Bus driver shortage affecting students within 2 miles of schools

LA CROSSE, Wis.(WKBT)- Many parents were frustrated on the first day of school when the La Crosse School district sent out an email saying, “We would also like to inform families that are within 2 miles that Go Riteway will not be able to provide transportation at this time due to a driver shortage.”

Parents took to social media, with one saying, “My son was supposed to be bussed. We checked the pick-up time and it was 3 minutes before he was supposed to be in class. Didn’t bother having him wait for the bus so we took him. Get an email today that they won’t be transporting kids within 2 miles of their school.”

La Crosse School Superintendent Aaron Engel says not busing students within 2 miles is nothing new, but with a shortage of bus drivers, they have to be more strict on who they can pick up.

“We have a policy in our school district indicating that we don’t have to pick up students within 2 miles of their schools, and historically we haven’t had to be rigorous about that but with our bus shortage this year and the combination of routes we’ve had to take some of those measures that we would honestly prefer not to but are necessary to ensure we get kids to school,” Engel said

Michael Wohlfert, operations vice president of Go Riteways, said the company went from having 120 drivers in a normal year to having only 107 now. This has led to a loss of six bus routes. And money isn’t the problem.

“Coming into the pandemic and post-pandemi,c we have certainly seen a loss of drivers, some of our drivers decided not to return due to reasons such as COVID and the pandemic has certainly caused some challenges,” Wohlfert said

Historically, there always are busing issues on the first day of school, but those tend to get worked out fairly quickly, he said.

“We always say give us a few weeks and it will smooth out. So if a parent calls us we will prioritize their request and address it as fast as we can,” said Wohlfert.

Prepandemic, Go Riteway normally bused around 1,900 students, but this year, the company is busing just under 1,500 students.

The pandemic and driver shortage have brought challenges, Wohlfert said, but the company’sgoal is to make sure every student makes it to school safely.