Thursday, September 08, 2011

New Transportation Plan

The District implemented a new transportation plan this year, one just as complicated as the new student assignment plan. It promised shorter bus rides, better driver retention, reduced carbon emissions and $4 million in savings. It also involved tiered bell times, reduced transportation zones, and lots of community stops. This new Transportation Plan was full of promise (or, at least, full of promises).

There were a few comments about kids with long waits and long rides on the First Day thread. I know that some families make a practice of skipping the bus for the first week to avoid the inevitable shake out of transportation issues.

What has been people's experience?

54 comments:

Anonymous said...

Two kids at two different schools: one bus never showed up to take one to school; the other never showed up after school to bring the other one home. Not late-- never showed up. This is the worst first day I've seen in many years of transportation at SPS (and there have been some bad ones)!

-- Still waiting

Anonymous said...

My daughter took the bus for the first time yesterday for 6th grade at Hamilton. Bus was on time both yesterday and today. Her ride is only about 15 minutes - and I think her stop is the first one in the morning. Jane

Anonymous said...

one kid of 4 taking a yellow bus - showed up on time at the stop we'd been sent. didn't take the bus home so that remains to be seen.

mom of 4 in sps

Dad said...

What I heard from a veteran driver is that SPS told the bus company a while ago to cut way back for this fall, and then right before school started they told them to add the buses back again, so now they're in a mad scramble. Be nice to the drivers. It's really frustrating for them.

I know that transportation is a big financial challenge for SPS, but they do seem to have trouble figuring out how many students they have, don't they? This whole thing sounds depressingly familiar.

Maureen said...

No sign of a transportation assignment for my 8th grader. She had a Metro pass last year so I assumed there would be one for her at the school office so I didn't bother calling Transportation. Well the school hasn't received any passes yet. So we're out $2.50 per day until this gets sorted out. I hope they make some attempt at reimbursing the FRL families at least. (I suppose they are expecting the kids to beg the Metro drivers to let them ride free which is just mean.)

(I was told that last year's cards would not be reloaded when I called Transportation this summer to see about replacing my daughter's card which had split in half.)

Lori said...

I just posted this note in an older thread. It's relevant here:

One huge problem with the buses is the tight timelines to deliver a route then turn around and get to the next school for the later route. The district staggered school times to allow one bus to handle multiple schools, but particularly in the beginning of the year, if they don't pay the drivers to practice the route a few times, there is no way for things to go well on Day 1. Any delays on an earlier route mean delays on every route thereafter, which is what we saw yesterday.

I feel lucky after hearing all the stories that our afternoon bus was *only* an hour late yesterday. It didn't arrive at Lincoln until 440PM (school gets out at 335PM). Another bus, however, failed to show up at Lincoln by 525PM, and parents were called to come pick up their kids. No idea if the bus was just totally lost or forgot or what.

Yesterday morning, one route to Lincoln just didn't show up at all. A family was later told that they "forgot" to schedule a driver for it! Another bus made some stops but then got lost, stopped making subsequent stops, and eventually made it to Lincoln (as reported by a parent who rode with her child on that one). Yet another route drove right past a group of kids on Queen Anne, and still another never made it to Laurelhurst to pick up that community stop's kids. So that is five different routes just to Lincoln that had pretty major problems yesterday (and doesn't count my own, which was *only* an hour late).

My concern is also how crowded some of these community stops are. My child is one of 32 kids (!) assigned to Bryant for pick up. The bus leaves 1 minute before the Bryant bell rings. If you haven't been there in the morning, it's worth knowing that our Lowell/Lincoln kids will be congregating outside the school right at the busiest corner for Bryant walkers and bike riders, who are also trying to get where they need to be before the bell rings.

I'm pretty sure that no one from Transportation has ever visited one of these sites to see how their logistics actually work out. Cars are going up and down every nearby side street to deliver the 600 or so Bryant kids to school. Throw in the pedestrians, cyclists, dogs, strollers, you name it, and it's a little chaotic. Adding another 30+ kids to the mix seems imprudent at least to me.

