Approximately 5,600 students ride the bus to and from school in Boise. It takes a fleet of 157 buses from Laidlaw Transit, Inc. and 135 drivers to cover 122 routes, schlepping those kids around town. Being a school bus driver is a test of adaptability, patience and endurance.
Beth Suhr has worked in various roles in school transportation for 31 years. Currently, she drives elementary to high school students, covering routes for Pierce Park Elementary, Fort Boise Junior High and Mountain Cove High School.
BW: You've been driving buses a long time, haven't you?
Thirty one years. Some of that time I've been in the office and in management, but the majority of that I've been driving. When I started driving, the pay was $2.35 an hour.
How early do you start your route?
I have to be there at 5:55 in the morning, and it's two-and-a-half hours for the morning routes. I pick my first rider up at 6:45.
What's your favorite part about being a bus driver?
Being around the kids, having them smile, just talking to them. Knowing that for some of them, I might be the only one that gives them a smile that morning. There are a few kids who where they come from don't get a nice "Hi" and "Goodbye."
You must have some good stories.
I had a high school girl that actually gave me a Christmas present, which is very unusual for high school kids. There's a true story about a driver who took in chocolate cupcakes to an elementary school for one of his riders who couldn't afford to buy treats to take to school for his birthday. This driver bought the cupcakes and took them into the office. The kid kept saying an angel dropped them off.
Are there any kids that really stick out in your memory?
One right off the bat. His mom was in jail, he stayed with foster parents. He said to me that he was looking forward to his mom coming home so they could be a family again. He's one of those kids you'd really like to bring home and adopt but you know you can't. It sounds like his parents have relapsed again.
Of 10,000 students eligible to ride the bus to school, only 5,600 actually take the bus. What do you think about the low rider numbers?
I think it's too bad. I think it's too bad more high school parents don't have their kids ride the bus instead of driving. I have low ridership but there are a lot of drivers out there who have 60-70 elementary riders. A lot of junior high buses have between 40 and 50 riders.
Have kids changed much over the last few decades?
I don't think it's the kids, I think it's the parents. The parents don't teach their kids to respect adults. And the parents allow language that goes on and the dress code. I had a kid a few years ago that went to Fort Boise and as she got on the bus she looked back and said, "Fuck you." My child never would have done that, but that's the way some kids are, and their parents just want to turn a blind eye.
What does it takes to be a good driver?
Liking kids is number one, and to love to drive. You've got to be a good listener and have great parenting skills because it's really a lot like being a parent. Also, a lot of patience, and being able to tune out some of the noise. A lot of the drivers do keep it pretty quiet. I don't say too much unless they're really yelling. Noise doesn't bother me.