The official student news site of Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, MA

THE ALGONQUIN HARBINGER

The official student news site of Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, MA

THE ALGONQUIN HARBINGER

The official student news site of Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough, MA

THE ALGONQUIN HARBINGER

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Transportation Trouble: Students struggle with traffic, unreliable buses

Cars+line+up+at+the+morning+drop+off+area+before+school+on+Jan.+12%2C+2024.+Many+students+have+been+arriving+late+to+school+due+to+traffic+congestion+and+have+had+to+experience+major+inconveniences+due+to+bus+cancellations+and+delays.
Talia Piandes
Cars line up at the morning drop off area before school on Jan. 12, 2024. Many students have been arriving late to school due to traffic congestion and have had to experience major inconveniences due to bus cancellations and delays.

Efficient access to a school’s campus is integral to the learning experience, but problems with traffic and buses have led to frustration from the community and a desire for solutions.

Algonquin is only accessible from two entrances, Bartlett Street and Route 20, and the large number of drivers trying to enter Algonquin creates road congestion and frustration, causing numerous students to arrive late to school each day. Additionally, bus cancellations and delays have led to major inconveniences in the lives of both students and their families as the inconsistent transportation severely impacts the daily routine.

According to a Harbinger survey of 141 students conducted through Google Forms from Dec. 12 to Dec. 17, 13% of respondents say they have stopped taking the bus due to cancellations and/or unreliability. 

Assistant Superintendent of Operations Keith Lavoie works closely with North Reading Transportation (NRT), the company that supplies the buses for the district. He credits the primary reason for cancellations as having to do with NRT.

“NRT is not able to provide us with the correct number of drivers and that has a trickle-down effect,” Lavoie said. “When they don’t have a route covered, it could impact not just that bus but as many as three or four other buses.”

Mike Frambach, the Vice President of Operations at NRT, attributes the COVID-19 pandemic as a major reason for the shortage they’ve been experiencing. 

“What impacted this industry really hard was coming out of COVID and a lot of our drivers deciding that they didn’t want to be back in the environment with a lot of students in the van,” Frambach said. “With the risk of catching COVID or RSV, we had a lot of drivers leave the industry. It was at this scale that we haven’t been able to replace everyone.”

In order to combat the problem, NRT has been trying to hire more people by offering a variety of benefits. One of these is offering paid Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) school bus training, which takes about 80 hours. A CDL license allows drivers to operate large vehicles, like trucks and buses.

“We’ve also increased our drivers’ sign-on bonus so if you join the company with an active CDL license in hand, we increase our sign-on bonus to $8000,” Framach said. “We’ve been doing a lot of creative things just to attract people from other companies to our company and we also have a sign-on bonus for candidates that did not have their license but are interested in going through our training program.”

Principal Sean Bevan empathizes with the challenge of finding enough willing and qualified drivers.

“There’s just a bus shortage everywhere so bus driving is a skill that not many people have, for one thing, and also it’s a hard job to attract people to,” Bevan said. “You have to be available for morning and afternoon shifts and then in the middle of the day, you might not be paid to do any of that same work. And so it’s really hard to get people to come in for that.”

It’s unclear to Lavoie if NRT’s efforts will be sufficient in improving the experiences for the district’s bus riders. 

“It’s a nationwide problem, but it’s not just the driver shortage,” Lavoie said. “I do want to say that there could be improvements with the management of it from NRT’s perspective. I think sometimes there isn’t creative or thoughtful planning that has the end user in mind… We know NRT wants to do better, but we’ve got to see that they’re doing better.”

While those who drive themselves to school have control over when they leave for school, those who depend on the bus have run into obstacles that have impacted their attendance.

“When my bus driver was absent, there were many bus cancellations and problems with the bus coming too early or too late,” a survey respondent said. “It really caused a lot of problems for my family, and I am glad that my bus driver came back.”

Junior Claire Devlin cited the unreliability as one of the reasons for her decision to no longer take the bus.

“Sometimes my bus will get doubled up with other buses or delayed and it’s really frustrating,” Devlin said. “My 45 minute bus ride is so long and when it gets delayed it’s even longer.”

Another primary method of getting to school is by car. According to the survey, 67% of respondents drive themselves or carpool to school. However, 52% of respondents say they have trouble getting into school on time because of the traffic in the morning at least once a week. 

“Traffic is unpredictable and there is usually a huge line to get into school which can range from two to 20 minutes of traffic,” a survey respondent said. 

Sometimes my bus will get doubled up with other buses or delayed and it’s really frustrating. My 45 minute bus ride is so long and when it gets delayed it’s even longer.

— Junior Claire Devlin

Freshman Ben Dane gets driven to school every day. Although he leaves at 7:35 a.m. and only lives about six minutes away, he arrives at 7:52 a.m.

“It takes way longer than it should with all the kids and parents driving their kids to school,” Dane said. “The traffic just adds so much unnecessary time.”

Getting to school is a necessary part of receiving a good education, making it a top priority for the school’s administration. 

“I think the inconvenience is very high and the loss in learning also concerns me,” Bevan said.

Lavoie and NRT are working hard to increase the staffing of bus drivers. In the meantime, keeping routes up to date can shorten bus ride times and provide consistency.

“If you were to get your license and have the fortunate opportunity to have a car, then we would like to know so we could reroute that,” Lavoie said.

There are minor solutions that can be implemented to reduce the traffic such as students leaving earlier and carpooling. Bevan and other administrators are aware of the traffic issue and the impact, although due to the fixed variable of limited entrances, solutions will have to be more creative. 

“I think 20 years ago this was true and 20 years from now it probably will still be true,” Bevan said.

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About the Contributors
Laney Halsey, Assistant A&E Editor
Talia Piandes, Staff Photographer
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