September 22, 2021
The Camden City School District is now providing families who require transportation services with two alternatives to riding school buses as part of an effort to combat the ongoing nationwide bus driver shortage.
School district officials said Tuesday that the city is offering $1,000 stipends for the 2021-22 academic year to families who choose to drive their student to and from school everyday.
But families must meet a number of requirements in order to qualify for the payment. Their children must already be eligible for transportation services and attending a Camden city school. A parent or other household member must also have a valid driver's license and vehicle registration, as well as insurance with a $15,000 liability coverage.
Families who wish to apply for the $1,000 stipend can do so on the school district's website.
The school district is also providing families with monthly NJ Transit bus tickets to transport students to and from school this academic year.
Families who wish to receive a monthly NJ Transit pass must have a child that is already eligible for transportation services and attending a Camden city school. A family member must be at least 18 years old in order to accompany their student on NJ Transit to school.
Roughly 2,600 students in Camden require transportation services, according to NJ.com. However, over 500 children who require transportation for school are currently not receiving such services due to a shortage in bus drivers. It remains unknown how many bus drivers short the school district is.
The city school district usually operates as many as 150 bus routes to 36 different school sites. Routes have now had to be divided up into 5-person school vans, which has raised the total number of routes to almost 180 this school year. Approximately 40 school bus routes remain unmet.
The Camden public school district is also responsible for transporting eligible students to the city's charter schools. The school district typically uses vendors for its bus services.
"We know this has been an incredibly difficult way to start our school year and yet we know we will only overcome these challenges as a community. Our students deserve the best, and we are working to provide the best service," Camden's senior director of school operations Neil Dwyer wrote in a letter Tuesday to families.
An aging workforce of school bus drivers already was declining prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the instability created by all-remote learning last year and ongoing health concerns surrounding viral exposure among unvaccinated children have worsened the shortage.
The Camden City School District's plan to combat the nationwide bus driver shortage mirrors what the School District of Philadelphia has implemented for families this year.
Philadelphia's public school district is offering up to $3,000 for the entire academic year to families who choose to drive their children to and from school instead of taking the bus. That doubles the $1,500 annual payment that the Parent Flat Rate incentive program previously offered to families who opted for personal transportation over school buses.
The School District of Philadelphia is also providing SEPTA Student Fare Cards to children who are normally eligible for bus, van or cab services. District officials are having discussions with SEPTA about providing fare cards to adults who do not drive and would need to help students get to schools via public transportation.