Hours before their away game against Hollis-Brookline last Thursday, the girls soccer team was informed that there was no bus driver to bring them. The team was forced to scramble to find last-minute carpools to the game, an hour and ten minutes away.
The bus driver shortage has had more of an impact on the Oyster River community than expected. It has affected the bus driver’s route and caused the school day to start fifteen minutes earlier. The shortage’s impact has extended to not only the lowerclassmen who take the bus to and from school, but started impacting sports teams, as well. This challenge has had an effect on team morale, game times, and put pressure on parents and athletes to get themselves to games.
The shortage, while prevalent before the COVID-19 pandemic began, has grown to impact more than just the regularly scheduled routes. “There was a bus driver shortage before COVID-19, but I think that it was exacerbated by COVID-19 because as far as I know for Oyster River, we have never been missing so many [drivers],” said Noe. This has made getting fall athletic teams to away games especially challenging because the athletic director relies on this excess of resources.
Andrew Lathrop, Oyster River Athletic Director, said that “for athletic trips, we rely on the transportation department having extra bus drivers because a lot of times when we go out for our games, those drivers that work for the district are driving a route home. So, with the shortage of drivers, that really doesn’t leave any extra people to take our trips.” This has not only made it harder for the teams to get to the games, but it has also had an impact on team morale.
The bus ride to and from games is usually considered a bonding time between the members and the coach. Nicholas Ricciardi, coach of the Oyster River track team, said, “being on the bus is a really important part of team building. As a coach, being able to talk about what everyone’s goals are for the meet [on the bus] is really important for me. On the way back, it’s a really important time for kids to be able to just have fun with their teammates.”
The lack of drivers also puts pressure on the parents, as well as the athletes, to find transportation to and from the games and money for gas at games further away. Lathrop says, “if it doesn’t change, it’s going to put some more [pressure] on parents and athletes to transport themselves, which is unfortunate.” However, the administration and athletic department is working diligently to find solutions for this problem. One solution that they have found, specifically for athletics, is hiring drivers who don’t drive a regular route and instead serve as designated athletic drivers.
Another solution from the Athletic Department involved moving the game and meet times themselves. “We’ve moved games to Saturday when we can because [on] Saturdays, there’s no routes, so getting driver’s is not a problem. We’ve adjusted game times to work around that period that they are driving their routes. We’ve set up carpools with parents and when we haven’t had a bus we’ve been able to get there [as well],” says Lathrop.
The administration has also been working to hire more drivers in general. Noe says, “we’ve raised pay [and] there’s a bonus. [We are] making sure we’re putting our advertisement out in places it wasn’t before [and] trying to reach new audiences of people who may be interested in doing that.” While there is no telling exactly what has caused the shortage, COVID-19 has had an undeniable impact. Noe explained the opportunities the pandemic has offered for these drivers. She said, “you see ‘help wanted’ signs everywhere. I think COVID-19 gave people a chance [who] maybe hadn’t gone to school or maybe always wanted to try a different career the opportunity to do that.”
While the bus driver shortage has put more pressure on students and the administration to get athletes and students where they need to go, there is a change in the works. According to Principal Noe, “right now, [administration] has people in the works who have applied. If I remember correctly, it was eight people.” In the future, the Oyster River community can look forward to new drivers and hopefully a lot less confusion and carpooling!