DORCHESTER COUNTY, S.C. (WCSC) - Dorchester School District 2 has a problem. Every day, a number of bus drivers are unable to report to work and the pool of back up drivers is not large enough to cover all 165 daily routes.
“It is not uncommon to have four to five route combinations every day,” said Steve Shope, director of transportation for DD2. “For example we had one bus pick up four different routes in the weeks prior to Thanksgiving when we had a little bit of a surge of precautionary quarantines.”
While the coronavirus is inevitably playing a role, it is not the only factor.
In fact, district reporting shows there have only been 10 positive cases of COVID-19 in the transportation department and 34 staff members quarantined all year. Currently there are four positive staff members with another six in quarantine.
“Before every driving shift it’s kind of a puzzle to put together who is going to cover which routes. We have never had one go uncovered,” Shope said. “The ideal would be to have 15 percent more bus drivers in reserve so I could call someone up from the bench when somebody drops out. We have never had that in the six years I have been transportation director.”
Adding to the bus struggles are health guidelines that require the buses to limit their capacity and clean after each trip.
While the bus service is operating in less than ideal conditions, parents have started noticing a significant drop in quality. A group of parents in the Drakesborough neighborhood say buses are arriving 15 minutes early or as much as an hour late.
“There is just no consistency in when they are coming, so the kids are sitting at the bus stop waiting - unsure of whether or not the bus is coming, when it is and if they’re going to get to school on time,” said Penny Coombes, a parent of a 10th grade student and an 8th grade student. “With everything going on they [students] have enough to worry about. They shouldn’t have to worry about whether or not the bus is going to come and take them to school.”
Coombes says on Monday an early bus, which normally takes about 18 students, only picked up two and on Tuesday students where still waiting for their bus at 9:15. It is scheduled to arrive at 8:50.
Another parent says her 6th grade child waited an hour for the bus to arrive this week. She says her child has been late five times this year because of bus problems.
Coombes says she understands the situation the district is in, but kids can’t be waiting around that long.
“They’re doing the best that they can,” Coombes said. “Our issue is just the consistency. We are relying on those buses coming at those times that they are designated to come and when it doesn’t happen it throws a wrench into the whole operation.”
That is especially true for single parents, like Kevin Howington who has a 3rd grade daughter.
“I understand there are some issues that everyone is dealing with but I mean come on,” Howington said. “Bus routes have never really been an issue, they have been doing fine all year and then, boom, out of nowhere things started to change.”
The driver that normally handles this route has been out for the last week and a half according to Shope.
Shope says sometimes substitute drivers are not familiar with the exact pick up and drop off locations. He says when they hear a complaint they try to correct the issue as quickly as possible. The district does have GPS tracking on all of their buses and parents can be alerted when a bus is running late or when a route has to be consolidated.
You can find information on how to get those alerts here.