Due to bus driver shortages this year, sports teams have had to handle multiple last-minute transportation issues, a problem that has yet to be resolved. The problem stems from Los Altos competing with local companies for drivers during after-school hours. Further compounding the situation is Los Altos’ recent growth in student population, an issue that could be exacerbated if the student body continues to grow.
“You can see the strains and the stress on the program, with people having to hassle for rides and parents getting more involved,” district bus driver Rudy Alcala said. “It’s just very hard.”
As a result of the shortages, teams can’t always rely on having a bus for every game. This year, coaches and athletes have had to scramble to get parent drivers hours before a game. Larger teams such as track and field and badminton have been affected the most. Track has reported two instances where there were not enough buses to accommodate the entire team, and badminton has reported one instance where there was no bus at all.
“Every time [we have not had buses], we have gotten everyone [to the game], but it’s kind of messy,” Junior Varsity Badminton Coach Ian Lee said. “For example, the first time, we had to get the kids to find parents to drive them there, and there was no [way] to keep track of whether all our kids got there on time.”
The main reason behind the school’s shortage stems from too high a demand for drivers and too little of a supply. Between schools, businesses and public transportation, everyone needs buses at the same time.
“We’ve been growing over the last few years because a handful of years ago we didn’t have this problem,” Athletic Director Kim Cave said. “We’ve increased the size of teams and [so have] other schools. Everyone’s trying to get the same bus companies to transport them.”
According to the Mercury News, Silicon Valley tech giants such as Google and Apple have the money to contract from private companies and add benefits for drivers. Benefits include covering healthcare costs and 401(k) match plans. In addition, they have asked shuttle contractors to give their drivers pay raises, making this a more attractive job to drivers.
“The time that we need the buses, 3 o’clock in the afternoon, is prime time for [business buses] because they take people home,” Alcala said. “Business pay more, [and] their benefits are great. It is hard to compete and get those guys, so we have to come up with a better plan to try and get in and recruit some bus drivers.”
Funding for team buses comes in part from the $100 transportation fee that all athletes pay at the beginning of the season. However, this is not nearly enough to cover all transportation costs, so the district must supply additional funds to cover the rest.
“The school spares no expense on the cost of maintaining the buses, so that part is good,” Alcala said. “We just need to flip that [and see] what we could do to try and entice some drivers. It’s going to be a search.”
The district has posted a bus-driver position for the past year with minimal response. While they have reached out to private companies to see if they can partner, this hasn’t worked out given conflicting times when drivers are needed and not all drivers have the proper credentials.
“Those drivers can drive a charter bus, but a separate certification is required to drive a school bus, which most to all of those drivers do not have,” Associate Superintendent Mike Mathiesen said. “We are open to paying the cost to train and certify drivers [but] it’s still a challenge to get people interested.”