Underpaid School Bus Drivers and the Shortage

Bus drivers are very important for our schools- yet they are uncompensated and unseen. The shortage highlights that reality.


Annie Eason

Buses lined up in front of Robinson Secondary in preparation for dismissal

School bus drivers do many things for the Robinson community. They take us to school, and take us home. Oftentimes, we take their labor for granted. They are one of the biggest reasons as to why we can get an education and with it, an opportunity to succeed in life. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, bus drivers in the DMV area make around $48,260 a year in May, 2021. However, the wage isn’t enough when accounting for the average cost of living. According to the Economic Policy Institute, the cost of living for one adult in Fairfax County is $58,035 and the cost of living for an adult and a child is around $78,904.Taking care of a family in Fairfax County isn’t cheap, and doing that on only a bus driver’s wage may almost be impossible.

In addition, bus driver shortages have long been an issue in not just northern Virginia, but nationwide. According to wtop, FCPS in 2017 was desperately looking for bus drivers to the point where they considered adding supervisors. “The D.C. region’s largest school system, with the second-largest public school bus fleet in the U.S., has about 1,200 certified drivers. Transportation coordinator Tom Italiano said the county needs about 100 more to be able to cover all routes each day without using supervisors.” (Smith, Max 2017) If supervisors did fill the bus routes, it would mean that if a bus broke down or in a similar event, there would not be any supervisors to fill an extra bus, resulting in unreliable transportation for students.

The shortage has been exacerbated by the 2020 covid pandemic. Not only were bus drivers unsatisfied with their pay, there weren’t many people willing to be a bus driver during the pandemic. Considering that the average age of employed bus drivers is 57, it isn’t surprising that the older population would not have wanted to risk themselves contracting covid, since the elderly are more susceptible to the virus. For those who depended on their wage to support their families, many said it wasn’t adequate, especially when accounting for inflation. In an interview with WUSA9, the APS Safety and Training Coordinator said that the job could not provide for a family.

In interviews with students, half of the students interviewed said that they believed their bus drivers were underpaid, and the other half were not sure or felt like it was sufficient compared to what teachers made. Some students also felt like their bus drivers seemed appreciated for their work, with one person claiming that they weren’t. There weren’t many students that knew about their bus drivers, with an exception of one student. An anonymous survey result detailed how a bus driver felt about their occupation. When asked about their pay in the survey, they chose “I’m unsatisfied”. When asked if they felt safe working, they wrote they felt appreciated by the Robinson community. However, work-life balance was rated a 5 out of 10. While they were able to afford basic necessities, they weren’t financially comfortable (without disposable income). However, this data is taken into account with the presence of a second job. 

The liaison of Robinson Secondary frequently communicates with the central transportation office and is very appreciative of the school bus drivers. When asked about their thoughts on the bus driver profession, they had this to say. “All I can say is how much I appreciate them because I’m sure I feel like it’s kind of like a thankless job. People don’t necessarily get out of their way to say ‘thank you for getting me to school’ or ‘thank you for getting me home safely’ but I am overly appreciative of them.” They also held the opinion that a lot of kids take the bus, even when the kiss-n-ride line seems very long. “It seems like a lot of people are driving their kids to school but there are still a ton of kids that take the bus everyday. It is their only option to come to school on a regular basis so I don’t think we should have any other emotion towards bus drivers other than appreciation because they make the schools go round.” they said. They also admit that the job is hard just due to how buses are driven and also the fact that kids are very tired after school. “I think it’s a hard job- buses are big, they’re harder to just drive in general due to the size of the bus. I mean kids after school- they’re tired. School is hard on you all and you’re here for seven and a half hours a day and if you take lunch out of the equation you’re learning for seven hours. By the time you get on the bus to get home, you almost need that time to release some energy which can make the job a little more difficult. But you all are really good kids here at Robinson- I think for the most part you all do a phenomenal job maintaining behavior on the bus- safety is everyone’s number one priority and you really have to do your best to remain safe.” they said. 

When asked about the bus shortage for Robinson specifically, the Robinson liaison believed that it wasn’t as big of an issue as the other schools in the county and that all things considered, Robinson was in a really good position. There were only a couple buses on double-back last year. However, some kids were dropped off at 7:00am last year because some bus drivers had to do double backs. This meant that the bus drivers had to drop off the kids really early and then go back again to a different route to get more kids to school. Fortunately, this year, the bus shortage wasn’t too big of a problem, as there were no double backs. 

According to our transportation liaison, Robinson does a lot of things for the bus drivers in terms of appreciation, but Robinson can take an extra step to do a little more. Robinson can do something very simple, but very impactful for our bus drivers. Students can just say “thank you” every time the bus driver drops us off or picks them up. This simple phrase will help them feel more appreciated. It’s the simplest thing that we can do as a community and also one of the more effective ways of showing appreciation for the bus drivers. Students can also support the bus drivers by talking to them personally during bus rides. Robinson is in a very fortunate place when it comes to the bus driver shortage and students should not take this for granted. By doing this simple act, we can make the bus drivers- the people who make it possible for us to get an education, feel seen and valued.