Spokane Public Schools board considers changes to fix bus issues

SPOKANE, Wash. – Spokane families could see changes to bus routes next school year. 

Spokane Public Schools is looking at several options to address the bus driver shortage as staff and families continue to deal with the issue. 

Before 2020, Durham School Services, which is the transportation contractor for the district, had between 150-158 bus routes with an average of 170 drivers. 

According to a recent school board presentation, Durham currently has 91 bus routes and 85 drivers. 

SPS Chief Operations Officer Shawn Jordan said Durham continues to hire, but it also keeps losing drivers.

The district is currently in its fourth year of a five-year contract with Durham. The district is now looking at all options to figure out how to increase efficiency within transportation for the new year as well as beyond that.

Here is a look at five short-term proposals: 

  1. Increase efficiency of routes: This could mean reducing the number of neighborhood stops and instead have a more “central” gathering location. Students riding the bus currently have an average walk of .2 miles to get to a stop. That could increase to .5 miles. 
  2. Extend bus arrival times: This means students in any grade could get picked up and dropped off earlier or later. 
  3. Change up walk zones: Currently, students are eligible to ride the bus if they live beyond a one-mile radius from school or their travel is obstructed by hazardous areas. Under this proposal, the walk for elementary students would stay to a mile, but middle and high school schoolers would be subject to a two-mile walk.  
  4. A partnership with STA: The district is looking at giving high school student riders an STA bus pass to get to school. 
  5.  Look at alternative transportation options for students in certain programs: This could include students who attend choice programs like the Libby Center, Montessori and more. 

While some of these changes could happen for the upcoming school year, Jordan said it’d be too soon to implement them in the middle of this year. Families are still dealing with late buses every week.

“If we’re going to make some of these kinds of changes, we need lots of time out front of actually making the change and being able to communicate with our schools, to be able to communicate with our families,” Jordan said.

As the district figures out what to do in the short term, it has a workgroup looking at the long-term.

Proposals include looking at the Durham contract again, having a bigger partnership or even having the district create its own transportation department.

The district creating its own transportation department may take some time. Jordan said they’re also considering a partial in-house transportation system. That could mean the district will still contract for bus services but other programs could be using the district’s own transportation means.

“We’re exploring right now the possibility of our high schools having vans where coaches would drive teams to the competitions instead of depending on Durham or a contractor bus to do that. We’d operate our own van fleet would be an example of that. Those are things we are right now currently exploring,” he said.

The SPS board will look at proposals in a meeting Wednesday night, however, no action will be taken. The board could provide feedback to the district. From that point on, Jordan said they could look at specific options.

“If they want to remove any of them from our planning, then we’ll do that now and we’ll focus on the ones they’re in support of,” he said.

READ: SPS responds to Spokane Police chief’s claim it isn’t following mandatory reporting procedures

READ: Spokane Public Schools adds more preschool opportunities, starts pilot program for young kids