ST. LOUIS – Saint Louis Public Schools is launching a financial incentive program to try and address a bus shortage that has left parents scrambling for ways to get their children to school.

This week, the district will notify families in areas that have been affected the most by unreliable transportation that they are eligible for a $75 gift card for each week they transport their children to school. 

District officials have apologized for the lack of drivers and called this response their best effort to ensure students have reliable transportation.

SLPS turned to a similar program in 2022 when the district faced a bus driver shortage to start the school year.

“We saw tremendous success,” Square Watson, the district’s chief operations officer, said. “There was very good turnout in terms of student attendance.”   

The district currently sends daily notices about which bus routes will not be serviced.

“I think that’s crazy that we don’t have enough people in the workplace to drive the buses to get kids to and from school,” Markesha Brown, a St. Louis parent, said.

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Earlier this year, Missouri Central School Bus surprised the district by announcing it was exercising a clause in its agreement to end the company’s contract to provide bus service at the end of the school year. The company has been unable to provide enough drivers.

Watson said the district has received more than 15 proposals to provide bus service for next year.

“Nothing is off the table,” he said. “We are opening ourselves up to all options and being innovative in this space.”

He said bus driver shortages are a nationwide problem.

“We want to be the beacon to say that we found a solution to ensure reliable transportation,” Watson said.

In addition to the launch of the gas card program, beginning May 13, all families will receive notice they will be eligible for $75 through a cash transfer app for transporting their kids to school for the week.

Just as the case was in 2022, there will be some requirements to be eligible for the gas card or payments.

“We will have some attendance criteria that will be communicated to our families,” Watson said.