The story behind all those late buses in the afternoon


Owen Mahoney

A shortage of bus drivers, exacerbated by the Covid pandemic, has led to a pattern of late buses at the end of the school day.

The entire AMSA community has grown used to the end-of-day routine, coming over the loudspeaker in the waning moments of eighth period: “Please excuse the interruption, but we have a few late buses.”

In the eyes of an uninformed student, this may seem like an AMSA-centric issue. But while the charter school may be more affected than other schools in the area, the problem is caused by nationwide staff and service issues.

Among those affected at AMSA is senior and bus C2 rider Vaibhav Rathore.

“[My] bus was late for almost all of December and the first week of January,” he said. “I can barely keep track of how late I get home some days.”

Vaibhav said that he typically experienced 20-minute delays, but that it was far from consistent. Some days the delays have been as long as 40 minutes.

“This year started with a severe shortage,” AMSA Operations Manager Lynn McCluskey said. 

There was already a less-than-ideal number of bus drivers available before the effects of the Covid pandemic hit with full force, but now, after countless layoffs and with prevalent health concerns only recently mitigated at all, there are fewer drivers than before.

“Some drivers are out on medical leave and we have no backup drivers,” said Mrs. McCluskey, who routinely communicates with the bus company to determine daily solutions.

AMSA’s transportation is provided by the same company as Marlborough’s, NRT Bus, but the charter school is supposed to have a dedicated selection of drivers.

This system is currently not working as intended, as the pool of substitute drivers is far too small. Unfortunately for AMSA, the other schools’ routes get priority when drivers are needed. 

AMSA’s drivers are used as substitutes for the public school system. When drivers for Marlborough’s routes are missing and there are no available substitutes, drivers from AMSA’s group are selected to complete those routes first, which leads to a late arrival at AMSA.

At the beginning of the school year, when buses are being organized, a pool of drivers choose routes through a bidding system. Mrs. McCluskey said that Marlborough had a lot of issues. The regional buses don’t fall victim to Marlborough’s issues, as an entirely different system and group of drivers is used.

Despite attempts to “work together for creative solutions,” Mrs. McCluskey said that most decisions are made by the bus company.

“I get a call every day between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m.,” she said. “That’s when they know how buses are going to be shifted around and which buses are going to be late.”

To deal with lengthy delays, some routes have been combined to get students home as quickly as possible. Students have seen multiple combinations of routes, such as buses C4 and C5, which consistently rode together for multiple weeks at one point, as did C6 and C8.

Some students are fortunate enough to have other options for getting to and from school, but many are not.

“A lot of parents are driving their kids if they’re able,” Mrs. McCluskey said. “It’s easier to drop them off in the morning, but if they’re working it’s very difficult to pick them up at 2:45 p.m.”

It is only because of those families who are able to pursue other methods of transportation that some routes are able to be combined. When buses are at full capacity as usual, merged routes would not be possible.

The situation may seem to fluctuate, but the problem can only truly be resolved if more drivers are hired.

“We need to have a backup pool,” Mrs. McCluskey said.

Students are far from the only ones affected by this shortage. With buses arriving later than usual, faculty and staff members, including Mrs. McCluskey, are responsible for overseeing the crosswalks and bus lanes for much longer than usual. This has put additional strain on the school, which was facing issues with staff attendance itself because of the pandemic.

While the delays have been undeniably frustrating, the drivers out there on the road are as frustrated as anyone.

“Bus drivers honestly don’t deserve this,” Vaibhav said.