Shortly after the sun rose on Tuesday morning, Pittsburgh Public Schools superintendent Anthony Hamlet boarded a school bus on the South Side.
Hamlet rode along as the bus driver tested one of the new routes district is rolling out this school year for the sake of efficiency.
The district eliminated 75 vehicles, changed start times at six schools and will re-route some drivers to pick up multiple busloads of students.
This year more routes will be “tiered,” which means drivers will make trips to multiple schools rather than one or two as they have in the past.
Megan Patton, director of pupil transportation, said the district had to find ways to be more efficient as the pool of available drivers shrank again this year. Last year the district contracted with 19 area companies with about 1,000 drivers. Now, those companies are down 120 drivers.
That’s not an issue unique to Pittsburgh. Experts say the country’s booming economy is partly to blame for the shortage. Drivers are often part-time and work a split shift, which makes finding additional work outside of driving a challenge.
“They’re not having applicants come in wanting to drive a bus. It’s not just with school buses, it’s with [Commercial Driver Licensed] drivers across the country,” Patton said.
Earlier in the year, the district proposed putting middle school students on Port Authority buses, something parents voiced concerns over.
Banksville K-5, Roosevelt PreK-5 and Whittier K-5 will start 20 minutes later and South Brook 6-8 will start 10 minutes later. Schiller 6-8 in Troy Hill will begin two hours earlier.
The district transports students who attend schools within Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver as well as city residents who attend nonpublic and charter schools within a 10-mile radius of the city.
Letters will be sent to families impacted by route changes. Most students start school on Aug. 26.