Our walk to our community stop is 2/3 of a mile, but others families got an even worse deal, having to walk 0.9 miles, just under the cut-off. We left our house one hour before the Lincoln bell to account for the long walk, which crosses an arterial, plus the ride. The bus ride is only 20 minutes, but the walk really adds to the trip time.

I'm not personally opposed to community stops, but it seems that these routes could use a few more to make each stop more manageable. Our bus picks up 22 kids at Wedgwood and 32 at Bryant, then there are only 4 or 5 other stops on the entire route. Moving a handful of kids away from WW and Bryant to other nearby community stops (the library, grocery stores, wherever else it's safe to congregate) would not slow things down dramatically, might even speed things up by making each stop less chaotic.

Lori said...

and I'll just quickly add that I find it a bit disingenuous to claim victory about shorter ride times when all they've done is add burden to families by making them walk up to 1 mile just to get to their stop.

That time may not "count" in the district's analysis, but time is precious to families. Adding a 20- or 30-minute walk to a community stop, two times per day, is a big deal to me. Lincoln is closer to our home than Lowell was, yet our overall commute time is now longer.

Anonymous said...

Gee, was Enfield on one of those Lincoln bus routes that bombed? I'll bet the one she was on (with media?) probably was executed with military precision.

Mr. Ed

Anonymous said...

Our pick up and drop off went well, BUT we don't even want to be bussed! For the second year we are unable to get into our reference area school (or another neighborhood school). We fall outside the transportation zone for our current school, but this year are being asked to walk into that zone in order to catch the bus. So, we walk to the school we are on the waitlist for in order to catch a bus to ANOTHER school. Seriously! Ballard Mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

No Mr. Ed, her bus was late, too. Not by much but it was late.

I'm hearing rumblings that this new plan was not well thought out and they had hire some drivers from out of the city (who don't know Seattle) and again, some confusion over what routes they are actually supposed to be driving.

SeattleMom said...

Our bus in the morning leaves almost 20 minutes earlier than last year. That's 45 minutes between departure and school start for a school that's a mile away. And the bus stop has moved even further away. So, no (time) savings and better convenience for us.

Anonymous said...

At QAE, only 2 of the 5 buses arrived within an hour of school start time. Buses didn't show up until about an hour after school ended.

Also - one poor kindergartner got on the bus to QAE when it should have been to John Hay. Her mom finally found her at QAE and took her to John Hay but poor girl was beside herself while it all got worked out. She's in all of our Opening Day celebration pictures, though ;-)

parent at Queen Anne

Anonymous said...

My kids' bus driver told me this morning that they drove dry runs before the start of the school year to learn their routes and stops, but then some drivers were assigned to different routes. Makes no sense.

another incredulous parent

Anonymous said...

Enfield's bus was 30 min late but never showed for the return trip. One kid's parents waited 2 hours for them at the stop. Fortunately they had the right number for us when they called.

L@L dad

Happy with bus said...

My daughter had some snafus getting to Lowell/Lincoln from NW Ballard due to driver learning the route, but overall she was excited, and we are very pleased with the ride time and the driver. I wasn't up in arms over it like other posters since it was the first day.

Why don't you ask the question again in a month to see how this shakes out? Of course the first day was going to be rough...

SusanH said...

Our South Shore bus didn't show up yesterday morning or afternoon, or this morning. Parents are taking turns driving the handful of kids from our stop. Can't even get through to transportation yet.

Matt said...

Two kids at two different schools. The bus to Salmon Bay was a no-show yesterday and today, stranding four kids at our stop. The bus stop to Lincoln is 1.1 miles north of our house; Lincoln itself is 1.2 miles east of our house. My theory is the district will save money by eliminating bus transportation entirely after all of the families in the district decide to abandon busing in response to this astonishing incompetence.

Eric B said...

