'Kids wouldn’t be going to school;' Mass. bus CEO on Nat Guard drivers

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NRT Bus is one of the largest school bus transportation providers in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. John McCarthy, its chief executive, told Yahoo Finance that his workforce was down 10% before the beginning of the school year. “In this industry you always have the ‘Help Wanted’ sign out,” McCarthy said. But the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the problem so much that Gov. Charlie Baker (R) announced that he was sending 250 National Guard members to drive school bus routes across the state to make up for the shortage of drivers.

“Pre-COVID we had some challenges, but nothing like this … This has really created a challenge with us in our labor flows. Some of these folks have been out 18 months. Governor Baker suspended [last year] in-classroom learning. During that time we believed that we were going to be back sometime in the spring. When that didn’t happen we pushed it into September,” he said.

“Then we went on a cohort type of situation where we were doing it based on how many kids we could get from school, so we probably about 60% of our staff. The other 40% ... for whatever reason whether they’re retiring or they found other jobs,” he said.

Reading, MA - September 15: Karen Iannalfo, safety trainer with the NRT Bus company, instructs National Guard members about school bus operations in Reading, MA on Sept. 15, 2021. About 90 members of the Massachusetts National Guard continue their training in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the NRT Bus company for their school bus transportation mission at the Reading base. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
Reading, MA - September 15: Karen Iannalfo, safety trainer with the NRT Bus company, instructs National Guard members about school bus operations in Reading, MA on Sept. 15, 2021. About 90 members of the Massachusetts National Guard continue their training in coordination with the Massachusetts Department of Transportation and the NRT Bus company for their school bus transportation mission at the Reading base. (Photo by David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

The Guard will continue to drive kids to school until more permanent staffing is hired and trained.

McCarthy, who's worked in the industry for 33 years, praised the governor’s decision and views the National Guard members filling in the gaps as heroes.

“The National Guard met that challenge and exceeded my expectations. The National Guard is a special division in our armed forces. They’d go from fighting for our freedom to rescuing people in hurricanes flooding, and now there’s a new category — driving children. It’s another way of calling them heroes. These kids wouldn’t be going to school if it wasn’t for them.”

Reggie Wade is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter at @ReggieWade.

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