Midtown Raleigh News

Wake sees a “few bumps” in bus service Monday

Apex Middle School students head for their bus on Apache Lane in Apex, N.C. Monday August 26, 2013.
Apex Middle School students head for their bus on Apache Lane in Apex, N.C. Monday August 26, 2013. cliddy@newsobserver.com

Bus trips ran more smoothly for most students and parents Monday, compared with the start of classes last year.

But problems popped up in some areas, according to Wake County school officials.

School officials said that most bus runs Monday were on schedule, with the majority of problems being reported in Apex, also the location for the worst problems last year. The district is working to try to resolve the Apex issues as soon as possible, said Renee McCoy, a Wake schools spokeswoman.

“There have been some bumps in the system that we regret,” McCoy said. “In a system this large, there will be some bumps.”

Wake transports more than 75,000 riders a day on 932 buses that make 4,667 runs covering 25,000 miles.

The opening month of school last year was marked by complaints about thousands of students dealing with buses that came extremely late or not at all.

Wake made several changes, including hiring more bus drivers, hiring new staff to develop routes, and having drivers practice their runs multiple times before the opening of traditional-calendar schools Monday. Wake also improved the district’s website, adding features such as a list of buses that were running late.

As of 7 p.m., McCoy said, Wake had received 2,175 phone calls and online comments, including questions, concerns, compliments and requests for changes in bus stops. She noted that the figure is a small percentage of the district’s riders.

A better start

Some families in Apex saw improvements from last year, while others were feeling a sense of déjà vu

About 20 parents and students cheered Monday morning at the Lindfield Court and Apache Lane stop as the Apex Middle School bus arrived at 7:42 a.m. It was a welcome relief for parents worried about a repeat of last year’s transportation nightmare.

“It’s good for the first day, but after last year I’m hesitant,” mother Lori Segletes said. “I’m cautiously optimistic.”

But some of Segletes’ optimism faded Monday afternoon when the bus arrived 56 minutes after school ended. She said it should only take 10 minutes by car.

McCoy said that buses were running late Monday afternoon because, as a first-day precaution, schools were taking additional time to make sure students got on the right bus.

Parents and students at the Eastham Drive and Chimney Hill Road stop in Apex weren’t as lucky Monday morning. The bus missed the stop, and frustrated parents wound up driving their kids to school.

‘Been here, done that’

Parent Sherri Bolton said she got an automated message when she tried to call the transportation department.

“It’s the same old, same old,” Bolton said. “Been here, done that.”

McCoy said school officials are meeting daily to identify the most serious problems that have been reported, such as buses missing their stops or arriving at the stops after school has already started. She encouraged parents to continue using the online comment form at the district’s website ( www.wcpss.net/parents/transportation/) to report issues.

“Our goal is to address the problems as soon as we can,” she said.

Despite the first-day problems, McCoy urged students to continue to ride the bus. She said that’s the only way the district will get an accurate number of how many students are at each stop. After the first few weeks, Wake will adjust the routes.

But Angela Smelcer said she’s willing to give Wake only as long as two weeks, and maybe not even that long. Smelcer said that parents were forced to repeat Monday what they often did all last year in carpooling their children when it became clear that the bus wouldn’t get the students to school on time.

“We were hopeful,” she said. “But we saw it was just like last year.”