School District struggles with lack of bus drivers

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The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District continues to struggle with bus service to and from school.

There are 93 regular scheduled routes and 44 special education routes for this school year.

But because of a lack of drivers, the combination of routes was put into place, leaving one bus to take on as many as three different routes.

By combining routes, the route count was decreased but no stops were removed from the school district's bus routes.
Because of this increased load, many students aren't making it to class on time - arriving as late as an hour and 30 minutes after the bell rings.

School board member Thomas Bartels showed concern that if this issues isn't resolved quickly, there could be deadly consequences.

"They're going to be walking and it's going to get colder. Right now at 50 degrees, it's an issue, I don't want to minimize it, but it could become life threating here soon."

For the district, First Student has been the only transportation service available for students.

While the district does try to keep parents informed on bus routes, the board emphasized, the information on the district's website, that is also sent out via text alerts, is only as reliable as the contractor.

Currently, First Student is only running on one radio frequency.

Vice President Michael O'Brien understands that it might be cheaper with First Student's current communication system, but it's time to spend that extra money for the safety of students.

"This is second rate. I'm not blaming the drivers but this is not a company that is through their resources at the needs of the customer.
So 14 million dollars, this is not 14 million dollars in service."

First Student and the district are currently working on a real time G-P-S system, called Versa Trans, so parents can see exactly where their child's bus is.

President Heidi Haas, agrees with O'Brien that yes there is a cost but this is truly affecting families.

"There's also a cost to parents hearts when they don't know where their kids are. When they have no idea or they find out by finally getting someone at the school to answer the phone an hour and a half after school is closed. It's really important to not just look at the cost that this is incurring but also the heart ache but we need to increase phone lines or temporary staff to answer phone calls so that someone gets a live human at some point. I think that that should be an option that we look at. It is terrifying for a parent that they can't get anybody at the school, they can't get anybody at the bus barn, and they can't get anybody here. To not know where their child is and I've gotten a lot of those calls, this is the third year now that people have said, 'who do I call because I can't find my kid."

The bus route combination changes began on Wednesday, September 6th, but it's unclear how long this temporary solution will be taking place.

Transportation Coordinators have been in contact with the CEO of First Student and hope to resolves these issues soon.