KNOXVILLE (WATE) – It was a rocky first week of school when it came to school buses in Knox County. A big bus driver shortage has affected hundreds of kids.
The district says it is short about 35 drivers and about 12 routes have to make double runs, where buses have to leave some kids at school and go back for them after finishing a route. Parents have also complained about buses being overcrowded and pictures of the buses are circulating on social media.
Previous story: Parents concerned about overcrowded Knox County school buses
A Knox County bus driver spoke to WATE 6 On Your Side Friday saying drivers are just doing the best that they can. He also said the buses parents are seeing pictures of on Facebook aren’t overcrowded. The students just aren’t sitting where they’re supposed to.
“That was an 84 passenger bus. It is rated to haul 84 passengers,” said Tony Williams, who manages Davis Bus Lines, and has been driving for the county for eight years. “As long as no one is standing, and as long as no one is sitting in the floor, we are within safety guidelines.”
Williams added that it’s the bus driver’s responsibility to check on that before leaving the school. He said part of the problem is that some students don’t sit where they’re supposed to with three to a seat.
“That’s not where we like to run. We’d prefer to have it much less than that,” Chief Operating Officer Russ Oaks said about putting three students in each seat.
Previous story: Knox County Schools facing bus driver shortage
WATE 6 On Your Side questioned whether that was even possible for middle and high school students, and tried to put three adults in one school bus seat. The third person was half on the seat and half in the aisle, but Williams said even though it was crowded, it was safe.
“You just can’t have it both ways,” Williams said of the complaints that kids either have to stay late and wait for a bus to make a second run, or be on a crowded bus.
Williams said the bus driver shortage was a long time coming. He said the remaining drivers are getting too much criticism while they’re doing their best to deal with the tough conditions and get Knox County students to and from school safely.
“They’re trying, they’re doing the best that they can do,” he said.
Knox County Schools has been working on adjusting routes to deal with the problems since the first day of school. The district said the routes will continue to be adjusted as the transportation department monitors how many riders are on each route.