Amid driver shortage, airmen will drive school buses on Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson

A jet taking off from a military base
An F-22 taking off from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson during exercises in 2015. (Photo by Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

Active duty airmen will soon drive school buses for students at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson.

Anchorage School District officials announced Friday that the airmen will drive students for 90 days starting Thursday. It’s the latest effort by the district to address an ongoing shortage of bus drivers that has left most students going weeks without bus service and some families scrambling to find their children rides to school.

The district is continuing to hire and train drivers to get more bus service to students, according to Superintendent Jharrett Bryantt. The district is currently down 66 drivers. Twenty-five new hires are in training, and 17 others will be returning to the district from other jobs by Sept. 19, he said.

That means the district will likely only be down 24 drivers by the end of September. They’re currently interviewing 21 additional candidates.

“We’re in arm’s reach of our goal of being fully staffed by October,” Bryantt said in an interview Friday.

Bryantt said the airmen driving JBER students to school means the four drivers who currently staff the routes on base can move to other routes in the district. As new drivers have started working, the district has reinstated routes based on student needs and safety.

The district’s chief operating officer, Rob Holland, said six routes were reinstated this week. Those reinstated routes will be staffed all nine weeks and will not be subject to rotating cancellations. The second cohort of routes will have bus service starting Sept. 12.

The district has also been working with the Municipality of Anchorage and the State of Alaska to adjust traffic flow since more parents have been driving to schools and more kids have been walking, said Bryantt.

“We’ve been working with both muni and state traffic engineers to make adjustments to traffic lights as appropriate, to monitor traffic and to make sure students are safe if they’re walking to school,” he said.

For example, he wrote in a message to families Friday, adjustments at the intersection of Abbott Road and Elmore Road made traffic 30 minutes quicker this week than last week.

Bryantt said almost 2,000 people have signed up to volunteer for the district, and most of them have asked to be crossing guards and bus attendants.

The district has also started a third-party audit of its transportation operations to avoid similar shortages in the future, said Bryantt. He said that could lead to changes for the district, including using a new kind of routing software, adjusting school start times and combining routes.

“I believe that there are systemic inefficiencies with ASD transportation,” he said. “We’re hoping to ensure that ASD is among the most efficient school systems in the country when it comes to busing.”

Alaska Public Media

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