I saw buses practicing routes by Loyal Heights September 1. I don't know how the busing worked, although the assignment area for LH is so small that most people are in the walk zone.

Anonymous said...

We have two students on two different busses. Rides went reasonably yesterday, and I was impressed by how friendly the bus drivers were on all fronts. (They have it rough -- especially on these first couple of days -- how about a GPS?) My only complaint is this: the new transportation plan was to partly decrease the amount of time students spent riding the busses. Our third-grader got on on the bus at 8:05 yesterday but still managed to miss the first bell at 9:20. Her bus dropped students at a more northern K-8 first, then looped back south. She was on the bus for 1:15 minutes for a trip that takes a car driver around 7 minutes. (Last year her bus commute was about 20 minutes.) I'm bummed and trying to figure out a plan that will still allow me to get to work by 9:00. (Her school doesn't allow kids to be dropped off until 9:05.)
Trying to be positive.

Kelly said...

Oh c'mon, Happy With Bus - of course things are going to be disorganized the first couple weeks of school, but kids waiting at school until 5:30-6pm is ridiculous.

Anonymous said...

Our South Shore bus didn't show up yesterday morning, and this morning was over 45 minutes late (thus picking our child up after school started). No response from emails sent both yesterday and today, and no getting through on the phones either.

-- what a mess

Anonymous said...

@Happy with bus - how about kindergarteners who didn't get home until 7 pm? Which happened. yes, there are also 1st day snafus, but this was by far the worst ever and likely to stay that way for a while - a 2 tier/route system might have worked - 3 routes in less than 25 minutes each? The concept was always ridiculous on paper and even more so in reality.
All it takes is one road construction project, one icy street, one misdelivered child and every other school on the route is behind. Not just the first day, but everyday.

--ridiculous

dj said...

I posted in the other thread in response to a call for bus stories. I can flesh out a little here. My daughter (Thurgood Marshall) actually accidently rode the bus yesterday. When I went to pick her up from school, I noticed two things. One, the busses were much less full than they were last year, at least from what I could see, suggesting to me that fewer parents are using them. Two, and relatedly, parking was even worse than it usually is, suggesting that more people indeed are picking up their kids.

That is a purely personal, anecdotal observation -- I don't know if in the long term fewer kids will be riding the busses -- but I wonder. And, as Lori said, the back-to-back routes make their own issues; my daughter's bus was an hour late picking her up because there was a problem on the preceeding route. I will say that one thing I had not thought of was that the community stop means that unless I want my kid to walk home alone, I cannot be home waiting for my child when her bus is running late. Since I have three other kids, all very young, that is a real issue, as I discovered yesterday.

Anonymous said...

We did not even attempt the bus yesterday and I doubt we will anytime soon. The bus comes for my 1st grader at 7:05am. That is an hour and a half before his school starts. Now either the district is planning that it will take more than an hour to get from Northgate to Ballard or they are planning on dropping elementary kids off at school before there is any playground supervision. We are at Salmon Bay, a k-8 and an alt. The <25 min rule does not apply to us. There is also to issue of kids waiting at stops in the dark for three months out of the year but no one in transportation seems to be concerned about that.

-slp

Po3 said...

"All it takes is one road construction project"

15th Ave Northbound is a mess with a road project; busses lined up sitting in traffic to get over Ballard bridge. This would account for late busses for schools north of the ship canal yesterday. Not sure if it is one day or ongoing project.

Maureen said...

First day bus stories are only comparable to other first day bus stories. We can't evaluate the whole plan based on what happened yesterday. A quick check in with the secretary at my kid's K-8 indicated that this first day wasn't any worse than in the past and might actually have been better (but we start at 8:20 so buses only run one route before ours.)

jd said...

While I agree that the first week of bus service is no more of a clusterf@$k this year than in every previous year, I am still continually frustrated by my total inability to actually contact anyone in Transportation. One of my kids is officially being dropped off at the wrong stop, and I've had two times of being on hold for an hour, before giving up. It's like this every year. They need some way to massively staff up with temps for the first two weeks of school.

