Transportation’s Coffee & Conversations aims to foster communication with parents   

HISD parents and campus administers gathered with Transportation Services staff on Wednesday to discuss their most pressing transportation concerns during the second round of Coffee & Conversations.

The bimonthly meetings — held this month at Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center and Carnegie Vanguard High School — allow Transportation Services the opportunity to share important updates and progress, identify ongoing challenges and gather feedback.

“We know we have a lot of work to do,” Wilcots said. “But know that we are making changes and working every day to better our systems.” 

Wilcots said he discovered several longstanding issues upon taking over the department. The department, which needs 130 more drivers to be fully staffed, was facing a serious driver shortage. It also had inaccurate ridership data, unvetted routes, and an understaffed routing and scheduling team.

Those issues were compounded, he said, when the department implemented TransFinder, an internal routing software designed to increase efficiency; Zonar, a GPS system that allows parents to track when and where their students get on and off the bus; and magnet hubs, an initiative aimed to provide students a more direct commute by transporting magnet and zoned riders separately.

“There is a lot of background work that ideally should have been done at the initial time of implementation,” said Transportation Services consultant Bonnie Russell, who previously led the department. “The district is asking for your patience because there truly is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Wilcots told the group that the department is continuing to identify problems and implement solutions — both to specific routes and on a broader scale. Since assuming his role, Wilcots has hired six new employees for the routing and scheduling team, increasing the total number of members to 10. He also is considering new service and safety guidelines, such as limiting bus routes to 90 minutes and bus capacity to 80 percent.

After providing his update, Wilcots spent the rest of the meeting listening to concerns and fielding questions. Parents discussed a variety of issues, but many focused on communication.

“It would be helpful and extremely transparent if you could put information out there and give us a timeline so we, as parents, know that our issues are being addressed,” Parent Kara DeRocha said. “To know that you are making progress on these issues and that there is a systematic approach would be so helpful and would put us at ease.”

Wilcots reminded the group of how updates are currently shared through a variety of methods, including weekly blog posts, automated phone messages, principal communications, and bimonthly parent meetings.

“As we make changes in other areas, we will also strengthen our communications efforts to inform parents and other stakeholders in ways that make sense to all audiences.”