GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Thousands of kids in West Michigan could be at risk of having no transportation with the ongoing bus driver shortage.

Earlier this month, News 8 reported that Thornapple Kellogg Schools was being forced to shut down some of its bus routes.

Other school districts in the area say they are also having to make adjustments, including Belding Area Public Schools.

“At the end of last year, we had a couple of longtime drivers that retired,” James Segorski, transportation coordinator for Belding Area Public Schools, said. “We had to reduce our bus runs from 10 to nine because we couldn’t find quality drivers. Our other buses are picking up those routes. It will increase the number of routes for those buses and ride time for the students.”

Segorski said the winter months are always more difficult when full-time drivers are pulled off their routes to assist with sporting events.

“It’s a little more workable in the fall. As we approach the winter sports season there’s more trips more routes basketball, wrestling, swim. There’s just a ton of other sports that you have to look at it so it adds a little more complexity to end-day and mid-day trips,” Segorski said.

Shortage of drivers is also a problem for Dean Transportation, an agency that contracts with school districts across the state to provide transportation.

“We are not immune to it. Applications have started to trickle in a little but which is different from the past where no one had been applying but we are starting to see a little bit of turnover in that but we are still not getting anything close to what we need,” Kevin Harkness said.

Harkness is the Kent County regional manager for Dean Transportation and oversees routes for Grand Rapids Public Schools, Kent Intermediate School District, Cedar Springs Public Schools and Kent City Community Schools.

When there is a shortage of full-time drivers, the agency leans on its substitutes and other staff.

“Our office staff helps cover bus runs when they are needed to do that. We hope we don’t run into illness or folks having to take off work because that really puts a damper on things,” Harkness said.

Rockford Public Schools has experienced similar adjustments though utilizing office staff and even mechanical crews is something the district can’t maintain on a consistent basis, according to Mike Cuneo, assistant superintendent of finance.

He said it’s “terrible” not being able to provide transportation speaking of having to close routes last year. The district has enough drivers to run routes to begin this school year but could use between five and seven drivers to be comfortable.

Cuneo added that the hourly pay rate has increased to $20.90 this year. Last year, the hourly wage was $17. In addition, employees are now able to have health benefits.

Wayland Public Schools closed three of its routes last year and that will continue this year according to superintendent Tim Reeves and assistant superintendent Pat Velie.

Similar to Thornapple School District, WPS has instituted walk zones. Middle and high school students who live within one mile of campus will have to walk. Fourth and fifth graders who live within a half mile of campus will also have to walk.

The district is offering various incentives for attendance and longevity to make the job more appealing but some bus managers and superintendents believe state requirements are adding to the stress of finding drivers.

“The CDL is more difficult to get and the training is more intense,” Segorski said. “The great thing about driving a bus is that the training is paid for and it makes it a little more palpable.”

Segorski added Belding Area Schools covers the cost for a person to receive their CDL and other endorsements. Wayland Public Schools and Dean Transportation also pay for the training.

“We try to make an employee whole in that respect and make sure it doesn’t cost them to become a bus driver,” Segorski said.

If you would like to become a bus driver, you can contact Dean Transportation or contact a school directly to inquire about openings.