JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Action News Jax is getting answers on bus delays at Duval County Public Schools. We’ve reported on several pickup and drop-off issues and an assistant with operations says the school district is constantly working with the main company to fix the issue.
Action News Jax was told by an official with operations for DCPS that the issue is not going to get solved in a day, saying the school district is at least weeks away from getting past the issue.
A school bus at Lakeshore Middle School left roughly 50 minutes later than it was supposed to, something that students say happens every day.
The delays are a problem that a lot of families are seeing. DCPS Assistant Superintendent of Operations Paul Soares said the bus company, Student Transportation of America, takes up about 75% of routes.
“We’re short up to 50 drivers on any given day and that requires us to combine routes and provide schools with service that have the shortest times, maybe 20 minutes so we can then cycle back to the school that’s not covered, might be 20 minutes late but far better than no bus coverage at all,” he said.
Action News Jax also spoke with one parent earlier today who drove her daughter and other students to school because the bus didn’t pick them up for nearly an hour.
“If that happens to a school for so many days we try really hard to give that school first coverage so potentially another school is impacted but not the same school, until we get enough drivers to cover all the routes,” he said.
Soares said the school district is working with the company to fix the issues.
“We have modified their contract to include recruiting and retention plan bonuses and plans so they can offer more money for people to come in,” he said. “We pulled in probably over 70 drivers, but we lost a number of them to competition.”
Soares said there are penalties to the company for being late or a no-show.
“There are performance guarantees in the contract which are assessed on a regular basis, last year I think we excessed close to $2 million dollars. I expect this year they will be a significant number excess as well,” Soares said.
Soares said the school district will continue to work to fix the problem.
“The solution is to continue the recruiting retention program we’re doing,” Soares said. “There’s 30 people behind the wheel today for STA driving that will be coming on to the fleet. The question is when they come on, how many depart?”
Soares stressed that this isn’t just a DCPS issue — it’s statewide and nationwide.
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He says the school district has talked with other companies to bring them on as well but said two company candidates whom the district had been in talks with, recently backed out.
STA provided the following statement to an Action News Jax that aired earlier in the afternoon:
Student Transportation of America (STA) is fully committed to providing safe and reliable transportation services to Duval County Public School students. Like many other student transportation providers, STA is currently experiencing a shortage of eligible bus drivers for the 2022-2023 school year, primarily due to the challenges caused by the pandemic, and we are keenly aware of the impact that a smaller workforce may have on students and caregivers.
We understand the importance of maintaining operational readiness and have made significant investments in recruitment initiatives. We are actively hiring and training new bus drivers to resolve this staffing shortage as quickly as possible. To attract new drivers, STA is offering a $1,000 sign-on bonus for new non-licensed drivers, a $3,000 sign-on bonus for fully licensed CDL drivers (with passenger and school bus endorsements), and an average starting wage of $16 per hour. Anyone interested in joining the STA team can visit www.STACareers.com/Jacksonville or text “DRIVE” to 770770.
While we hire, we will continue to work closely with the Duval County Public Schools to help minimize any disruption to student transportation services. We are optimistic that we will be able to grow our team and fill any remaining transportation gaps to best serve local students.— Student Transportation of America