Framingham

Framingham bus driver shortage persists, even with new contract

This comes even after the union representing the drivers negotiated a new contract with better pay earlier this year

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The bus driver shortage continues in our region and it's top of mind for some as districts prepare for back to school.

Framingham Public Schools sent a letter to parents warning them that they will not have enough drivers to transport all of its students when school starts in just over two weeks.

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This comes despite having a new contract with better pay. There are still not enough drivers for the district - the school department said they should have 77, but they will only have 57 when school starts on August 30. It's a similar scenario from last year, when they were short about 17 drivers as the school year started.

The situation has parents worried.

"Unfortunately it causes a lot of anxiety. It's just really challenging because it causes another barrier," parent Marjieann Rosario said.

Drivers are concerned as well.

"It would be hard-pressed for NRT to recruit people to come to our yard that's the lowest paid in the area, so that, I believe, is one of the highest reasons why we have not been able to fill the positions," driver Joe Fonseca told NBC10 Boston.

Just a few months ago the bus drivers threatened to strike, asking the bus company, North Reading Transportation Bus Inc., or NRT, for a better contract. James Marks with Teamsters Union Local 170, which represents the drivers, said they got it - bumping pay from $29 an hour to $31. But he says that's not enough.

"If they can get a job that's closer, that comparable they're going to do that. Surrounding communities are about two to three dollars more than what Framingham is paying right now," he explained.

In a statement, NRT said that they're successfully pursuing several recruitment efforts and has increased wages to hire more bus drivers and van drivers, despite the ongoing national driver shortage.

"Unfortunately this is an issue we've been encountering since the end of the pandemic," Priscila Sousa, chair of the Framingham School Committee, said.

Sousa says the contract helped retain bus drivers, but not hire new ones.

"We've been working with them on a recruitment strategy, offering any community connection that we have. if there is an idea we have tried it. We're trying to scrape and see if there is anything else we haven't thought of."

Framingham Public Schools said they are working hard to increase the number of buses by callig other bus companies, coach bus companies and any other transportation businesses in the area that may be able to help.

Meanwhile, the school commitee will have a meeting on Wednesday where they plan to discuss the shortage.

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