▶ Watch Video: Bus driver shortages, tech issues lead to “transportation disaster” in Kentucky

Anger and frustration swept through a packed Louisville, Kentucky, school board meeting Tuesday night after students were stranded last week — and school closed — due to what officials called a “transportation disaster.” 

One of the main issues was a newly implemented bus routing system heavily reliant on technology. The failed bus route plan in Jefferson County, Kentucky, aimed at enhancing efficiency, backfired due to computer algorithms that failed to factor sufficient time between stops, causing significant delays and worry among parents.

Elizabeth Bramel’s son didn’t get home until after 7 p.m.  

“It was horrible because I had no clue where he was,” she said. 

The problem was also rooted in a severe shortage of school bus drivers, which forced Louisville’s public school district to reduce and merge its bus routes.

Marty Pollio, who is serving as superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools, said such a meltdown will not happen again, and that plans have been made to deploy extra buses and vans. The district aims to introduce an app allowing parents to track their children’s bus location, a step toward restoring trust in the transportation system. 

Seventy percent of public school students in Louisville depend on school buses for transportation. Most of school in the Jefferson County Public Schools district was canceled this week due to the transportation issues. 

Children like those of Latasha Gomis have spent their scheduled school days at unexpected places, such as their mother’s nail salon. 

“I’m very frustrated. I feel like when I expressed it with someone over the phone in transportation she kind of just blew me off, kind of like, it is what it is. Nothing is going to change,” Gomis said. 

Communities across the nation are also grappling with driver shortages. Chicago Public Schools face a dire shortage, and classes are set to begin next week. Delays of up to an hour have been reported in Knox County, Tennessee, and there is even the threat of a strike by school bus drivers in New York City. 

Joanna McFarland, CEO of HopSkipDrive, a student transport service that tracks school bus data, said that while the problem predates the COVID-19 pandemic, the crisis has intensified due to drivers retiring early or leaving the industry for better-paying opportunities. The average full-time bus driver’s salary last year was around $42,000. 

“Every state in the country is suffering from this,” he said.