Bus driver shortage yields issues

Adjustments made to athletics, respect retreat to address issue


Kaia Myers

Because of the shortage of bus drivers, the St. Louis Park and Benilde-St. Margaret cross country teams had to share a bus to their meet Sept. 25.

Abby Intveld and Dani Orloff

Reflecting on her bus ride with the Park freshman and junior varsity football team Sept. 13, senior girls’ tennis captain Sidney Hosfield said the experience was uncomfortable and frustrating.

“It was really crowded and uncomfortable and it smelled bad,” Hosfield said. “We had a trailer so at least we didn’t have to have our stuff with us, but I mean it was still as hot and stuffy.”

Hosfield said she felt one bus for all three teams did not provide adequate space for all the athletes.   

“All the tennis players had to go three to a seat, and we were squished on top of each other. All the football players got to go two to a seat and they were comfortable and the coaches each got their own giant seat,” Hosfield said. “We finally told them to go to their own seat and so then they did.”

According to St. Louis Park Transportation owner operator Ann Casey, the commercial and school bus driver industries are experiencing one of the worst driver shortages in recent history.  

“All of these drivers have to have a special license to perform their jobs and those licenses are difficult to acquire,” Casey said. “It’s difficult to find qualified drivers to fill our regular, daily, to-and-from school routes.”

Athletic Director Andy Ewald said because of this shortage of bus drivers, teams with similar event locations were placed on the same bus.

“There’s no rhyme or reason as to who this affects,” Ewald said. “If we have the ninth grade football team and the JV girls tennis team both going to Chanhassen, and the bus company is telling us we’re short, naturally we’re going to put those two teams on a bus together.”

According to Hosfield, sharing the bus with the football team lengthened their time en route.

“It was a long bus ride. They went to play Holy Angels, so it was a good 20-minute bus ride and then we had to go,” Hosfield said. “By the time they left it was fine and then we had to go another 10 minutes, so it wasn’t our direct route to our match and that was frustrating too.”

Hosfield said the coaches did not notify the student-athletes of these conditions prior to the joint bus ride.

“I think they just kind of expected us to like deal with it,” Hosfield said.

According to Casey, the company is contracted with the district to complete up to five trips during route times.

“If we get more than five requests during that time, we have to do a lot combining. We do our best to at least cover the five that we’re contracted to cover but many times there are more than that that are requested,” Casey said. “Many of our requests for sports teams comes during our route hours, so because of the driver shortage and because we’re still in our route time, we simply don’t have enough drivers to take all the sports trips that are requested of us.”

According to Ewald, the athletic department was not at fault for the transportation issues.

“We are at the mercy of what Park Adams transportation has available,” Ewald said. “We take care of getting all of our buses ordered and submitted to them in a timely fashion. It’s really more of an issue from the transportation department rather than anything to do with our athletic department.”

Casey said the athletic department has been very flexible in addressing this shortage this school year.  

“They have been extremely gracious about switching schedules and switching things up to make things work for everybody,” Casey said. “We have been extremely appreciative about the department’s and the students’ willingness to help us maneuver schedules a little bit so we can still get the sports teams to their events on time even with combining routes or leaving early.”

According to freshman counselor Barb Nelson, the freshman respect retreat Sept. 28 was scheduled to take place at two off-site locations, however, the plans had to be altered due to the scarcity of bus drivers.   

“It’s not that (bus companies) don’t have equipment, they have enough buses, they just don’t have enough drivers and especially during peak route times, there’s not enough drivers to fulfill all the requests they have, so we had to do a little bit of scrambling and figuring out timing of the retreat and ended up hosting for one site here in the fieldhouse,” Nelson said.

According to Nelson, the second group of freshmen were still able to spend the day at Park Harbour in St. Louis Park for the retreat.

“It is close enough that the buses can get there pretty easily, and they had to condense the time of the retreat a little bit, but we were still able to get the bulk of it in for the students that were there,” Nelson said. “I actually ended the day there and it was a good end to the retreat which is typically kind of the fun part of it.”

Freshman Nicholas Kent said after having spent the day in the fieldhouse, he felt an off-site location for the respect retreat would be beneficial.  

“I would have rather have gone somewhere instead of staying on the hard floor in the fieldhouse the whole time,” Kent said. “But, I think there was enough space.”

Nelson said she felt the students made the most out of the situation and the fieldhouse space.

“The leaders here struggled a little bit because of the acoustics in the fieldhouse, which was tough, but it was like, at least it was a space and we were still able to do it and have it all on the same day,” Nelson said. “I was down there for a big part of the day and it wasn’t horrible, but obviously a more defined and closed in space would be good.”