COLUMBIA, Md. (WJZ) — The need is critical across the state and from coast to coast. School bus drivers are in short supply and the COVID-19 pandemic has only made it even more difficult to find and retain qualified drivers.

Now, schools systems are trying to think up alternative ways to get kids to and from school. In Howard County, a new program will allow middle and high school students to use a free RTA bus pass this school year and next summer.

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Peter Banyas, Student Member of the Board, said in a press conference on Wednesday, “this initiative to provide bus passes at no cost to students is a great way to increase opportunities and access throughout the community.”

However, many counties in Maryland have the same issue. When WJZ first tackled this story earlier this month, Baltimore, Anne Arundel and Baltimore City all spoke of the need for drivers.

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The pandemic has created more and more shortages across many industries — this being one of them.

Dr. Calvin Ball, Howard County Executive said this is a critical time to utilize their RTA student program so these kids have opportunities to do more and at various times. “ This bus can take you from your classroom to your afterschool job, from practice, home, or to a friend’s house to study or hang out,” said Ball.

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The buses can drop students off and pick them up within a quarter-mile walk of most middle and high schools in the county. If parents need special accommodations for their student, as in a monitor for a special needs student, they can request assistance from the school.

Rachael Cardin