Sound Off: School Bus Troubles

by Amy Alford

IMG_6355My kindergartener’s buses have been astonishingly late during this first week of school. We drove him to Robert Goddard the first morning (Tuesday), but he rode the school bus home that afternoon. His bus was scheduled to arrive at the stop at 4:27, and it actually arrived at 5:15. His school day had officially ended at 3:55, one hour and 20 minutes before he arrived home.

When the bus had not appeared at 5:05, I called the school and was told that it had only arrived at the school to pick up students 10 minutes earlier. That leaves the school scrambling to provide supervision for students for an indefinite period. The second day (Wednesday), we arrived at the bus stop with ten minutes to spare (as PGCPS requests) before the scheduled pick up time of 8:39. The bus finally arrived to pick up my son at 9:30, a full 15 minutes after the school day is scheduled to begin.

Both mornings I tried calling the transportation department’s phone bank, as suggested on bus route letters to parents and on the PGCPS website. Wednesday morning, I called at 9:10 and waited on hold until the bus arrived at 9:30. I tried again at 11:30 am on Thursday, once it seemed reasonable to assume that all students had made it to school.  After 20 minutes on hold, I finally got through. The gentleman who answered was polite and efficient, and looked up the bus lot supervisor in charge of my son’s routes. He gave me a name and phone number and let me know that the lot supervisor is responsible for both the drivers and buses and is the person to call about both specific issues with buses and lost items left on school buses.

I went ahead and called the number I’d been given and reached the lot foreman. She explained that we were experiencing the last stage of a cascading chain of delays. School buses in Prince George’s County run as many as four routes back-to-back to different schools. The high school, which is the first route my son’s bus serves, had changed the time time at which they allow buses to drop off students before the start of school, in order to prevent fights/misbehavior from lack of supervision. Last year they had allowed students to be dropped off five minutes earlier.

Another problem was that the directions drivers are given sometimes send them between schools via the Beltway, which is never a good idea at rush hour. New drivers were unaware that experienced drivers avoid the Beltway at all costs.

The route lengths may have been overly optimistic, and the lot foreman planned to come in over the weekend (when there wouldn’t be any immediate crises to deal with) to look for ways to modify the routes or combine stops to save time. She explained that if the expected pickup time at a stop changes by less than 10 minutes, the drivers will let students know (verbally) on Monday. If the change will be more than ten minutes, they will provide written notification to parents instead. I asked about the late afternoon pickup and was told that the high school that is the first afternoon route for my son’s bus had held buses for over 45 minutes while they struggled to make sure all students got on the correct bus. They revamped their dismissal procedure the second day and improved the situation, but not enough to make the buses run on time.

I left a voice mail for the director of transportation expressing how disruptive the extreme lateness this week had been. If I hear anything back, I’ll share it here.

What I’d like to see is a system wide effort to prevent this from happening next year. The efficiency of the bus transportation system was heavily criticized in the 2014 audit performed by the state of Maryland. Perhaps some common sense, system-wide changes could reduce the chaos during the first week of school and throughout the year. The knowledge experienced drivers have about routes should be documented so that new drivers aren’t starting from scratch. The school system should have a policy about when high schools allow buses to drop off students. That way there isn’t confusion about how much wiggle room the bus route planners have. If a school is unable to get students loaded on buses in a timely manner on the first day, there must be someone in the system with the experience to provide advice to prevent a repeat occurrence. As a school system, we shouldn’t be settling for this level of turmoil during the first week.

Additionally, I’d love to see an automated bus tracking system that parents can use to track their child’s bus. (PGCPS has had GPS tracking of buses with the data available to the central office since around 2010.) Public transportation bus systems already use tracking systems for riders, and some school districts are starting to use such systems. This would dramatically reduce the backlog of calls to the transportation line about lateness, leaving them able to focus on situations that really require staff attention, such as students who ended up on the wrong bus. It would also help reduce the disruption lateness causes families. Had I known my son’s bus still hadn’t reached the school at 4:30, I would have picked my younger son up from daycare then and come back to wait for the bus. As it was, I was left wondering if I was going to make it to daycare before they closed.

We want to hear your stories. What were your experiences with school buses in the first week?  Does anyone else have insight into potential solutions? Sound off in the comments below.

11 thoughts on “Sound Off: School Bus Troubles

  1. Erika says:

    My daughter is going to Pullen for the first time as a sixth grader this year. The day of New Student Orientation we arrived at the bus stop at 8am for her 8:20 bus time and waited till 9:10a before she was driven to school by a fellow parent. Her school day begins at 9:15am. The next day her bus was 40 min late, the following 20 min late and finally today on time. She arrived home a half hour late the first day of school and fifteen minutes late the following day. My son goes to our neighborhood school for third grade this year. His bus was late the first day and the students got picked up at 8:10a by a different bus going to the same school. The school bell rings at 8:15a. We live about 5 min away from the school. The following day the real bus showed up at 8:10 and said that he would continue to come at 8:10 because his other routes are so packed. That is an unacceptable situation. My son should not be walking in the door as the bell is ringing everyday while his peers are already seated and prepared to start learning. Tonight I heard from a friend that a temp. bus driver yelled at her daughter because her daughter didn’t know how to direct the driver to her stop. That’s not a child’s job!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Darlene schwaeble says:

    Tuesday morning our bus was 15 minutes late picking the children up. The pm bus Tuesday was late 40 minutes bus never showed up at the school. Thursday the am bus arrived almost 15 minutes late. The pm bus arrived early dropped the children off and Than left. He left children on the bus stop who’s parent were not even there yet. It’s a good thing we parents would not leave a kindergarten or first grader standing on a bus stop alone.

