Pandemic interrupts bus service


Andrew Burke-Stevenson

Parked cars line 58th Street outside of Gordon Parks Arts Hall on Nov. 16. Many families have had to find new options to arrange transportation after the coronavirus pandemic interrupted the bus service.

Ryan Clark, Opinion Editor

Not merely a health hazard, coronavirus has interrupted supply lines, international travel — and now the high school bus service, too.

Having ceased during the beginning of distance learning, the bus service has not resumed due to the myriad economic effects of the pandemic, and it is not expected to resume until at least the 2022-23 school year.

Before the pandemic, the Laboratory Schools offered morning and evening bus routes to four North Side neighborhoods: North Center, the Loop, Gold Coast and Lakeview. But families are now having to find new options to arrange transportation.

According to Audrey Hampton, director of family life programs, the combination of a new round of contract negotiations for a bus service, the lack of available workers, price increases and high demand from other schools have all led to the cancellation of the bus service.

“Every single month I’m a little surprised around the numbers of people that are still not entering the job market at the moment,” Ms. Hampton said. “Many of our best companies are still again struggling to find qualified drivers.”

One factor that makes finding drivers even more difficult is that most bus services prioritized acquiring or fulfilling a contract with the Chicago Public Schools, the third-largest public school district in the nation.

And even if a bus service were available, prices have increased around 30% and would have to be absorbed in fees for parents — a cost Ms. Hampton said would be untenable.

We used to be carpooling with 20 kids, and now it’s just the two of us in the car, every single day, which of course isn’t great for pollution.”

— Lauren Tapper

Junior Lauren Tapper, who was previously a passenger of the Lakeview bus service, said her family has had to hire a driver for her and her younger brother so they can get to school each day.

Both the expense and environmental effects make her current transportation worse than the bus service she was used to, Lauren said.

“We used to be carpooling with 20 kids, and now it’s just the two of us in the car, every single day, which of course isn’t great for pollution,” she said.

Administrators for Family Life Programs will review the market for a bus service at the end of the year, but until then, their main concern is to arrange transportation for athletic events and field trips, Ms. Hampton said.

With a combination of school bus and charter bus companies, the school has been able to provide transportation for every field trip and athletic event except for one weekend athletic event in which parents had to carpool.