Council Rock's new school bus contract is off to a bumpy start. What's being done

In the opening weeks of the new school year, Council Rock parents have reported missed school bus stops, delays and a lack of communication from their bus company.

With the fall marking the beginning of a new, seven-year busing contract between Council Rock School District and Durham School Services, the transition has not gone as smoothly as parents have hoped.

One parent, Kevin Campbell, said at a Sept. 13 public forum that his child had to ride the bus for 45 minutes, despite living 10 minutes from the school. "First impressions mean a lot to this community,” he said. "We told you ... we expected communication, drivers and an app. By my count, you're in the hole 0-3."

The district called the forum to address community concerns about Durham's bus service following complaints about late and incorrect bus stops, and the delay of a planned bus tracking app. Prior to the meeting, the district had received over 180 messages to an email address set up for complaints.

Council Rock’s administration realized they needed a more comprehensive plan to address concerns and solve the reported issues. “We realized we just didn't have definitive ways to solve these problems," said Andrea Mangold, community relations coordinator for the district.

Council Rock School District has had a bumpy start with its new transportation services provider. Parents have complained about delays, late service and a lack of communication.
Council Rock School District has had a bumpy start with its new transportation services provider. Parents have complained about delays, late service and a lack of communication.

Representatives from Durham Student Services acknowledged “irregularities in bus service.”

At the forum, Durham’s Vice President of Operations John Ziegler stressed the company's need for new drivers; as of Sept. 13, Durham staffed 108 routes with precisely 108 drivers, forcing a route cancellation if a single driver called out for the day.

Durham representatives shared a flyer with the crowd, advertising open driver positions. North Atlantic Region Manager Robert Scarpa stated the company had two dozen new drivers completing their training and certifications at the time of the forum.

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Bus driver shortages have been a statewide issue since at least 2018, and have only been worsened by the pandemic.

When asked about the status of the new hires on Monday, Edward Flavin, Durham's vice president of External Communications, replied that "the hire date for these potential new employees varies depending on their successful completion of training and certification." He provided no further details, including how many new drivers had been hired.

Bus company representatives outlined a plan of action to be implemented from Sept. 13 onward, including having staffers at each of the districts' two depots in Wrightstown and Newtown, earlier school openings for families whose bus routes are cancelled, and real-time updates on bus delays and cancellations. They also pledged to respond to each email submitted to the email address.

In all, 10 parents and community members at the forum commented on the district’s transition in bus companies. Parents reported up to 40-minute delays in bus schedules and a lack of communication from the bus depots about their children's bus status. Ziegler also referenced reports of incorrect stops by drivers, which they attributed to the company learning its new routes.

Representatives at the meeting stressed that their plan of action was still being implemented, and that parents would not see results until at least the day following the forum. Asked if complaints had declined since the forum, Mangold replied that “the beginning of every school year brings challenges to transportation, and this year was no different. We work with Durham every day to address any issues that arise, in as timely a manner as possible." Flavin did not give an estimate for the number of complaints received since the forum.

Ziegler assured families that they would see an improvement in service soon, and that the bus tracking app would be up and running by Sept. 29.

This article originally appeared on Bucks County Courier Times: Council Rock School District Receives Complaints about Bus Contract