Bus Driver Shortage Impacts Wauwatosa West Athletics


Jenna White and Olivia Watters

A bus sits outside Wauwatosa West during the evening, waiting for students after their activities. Buses across the nation have been very difficult to secure for school events.

The third time a bus didn’t show up to take the Tosa West Girls Tennis team to their match, they realized something was wrong.

“We’ve missed a couple of games, I missed my opportunity and wasted a lot of time waiting for buses,” said JV Tennis Player Jennifer Liang.

Due to covid-19 and a nationwide staffing shortage, high school athletes around the country and in Wauwatosa are being left without rides to their events. Bus drivers are quitting, leaving students without rides to their games and matches. 

For months, school districts have had to cancel sports games, matches, and meets because there are no bus drivers to take them. Parents are concerned and students are disappointed. The Wauwatosa West staff has been trying to find ways to fix the problems before more events get cancelled. 

“We missed a couple games, and it sucks.” said Veronica Golombowski

Teams put so much hard work into their practices, and spend their free time playing and improving. Not being able to show what you can do is hard on the student athletes. Leaving too early or during the school day can affect each students’ academic growth.

There are now much fewer bus drivers. So many bus drivers are gone that it has caused a big problem.

“There’s 55,000 less bus drivers than there were 2 years ago,” said TBS employee Keith Rodgers in a phone interview.

Many bus drivers drove because they saw it as being a hobby instead of a career. When schools shut down and went online, there were no teams to drive, so they didn’t need to keep working for bus companies anymore.

“We’ve had more drivers quit than we have hired,” said Lamers bus company employee Diane Hanke.

When the pandemic hit, bus drivers didn’t feel obligated to continue working. Many bus drivers are older, and didn’t want to risk their health. There are a considerable number of older bus drivers, and at that point it could be a safer idea to find a new job with less of a health risk. Bus drivers also struggle with covid, masks, and kids on the bus, which can be challenging at times.

“Kids don’t want to wear their masks, they tug on them, pull on them and they don’t keep them on. And as a driver, you can’t keep your eye on every student on the bus at all times,” said Dairyland bus driver Camille Byrd.

It is a struggle for bus drivers to try and control the kids and drive. They can’t keep them safe on the road, and safe from covid.

“I do whatever is necessary, so if there is a field trip I can do a field trip. I have a regular route so I pick up students from home and take them to school, and then pick them up from school and take them back home. It just depends on how my schedule falls on a specific day, and if I can do extracurriculars,” said Byrd.

Bus drivers have had limited hours since the pandemic. Driving kids around whenever it’s necessary for schools is very hard. They have routes to drive everyday, with only 24 hours in a day. This puts the schools’ extracurricular activities on the back burner. The Wauwatosa West staff has been trying to find ways to fix the problems before more events get cancelled. 

“We’re in the process of getting adjustments made,” said Gabrielson.

The Tosa West staff and coaches have been working to come up with solutions to the problem. Coaches could get a CDL license (commercial driver license) to drive their players, or teams could rent vans. They can move the time of the bus to earlier or during school, but that would force students to miss a portion of the school day.

“I would not be in favor of getting my CDL license to transport my athletes, nor do I think our parents would want coaches to have that responsibility on them,” said Tennis coach Costa Zerves. 

It is a struggle for the coaches, because now on top of coaching their team, and trying to improve their players, they have to worry about whether or not they are going to be able to go to their games and matches. If they were to get their CDL license, they would have to spend a lot of time getting the license and worrying about getting to the competitions, on top of the everpresent worries coaches already have about their performance at the competitions and games.

“We either have to leave really early, like at 1:00 for a 4:00 game, or we can’t get a bus because they are doing routes,” said Gabrielson.

It is a struggle for the people scheduling the buses, because many bus drivers are taking kids home on their regular routes, and can’t take kids that are going to a sports event. This causes games to be either cancelled or moved to a different time. 

Tennis has been affected by this a lot. They had three matches cancelled and had multiple moved to different times, and they had to wait around until it was dark. At Whitman Middle School, the Track and Cross Country team had to leave at 1:00 for multiple meets because they couldn’t get a bus at a time after school.

“It’s really difficult to practice and practice, and put so much work into our playing just to sit outside for 2 hours, and then be told that we aren’t playing because they don’t have a bus for us to get to the games. This is hard on many people, but I especially hard on the players that are suffering from this,” said JV Tennis Player Maizy Good.