Amid a shortage of school bus drivers, Los Angeles school district officials have alerted parents that routes could be delayed and some students could be late to class until the problem is resolved.
The Los Angeles Unified School District relies on four private bus companies to provide about 60% of the 2,075 routes. Those contractors are struggling to attract enough drivers to adequately cover the routes in the 710-square-mile district, said David Palmer, L.A. Unified's deputy transportation director.
The dearth of applicants, along with a normal rate of daily absences, leaves the district short about 240 drivers each day, Palmer said.
In an effort to fill the gaps, the district's substitute drivers, as well as licensed supervisors and trainers, climb behind the wheel each morning. Inevitably, however, some routes are still left unmanned and must be absorbed into others.
The shortage of drivers is spread throughout the district, Palmer said, adding that there is "no one part of town that is affected more than others."
District transportation officials sent home a letter in seven languages last week to the parents of the 70,000 students who ride the buses each day, alerting them of the shortage and the possibility of delays.
Since it pays higher wages and offers better benefits to its drivers than the contracting companies, the district has begun recruiting and training its own drivers for the first time since the late 1990s.
Twenty new hires will begin next month, Palmer said, with about 50 others registered to begin training.
L.A. Unified pays drivers $14 to $24 an hour, while Palmer estimated the maximum pay at private companies is $15 an hour.
The district's aging fleet of large buses, many of which have manual transmissions, has complicated the search for experienced drivers. Drivers today typically learn how to operate buses with automatic transmissions.
Palmer said the vast majority -- about 95% -- of buses are on time each day. Of those that are delayed, he said, most arrive at school before classes begin. If they don't, students are given late passes for their first-period classes.