When schools opened Monday in Montgomery County, Maryland, Todd Watkins, the transportation director for the county public school system said there were a number of reports of late buses — some were as much as one hour late.
Every year there are issues with late buses, but this year is different; and the county is still trying to hire drivers.
By Watkins’ count, they’re still looking for 100 drivers, and the county is not alone in the search. In Howard County, which also started school on Monday, 95 drivers are needed.
One other thing that’s different this year, Watkins noted: Kids were returning to 5-day-a-week, in-person learning for the first time in 18 months.
On the first day of school, the drop-off lanes in Montgomery County school parking lots were packed.
“Some of our buses are really struggling to get into and out of school sites just because of the amount of traffic,” Watkins said. In some cases, that has led to buses stacked back out onto roads around schools, he said.
On the second day of school, the parking lot flow seemed to ease, but Watkins said some things, such as crowded buses, will likely continue until there’s a full complement of drivers.
“With all kids coming back five days a week, there is no excess bus capacity that we’re able to apply to the situation to do social distancing” on buses, Watkins said.
Watkins said some of the greatest delays occurred along the Route 29 corridor on the eastern side of Montgomery County, and traffic congestion was an issue, as well.
Brian Bassett, the spokesperson for Howard County Public Schools, said several schools experienced “significant delays in transportation.” Like Watkins, Bassett attributed that to a combination of the driver shortage, increased car travel, and working out the kinks in logistics that are typical in the first days of school.
“We are continuing to make necessary changes” to address the driver shortage, Bassett said, adding that while there was some improvement on Tuesday, but, “There is still work to do.”
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