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Schools warn of bus delays

The ongoing shortage of drivers is the main reason buses will run late.

By JEFFREY S. SOLOCHEK
Published August 2, 2006


TAMPA - Hillsborough school officials have a warning for parents: Expect buses to run late once school begins Thursday, both in the mornings and in the afternoons.

One key reason is the district's continuing driver shortage.

As of Tuesday afternoon, the district had 970 drivers but 133 vacancies. One driver quit Tuesday morning, just two days before the start of classes.

"It's just a job that people don't want to do, especially for $9.85 an hour," transportation director Beverly DeMott said. "Every day we have drivers calling up and saying, 'I'm not coming back.' "

It's a national problem that has grown to crisis proportions over the past few years.

The driver shortage means the district must combine some routes and that some drivers will cover more than one route per school. Some children, especially those who live farthest from their school, could eventually see earlier morning pickup times as a result.

Student safety also factors into the expected delays, DeMott said.

Bus drivers must spend extra time making sure children get on the correct buses, she said. In the mornings, they also must navigate heavier than usual traffic because many parents drive their kids on the first days, clogging up campus driveways and parking lots.

And shepherding the youngest students, who go home first, will likely delay older children in the afternoon, she said.

Bus crowding could also spur route changes. The district often doesn't know where new students live and what bus stops they will use. This year, officials estimate as many as 2,500 bus riders remain unaccounted for as the first day approaches.

The district will send home notes with any proposed changes and will not implement earlier pickups on the first day, DeMott said. The state allows districts 30 days to resolve bus crowding problems.

Parents of elementary-age children can help buses run closer to on time by giving their youngsters a "bus ticket" that includes their name, phone number, school name, assigned bus route numbers and bus stop locations, DeMott said. Children attending magnet and choice schools should have special bus badges, as well.

If children get on the wrong bus or miss their bus during the first days, the district has established a shuttle system to get them to the right campus for classes.

If parents have transportation-related problems, DeMott recommends calling one of the district's seven regional route coordinators or the call center at 272-4974.

Longer term, the School Board is working with consultants to evaluate the efficiency of its bus routes, school start times and related matters. Proposals to improve the system could come before the end of the year.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at solochek@sptimes.com or 813 269-5304.

[Last modified August 2, 2006, 06:14:50]


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