Ticket troubles: Bus drivers rack up violations


Photo courtesy of Eric Bomfim

Students arriving at school on May 19. Getting students to and from school safely is a major concern with the new findings of the bus violations.

By Caroline Harless, News Editor

MCPS school buses transport over 103,000 students daily between home and school. Regardless of whether the ride is 10 minutes or 40, buses play a crucial role in ensuring students reach their destinations. With a fleet of 1,430 buses covering more than 112,000 miles per day, prioritizing bus safety should be one of MCPS’s top concerns. However, when recent news found that close to 2,000 traffic violations have been committed by MCPS bus drivers over the past eight years, people started to wonder: how truly safe are school buses?

According to a recent report by the Office of the Inspector General, MCPS employees driving state vehicles received 1,622 traffic camera tickets between July 2015 and January 2023. These tickets included infractions such as running red lights, speeding and school bus stop arm violations. Of particular concern were the latter, where bus drivers illegally passed other school buses with extended stop arms.

“Bus drivers should know more than anyone else how important it is to stop, whether that be at a stop sign, red light or another bus,” WCHS Principal John Taylor said. “Stopping also goes along with just simply following the rules of the road, something that shouldn’t even need to be reminded. I know bus drivers feel a lot of pressure to get the kids to school quickly, but they should also feel an equal amount of pressure to prioritize safety and exercise caution. Their responsibility is to make sure the buses are safe.”

With the high number of traffic violations comes a raised concern of student safety on buses. Around 65% of MCPS students rely on buses to get to school every day, so ensuring their security on those rides becomes paramount. However, some students have reported that is not always the case.

“Honestly, it’s pretty frightening,” WCHS junior Eric Bomfim said. “Some of my bus drivers have been avid honkers, they speed a lot and sometimes don’t stop at the stop signs. I used to have a reckless bus driver, and when we tried to take a stand to get her to drive safely, she got angry and drove us back to the school. And even now, years later, I still know people who deal with drivers like this, and I think something has to change.”

The significant increase in traffic-camera tickets also raises the question of their underlying cause, which remains unanswered for now. The shortage of bus drivers, stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic, required MCPS to hire inexperienced drivers, which could have contributed to the rise in violations. One thing is evident, however: additional training for these new drivers is necessary to address this issue effectively.

“I think county bus drivers could definitely use more training,” Taylor said. “Due to all the ramifications of COVID, we lost a lot of drivers, which left many routes that were used every day without drivers. Now we have a pretty big cohort of new drivers, so this could be an opportunity to train and go over safety rules with these new drivers. This also raises questions as to how many of these citations were from new versus experienced drivers, which is something I think should be looked into.”

Due to the violations, MCPS has incurred fines exceeding $148,000, which are later reimbursed by bus drivers to the county. In cases where drivers failed to pay the tickets within 30 days, MCPS deducted the amount from their payroll. In terms of prevention, the MCPS Transportation Department is actively striving to help bus drivers enhance their performance and learn from previous mistakes, aiming to prevent recurring offenses in the future.

“The department abides by the Just Cause Standards for Bus Attendants and Bus Operators to support the goals of the department and school system,” Jessica Baxter, MCPS Director of Public Information, sent in an email statement. “The policy affords every employee the opportunity to learn from mistakes and gain a better understanding of rules and laws governing the operation of school vehicles. Progressive discipline is the basis for the design of the outcomes for infractions. To foster a fair process, disciplinary measures range from education, investigation, right to representation to issuing a penalty.”

As bus reports uncover additional information and new investigations unfold, it is vital to remember that the ultimate goal is ensuring student safety to and from school. To achieve the objective of reducing traffic violations in the coming years, it is important to implement new initiatives and procedures countywide. These measures will help establish a safer environment and ensure the well-being of students in their daily commute.

“Repeated messages are what really stick with people,” Taylor said. “They need to keep training, keep supporting the drivers and keep making sure we retain our drivers. The new contracts which increase pay for drivers will help to stop the constant leaving and replacing. I think if we make it a profession that people want to be in, that will go a long way to making people become better and better at it over the years.”