students.
Wilson said the LISD Transportation Department has been using all available staff to help fill in the gaps left by the open driver positions.
“We have office staff, dispatchers and mechanics driving routes,” Wilson said.
In a letter sent to LISD families, the district said they are also attempting to remedy bus-driver shortages by adjusting routes and schedules to maximize efficiency, working to hire more drivers with top pay, benefits and other incentives as well as examining changes to bell schedules that could potentially allow drivers to run three routes --- one for each grade level, elementary, middle and high schools.
The letter also stated that the district is having some drivers work double routes to make up for the shortage. Double routes mean that a driver will work their usual bus route from beginning to end and then begin a second, open route, which sometimes results in the second route running late. Due to the current bus-driver shortage, the letter stated that “doubling a route is sometimes the only way to ensure bus service for a given route.”
Wilson said another thing the district is doing is route sharing, meaning that multiple buses share portions of an open route.
Last week, the LISD School Board approved a new hazardous route plan as presented for the following school year. The plan, which was worked on for more than a year by a citizen-led committee, reassesses hazardous conditions and bus routes within the district.
LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing said part of the problem in the district goes back to the split-shift work schedule of bus drivers. Gearing said he believes that the hazardous route matrix presented to the board will help the shortage as it will reduce the number of students the district is transporting.
With the hazardous route matrix, an estimated 769 students would lose bus service, and 356 students would gain bus service for the 2020-21 school year.
NETZones (Not Eligible for Transportation Zones) have been reassessed under the new plan to include students residing within a two-mile radius from a school area, unless their route is deemed hazardous. The new plan will not impact transportation services for special needs students.
Gearing said the proposed three-tier bell schedule, as the board had previously discussed, if implemented, could help the bus-driver shortage as it would create a longer day for bus drivers.
Wilson said he agreed that if the district implemented a three-tier bus schedule, bus drivers would work more hours and have fewer routes, which would yield a less stressful situation.
While it would not completely solve the problem, Gearing said the bus-driver shortage could fall to around 40 rather than the current need of 56, if a new bell schedule were adopted.
LISD Board President Trish Bode said the current LISD Transportation Department snapshot, which includes the current number of bus routes, drivers and driver-shortage is not the only reason the board adopts a hazardous transportation route.
“I want to make sure those things are separated,” Bode said. “If we over-extend resources, it will impact this.”
Bode said the board’s approval of the new plan does not impact the system until the next school year.
“If you all come up with something that the board can do to help with the current situation, put it on our agenda please,” Bode said.