PPS on late buses: 'We are not doing the job we could be doing'

PPS responds to late school buses

PORTLAND, Ore. – Portland Public Schools is responding after parent complaints that some school buses have been late to pick up children. One bus arrived nearly 45 minutes late.

Mom Rachel Brown first raised the issue to KGW-TV last week. She said the bus had been significantly late to take her daughter to Hosford Middle School five times in October.  

“My daughter misses a lot of first period, which is her hardest class of the day. She’s taking compacted math, which is advanced math. And if she misses out on that, it creates some anxiety for her,” said Brown.

The school's principal told Brown in an email that the issue centered on First Student, the school bus contractor for PPS.

I know that there are two main issues causing lateness:

  1. PPS' bus contractor, First Student, is having trouble hiring sufficient drivers,
  2. Portland bus routes were written prior to the significant increase in traffic in the last year or so; so buses are being impacted by this traffic.

Unfortunately, I don't think any fix will be immediate.

“I think that the bus service is not taking this seriously. I think they’ve had this problem in the past, they are continuing to have this problem,” said Brown. ”And when I hear from them via emails or phone calls they just say, ‘Sorry, we are having a staffing problem, and there’s not much we can do about it.’  And to me, that’s unacceptable."

PPS Interim Chief Operating Officer Courtney Wilton takes responsibly.

“We are working on it, we are aware of the problems, and we understand there are problems. The concerns people are expressing are legitimate," he said. "We are not doing the job we could be doing in terms of the timeliness of the buses.

“I wish I could tell you there’s going to be immediate improvement. We are working on it. We have fewer vacancies, so we are making slow progress, but it’s not going to change overnight. I think there will continue to be some problems.”

Contractor First Student provides about two-thirds of the routes, PPS handles the rest internally, he saids. There is a driver shortage and there’s more traffic, two things parents have already heard before. Wilton said the school district could do a better job of designing the routes, to work around traffic.

“That’s part of the problem, as well: We design the routes, and there is more we need to do to update those routes,” he said.

As for the contract with First Student, it’s on a five-year basis, but could be terminated at any time, Wilton said.

“We could terminate it tomorrow, but we’re not going to do that because obviously we need service. And they are providing that," he said. "You know, I’m not happy with their service. And yet I fundamentally believe they are trying. They really are, and it’s a tough labor market out there.

“We don’t feel good about it. We are working on it, and we think it’s going to improve in the future, although it’s not going to change tomorrow.”


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