Steve said...

Not a "first day" story, but I called Transportation last week when we got our letter from them. We live 8 blocks away from where our kindergartener is going, but the bus trip will take 36 minutes. I called to find out if this was accurate, or if there is a more direct bus we could take. They simply said "The route we gave you is the shortest one between your house and your school." They wouldn't give me info about any other route, nor would they tell me the route this bus takes. I know this is for security reasons, and I guess I could ride it to find out, but still, kind of ridiculous.

I know some parents are piecing together their bus routes with the help of other parents, and creating Google maps showing the full route.

Deborah said...

We had a good experience the first day. I believe our times changed to 8:40-2:50 from 9:15-3:25 at Gatewood Elementary in order to have the 12 buses start there. Last year there were only 5 buses. Some of these 12 buses start with 1 kid at Gatewood.

My son was put on the correct bus (I was there to make sure of it). Then I followed this bus and several buses that went to West Seattle Elem. to pick up and drop off.

My son was eventually dropped off at Pathfinder about 30 minutes after the scheduled time (75 minutes after school out), not too bad.

What I don't like is the scheduled time of 40 minutes on the bus from Gatewood to Pathfinder. That makes for a cranky, hungry kid.

Anonymous said...

Two kids at two schools - both picked up on time this morning. One child took the bus home yesterday and was 40 min late.

Having been in the district for years, I've learned it can be best to wait 1 week to put the kids on the bus while the routes are smoothed out. I did see a bus come through our neighborhood this week prior to the start of school, so there were some dry runs of the routes.

How was communication handled with parents of those kids stranded at school? On the rare occasions that my childrens' buses have been excessively late in the past, we received calls from Transportation to notify us and they always arrived safely (perhaps sad and tired, but safe).

another parent

Anonymous said...

Staffing with temps isn't the answer - the problem ISN'T staffing - its the SPS phone system - it regularily drops calls and even staff can't get thru. It's a technology issue, not a staffing one.

And also, since I have friends who work in transportation, I can categorically state that the line staff DOES care about your child's safety and DOES care about whether they are on the right bus.

This plan wasn't the staff's idea, the execution, and decisions about community stops was not done by the line staff who actually are very familiar with various issue on routes citywide. This was entirely management decision. Staff tried to point out some of the obvious problems that would arise and were ignored.

- in the know

Anonymous said...

"the community stop means that unless I want my kid to walk home alone, I cannot be home waiting for my child when her bus is running late."

This. The community bus stop we've been assigned to is a half mile away, and includes a walk through Ravenna-Cowen park, which sometimes gets a little creepy at dusk. My 2nd grader needs to have me there every morning until the bus comes, plus every afternoon until the bus arrives.

Last year, the bus stop was just outside our house, which was far more manageable, and my kid knew all the adults at the stop since they were all our direct neighbors. This year, if we were to take the bus, I would need to plan on an extra 45-60 minutes each morning and evening to get to the stop, wait, then get home. There are simply too many adults unknown to us at this stop for me to feel comfortable leaving before the bus arrives, or letting my 7 year old walk alone through the park for a half a mile. I won't even go into my bum knee, which makes a two mile daily walk a dicey proposition when it is acting up.

I also have two kids at two schools, one of which is not eligible for bus service, so even if the buses were running on time, there is simply no way I can be in two places at once, given the extra time it now takes for us to get the youngest there and back. I was truly shocked at the assigned stop when it arrived in the mail. I don't know how other families with kids at multiple schools are going to cope, or those with tight time schedules.

Since this new plan is untenable for us, we have no choice but to drive every day. Since I will need to park the car for drop off and pick up, we'll be adding to the daily congestion around the school, plus the extra air pollution with the single car. We really, truly did want to make this bus service work, but this new plan seems deliberately designed to turn families away.

- reluctant driver

Anonymous said...

