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Big Island Down School Bus Routes as Statewide Staffing Shortage Limits Drivers

By Tom Hasslinger
January 18, 2022, 3:57 PM HST
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At least a couple of school bus routes are down this week across Hawai‘i Island as COVID-19 is creating staffing issues for the Hawai‘i Department of Education, bus drivers included.

Some west Hawai‘i parents were informed in a letter last week that the morning and afternoon routes servicing Holualoa Elementary School were suspended this week until Friday, Jan. 21 because of a shortage of drivers.

“The driver shortage is the result of a number of factors including an overall national and local driver shortage and staffing gaps caused by drivers needing to isolate or quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19,” the letter states.

It’s an issue that is affecting the Hawai‘i Department of Education, or HIDOE, across all islands.

As of Tuesday, Jan. 18, 28 school bus routes were temporarily suspended statewide due the ongoing shortage of drivers, an HIDOE spokesperson told Big Island Now. The department said it is working with bus contractors to help them get back to normal service levels.

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“The department has consolidated routes and added multiple runs to ensure as much coverage as possible,” HIDOE spokesman Derek Inoshita said. “Bus contractors have engaged their licensed managers and supervisors to drive routes whenever possible. The department has also reached out to other operators who meet the Department of Transportation driver and vehicle requirements for transporting students; however, the driver shortage is not specific to student transportation and is affecting all transportation companies.”

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Up-to-date information on all the routes is available on the state website, bit.ly/HIDOE-Buses as well as options for mileage refunds and reimbursements.

“Like in all sectors and industries, service disruptions due to COVID-related staffing shortages is a possibility,” Inoshita said.

It’s not a problem unique to Hawai‘i, either, Inoshita pointed out. COVID infections and competition in the transportation industry are national issues. Hawai‘i was grappling with the issue last year, too.

A nationwide survey from School Transportation News states that 80% of school districts across the country are experiencing bus driver shortages due to the specific qualifications of commercial driver’s licenses. The Jan. 10 article also points out that growing competition in the industry is a big part of that.

Tom Hasslinger
Tom Hasslinger is a journalist who lives in Kailua-Kona. Prior to joining Big Island Now, he worked as the managing editor for West Hawaii Today and deputy editor for The Garden Island newspaper on Kauai. He's worked for over 15 years as a reporter for the Oahu-based Civil Beat news outlet, as well as in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho and Douglas Wyoming.
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