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CPS to prioritize some student riders amid bus driver shortage

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CHICAGO — Despite the start of the new year being just a few weeks away, Chicago Public Schools faces a significant bus driving shortage, impacting students and families.

The issue is a trickle effect from the nationwide bus driver shortage that has been going on since the pandemic. In response, Charles Mayfield, chief operating officer for CPS, said the district is prioritizing rides for students for the first day of school.

“In order to route all students, it takes about 1,300 yellow bus drivers to do so. In this case, we’re at about half of the structure,” Mayfield said.

Prioritized students include:

  • Students with diverse learning needs  
  • Students in temporary living situations  
  • General education students who attend the same school as a diverse learner or sibling  

In a letter sent to families Monday, the school district laid out options for the general education population and students in magnet schools or selective programs who are eligible for transportation through the district.   

“For the general education families, we’re offering CTA passes – the Ventra card passes,” Mayfield said. “The Ventra card passes are not only for the student but for the companion as well.”

The deadline for families to apply for Ventra cards is Aug. 11.

But even then, district officials recognize there will still be a gap given that as of July 31, CPS only has 670 drivers out of the 1,300 needed. It’s why they’re also offering stipends to eligible diverse learner families.

“There’s roughly around 3,300 or so who have accepted a financial stipend,” Mayfield said. “That financial stipend is offering families up to $500 a month, based on attendance and they will be able to pick up that check on a monthly bases from their school.”

CPS outsources bus drivers through about 13 yellow bus vendors. The district also has about five contracts for smaller vehicles through paratransit and sometimes even taxis, some of which offer sign-on bonuses for new drivers.   

“We’re also looking in the future at working with the state and reviewing some of the CDL requirements to see if some of those elements can be relaxed,” Mayfield said. “But these are ongoing conversations.”

CPS officials said the issue will be revisited as the school year progresses.

Read more: Latest Chicago news headlines

“We are excited about the new school year. School starts Aug. 21,” Mayfield said. “We’ll continue to look at in the future if we can roll more Gen. Ed. families into our routing system.”

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