Bus driver shortage in Richmond County? Drivers say 'yes', district says 'no'

Published: Mar. 9, 2019 at 9:47 AM EST
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Friday, March 8, 2019

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AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- We first told you about bus driver safety concerns on Thursday after the drivers' union came together to hold a town hall about those concerns. Now, we're breaking down another problem. This time it's about an apparent shortage of bus drivers.

Everyday, thousands of families depend on bus drivers to get their kids to and from school safely. Drivers say they're in a tough spot with too many kids and sometimes, not enough seats for them.

More than 24,000 Richmond County students depend on the bus system to get them to school. Some drivers claim those buses are bursting at the seams, with too many kids zoned for routes and not enough seats.

"Some drivers feel like, 'what else am I left to do? how can I get these kids to school? I can't just leave them here.'" said Yolanda Brown, a bus driver with Richmond County and also a leader with the Transport Workers Union Local 239.

At a town hall meeting Thursday, the bus drivers' union pulled out the numbers they got from an Open Records Request from the Richmond County School System. The district confirms they did hand those numbers over to them. That data says some routes are zoned for more than 150 kids, but the bus on that route can only carry 90 of them. For example, Bus 308 which takes kids to Warren Road Elementary has 158 kids on the route but only a bus that can fit 90. So the union argues that route is 68 students over capacity.

Situations like that leaves the drivers in a tough spot if every single kid on the route were to want to take the bus on any given day.

"We're doing the best we can to get them there on time," said Brown. "but sometimes we're as late as 30-minutes."

The school district says: "There's not 150 that get on that bus that has a capacity of 90." said Kaden Jacobs, a spokesperson for the Richmond County School System.

Because they claim not every student on the route necessarily rides. The union agrees but that doesn't make their job easier when too many kids show up at the bus stop. They have to call in an extra bus when there are too many kids.

"Whenever we realize that a route is crowded, and that one bus will not fulfill the needs of that route then we add a second bus to that route," said Jacobs.

Drivers feel there aren't enough of them to add more to existing routes. The district confirms they have called in mechanics to fill-in when drivers are out. The district has 13 driver openings right now. Drivers say the situation is taking a toll on them and your students.

But the district says they're doing their best to find more drivers and keep existing ones.

"We've done a lot of things to try and improve the quality of life of our bus drivers." said Jacobs.

By that he means increasing driver pay by a dollar in the last few years, and guaranteeing 7.5 hours per shift plus overtime.

The district wasn't able to tell us if there are any routes that are consistently over crowded with students standing on the buses because they don't track ridership, and to their knowledge, never have.

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