Shortage of Duval school bus drivers, end of hybrid learning model may lead to overcrowding

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Tuesday was Duval County high school students' second day of being back on campus full time after the school district’s hybrid learning model ended Monday.

Teamsters Local 512, the union representing school bus drivers in Duval County, is concerned that the increase in students, coupled with a bus driver shortage, may lead to overcrowding on buses.

Rebecca Cardona, a representative for Teamsters Local 512, said she is waiting to see what happens.

“It’s just the first day into it,” she said Tuesday while appearing on “The Morning Show.” “There was one bus that I was aware of that was at capacity. I can tell you that the information that I received is that one carrier was actually making announcements over the radio to the drivers, notifying them that if they reached over 40 students on the bus, to please notify them immediately so that they can get in touch with Duval County transportation department to get some relief for that driver."

Cardona said they are bracing for the possibility that could happen more often as more students start taking the bus under the new schedule.

“There are actually 26 seats on the buses that run here in Duval County, so considering the provisions that were negotiated to socially distance the driver from the students on the bus, take into account two students per seat, which is what Duval County outlined, there should be no more than approximately 48 students on each bus,” Cardona said.

She encourages any parents or students who are aware of bus overcrowding to contact Duval County Public Schools’ Transportation Department. She said it should be pretty easy to alleviate.

“Once they receive that notification, they can make adjustments to provide relief to that driver by maybe adding a stop to another bus to decrease those numbers," Cardona said.

Cardona said she was a bus driver in Duval County for 24 years and has never seen a driver shortage like what the school district is experiencing right now. She said there is a national shortage in general, but the problem is exasperated by the coronavirus pandemic. She said some drivers are in the high-risk category of getting very sick if they are infected with COVID- 19 and just aren’t ready to return to driving, and others are under quarantine for possible exposure.

And she said the shortage is the reason some parents may notice their student’s bus driver is not always the same each morning or afternoon.

“They’re, in some cases, doubling some routes," Cardona explained. “So there may be two elementary runs that are riding on one bus because of the numbers, again, making sure that it’s not an overload by the numbers.”

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