US school districts blame Amazon for nationwide bus driver shortage

PA, MA bring in National Guard to plug gaps, while Boston teacher tells of stripper bus hired for school trip

Education administrators in a number of US states are struggling to get children to school as they claim their bus drivers are being poached by online shopping monolith Amazon.

Districts including Florida, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey have all stated that the gargantuan e-tailer's seemingly endless hunger for delivery drivers and correspondingly rapacious hiring policies have contributed to a national shortage of school bus drivers, causing some services to be cancelled, with students in affected areas resorting to cars, taxis, and Ubers in order to get into school on time.

One student even used a kayak to travel to school. Twelve-year-old Josh Smith, a student of Summit Middle School in Frisco, Colorado, faced the cancellation of his bus route after Summit School District found itself short of eight drivers and two relief drivers and was forced to axe seven of its 18 bus routes.

The shortages are said to have initially come about when schools were closed last year due to the COVID pandemic, putting school bus drivers unexpectedly out of work.

"Primarily, it was because the jobs were available last year when the schools shut down," Chloe Williams, president of the New Jersey School Bus Contractors Association, said in an interview with Insider. "People were looking for other jobs and found the demand was there... especially in package delivery, everybody was home shopping on Amazon."

Many drivers also stopped working due to health concerns over the COVID virus, since their working conditions mean they are invariably trapped in a confined space with large numbers of unvaccinated children. When students returned to school this term, a number of drivers were subsequently struck down with COVID, with more than 200 said to have died from the virus.

The fact that school bus drivers tend to be older also means that a disproportionate number of workers are leaving the job due to retirement.

In Palm Beach, Florida, the school district is currently 75 drivers short and is directly competing with Amazon to employ drivers after the retailer opened a new 96,000 sq ft warehouse in the town in 2019. The district's efforts to fill these vacancies are hampered by the fact that their hourly pay is 12 per cent lower than what Amazon can offer.

"What we are seeing is the result of market pressures, plain and simple," said Aaron Dietrich, a representative from a union that works with many Florida bus drivers, in an interview with The Hustle. "People are opting for better-paying jobs, and our severely underpaid education sector in Florida is not equipped to compete."

Philadelphia is also struggling to fill driver vacancies. "Our most critical needs are for teachers, bus drivers, special education assistants, food service workers, and student climate staff," city Schools Superintendent William R Hite Jr said in a recent Facebook Live press conference [from around 23:00 here].

To be fair, this suggests that Philadelphia is struggling with just about everything, but the driver shortage in the city has reached such a crisis level that it has considered bringing in members of the National Guard to drive school buses.

Amazon is currently hiring 4,800 workers in the Philadelphia area, putting them again in competition with local schools for employees.

Hite addressed this directly: "My request to Amazon is what ways do they think they could be helpful to us... from a logistics perspective," he said hopefully, in another recent press conference.

The state of Massachusetts has already activated 250 National Guard members to assist with its own school transport issues. The problems in the state became so bad that Boston teacher Jim Mayers found a neon-lit party bus complete with stripper poles had been hired to take his students on a school trip. He tweeted a picture of the bus, which went viral, but he later removed the tweet and replaced it with a sober reflection of the state of the nation's education system.

Although driving for Amazon may not end up being as well-rewarded as driving a school bus, mainly due to the higher overheads that come with drivers running their own vehicle, the possibility of working shorter hours and not having to deal with on-bus scuffles is attractive to many.

"You get kids throwing stuff at you on the bus, you get the fights, the bullying, the name-calling," one anonymous driver, who was considering leaving his school bus job, told The Hustle. "You have to be a chaperone on top of the driving. And we ain't getting paid for that part of it."

One Connecticut ex-bus driver who jumped ship to Amazon was even more succinct in his reasons for leaving: "Packages are much better than kids," he told Insider.

We have asked Amazon for comment, but have not yet received a response. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics

Narrower topics

Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022