The labor market shortage has hit Teton Science Schools.
Well, it’s hit the company the school contracts with for bus service to its Jackson campus, limiting the number of buses for the rest of the semester and permanently suspending service come December. The Driver Provider, a company based in Phoenix that offers private transportation for weddings and other occasions as well as schools, told the school Sept. 20 that it would be canceling the service.
“Given our series of collaborative meetings with and assurance from Driver Provider this summer,” Head of School Michelle Heaton wrote to parents in a letter, “this comes as a surprise.”
Driver Provider co-owner Kendra Kaplan said the company will continue to run one bus to the school in the morning and back to town in the afternoon. She said the labor market in Jackson doesn’t support offering service to Teton Science Schools.
The split nature of the shift, she said, forces drivers to work just a bit in the morning then again for a short time in the afternoon. The nature of running a private transportation business means drivers may work in the intervening hours, but the shifts are sporadic. For those with a commercial driver’s license, working for an entity like START is often more appealing.
“It’s tough to compete with START with the pay and benefits they offer,” Kaplan said. “CDL drivers prefer a full shift from START.”
Being unable to retain enough operators to drive the Teton Science Schools routes — of which there were two in the morning and three in the afternoon — was unexpected, Kaplan said. Without drivers, the company was forced to reduce its services.
Left in the lurch, Teton Science Schools is scrambling to find a solution. School officials worry that without as many buses, the intersection of Coyote Canyon Road and Highway 22, which is already buzzing with commuter traffic in the mornings, will be worse due to a bump in cars turning in to drop kids off then trying to turn left across traffic to come back into town.
Executive Director Chris Agnew has been lobbying elected officials on a couple of short-term solutions he thinks would alleviate the inevitable increase in pressure on the intersection. He went before the Teton County Board of County Commissioners at its voucher meeting Monday and regular meeting Tuesday to ask for immediate START service to its Jackson campus and temporary traffic relief, either a Teton County Sheriff’s Office deputy to direct traffic at critical times or a temporary traffic light.
“There needs to be some immediate mitigation tool to ensure a bigger accident or incident doesn’t happen,” Agnew told the News&Guide.
Agnew said 70 students, about 40% of the campus’ student body, use the Driver Provider service. In addition, the campus has roughly 100 employees and over 100 visitors staying on site at any given time. Without mass transit for them, they will drive to and from campus, which could be a big uptick in traffic in the mornings and afternoons.
There is a precedent for START offering services to the campus. From 2007 to 2014 a route ran to the campus, a service Teton Science Schools subsidized, Agnew said. But concerns over whether START buses could provide transportation to the school due to Federal Transit Administration regulations led to the service being canceled.
Agnew argued that “school tripper” policies would allow START to resume service, but no decisions were made at the commission meeting Tuesday. Commission Chairwoman Natalia Macker told Agnew that since START is a joint board mostly under the town of Jackson and the START board’s purview he would need to go to them.
Agnew’s other request, a temporary traffic light or help from sheriff’s deputies, aroused interest but not much action during the commission’s meeting. Commissioners said the Wyoming Department of Transportation would be the arbiter of whether a traffic light could be installed, and Public Works Director Heather Overholser said WYDOT had told her the intersection’s traffic levels don’t warrant a light.
Sheriff Matt Carr rejected the idea of having his deputies direct traffic at critical times. Such traffic work, he said, would be inefficient and his department isn’t staffed for it. It’s also dangerous.
“That creates great danger not only to law enforcement officers but to the motorized public,” Carr told the commissioners.
Until a solution is found, dozens of families and students need to find new ways to reach the campus, a fact not lost on Kaplan, owner of Driver Provider, which will continue to provide “executive services” in Teton County.
“I want to say how sorry we are to see this service end,” she said. “We exhausted all resources to continue and can’t because of the labor market.”