Prince George’s Co. schools promising better transportation this upcoming school year

There were too many times during the last school year that simply transporting kids to Prince George’s County Public Schools turned into a fiasco. Buses were late, if they even showed up, and so many routes were essentially vacant because the county didn’t have enough bus drivers on staff.

This fall, a series of moves the county put into place during the spring are going to make a positive impact, according to school leaders who briefed the Prince George’s County Council on Monday.

The big impact will be the change in school start times. Last year, there were 13 different times in the morning when a school might begin the day. This fall, there will be three: 7:30, 8:30 and 9:30 a.m.

There were also 17 different times when a school could let out. This year, that number will be six.

“This was critical, because it balanced the number of buses needed on each time tier, and it will allow us to better match the available staff with the needed bus trips,” said PGCPS chief operating officer Charoscar Coleman. “In addition, these shifts now provide an hour between school start times to provide the opportunity for safe, on time arrivals.”

Another way the county intends to get buses to schools more efficiently deals with bus stops. There will be fewer of them, and students might have to walk a little bit farther to get to one.

This past school year, the average bus rider would walk 0.24 miles to their bus stop. This year, the average walk will be 0.46 miles.

Right now, the policy allows for bus stops to be as far away as 1.5 miles for elementary school students, and 2 miles for secondary school students. However, every bus stop will also be looked at in person, not just on a map, to make sure that students can safely walk to their schools.

The coming months will feature lots of communication from the school system about what parents can expect as they adjust to new start times and new bus stops. You’ll see those efforts online and in social media postings.

In addition, the school system said it’s been working to improve the use of the StopFinder App, which lets parents and students track where a school bus is and when it arrived at school. It was plagued by bugs and errors this past year, and Coleman said improving that was also an important part of the past several months.

While the school system couldn’t say if all of these changes will save it money, there is hope that by streamlining when buses are on the roads and reducing the number of buses running students to schools late in the 7 a.m. hour, it might reduce the total number of bus routes, and thus, there would be fewer routes without drivers.

The county continues to work to hire more drivers, though a long-running problem is the fact that after the county pays for the CDL training, drivers end up taking jobs with other entities that pay more. In the long run, all of this could help more students, too, said Superintendent Millard House.

“I think anytime you have consistency, because what we know about families that come from high-poverty situations is that any type of speed bump … in life can really cause a disruption,” House said. “We want to … ensure those speed bumps are lessened and that we have consistency.”

He added, “With that being said, there very well could be instances where we see a reduction in the type of student that may have said, ‘Oh, my bus is not going to be on time, I’m not going.’ And that can help with our bottom line in terms of truancy.”

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John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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