The frustrations didn’t stop Thursday morning for Columbus City Schools’ families facing their second day of new bus routes as some continued to report buses arriving late or not at all.
Demekia Overstreet said she walked her second grader the 34 minutes to Parsons Elementary School after the bus didn’t show up to the bus stop by 9 a.m. — the same time her daughter’s school starts. It was supposed to come at 8:41 a.m.
“I’m very upset,” the 33-year-old South Side resident said.
The bus didn’t show up in time for school Wednesday either, so she walked her daughter in the rain until another parent offered her a ride.
“(The district) needs to sit down and really evaluate what they are doing and what they could be doing better and what they should do because I don’t think they are putting enough thought in when it comes to transportation,” Overstreet said.
Many parents called Wednesday’s issues a fiasco as many buses showed up late or not at all. They also voiced frustration over not being able to get through to the district’s transportation call center to report problems.
The district announced in mid-November that every student whom Columbus City Schools provides school bus transportation — including charter and nonpublic private school students — would be getting a new bus driver, new pickup and drop-off times and potentially a new bus stop location after winter break.
The district blamed the mid-year changes on the nationwide shortage of drivers as well as issues with a new $1.5 million software system, AlphaRoute, that was supposed to more efficiently and effectively develop bus routes — but instead has apparently contributed to major problems for hundreds of students and their parents.
To help solve the bus route problems, Columbus City Schools also is now using Versatrans software by Tyler Technologies, which the district used in the past, to create the new routes.
As of Tuesday, the district had 512 drivers and 466 routes, said Rodney Stufflebean, interim director of transportation. Sixty-five additional routes are outsourced to contractors.
A total of 36,000 students from Columbus City Schools, as well as students attending charter and other schools, rely on the district’s bus transportation, which had been plagued at times by more than 100 drivers calling off daily.
District says new routes are going well, despite 15-20 buses running late
Columbus City Schools said new routes continue “to run relatively well, with many of our bus drivers and families sharing their appreciation, understanding, and patience with the new times and stops,” district spokesperson Jacqueline Bryant said.
“Both yesterday afternoon and this morning, our Transportation team had more than enough drivers to cover all of the 466 assigned routes,” she said.
The district had 15 to 20 buses that “ran extremely late into the early evening,” Bryant said.
“We fully understand the concern and frustration that comes when a parent has to ask, “Where is my child?” she said. “We hope that by consistently not having routes that go uncovered or consistently late, more of our parents won’t need to ask that question.”
The city’s dispatch center took at least 31 calls from 2-8 p.m. Wednesday related to the Columbus City Schools transportation concerns.
The district said there were multiple reasons why the buses were late including mechanical issues, students getting on the wrong bus and some drivers having to wait for a parent or family member to come to the bus stop to pick up their student.
“The bus driver will not let a student (second grade and under) off the bus without a family member being present at the drop-off location,” Bryant said. “If a parent is not present, the driver will continue along the route as attempts are made to contact the parent. The driver will circle back once the route is completed.”
In other instances, Bryant said some students were disruptive on the buses “to the extent that the drivers felt the need to return to the school to seek help on disciplinary measures.”
Overstreet said her daughter’s bus was supposed to drop her off at 3:42 p.m. Wednesday but instead dropped her off at 4:11 p.m.
No other parents were at the correct bus stop, so the bus driver told Overstreet to walk the other three students on the bus back to their South Side neighborhood.
“The bus driver shouldn’t have given me other people’s children,” she said. “(The parents) were crying. It was so sad because I had no way to contact them to let them know I had their children.”
Ashlea Glaser’s middle school daughter got dropped off at 4:50 p.m. Wednesday — two and half hours after she got out of school.
The South Side resident was able to track her daughter’s phone location and saw the bus was in Bexley and Obetz at various points.
“I was about to have a panic attack, and I could see her (location) all the time,” Glaser said. “There’s no reason for kids to be on the bus that long.”
Thursday was better for her afternoon bus. Her middle school daughter was dropped off only eight minutes late.
Parents frustrated over buses arriving late or not at all
Jeremy Bruskotter wasn’t sure what to expect Thursday morning as he stood at the bus stop with his son, a fourth grader at Columbus Gifted Academy, so he had a mix of emotions when the school bus rounded the corner at 8:42 a.m. — 22 minutes late.
“My son had a big smile on his face,” he said. “I’m frustrated because I’m looking at the time and there’s no way he is going to be there on time.”
He said he was left with no other choice but to drive his son to school Wednesday morning when the bus didn’t show by 8:50 a.m. after they’d been waiting 37 minutes.
“I finally gave up and raced him to school and got him just in under the wire,” the 49-year-old Clintonville resident said. School starts at 9:05 a.m.
After school, he said his son was dropped off at 4:47 p.m. Wednesday — 46 minutes late during which time he didn’t know where his son was. He wishes the district did a better job communicating with parents when drivers are running late.
“CCS transportation has one job — to get them to school to safely and on time,” he said. “If parents start driving their kids to school because the bus routes are unreliable, then the school system is offloading their work on us.”
Raven James, of the Southeast Side, said her students’ bus arrived at 8:50 a.m. Thursday morning — the same time her children’s school, Liberty Elementary School, starts classes.
“I have no idea if they were able to eat breakfast or made it to school in time,” the 28-year-old said.
On Wednesday, she took her children to school when the bus hadn’t shown up by 8:50 a.m.
District’s call center reached capacity throughout Wednesday
The district’s transportation call center took roughly 1,500 calls Wednesday and reached capacity many times, Bryant said.
“Instead of having people sit on hold for an extended period of time, the system automatically encourages families to call back later and ends the call,” she said.
The call system was at “full capacity” by 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, meaning no calls could come in even though the call center is typically open until 7 p.m.
The district’s transportation call center normally has 12 staff members, but the district will have another dozen staff helping out this week, Stufflebean said.
“While we have doubled the staff helping to answer the calls, we had not originally planned to have the Call Center stay open longer — our team is looking at the potential for overtime to have staff continue to answer questions after the Call Center typically closes,” Bryant said.
The call center’s hours are 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, and the number is 614-365-5074.
The district also set up an “EZ District notification tool to send emails and text messages to families when buses are running late,” Bryant said.
Many families said they didn’t get those messages Wednesday, so the district is planning to send a text message to all families who have students riding buses, she said.
“If parents don’t get the message, we encourage them to go into the Parent Portal to update their phone number and email,” Bryant said.
Dispatch reporter Monroe Trombly contributed to this report.