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  3. Zaneta White-Holmes says:

    Today, my next door neighbor was telling me that her son missed breakfast in the classroom because the bus was late arriving at school. That day, I took my daughter to school, so I wasn’t aware that the bus was late. This is why we need to support each other in this county. When one parent is having a problem, we are all having a problem.

    Could you let me know if there is something I can do (send an email to the Supervisor of the bus lot etc.)to help you get a decent bus run sheet for your son’s route. We have to stand together as parents of students in PGCPS. I am a Parent Education Leader with PG Parents for Education and this is what we do. We support parents in the county that are having a problem, concern or issue with their school or services received from PGCPS like transportation. Let me know if I can help. Great article. Thanks.

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    • aloomised says:

      Thanks Zaneta.

      The bus routes are available online at http://www1.pgcps.org/transportation/busroutes.aspx (the links take you to a pdf which lists each route at the school and all of its stops in order). If you want to save time on finding which route in the pdf serves your stop,

      http://busstops.pgcps.org/public/ lets you search for route numbers by street address and school name.

      http://www1.pgcps.org/transportation/index.aspx?id=5712 gives the phone numbers for each bus lot (and general info about which bus lots are responsible for which routes – I’m not sure how accurate this is right now). The transportation phone bank can look up the lot responsible for a given route, but they are so backlogged that it’s probably faster to call the lot you think is responsible and ask them to redirect you if you’re wrong.

      If a driver is planning on being late daily, I think the person to talk to first is the lot foreman. If the lot foreman insists that this is acceptable (or at least unfixable), then you’d need to work up the chain a step. The numbers for the foremans’ supervisors is also on the list of phone numbers, as well as the director of transportation and the supervisors in charge of all of north and south county.

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  4. yellowsmiley15 says:

    The middle school where i work had less than 1/3 of our buses there on time for dismissal on Tuesday. The past few days have been about 1/2. Surprisingly, they seem to be mostly on time for arrival. The dismissal leaves staff in a horrible position. The school day ends at 3:50 and teacher contracts end at 4pm, but when only 1/3 of the buses have come, what do you do with the rest of the students?

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  5. Colleen says:

    On the first day of school my kindergartner who is not a bus rider was placed on a bus. When my spouse went to pick up at the school we could not find our child who was supposed to be in after school care.

    For an hour we were uncertain of the exact whereabouts of our child. Because he was not supposed to be on a bus we had no reason to believe he was. After a lot of back and forth on the phone and conversations with the school personnel it was determined that he may have been placed on a bus that he was assigned to.

    We had not received any notification of him being assigned to a bus route. We did not know what his bus stop was or his drop off. If you have ever experienced trying to find a child you know how scary this is. We were uncertain of any protocol for children mistakenly placed on buses. Eventually we were told we could go to a school bus depot where they believed our child was waiting. We did eventually get our child after an hour of trying to locate.

    Initially the response was nonchalant about how this even happened. We had filled out paperwork stating we picked up our child and had fully enrolled in after school care. The following day I was able to speak with the principal, bus coordinator and afterschool provider. We have not experienced any further incidents this week but needless to say it took a long time to be able to release the anger and fear from this incident.

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  6. Monique Nelson says:

    I have had several issues with buses this year (and last). My daughters go to two separate middle schools and both buses are late every day. I have sent emails to the head of Transportation only to be told they understand my concerns but they have a driver shortage. Now it is a safety concern because two men in a truck tried to get my daughter to come with them. Fortunately for me they did not exit their vehicle, but this is a great concern. Because the schools start at 8:30 am (Buck Lodge Middle) and 9:00 am (Greenbelt Middle), the bus lot personnel informed me that they go to other schools first. However, in some cases, the driver for Buck Lodge is going back and forth to the school because he has multiple routes for the same school. This is totally UNACCEPTABLE. I am so frustrated at this point because both my husband and I have to be at work at 8:00 am. If the buses were on time, it would be different. One bus is constantly running an hour late. The other is constantly 30 minutes late (and this bus services middle school children from two different schools with the same start time, so children from both schools are late everyday). Since our daughters stop is not the last stop, other children still have to be picked up after them so they get to school 30-40 minutes late everyday. The news media covers so much, but this little problem is swept under the rug. Once something happens to a child, then they want to try to fix the problem. I would rather see something happen sooner rather than later…

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    • demosgen says:

      Monique, that is horrible. I am so sorry to hear this.

      I am in contact with a parent in the county who is trying to gather information from parents about school bus troubles. She is also very frustrated, and she wants to join forces with other parents. I’d love to introduce the two of you through email. If this is something you’d be interested in, please send me an email at pgcabschools@gmail.com.

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  7. Kimberly Louis says:

    My son’s bus 377 is out of control with bullying racially. I reported it but I’m not getting help. Cameras or Adult volunteers need to ride buses to and from school at samuel ogle. I will be the first to volunteer

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    • demosgen says:

      I am very sorry to hear about the bullying. That is totally unacceptable. I would really like to know whether this issue gets resolved. Also, there is a PGCPS parent whom I am in contact with who is trying to gather information about problems with school buses. She’d like to join forces with other parents and present information to administrators. If you’d like, send me an email at pgcabschools@gmail.com, and I’ll introduce the two of you through email.

      Like

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