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Columbus City Schools making 'unprecedented' changes to address busing issues

Columbus City Schools school bus
WOSU File Photo
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WOSU
A Columbus City Schools school bus parked outside Summit Academy School in southeast Columbus.

This story was updated on Nov. 15, 2022 at 3:37 p.m. EST

Columbus City Schools administrators are making big changes to the district's bus routes as it continues to fight a months-long struggle at getting kids to school.

The changes starting after winter break mean nearly every student will have a new route, and likely a new driver and new pick-up and drop-off points.

The changes apply both to Columbus City School and charter school students.

A district statement said the new system is meant to offset a nationwide bus shortage and what the district calls a routing software misstep.

Jacqueline Bryant, the district’s director of communications, said in a statement there were several glitches with the AlphaRoute mapping software implemented at the start of the school year.

“AlphaRoute has worked to fix the issues, however, it’s often not quick enough for a district of our size,” Bryant said.

Lois Carson is president of the Ohio Association of Public School Employees, representing some 3,000 CCS workers, including bus drivers.

Carson said the AlphaRoute software created far too many routes for the number of bus drivers in the district. She said some of the routes it produced confounded drivers.

"[A bus driver] would maybe drive past your pickup point, go to about three other pickup points, then circle back to your pickup point. So, the routes were a tad bit off, and some of them were extremely long,” she said.

At the start of the school year, Carson said, the district also found several thousand students were left off routes. The system would drop children from route sheets as others were added.

“[Route sheets] might have had two or three kids missing that were on there yesterday that should not have come off. So, it's had quite a few kinks in it that made it really complicated,” she said.

“We appreciate the grace shown by our community so far this school year as we’ve worked through this challenge, but we also understand the frustration and difficulty it’s placed on many of our families,” a district statement said. “That’s why we are implementing unprecedented measures to improve our transportation reliability moving forward.”

The district is now using Veritrans software to create new routes, which was in use previously to improve route management, Bryant said.

“The new change will allow transportation to update bus routes, add or remove riders, and adjust the number of routes for drivers who typically bid on and retain the same route all year long,” Bryant said.

The school board approved the renewal of the Versatrans contract last month. The renewal runs through June 2023 at a cost of $95,815.03.

The AlphaRoute system will continue to run in the background.

Charter school students in particular have struggled through busing issues that have made students late for school or absent all together.

Steve Brown grew up in nearby Richwood, Ohio and now lives there with his wife and sons. He started his journalism career as a weekend board operator at WOSU while majoring in journalism at Ohio State, where he also wrote for the student newspaper The Lantern and co-founded the organization Students for Public Broadcasting.
Matthew Rand is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. Rand served as an interim producer during the pandemic for WOSU’s All Sides with Ann Fisher.