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Thinking in Print: The bus driver shortage won’t improve unless we treat drivers better

Currently, the nation is suffering a bus driver shortage and Ohio is no exception. At least 40% of school districts in Ohio have had to cancel routes regularly, with some reportedly on the verge of collapse. While the pandemic has certainly played a role in this shortage, as a former bus driver’s daughter, I can say that the stress of driving a bus and the lack of consideration drivers are subjected to make bus driving unappealing.

Growing up, I loathed having to get up early on cold winter mornings and be driven to the next town where the bus was kept. As the first kid on the bus, the seats were freezing, the windows were iced over and it was so cold that my spit froze when it hit the floor. Of course, these were minor inconveniences compared to what my father endured.

My father was the one driving 20 minutes to the school only to be told there was a two-hour delay due to bad weather, or the basketball game was canceled and they forgot to tell him. While I waited in a warm car, he was crawling under the iced-over bus each morning with a flashlight to make sure everything was safe for children who relished in causing mischief. It was my father who had to pull up to houses and wait for kids who would never come because no one bothered telling him the student had moved away. 

When smoke started streaming from the hood of the bus in elementary school, I wasn’t responsible for pulling over and getting every child to safety while hoping the bus wouldn’t explode. I wasn’t spraying out the bus when kids puked, or sweeping out paper wads and food crumbs for over an hour after the route was finished. I didn’t have to concentrate on not wrecking while people zoomed dangerously close to my vehicle to escape the horrors of being behind a “slow bus” while kids misbehaved in the background.

I never had to contact every parent on my route with pick-up and drop-off times but never hear back despite multiple voicemails. I didn’t have to deal with the ensuing phone call of the Karen screeching about why her child was never picked up.  

I never got pneumonia for pushing myself so hard as a bus driver. 

After 10 years of driving a bus, my father didn’t renew his license and quit. Even today, when we ride together and see a bus he’ll chuckle and remark how happy he is that it’s not him at the wheel. 

If Ohio and the nation at large ever want to fix the bus driver shortage, they must first fix the culture of bus driving itself. The simple act of calling in when your kid isn’t coming to school can save the driver from waiting by your stop and throwing their schedule off. Minor courtesies like respecting buses on the road and not honking every time they stop can make a difference. If people on and off the road showed bus drivers more respect, perhaps working in the field wouldn’t be so daunting. 

Charlene Pepiot is a senior studying English at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnists do not reflect those of The Post. Want to talk more about it? Let Charlene know by emailing her, cp872117@ohio.edu.

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