Cary, N.C. — More than 75,000 Wake County public school students use buses as their primary source of transportation, and the school system is taking steps this year in an effort to avoid repeating what happened last year when it was inundated with complaints about buses showing up late or not at all.
"We've taken a look at some of the things last year that did not go according to plan, and we are in no way looking to repeat any of those things," Renee McCoy, interim director of public relations for the Wake County Public School System, said Tuesday. "We are putting measures in place to ensure we have a better and smoother start."
Part of last fall's problems had to do with the district removing dozens of buses from service in an effort to save money, but McCoy says that the school system's full fleet will be out on roads when classes begin Aug. 26 for students on a traditional calendar schedule.
Bus drivers are also practicing their routes for an additional two weeks and at the same time of day schools start and end. The move is to get a better idea of what traffic patterns will be like once the school year begins.
McCoy also says the school system has hired an additional 16 customer service representatives to help field phone calls and an additional 30 staff members to map routing problems.
Buses have also been fitted with GPS devices to better track and troubleshoot routes, and parents will be able to access an automated phone system and enhanced online reporting tool to report troubles when necessary.
"We want to be as responsive as we can," McCoy said.
Beginning Aug. 19, parents can go to the school system's website to check on bus routes, confirm stops and get phone numbers and other important information that McCoy says will help get the school year off to a right start.
"We're asking parents to erase what they've done in the past," she said. "Don't assume the stop was the same as it was last year."
In fact, bus routes won't list stop times, but McCoy says the schedules designate about 5 minutes, or 7 minutes in rural areas, for each stop.
So, for example, if a bus route begins at 8 a.m., and a child's stop is fourth on the route, he or she would need to be at the pickup spot no later than 8:20 a.m.
If a bus hasn't arrived within 30 minutes of the spot, parents should then report to the school system.
"We do not want to repeat anything that happened last year that left our children in positions where they did not get to school on time," McCoy said.
The school system will also urge parents to decide early how their children will get to and from school and to commit to that mode of transportation, which should help transportation staff evaluate routes and more accurately determine how many students are riding buses.
McCoy says even with the additional staff and added measures, they still expect some issues. But she says the school system hopes to have all problems resolved within the first 30 days.
"There will be some bumps," she said. "There will be a period of time until we get things on a regular cycle."