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caption: File Photo: Highline school bus driver Rodger Fowler
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File Photo: Highline school bus driver Rodger Fowler

Seattle schools could be 30 drivers short this fall

With just a few weeks to go until the start of the school year, Seattle Public Schools says it's struggling to get enough bus drivers needed to cover all routes, and that families could expect bus service interruptions until November.

Hunter Maltais, transportation manager for the school district, said they are drafting the bus routes that their transportation provider, First Student, will put out for bid with their unionized drivers.

"We anticipate that we will be between 20 to 30 drivers short just for to-from operations," Maltais said.

Maltais added that the current shortage doesn't include the additional 35 to 40 backup drivers they'd like to have on standby.

The district's update is the latest in an ongoing shortage of buses and drivers. After the district's transportation provider, First Student, laid off half of its drivers at the start of the pandemic, only half of the drivers returned when students returned to in-person learning last spring.

At the time, the district struggled to provide transportation for the students, as legally required by federal law, including students experiencing homelessness, special education students, and students in the foster care system.

"We're working to ensure that we are able to cover as many of the federally mandates services we have to provide," Maltais said.

One way the district is looking into to "fill the gaps" created by the driver shortage is continuing partnerships with alternative transportation companies like American Logistics Company, HopSkipDrive and Zūm.

With parents' permission, some students could be using Lyfts and Ubers to get to class. Lyft and Uber won’t transport minors alone, so parents or guardians must ride with the child to and from school.

"That makes it a little more challenging,” Maltais said, “but we are looking at trying to ensure that whatever avenues we need to explore to try to provide transportation, we scour them all."

The district will also offer to provide an "in lieu of" payment to families of special needs families who choose to self-transport.

Seattle Public School parents and guardians can expect to get mailers with information about their bus route in the coming weeks.