Roanoke City schools still dealing with bus delays

RONAOKE CITY, Va. (WDBJ7) - Parents in the city of Roanoke say they are still having issues with school bus services. Some are reporting their students don't get home until an hour after they are supposed to.

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The issues began in the first week of school, during which district leaders said they were confident they would see an improvement in service. But it appears there are still issues.

"It really bothers me that this issue is still not worked out," said Sarah Jones.

Jones is a busy mom of three, with children in elementary, middle and high school. She relies on Roanoke City Public Schools transportation to help get her kids to class.

"My middle schooler gets picked up here," she said, pointing at a southeast Roanoke bus stop near her home.

But she says buses have been anything but reliable in the last several weeks.

"We don't know when they're getting home," she said, "and so we're constantly waiting and as a parent you automatically think to the worst when they're late."

Jones says her kids and many others in the valley were late during the first days of school. Leadership for the newly contracted Durham School Services owned up to it when we interviewed them August 22.

"It is certainly our desire and goal and we will deliver all students safely, on time, and ready to learn at school," Durham School Services Vice President John Ziegler told us then. "Yesterday and today, this morning, we did less than that."

But weeks later, the problems persist. Jones said morning routes have improved, but buses are consistently arriving at stops later than scheduled.

David Smith's daughter attends William Fleming High School. He told WDBJ7 over the phone Monday the bus she frequently rides home is often full. If she can't get on the first bus, she has to wait for it to drop students off and return for a second pickup, meaning she might not get home for another hour, around 5 o'clock.

Another mom, Jennifer Newman, echoed many of the same concerns. She said her elementary school student doesn't get home until 3:30 p.m. Her oldest son reports his bus is usually "packed" and her middle school sometimes doesn't arrive home until 5 p.m.

"Part of me wants to say, you know, our tax dollars pay for this so maybe I should just send Roanoke City Public schools a bill for my time of having to take them to school," Jones said.

School officials declined an interview request but told us in a statement:

"The deputy superintendent communicates daily with representatives from Durham about the transportation issues. Delays have alleviated substantially. However, it [is[ still not where we expect it to be.
The situation will continue to improve as Durham hires and trains more drivers."

We also reached out to Durham School Services, asking them questions about the buses. Our emailed questions are pasted below in bold, with responses from Durham following each.

Does Durham also recognize continued problems or inconsistencies in bus schedules?

We continue to work to solve our driver shortage which does lead to inconsistencies with schedules. We continue to offer a $1,000 sign on bonus for qualified CDL drivers.

What are those issues, where are they happening and how are Durham leaders working to fix that?

Again, we continue to face a driver shortage and have a strong plan in place to continue to recruit and train qualified driver candidates. We have a recruiting pipeline in place. Once hired, it takes time for a driver to complete our rigorous training program - It can take up to 58 hours of training.

I’ve also had at least two parents tell me they’ve had trouble getting in touch with Durham. How are you making sure that representatives are accessible to local families?

We have added additional help to assist in answering phones and are working to improve our communication by exploring the possibility of using app technologies. We continue to work with the Roanoke City Public Schools to ensure we are aligned in our communications efforts.

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