“Riding a bike isn’t even an option.”
— Father of a Benson High senior
TriMet responded to the national bus driver shortage yesterday by raising the starting hourly raise for new drivers from $17 to $21.36/hr. In a bright and upbeat press release, the agency touted its seven-week training program, guaranteed pay increases, and opportunity for advancement. The raise aligns TriMet driver pay with that of First Student, the yellow school bus company, which upped its wage to $22/hr on September 1st. Drivers for both organizations are represented by the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 757.
Earlier this week, BikePortland reported that Portland Public Schools (PPS), which contracts with First Student, had responded to the driver shortage by cutting thirteen routes serving Benson and Lincoln High Schools, the only high schools receiving the bus service. According to PPS, roughly 225 students were affected. Although the cuts did not appear to be causing traffic congestion at the schools, BikePortland reached out to our readers to learn how the disruption might be impacting them. Two families responded, one from Benson, the other from Lincoln.
Benson High School is temporarily located seven miles away at the Marshall High campus for three years while the Benson building is renovated. The father of a Benson student we spoke to, said his son biked to school from 9th to 11th grades. But for his senior year, “riding a bike isn’t even an option,” he shared. “The distance aside, the traffic risks get higher and higher the closer he gets to the Marshall campus.” The family has ended up driving their son to school in the morning, “because [taking] TriMet would be too time-consuming and iffy in the morning,” and he takes a combination of light rail and bus to get home in the afternoon.
The Lincoln family’s situation is tougher. They live in Forest Heights far from TriMet stops, one parent has a disability which prevents them from driving, the other has to work during drop-off times. They have a neighbor who can shuttle their student a few days a week, but as of a couple days ago, they hadn’t arrived at a solution for the remaining days. This parent told me, “I really miss Mayor Vera Katz. Our town has a real need of her kind of leadership.”
The bus driver shortage is national. According to an article published by The Hustle, 40% of the 500,000 buses in the U.S. are owned by privately contracted firms.
The article piqued my curiosity so I looked into the firm PPS contracts with, First Student. FirstStudent is the largest provider of school bus service in the U.S. It was owned by the transport giant FirstGoup PLC, a British conglomerate, until July, when the group sold FirstStudent to EQT Infrastructure, a global private equity firm, for $4.6 billion.
All that money, and they can’t manage to get a kid from Forest Heights to Lincoln High School.
— Lisa Caballero, email@example.com
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Lisa Caballero has lived in SW Portland for over 20 years. She is on the Transportation Committee of her neighborhood association, the Southwest Hills Residential League (SWHRL) and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.