Last minute bus cancellations result from bus driver shortage


Kartiki Sarangdhar

Students get off their bus in the morning before school begins. There is a bus shortage, resulting in delays and bus-route cancellations.

Ellie O’Connor, News Editor

Students across the Northborough-Southborough District have been impacted by frequent bus route cancellations and delays, a consequence of the nationwide bus driver shortage.

According to Assistant Superintendent of Operations Keith Lavoie, the district has a three-year contract with North Reading Transportation (NRT) that is set to expire in the spring of 2023. The program costs $2 million each year and originally involved 32 drivers. However, this school year the district was limited to 29 drivers, which has led to combined bus routes and cancellations when there is unavailability. 

Students have expressed worries about the cancellations, which have often been announced right before school ends or begins. This can provide challenges for students if they have little time to find an alternative. Over ten morning and afternoon bus routes have been canceled or delayed since September. Lavoie attributes this issue to the nationwide bus driver shortage, a reflection of the overall American labor shortages.

“The bus driver shortage is really what’s driving this, and we also don’t know [about a cancellation] until maybe an hour before the start of the day or dismissal, and then you have to make a tough decision,” Lavoie said. “Typically our bus company would have substitute drivers ready to go on a daily basis, but now every day, we need at least three drivers to substitute certain routes, and it’s not consistent.”

Algonquin has not been alone in these challenges. According to a July 2022 Bloomberg Article, “America’s Bus Driver Shortage Has Left Transit Systems In Crisis”, a recent survey conducted by the American Public Transportation Association reports that 71% of 117 participating transit agencies had to limit service increases or cut some services altogether.

The bussing issues are not just limited to students commuting to and from school. Student athletes have also felt the impacts, with sports games and meets being canceled or postponed from a lack of bus drivers. Athletic Director Mike Mocerino described the uncertain situation when he was interviewed for the Harbinger last October.

“[The bussing situation is] challenging, frustrating, difficult,” Mocerino said via email in his October of 2022 interview. “[The Athletic Department is in] constant communication with the coaches, athletes, and families, adjusting the schedule, and/or implementing private transportation when needed.”

High school and middle school routes are not the priority for bus transportation, which can result in more cancellations for ARHS students. 

“Unfortunately [the district] will cancel an Algonquin bus before we would cancel an elementary school bus,” Lavoie said. “We have to put our resources to the younger kids because our high school kids typically have more options available. And while that is not fair to high school kids, that is the reality.”

The district has made efforts to help students when there is a cancellation, such as notifying teachers so that there are no attendance repercussions. Lavoie values the dedication shown by the district’s bus drivers, who have improvised when sudden changes to bus routes are necessary.

“I wouldn’t say that [the cancellations] have happened a lot, and I think we’ve avoided it because our drivers have been very committed,” Lavoie said. “A lot of the drivers have taken additional stops, or they’ve taken additional routes, and that has really helped us which has been great.”

However, potential changes with NRT may result in improvements, such as a decrease in cancellations and delays.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” Lavoie said. “I think that NRT has been able to get a couple more drivers to commit. They are training more people to be drivers so that we can, at minimum, get all of our drivers back.”

Despite the difficult situation, Lavoie appreciates the cooperation of Northborough and Southborough families. 

“I have seen that people have been incredibly patient, and they have been actually incredibly supportive,” Lavoie said. “People are frustrated by it, but they’re taking it in stride and hoping that it improves.”