PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Providence students taking the RIPTA bus to school have had their bus routes canceled at least three times in the past week. On Sunday, the issue was discussed at a monthly union meeting for RIPTA drivers.
Those impacted routes include ones that have stops near Central Falls High School, Classical High School, Mount Pleasant High School and Alvarez High School.
The district partners with RIPTA to provide rides both to and from school, with more than 4,500 students relying on the service to get around.
Vice President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 618, Joe Cole, says the recent problems are due to a workforce shortage, adding the union is currently down 30 drivers.
“Summer months we had a lot of issues, a lot of uncovered work, all summer…this didn’t start as far as being an issue until the school kids started going back to school and that’s when the governor got involved,” Cole said.
Families report their students are left waiting for a bus that never arrives.
Following the cancellations, Rhode Island Governor McKee released a statement Thursday, saying the impacts to Providence students and families are “unacceptable.”
“Every day Providence parents anxiously wait until 6 a.m. to see if their child will have bus transportation to school,” McKee wrote. “This is unacceptable and unmanageable on several levels.”
Meanwhile, Republican candidate for governor, Ashley Kalus, who is running against McKee’s in the upcoming gubernatorial election attended Sunday’s meeting and commented on the shortage.
“I’m here to listen to the concerns,” Kalus said. “We have a crisis that is impacting children’s ability to get to school. Being the governor of Rhode Island is a unique opportunity to get involved.”
Cole says more hires have been made and that drivers are in the process of being trained, but also says he blames the non-union management at RIPTA’s headquarters, saying they need to hire more board members who were bus drivers themselves.
“We need transit people across the street and we need our people to move up across the street. It’s a glass ceiling. We can’t go any further than the street supervisor, and that’s sad.”
RIPTA also released a statement on the shortage issue, which reads in part, “We believe that we are all in agreement that having a solid plan that allows our system to accommodate school trips regularly will benefit the Providence Public Schools and also allow us to equitably serve all passengers.”
RIPTA also says they will release a new schedule for bus routes next weekend that they say will account for the driver shortage.