AUSTIN (KXAN) — School bus ridership is obviously down for districts like Austin and Lake Travis independent school districts, but there is still a major need for bus drivers.
On Oct. 5, students can head back to in-person classes in AISD, and that means bus drivers resume their routes — but this year they are starting with a few less drivers.
“If I have 25 more, we will feel very good,” said Kris Hafezizadeh, AISD executive director of transportation, as he spoke about the need for drivers in his district.
Lake Travis ISD needs bus drivers, as well. This time last year positions were filled, but today they need 20 drivers and no one is applying. Some drivers have left because of concerns over COVID-19.
“They felt like they were in that high risk category and have left us,” said Rhonda Davis, Lake Travis ISD director of transportation.
Some drivers are absorbing extra routes for the time being to help cover the vacancies.
“Some of them might only be transporting six or seven students,” Davis said.
Both districts are putting in safety features to keep students and bus drivers healthy. Masks are required at all times for both students on the bus and the driver, constant cleaning between stops at each school is a must, hand sanitizer stations when entering the bus are required and some districts are using assigned seats.
“The seating charts will help us do any kind of contact tracing,” Davis said.
AISD usually transports about 22,000 students each day by bus, but when in-person classes resume in October, it’s expected to be just 4,400 students per day. While ridership is down capacity on the buses will be as well.
“We are going to be having one student per seat and the seat behind the driver closed so that does affect capacity of the buses,” Hafezizadeh said.
An AISD bus heading to an elementary school allows three students to a seat, roughly 71 students to a bus. High school and middle school buses allow 2 riders, which is about 45 students. Now buses will only allow 23 students at a maximum.
Both districts recently increased pay for their drivers. Lake Travis is paying $20.20/hour while Austin ISD is paying $17/hour.
Round Rock ISD offers $20.53/hour for bus drivers. The district says there is always a need for drivers, but because of COVID-19, they are not currently hiring.
Current pay in Hays CISD starts at $16.48/hour. The school board will consider a bus driver pay raise on during a meeting Sept. 28. The recommendation is to move starting pay to $17.01/hour, and adjust the pay scale accordingly for drivers who have years of experience.
Hays CISD will start running buses on Sept. 28, but officials aren’t sure on how many students will ride. They currently have 15 driver positions open and six bus monitor positions open.
Hays CISD tells KXAN they have had five transportation employees resign for medical reasons, but the district says they don’t specifically track COVID-19 as a resignation reason.
Round Rock ISD officials told KXAN they have lost some drivers over concerns with COVID-19, but did not give an exact number.