The Houston Independent School District’s Transportation Services department will spend the new year focusing on recruitment efforts as it works to hire 30 more drivers by March.
The department will begin hosting monthly bus driver job fairs in February 2020 as part of continuing efforts to make sure all routes are fully staffed, and additional drivers are available to provide coverage when employees are absent.
Transportation Services General Manager John Wilcots IV said three job fairs will be held each month — one on a Saturday and two on weekdays. The upcoming job fairs are expected to give the department a head start on staffing for the summer and the 2020-2021 school year.
Transportation Services is conducting a comprehensive review of bus ridership at schools with high transportation eligibility to identify opportunities for route consolidation and increased efficiency.
The review is focused on 15 schools with low ridership, despite having a high volume of students who are eligible for transportation and have been assigned routes.
Transportation Services General Manager John Wilcots IV explained that requests for transportation are often at their highest at the start of the school year. Once a request is made and the student is found to be eligible, the department is required to assign that student to a route and stop — even if they end up choosing not to ride the bus.
As a bus driver for the Houston Independent School District, Ethan Sowell knows his mission focuses on providing students with safe and reliable transportation to and from school.
But for Sowell, his job isn’t just about driving a bus. It’s about making a difference.
“Children can’t do anything about their situation,” Sowell said. “Somebody has to look out for them.”
That’s just what he did earlier this month when he noticed a student on his route had become especially quiet and withdrawn and appeared self-conscious, especially about his clothes.
Transportation Services is strengthening its focus on student and driver safety with the implementation of a new practice to address student conduct concerns on the bus.
The practice, which is being implemented this fall, addresses the procedures that bus drivers and Transportation Services leadership must follow when student conduct issues arise.
The new policy requires drivers to complete a Student Conduct Form and submit it to their terminal manager when a student incident — such as eating and drinking, fighting, or defacing the bus — occurs.
Transportation Services is updating the SafeStop bus tracking app to reflect temporary changes made to bus routes that do not yet have a permanent driver assigned due to an ongoing driver shortage.
Of the department’s 828 routes, about 10 percent — or 87 routes — do not have permanent drivers due to the shortage, which is impacting transportation organizations across the region.
As a result, stops on these open routes were temporarily reassigned to nearby staffed routes to ensure all students have safe and reliable transportation to and from school. This has caused some staffed routes to run longer than originally expected.
The district has designated five “Staff Development Days” for the 2019-2020 school year to be utilized for professional development at the school level. As a result, schools will release students early on those days throughout the school year.
On the following dates outlined below, elementary schools will be dismissed at noon, and middle and high schools will be dismissed at 1:10 p.m.
HISD Transportation Services will be adjusting bus schedules to ensure students are picked up at the early dismissal times, which will result in earlier delivery times to bus stops.
Transportation Services is temporarily halting the acceptance of route and stop change requests as the department works to process an abundance of new requests for bus service submitted after the start of the new school year.
This measure allows the department to focus on ensuring all new requests for service are processed and accompanying students are assigned to routes. Once that work is complete, the department will resume review of route and stop change requests.
Alternate Stop Request Forms — required when requesting a bus stop or route change — will not be accepted during this time. Additionally, the Alternate Stop Request Form option in the Let’s Talk! online communication platform is being temporarily disabled.
Transportation Services is announcing its first round of bus route updates on Thursday. The changes will impact 445 routes with families being notified via SchoolMessenger.
These adjustments result from the department’s continued focus to increase route efficiency, as well as its efforts to process new requests for bus service and route and stop changes. Changes to routes are not uncommon at the start of the school year and mostly involve minor adjustments to stop times.
This year, Transportation Services will be making route update announcements on Thursdays, as needed, with changes to take effect the following Monday. The announcements distributed Thursday will take effect immediately after Labor Day on Tuesday, Sept. 3.
Parents of students riding HISD buses now have two new tools designed to ensure better bus service for students and better customer service for parents with transportation-related questions and concerns.
Beginning this school year, Transportation Services is launching the bus tracking app SafeStop and Let’s Talk!, an easy-to-use, online program that aims to streamline communication between Transportation Services and parents and school staff.
“We want to provide an easy-to-use service that will help parents who utilize our service,” Transportation Services General Manager John Wilcots IV said. “Increased effectiveness in our operations and our customer service continues to be our main goal for Transportation Services this year.”
Transportation Services is continuing its recruiting efforts as the school year comes to an end, with the department hosting four job fairs this summer to hire new bus drivers.
The district has been working this past year to address a bus driver shortage by adding more drivers to its roster. The job fairs will continue through June and July.
“We want people who are reliable and hardworking,” Transportation Services General Manager John Wilcots IV said. “My goal is to have one bus driver for every route as we head into next year.”