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Seattle Public Schools suspends 142 bus routes due to driver shortage

A national shortage of bus drivers compounded by the governor's COVID-19 vaccine mandate is forcing Washington's largest district to suspend some bus routes.

SEATTLE — Seattle Public Schools (SPS) will suspend more than 100 bus routes starting Monday, Oct. 18, due to a shortage of bus drivers that's been exacerbated by the state's COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

Approximately 142 routes out of the district's 600 total bus routes will be suspended and impact around 6,700 students. However, SPS said because of the irregularity of ridership it's unknown exactly how many students will be impacted.

Students who will continue to receive uninterrupted bus service include those receiving special education services including transportation, students experiencing homelessness and foster students, students with a 504 plan that includes transportation services, schools that serve historically underserved students and schools at interim sites.

SPS contracts with First Student, a third-party vendor, to provide bus service to its students.

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Under Gov. Jay Inslee's vaccine mandate, all school district employees, including third-party contractors, are required to be vaccinated or request an exemption by Oct. 18 or risk losing their jobs.

First Student has already been experiencing driver shortages, like many bus and transportation services across the country. SPS said it anticipates a decrease in available drivers after the vaccine mandate deadline.

"It’s our hope that the staffing shortages faced by First Student will be resolved as quickly as possible so we can resume – and improve upon – all bus service," said SPS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Fred Podesta in a statement. "In the meantime, we are actively looking for alternative solutions to this challenge, such as the expanded provision of ORCA transit passes for middle school students, and other modes of transportation."

The impacted routes will be suspended indefinitely until more drivers are hired, according to the district.

SPS said families should visit the transportation page on the district’s website for the most up-to-date information.