School bus on-time rates improving in Sioux Falls district after rough start in the fall
Representative of School Bus Inc. said driver shortage contributed to the problem. On-time rates have improved from 87% in September to 98% in December.
SIOUX FALLS – A severe bus driver shortage in the fall led to higher-than-normal issues with late arrivals and missed stops on routes in the Sioux Falls School District, according to the company that operates the system.
During one week in early September the company recorded 115 late runs, for an on-time average of 87%. But by mid-December, the on-time rate was up to 98%, a representative of School Bus Inc. told the Sioux Falls School Board on Monday, Jan. 23.
The improvement came through recruiting to increase the number of drivers from 80 to 94 and hiring additional aides to monitor and deal with behavioral issues on the busses, said Warren Lanphier, director of operations for School Bus Inc.
The company started the year with 25 aides, and now has 46, he said.
Late arrivals and problems with missed stops led to complaints from parents. Lanphier said the company is also working on communication with families when problems do come up.
“We want to continue to get better all the time,” Lanphier said.
That includes examining routes for better options, recruiting, training and keep the office fully staffed.
“We’re going through growing pains but we are going to continue this year and for years to come to work on improvements,” he said.
About 9,000 students in the district rely on bussing. The company serves 337 routes for 35 schools.
Eric Asmus told the school board and administrators that in three instances the bus either either missed the stop in his neighborhood or was 90 minutes late. It happened twice in the fall and then again last week, Asmus said.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.
He said his wife had to leave work when the bus didn’t show up to pick up their daughter and bring her to school.
“It’s a safety concern,” he said. “We have to do better.”
Lanphier said they have been working with drivers to prevent any missed stops and late arrivals through increased training as well as improving technology issues and creating better partnerships with the city public works department and school staff.
A better partnership with the City of Sioux Falls has also helped improve on-time rates during what has been one of the snowiest winters in at least 10 years, he said.
School Bus Inc. uses the Stopfinder app for mobile devices to communicate with parents. The Sioux Falls has one of the highest activation rates among the districts served by the company at 35%. Of the 8,975 invitations to Sioux Falls parents to use the app, 3,195 have activated the service. In other comparable-sized districts that use the app the usage rate ranges from only 6% to 27%, Lanphier said.
The app allows parents to track arrival times and get messages when there are delays or problems.
Following the meeting, Lanphier and some staff members met with Asmus to apologize for the late arrivals. Parents are always welcome to bring their concerns or complaints to company staff, he said.
“I realize nobody’s perfect,” Asmus told Sioux Falls Live following his meeting with the company staff.
School board member Nan Baker said she was happy to see the improvement from those hiccups early in the year. Bussing is really important, particularly because in most families both parents are working, she said.
“They need this service,” she said.
Board member Carly Reiter said especially with the recent major snowfalls and snow-covered narrow streets that patience and grace are needed.
Kate Serenbetz, the board chairperson, said the partnerships to improve the safety and on time issues are good to see.
Lanphier said that in some cases the late reports were for a bus that was five to 10 minutes behind schedule and that they were “making great strides.”