After 10 years of countless complaints about late buses, maintenance issues and poor parent communication First Student is out. The pressure is now on new school bus company Reliant Transportation, a subsidiary of MV Transportation.
“We are very optimistic that we will see a much different, much improved school year,” said SCCPSS Dir. of Support Services Tammy Perkins.
The Savannah-Chatham County school district doesn’t want the ghosts of buses past haunting them again.
“It doesn’t make any sense to be that late, dropping my child off or coming to pick them up for school,” said parent Vearner Washington in 2012.
“I want to know he’s safe and you can’t find those things because there is no one to call, there is no appropriate chain of command,” said parent Christi Axson in 2014.
Tammy Perkins, the school district’s Director of Support Services, deals with school transportation. Perkins said a lot of lessons have been learned
“There’s a higher level of accountability just with communication and with the district making sure we know exactly what’s going on early and advance, setting up monthly meetings with their regional staff, weekly meetings with a local team and having a better relationship,” said Perkins.
The school district also created a new position this year, fleet coordinator, who will be on site every day working with Reliant staff to cut down on surprises. That oversight is expected to start in September.
“Their primary responsibility will be to coordinate on the districts behalf at the facility monitoring that what is supposed to happen with maintenance in the fleet is actually occurring.”
The school district will continue a system of fines for unsatisfactory service. First student was charged $50 for each late bus arrival at school. In just two months, they owed more than $19,000. But did it produce better service?
“I can’t say what motivated them to do or perform better but we were exercising our option to assess the liquidated damages,” said Perkins.
This year, in this contract, the cost for bad service is significantly higher. The minimum penalty starts at $500.
In an effort to improve efficiency, Reliant’s contract stipulates it employ a minimum of four full time routing specialists.
“We wanted to be sure that we had a staff dedicated to routing what we would experience in the past is that they would have individuals but that was not their primary role they may have other duties that would pull them from that task,” said Perkins.
Parents also have to be notified about delays.
“We have a communications tool that’s called School Reach. Each one of our buses has an automatic vehicle locator on it so if the bus is running late or it is behind or it is in some sort of situation the information will automatically feed back to our call center in our offices to know where that bus is. In turn, School Reach will either text message, email or call parents to let them know or give them an update on where the bus is,” said MV Transportation Communications Vice President Nikki Frenney-Wiggins.
However, maximum ride times haven’t changed. Reliant’s contract allows an hour and a half for students who don’t have special needs.
Just about every school year for a decade, the bus company and the school district said they’re ready. Now, with so many kids and so many routes, no one can expect perfection on day one. Come tomorrow, the test will not only be if the number of complaints go down but also how well and how quickly problems are handled.
If you would like to take a look at the contract click here: Reliant School Bus Contract