Road work will begin on Cow Key Bridge in March, with lane closures starting in April, prompting many to consider potential traffic impacts and schedule shifts. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

Even under ideal circumstances, school bus stops and schedules are complicated equations of cause and effect.

With buses and drivers serving multiple schools, every action in one area produces an equal and opposite reaction elsewhere. A later start time at one school requires an earlier start elsewhere.

Monroe County School District transportation officials have balanced these tedious equations for decades, adjusting stops and schedules, and ultimately getting thousands of students to and from school.

But today’s circumstances are far from ideal and are about to worsen.

In addition to the persistent and nationwide shortage of school bus drivers, the replacement of Cow Key Bridge in April will involve regular lane closures that are likely to cripple traffic at the nexus of Key West and Stock Island.

Randy Fabal, transportation director, and Pat Lefere, executive director of facilities and planning, on Jan. 21 outlined the anticipated challenges for members of the Monroe County School Board and recommended changing the start times for four Lower Keys schools come April.

“Traffic remains the big unknown,” Lefere told the board. “We don’t know the extent of the impacts, if any. But by changing a couple of schools’ start times, it opens us up to more efficiency.”

They’re suggesting the board change the start times of Sugarloaf and Gerald Adams from 8 a.m. to 7:30, a move opposed by several Sugarloaf parents who have shared on social media their concerns about dark mornings at bus stops, exhausted kids and earlier bedtimes.

Key West High School students could sleep for an extra hour, as the high school would start at 8:45 a.m., instead of 7:30. And Horace O”Bryant would start at 8 a.m. rather than 8:45.

No vote was taken Tuesday, but will be at the next board meeting, in February, Acting Superintendent Terri Axford said.

Meanwhile, the district desperately needs bus drivers, many of whom moved away following Hurricane Irma.

A nationwide driver shortage stems from a variety of factors, including limited work hours and high barriers to entry, Mike Martin, executive director of the National Association of Pupil Transportation, said in a 2019 report. “Drivers generally need a commercial driver’s license, which requires training, sometimes without pay.

“Unless you have something to fill in the gaps (between drives), you can’t make the money you need to support your family,” Martin said. “These days, most people are looking for some kind of regular, full-time hours.”

The local school district recently made two of its bus driver positions full-time jobs with benefits, but still struggles to provide drivers to sporting events and other activities.

If interested in becoming a bus driver, go to keysschools.com or call 305-293-1400.

A critical scooter accident on Jan. 21 closed two lanes of traffic and provided a glimpse of potential traffic impacts during the upcoming Cow Key Bridge repairs. LARRY BLACKBURN/Keys Weekly

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