Seattle Schools: Buses ready for new year despite past hiccups

Sep 1, 2023, 5:11 PM

sps buses...

First Student buses (Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

All systems are go for Seattle Public Schools’ (SPS) new school year starting Wednesday, including the district’s bussing system with both First Student and Zum, the district reports.

“We are not anticipating cutting any buses,” Marni Campbell, executive director of operations with SPS, told KIRO Newsradio. “In fact, we do not have a shortage of drivers for buses, nor did we last year.”

More on SPS buses: Rival to First Student exposes Seattle Schools’ fumbled bus-bidding war

Last year, the region’s largest school district signed a contract with a school bus company out of California’s Silicon Valley, Zum, and eventually decided to split the contract between Zum and the district’s entrenched bus company, First Student.

Steve Richard, SPS’ transportation director, said the district has a very high morale right now.

“I can tell you, yes, after having my first all-staff meeting of the year today, we have very high morale for being so close to the start of the year,” Richard said. “And most of that has to do with, for the first time in a long time, that we’ve been so confident about the amount of buses and drivers that we can bring.”

While Seattle high schoolers aren’t bused, they can always ride King County Metro to get to school for free — or any form of city transportation.

More on high schoolers riding for free: King County approves free transit for those 18 and younger under a state-wide push to boost ridership

And if buses are late by a minimum of 15 minutes, SPS stated families would be notified. But the carriers will provide that information to the district.

“If we’re not notified by the carriers, we, unfortunately, aren’t able to slow down because we’re not aware of the delay,” Assistant Manager of Field Operations Kimberly Riggins told KIRO Newsradio. “But we are working with them to ensure that we are following up and trying to track that information so that we can follow up and make sure we get that information out to families as well. But it is a minimum of 15 minutes that they will have to be late for a date and notify us that they’re ready.”

The notifications will reach parents through text message and email.

Why Seattle Schools waited to notify parents

And for those wondering why the school system waited until the week before to notify parents about school bus routes, Richard said that was only because many of the city’s routes had changes coming in quite late.

“It’s a balancing act between we don’t want to send what we have early in the summer, because those changes including changes that are phoned into us from the parents, but also from the school center for programs,” Richard continued. “We want to make sure that when we do go through the process of mailing those out that those are as accurate as possible. And for that reason, we can’t do it too soon.”

More on SPS buses: Seattle Schools shuffles student bus routes as driver shortages persist

For parents who experienced long hold times, there’s now a forum to answer questions called Let’s Talk.

“So, Let’s Talk is our online customers service and online form that people can respond to us and ask questions,” Riggins said. “And we answer from the central office or from specific schools. It’s not really an app, it’s more just an online form that people can respond into.”

The most common question on Let’s Talk is address verification and where are school picks up and drop-offs.

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Seattle Schools: Buses ready for new year despite past hiccups