As the school year gets into full swing, some parents are finding that school buses are still struggling to get their children to school on time and Williamsburg-James City County Public School’s transportation department is trying to fix that.
On Nov. 1, WJCC’s transportation plans to launch a new app, “Here Comes the Bus,” that will allow parents to track when their bus is entering a set radius near their child’s pick up location, said Marcellus Snipes, senior director for operations.
The app will not, however, track a bus’ location throughout the route, for safety reasons.
For parent Carly Desch, the app is a welcome addition that she used regularly when her son was in the Newport News Public School system before moving to Williamsburg.
“Parents have jobs and responsibilities, so when you’re trying to get your child to school it’s a huge relief to know that you can rely on the bus to come at a regular time,” she said.
Currently the department sends updates about bus routes via Twitter, but Snipes said they noticed not every parent has a Twitter account — so there was still a need for sharing route information.
Here comes the late bus
For parents like Tammy Moore, the daily delays continue and the promise of an app doesn’t appear to be the solution.
“Whenever it’s 8:09 (a.m.) and the bus was supposed to be here at 7:42, I don’t need to know when it’s pulling into the neighborhood, I need to know how much longer my son will have to wait,” Moore said.
Part of the issue stems from a shortage of bus drivers in the school system, Moore said.
Snipes said at the start of the year there were seven vacancies for bus driver positions. Since then, three of those have been filled.
“Things happen that can cause delays,” said John Lambusta, director of transportation. “Students move in and out of the area and the routes have to be changed and formatted based on those factors.”
Buses in WJCC run about 12,000 miles each day, Snipes said. The app will be in use for 130 regular route buses in the fleet in November, but the 48 special education buses won’t see it until the spring.
The delay is because the app is being implemented in phases while vendor, Synovia, builds complete databases for all of the runs, Snipes said.
Moore, whose son is in the special education program, the daily delays are an issue.
“He is missing important educational time and everything he misses because the bus is late starts to add up,” Moore said.
With the app launching next month, WJCC’s transportation department hopes to bring a greater ease to parents as much as possible. Safety is their first priority and Lambusta is looking into implementing a plan to include new aspects, such as a system that registers when a student gets on or off the bus, that will contribute to an easier student commute.
Until then, students and parents in WJCC have to shoulder the burden of the current system.
“During the first few weeks of school there are invariably some delays as drivers familiarize themselves with routes and students get until the daily routine,” said WJCC spokeswoman Eileen Cox. “We appreciate the patience of our families and the flexibility of the students and staff as issues are identified and any necessary adjustments are made.”
Students who are late because of the bus issue are not marked as tardy.