School bus driver Maureen McAlear loves her job, but it’s not what it used to be. Hybrid school schedules and few after school activities mean drivers are working — and earning — less. McAlear, who is a union steward for her fellow drivers, said they rely on full pay and the extra driving to make ends meet.
“It means we can pay our mortgage, we can buy food and put it on the table and pay our bills, heating, electricity and our car payment to get us to work. We're not jet-setting out to Aruba. This is money that we need. These drivers aren't independently wealthy,” she said.
When schools reopen fully, many will count on those familiar yellow buses to be ready to roll. But local bus companies — which make up an estimated 40 percent of the country’s school transport — are facing financial threat. Even when buses are idle, companies have fixed costs to pay, including insurance, maintenance and paying drivers. The School Transportation Association of Massachusetts (STAM) said more than a dozen local companies are in financial trouble.
And even before the pandemic, keeping a roster of trained and vetted school bus drivers wasn’t easy. With a rise in demand for delivery drivers, there’s a worry drivers are being lured away.
“We need to be able to pay them what they're accustomed to getting or we're gonna lose them,” said David Strong, president of STAM. “Amazon is looking for drivers because their business is booming. Why not a school bus driver?”