HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) - Since the start of school, numerous parents have reached out to WHNT News 19 and Huntsville City Schools about concerns over school buses and the company in charge of running them.
Friday, representatives of the Huntsville Council of PTA's had a sit-down meeting with the Huntsville City School's transportation department and Durham School Services, who owns and operates the buses. The council says they compiled concerns from 70 different parents and addressed the biggest issues directly with both parties.
“I think we got a better understanding of exactly how it works and what the partnership is between Durham and Huntsville City Schools," says Layna Payne, the Vice President of Huntsville Council of PTAS.
Inconsistent Drop Off and Pick Up Times
One of the biggest issues raised by parents was inconsistent drop off and pick up times. “Seems to be a serious bus driver shortage, so if you have a driver that is out, they have a limited number of substitute drivers and so a lot of times the drivers will have to double up,' says Payne.
She says Durham is doing everything they can to attract and hire more drivers. “I think that is a concern not just in Huntsville but in other places that they deal with as well.”
Excessive Time on the Bus
The shortage of drivers is also causing parents to complain about long bus rides for their children. “For some routes I think it’s going to be a fact of geography, but for others, I think once they can get enough drivers so you don’t have to double up, that will eliminate some of that," says Payne.
The Council of PTAs says the limit for duration on the bus is 90 minutes each way, that that Durham will try to abide by that as best as they can, until new drivers can be brought on board.
Lack of Communication
Last month, we brought you Nichole Stone's story. Her son didn't get dropped off at his appropriate stop last month, and when she couldn't reach Durham or the district, she was forced to call Huntsville Police. Huntsville City Schools say the little boy fell asleep and missed his stop.
Payne says Durham is developing two new apps to help address both concerns.
The first is a bus tracker. “You would enter your child’s student ID number that’s issued by the state,' says Payne. It will pull up a map where you can track the bus in real time.
A second app in the works would stream-line emergency communication from parents. “They prioritize how they’re received and that would be an emergency so that would go to the top of the list so they can handle a lot of these concerns," she says.
Payne says the app would also send notifications if your child's bus was delayed for whatever reason. There's no specific date set for when the app will be available but Payne hopes it will be in the next few months.
Excessive Heat on the Bus
On the issue of un-air conditioned buses, unfortunately, Payne says the solution won't come overnight. “As they replace buses they are looking to replace with some air conditioned buses," she says.
All new buses purchased by Durham will have A/C, so eventually, the entire fleet will have functioning units. All buses servicing students with special needs already has working A/C.
Confusion on Signing Up for Service
Parents have also voiced their confusion about how to sign up for the school bus services in the first place. “We are developing something to give out to the parents so that you know the process because we realized that a couple of board members on the council, we ourselves didn’t know how to sign up," says Payne.
As a result of the confusion, some parents waited until the last minute to sign up their students, which meant the district then found buses overloaded the first day of school.
Bus Misconduct and Discipline
Payne says the existing policy is for drivers to notify the appropriate school when an incident takes place, but that hasn't been the practice, for whatever reason.
She says Durham will make it clear to drivers that needs to be done.