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School bus driver shortage hits Cape Cod; rides may be longer

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The Falmouth public school district is consolidating school bus routes to cope with a shortage of drivers, part of a phenomenon that has affected other communities nationally and prompted Gov. Charlie Baker to activate the National Guard in some cities last month.

Falmouth notified parents that starting today, some children would have a longer — or perhaps shorter — ride to school, depending on the route.

Other Cape and Islands communities have felt the shortage as well, according to Paul Hilton, executive director of the Cape Cod Collaborative. Some athletic events have been rescheduled due to a lack of bus drivers.

Hilton said many school bus drivers on the Cape and Islands are retirees from other fields. Some have stopped driving because of health concerns during the pandemic. Others have moved off the Cape or Islands, either by choice or because they lost their housing.

“A number of people [have] looked at the price of housing and chosen to relocate, as they have cashed out the value of the equity in their home,” he said. “We also have a number of drivers who have been forced to relocate, as they've been on long-term leases … where the homeowner has decided to sell their properties while the market is up.”

The lack of drivers is part of a broader labor shortage that has developed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Cape Cod Collaborative operates school buses for the Nauset regional schools, four elementary schools that feed the Nauset district, the Monomoy regional schools, and the public schools in Bourne, Mashpee, Nantucket, and Truro.

To attract more drivers, the collaborative is considering raising drivers' pay, which is currently $25 an hour, Hilton said.