District adjusts some school bus routes ahead of year's start
The Kenai Peninsula Borough School District is tweaking several central peninsula school bus routes in response to bus driver shortages and increased business costs.
Kevin Lyon is the district’s director of planning and operations, which includes transportation. He said the bus company the district works with is struggling to find local drivers.
He says that company, First Student — which bought Apple Bus in February — is bringing in 14 out-of-area drivers who will cover 12 routes in the district.
“Just trying to make us so we can get started," he said. "Meanwhile, they have some folks in training that are trying to get ready to be able to drive a bus. But we’re still looking for drivers.”
The difficulties aren’t unique to KPBSD. Lyon said they’re doing OK, all things considered.
The Anchorage School District is cutting certain bus routes for weeks at a time due to staff shortages. Anchorage district officials said they have enough drivers to serve just over a third of the district’s 20,000 students that use buses this fall.
In addition to staff shortages, KPBSD's 10-year contract with the bus company also adjusts for inflation, making the costs of doing business and adding routes more expensive. And gas prices are high — which adds up across the district’s large service area.
“Typically in a day we run 6,000 miles and change," Lyon said.
He said the district is trying to minimize the impacts of the route changes to affect as few students as possible.
For example, it’s combining certain routes that service students in Kenai, as well as in Soldotna. In some cases, buses will no longer travel down residential streets and will instead pick students up at centralized locations closer to the highways.
“They’re typically low student-count areas," Lyon said. "Sometimes we’ll run a rather large route and only pick up two students.”
Contract Manager Julie Cisco said First Student has 47 bus routes after consolidation and 37 drivers to run those routes.
Meanwhile, the district is looking for more bus drivers. It’s offering bonuses for referrals and signing bonuses for new bus drivers.
Lyon said it needs 12 more drivers before Labor Day, when school starts in the Lower 48 and those out-of-area drivers leave.
"If we don’t get 12 more in, we’re going to have to do more drastic cuts," Lyon said.
The first day of classes for students in the KPBSD is next Tuesday.
You can find a list of the district’s route changes here.
This article was updated Friday with information about the number of school bus routes and drivers on the central peninsula.