...its the SPS phone system - it regularily drops calls and even staff can't get thru. It's a technology issue,...

-------------

Well, golly! A tech issue in techy land? Why not use some of that Gates Foundation money they have been handing out for a phone system that works? Or maybe the new "technology" QA elementary school can help.(Geesh. Do I have to think of everything?)

-JC.

ArchStanton said...

Why not use some of that Gates Foundation money they have been handing out for a phone system that works? [...](Geesh. Do I have to think of everything?)

What's the over/under on how long that will take? Longer than the VAX migration?

Meg said...

I'm not thrilled with transportation right now, but not because of the first week of bus service, which I'm willing to cut them some slack for.

What surprises me is that apparently over 3,500 kids (?!? really?) who lost bus service. That's over 5% of the kids in the district losing bus service. Those are pretty enormous cuts.

That number makes me want to see the details of the transportation budget - how much is it? How much is state money designated for transportation and can't be used for anything else? How much was saved with all the start time jiggering? How much have changes in fuel costs affected transportation spending?

Lori observed that current community stops may be problematic, which is interesting. It's hard not to wonder if anyone from transportation sat and compared school start times to bus pick-up times.

On a personal note, our community stop doesn't give us a shorter ride time and extends our total commute time. However, we have long been at just about the end of our line, so a still-pretty-lousy-transit-time may just be the breaks of being at the end of the route.

Anonymous said...

This is just our fourth year in the system, but we've come to expect the transportation to be a mess the first week or so. Then, in our experience, things work out and are fairly consistent.

Our trip time ended up about the same as last year but it's better than the alternative. And to the Transportation Dept's credit, they were very responsive to issues we raised about our proposed community stop and moved it to a safer area.

Gern

mirmac1 said...

Meg,

I seem to recall Duggan Harmon's non-transparent incremental budgeting presentation where they actually are getting MORE money for transportation.

Not sure what drove the change in the funding formula... Was it some kind of Green initiative? Steaming and frustration due to long walks and waits at community stops contributes to global warming.

Dorothy Neville said...

Last year's F196 says that we spent $31.2M on transportation. Of that the state paid $17.7M, Feds paid nothing, so we paid $13.5M ourselves.

I would have to dig to find the previous year information to see trends. I do believe that some of the changes in transportation are being driven by the state changing its funding formula, but I do not recall how or how much.

belltowner said...

Living in Belltown we have used the school bus to send our son to elementary on Queen Anne for the past 3 years. Last Thursday , Having not received any notification as to where the community stop was we called SPS transportation to find out where to send him. We were told that there was no more school bus service for our part of Belltown (1st ave north of Wall). We asked about a Metro pass and were told those were only offered for Mid school and up. So now we are looking at $2.50 a day for the entire school year. There are no schools any closer and we are at a total loss as to what we should do next.

LH Mom said...

My child at Loyal Heights still gets bussing despite the fact that we live at the very northern edge of the intermediary boundary (NW 125th). The stop is only a few blocks away. I had thought we would be at a "Community Bus Stop," which I thought would be another school. Ride is shorter this year. Bus was about 40 minutes late at drop-off yesterday. Have not used it for the morning yet.

Maureen said...

belltowner, is it that your kid goes to Coe and your 'neighborhood school' is Hay? You should be eligible for a bus to Hay and to Queen Anne Elementary. (Not that it is easy to change schools.)

mirmac1 said...

From pg 330 of the interim superintendent's budget proposal

GENERAL FUND BUDGET - REVENUES AND OTHER FINANCING SOURCES

4199 Transportation-Operations
2009-10 Actual - $ 17,736,364
2010-2011 Proj. - $ 18,348,971
2011-2012 Proj. - $ 18,116,638 up by 2.1% from 2009 levels.

