School bus companies bracing for COVID surge impact on school transportation

All Albany schools went to distance learning because of COVID cases affecting 21 drivers and a dozen more bus employees.

It’s the latest district to take that kind of action because of bus staffing issues, and bus contractors are worried it’s going to get worse.

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School transportation has been a struggle, starting with a national driver shortage.

Of course, this is an industry that can’t work from home.

"We do not have the option to drive remotely, and with the rise in quarantines specifically due to close contacts, if the trends should continue, we are forecasting that we will run out of drivers during the winter months," said Nick Vallone, Executive Vice President of Rolling V Bus Corporation and President of the New York Bus Contractors Association.

That association represents more than 100 school transportation companies, taking half of all children who ride the bus to and from school every day.

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President Nick Vallone is warning that a COVID spike could upset an already strained system, and they want to be prepared.

He says schools are already using solutions like route combinations.

"So it would only be to simply build on that option, and perhaps adjust more bell times and allow for more schedule flexibility in allowing us to perhaps double up runs," he said.

Some districts have changed their start times; some drivers make more pickup runs.

Vallone says it’s a race against the clock to get drivers certified, and that they’re working with the state to look at things like third party testing to help with the long process.

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"Which our neighbors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey enjoy, which we firmly believe will cut that process down significantly, potentially in half, and allow us to get these individuals at the rate we need to get them behind the wheel," said Vallone. "All while doing it safely."