Although Portland Public Schools Are Closed, Yellow Buses Continue to Roll

Drivers are ferrying athetes and food, honing their skills, and trying out new routes.

A number of WW readers have noted a puzzling phenomenon amid the teachers’ strike that shut down Portland Public Schools this month: PPS buses, mostly empty, continue to roll.

Jimmy Appelhanz, who heads the unit within Amalgamated Transit Union Local 757 that represents drivers of some PPS buses, confirms that his members are out on the streets, even though there is no school.

“You will see some buses out there running our routes per usual with drivers,” Appelhanz says. “We are maintaining our driving skills.”

Appelhanz says his members, whose contract extends to 2025, are also taking advantage of the strike to complete the classroom training required for their licenses.

Valerie Feder, a PPS spokeswoman, says that while the district works to resolve the strike, now in its 11th day of canceled classes, other district employees and contractors, including bus drivers, continue working.

“While the majority of our students are not in school, a few specialty programs and many out-of-district programs continue to operate,” Feder says. “The public should expect to see buses on the road even if students are not on the buses.”

Some buses are carrying more than air.

“Many of our high schools have had excellent sports teams this year and have earned a place in the playoffs,” Feder explains. “Our buses are also out helping those students get to games. We also have buses out picking up food from school kitchens and taking it to locations where there is a high need for families to get food and don’t have access to a school for many reasons.”

Echoing Appelhanz, Feder noted that drivers are also undergoing training both in classrooms and behind the wheel, as well as familiarizing themselves with new routes.

“We also have many drivers out testing snow routes to be prepared for any inclement weather that we may see in the coming months,” Feder says. “Transportation is trying to be mindful with this time and utilize it to make sure our buses and drivers are safer on the road, on time to school and prepared for the winter ahead.”

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.