Pg 333 of same

EXPENDITURE BY PROGRAM

99 Pupil Transportation
2009-10 Actual - $ 31,270,199
2010-2011 Proj. - $ 29,414,721
2011-2012 Proj. - $ 28,202,892 down 9.8% from 2009 levels

I remember now, Harmon said that the change in the transportation funding formula impacted Seattle less than other districts.

So, where is the savings being spent? Here and there on pet projects perhaps? Did the board ever get an answer to their question on June 8th regarding savings? Somehow, I doubt it.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Mirmac, there is ALWAYS the promise of savings and we NEVER see where it goes. A small example, where do the per diem funds that some of the Board are giving up this year go? Into the General Fund and then what?

If they identify savings, then where does it go? To cover the gap?

Maureen said...

A chunk of that savings was based on having Lowell/APP and North end TOPS kids share buses. A very rough estimate would be $100K.

Has anyone heard of any issues with Option Schools and Orca cards for Middle Schoolers outside their reference area?

The 2011 Service Standards state that 6th-8th graders assigned to Option Schools get yellow bus if they are inside the service area and Orca cards if elsewhere in the city. But a few people I know have been told that they aren't issuing cards to these kids anymore because of budget cuts. I don't see how they can violate the terms of the Service Standards without a vote of the Board. Did I miss something?

Also, I understand why Transportation wouldn't send letters to people who have never had a bus and won't again this year, but was it really a good idea not to spend a few cents to let people know they were losing transportation? It seems to me that the increased phone/email/angst/screaming and yelling cost had to outweigh whatever monetary savings they realized.

Syd said...

Does anyone know if APP high school students still receive yellow bus transportation? They did last year, one way. The reason appeared to be that the district received funds from the state for providing this. ALL APP high school students were reminded to ride during the audit week so that the district received as much of these funds as possible.
I entirely understand if this was cut for budget reasons, but it would have been nice to know.

Dorothy Neville said...

"ALL APP high school students were reminded to ride during the audit week so that the district received as much of these funds as possible. "

Yes, and that triggered the SAO to audit bus headcounts. Look for a finding or at least a management letter next June. Or else our district has kept awesomely good and well documented bus counts and the SAO will find nothing wrong.

dj said...

Syd, the one APP high school student i know gets yellow bus in the AM, metro home this year.

Jill said...

Anyone's child riding in a van instead of a bus?? My kindergartener had a great bus ride to school. She is on a different route on the way home. I waited at school with her to show her the bus/meet the driver and never could find bus 832. I learned today that it is an unmarked white van (contract company American Logistics) and the contractors use different route numbers (this one 5510). The driver did not even know he was route 832. The school was not aware vans would be used either. I'm still trying to figure this out. I guess I'll be driving her home for now.

someone said...

Jill - it might have been a temporary situation - the carrier is short buses. American Logistics does most of the special needs transport for the district so they are legit. I bet its just temporary till things settle down.

I'm sure it was disconcerting for you both though!

Concerned said...

I hope those "American Logistics" drivers are required to pass the same background checks as the yellow bus drivers, if they will be working with kids?

someone said...

@Concerned - yes they are indeed required to have the same background checks - ditto the yellow cab drivers used as emergency fill-ins - all have also received training on SPS policies. It's very above board on that front.

Maureen said...

I'd be interested to know if any other Option School families have faced unexpected reductions in service. My link to the Transportation Service Standards above didn't seem to work so I'm reposting it.

wsnorth said...

At Chief Sealth last year the bell timing was nearly perfect for the two (full) metro busses that serve it. This year the start times were oddly changed with no explanation and the kids either count on a perfectly on time metro service plus a mad dash to class, or arrive 40 minutes early. So much for letting them sleep in.

Lynn said...

I support community bus stops, IF they were using them. I support shorter / faster routes, IF that were happening. My son's bus starts in Madrona, travels N to Madison Park, SW to Madison Valley, S to Madrona (again), E to Leschi, then S and W to Judkins Park. His commute, between walking and riding is an hour each way to travel 3.6mi - an 11min car ride. This plan is NOT better.