Seattle Schools shuffles student bus routes as driver shortages persist

Sep 1, 2022, 6:51 AM

first student...

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

(Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

After the Seattle Public Schools district (SPS) decided to contract both First Student and Zum as bus transportation services for students, First Student, the incumbent bus service of 30 years, has agreed to cover 78 additional routes until January as Zum continues to increase its staff.

Seattle Public Schools reduces bus service for the 2022-23 school year

This agreement brings First Student’s total to 262 routes. The two companies split a $45 million contract in June while being assigned 184 routes each.

“It is the intent of the district to assign approximately half of its bus routes to each contractor,” said Beverly Redmond, Assistant Superintendent of Public Affairs, in a prepared statement. “At the start of the 2022-23 school year, the district requested that First Student take on additional routes while Zum ramps up to its full capacity as anticipated over the first semester. We appreciate both vendors’ focus on having a solid start to the year for our transportation eligible families.”

Some bus routes still may not be in service for the start of the school year, Sept. 7. SPS will share service updates and route information with families of students eligible for transportation before the first day of school.

“We share the view of Seattle Public Schools that Zum’s transition is proceeding as planned and looking great on the ground,” Zum said in response to SPS’ press release. “For weeks before Zum’s contract was confirmed in August, we have been working hand-in-hand with the district to solve long-standing challenges.”

The district has been caught up in disputes over who would provide transportation for students this year. Zum alleged Seattle Public Schools made a series of accounting mistakes as they evaluated proposals submitted by both First Student and Zum, according to the company’s attorney Daniel Suvor, before the 50-50 decision was eventually made.

Rival to First Student exposes Seattle Schools’ fumbled bus-bidding war

Seattle Public Schools then withdrew their bid request, re-releasing a request for proposal in March. Zum contends that SPS did not provide a rationale for its decision to withdraw the request for proposal.

Zum then had less than six months to fulfill their contract. Kim Raney, Executive Director of Transportation and Logistics at Oakland Unified School District, claims a year is a standard time frame for bus providers to secure the infrastructure and buses to accommodate a district’s needs.

First Student settled with the Washington Transportation Commission after the agency released its findings that the bus service violated hundreds of safety regulations, 634 in total.

The Oakland Unified School District in California has been using Zum for five years.

“It would be nice for parents to have a clear understanding of what to expect,” said Mary Ellen Russell, chair of the City of Seattle School Traffic Safety Committee. “I also hope that both bus providers will work collaboratively this year. Families and kids would really benefit from a less tumultuous school year.”

With First Student agreeing to cover the routes until December 2023, the company also stated they are willing and capable to take over any additional bus routes that Zum can not staff.

SPS is set to begin classes in one week, Sept. 7, but alongside bus driver shortages, the district is facing a significant strike among its teachers.

SPS’ teacher union authorizes strike vote as it ‘actively bargains’ with district

The union representing the teachers has authorized a strike vote as it bargains for improved working conditions.

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