CARY — Wake County school transportation leaders told school board members Tuesday that they’re taking additional steps to avoid a repeat of this school year’s bus fiasco.
The first month of this school year saw parents of thousands of students complaining about buses being late or not coming at all.
Bob Snidemiller, senior director of transportation, said the system is planning to hire 104 additional bus drivers for the 2013-14 school year to ensure enough buses are on the road and driven by regular drivers, not fill-ins.
“We’re committed to having smooth service next year,” Snidemiller said. “Please send any bus drivers our way.”
Wake has 848 permanent bus drivers, forcing the district to scramble to operate the 920 buses on the road each day. Snidemiller said the 104 extra drivers should be enough to cover for driver absences.
Snidemiller said the lack of drivers has forced the system to adopt practices such as having transportation supervisors run routes and sending drivers who’ve completed their runs back out again to catch a missing bus route.
Officials are taking other steps for this fall, Snidemiller said, such as doing more advance testing of routes to make sure they’re realistic and having drivers test the routes during the times they’ll be run.
Snidemiller said the system also is training new customer-service representatives to look up the locations of buses based on their GPS units. That will allow them to tell parents in real time where their child’s bus is.
Because Wake has perennial problems finding enough drivers and needs to save money, Wake had redesigned routes to allow it to remove 52 buses from the road at the start of school this year. Nearly all the sidelined buses were put back in service.
Another challenge for the transportation department has been the additional 10,000 miles a day buses have been driving this school year compared to last year. The additional miles have accommodated the choice-based assignment plan that’s being phased out.
Snidemiller said in a typical year the routes only increase by 1,000 miles.
Democratic school board members had cited the bus problems as one of the reasons they fired Superintendent Tony Tata in September. Republican board members have argued that the problems, such as lack of drivers, predated Tata.
The bus problems resulted in the school board’s reorganization of the transportation department to include more staff, particularly adding people to develop routes from a central location.