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Charlottesville City Schools expect to reduce bus driver shortage

Charlottesville City Schools say they hope to hire new drivers and implement new bus routes by Nov. 9 in an effort to reduce the number students waiting to ride, officials said.

Schools spokeswoman Beth Cheuk said the school division hopes to reduce by half the number of students waiting to get added to a bus route. She made the statement during a webinar hosted by Charlottesville United for Public Education on Wednesday.

“What they hope to do by Nov. 9 is to do a real rerouting of the whole system that might impact everybody, whether their child is currently on the bus or whether they’re hoping to get off of the waitlist,” Cheuk said.

Almost half of the students eligible for bus service are on the waitlist. About 900 students ride the bus while another 800 are waiting to be assigned to one. Cheuk hopes that the number waiting will drop to 300 or 400.

School officials hope that four new drivers will be added to the roster in addition to the eight it now has.

To be fully staffed, city schools would need 40 bus drivers. It hopes that it may be able to get to 16 before the school year is over.

The hiring of new drivers has been enabled by a recent increase in bus driver pay. Last week, the City Council, which is responsible for hiring bus drivers, announced it would up wages from $17 an hour to $21. They also raised the pay for existing Charlottesville Area Transit employees by 12%, providing they had been working there at least a year.

The transportation page of the Charlottesville City Schools website states that “the bus driver shortage will not be fixed by better advertising, pay, benefits, or bonuses (the city has tried).” Cheuk said during the webinar that she believed the pay increase would help, but it wouldn’t solve the bus driver shortage.

“Before the pandemic, you could see that this shortage was coming. Then the pandemic just smashed the gas on this,” Cheuk said.

Many bus drivers are retirees who stopped driving during the pandemic, at least for the school division. The market for bus drivers is competitive, Cheuk acknowledged, especially if they have commercial driving licenses.

Having that license means they can drive other CAT buses, ferry University of Virginia students on shuttles, or transport goods for businesses.

Regardless of whether the city can hire all of the bus drivers city schools need, the division plans to keep the expanded walking zones.

“We looked at other sister cities…and nowhere else has anywhere near as small a walking zone as we do,” Cheuk said.

Over the summer, Charlottesville schools decided to increase the walk zone to three-quarters of a mile for elementary students and one and a quarter miles for secondary students. Some students at Charlottesville High School have a walk zone of more than a mile and a half, about a 30 minute commute on foot.

City schools are working with the city government to make Charlottesville more walkable for everyone, but especially for students. They’ve hired more crossing guards to ensure kids get to school safely. They ask that families use the MyCville app to report any issues or safety hazards during their kids’ commutes to school.

Source: www.dailyprogress.com

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