Bus Company Working to Fix Problems

Share

Reliable Transportation’ school buses parked at the former bowling alley on Route 213 in Queen Anne’s County

The Kent County Public Schools’ ongoing problems with bus service brought out a large crowd to the Board of Education meeting in Rock Hall, Sept. 11, and both the school board and the new bus company, Reliable Transportation of Baltimore, said they were making every effort to solve the problems.

Buses have been up to an hour late, failed to arrive at all, or dropped students off at the wrong place – sometimes as much as a mile away from the designated bus stop.  Buses have broken down enroute and run out of gas. Poor communication between the bus company, its drivers, the schools, the parents, and the school administrative offices has exacerbated the situation.

Jay Walbert, the bus fleet manager for Reliable Transportation, said in an interview at the bus depot on Sept. 12, that the company has 30 buses, including spares, available for the school district. There are 24 routes in the county, he said, including four buses for special needs students. The buses, all of which are owned by Reliable, are parked in an enclosed lot at the former Kent Bowling Center on Route 213; the company is parking the buses there because Kent County zoning does not currently permit a bus depot in the county.

Walbert said Reliable attempted to hire local drivers with knowledge of the area, but with limited success. At the time he talked to the Spy, he said there were only six local drivers working for Reliable. Others had to be hired in Baltimore, and elsewhere, requiring them to commute to Kent County. Walbert said some local drivers had agreed to work for Reliable, but then failed to appear on the day they were supposed to start work. He said he was still trying to find qualified local drivers who were willing to work for Reliable. Drivers are paid for six to eight hours a day, $19.50/hour, plus benefits, he said. In addition to the regular to- and from-school routes, drivers take students to sports events, field trips, and other special trips.

Training for new drivers, Walbert said, began about two weeks before school opened.  However, as a number of expected new-hires did not show up, Reliable had to scramble to find replacements before school opened.

While new drivers were given training in their routes, Walbert said, many of them have trouble distinguishing landmarks in rural areas. Some side roads are poorly marked or not marked at all, and in some areas, tall corn stalks hide signs. “All corn fields look the same” to a city driver, he said. He said the company put guides with local knowledge on the buses to help the drivers learn the routes.

He also said there were technical problems with some of the equipment obtained from the Kent County Board of Education. All but one bus had radio equipment as of Sept. 12, and a receiver had been ordered for that one, he said. However, the radio base station was an older model that needed to be rebuilt, he said.  So communication with all buses while they are on the road should be available as soon as the base station is fixed.  He did not have a timeline for that. As for possible workarounds of using GPS or cell phones, he noted that there are areas of the county where neither GPS systems nor cell phones reliable.

Walbert said he had received angry and threatening phone calls at his home number since taking the job with Reliable this summer. “I just hang up if they start to curse me,” he said. On the other hand, he said some parents have brought donuts for the drivers, and a group of parents in Galena apologized for the way some drivers had been treated.

Walbert, who lives in Queen Anne’s County, said that he completely understands and agrees with the importance of bus safety and accurate, on-time performance.  He understands that the buses are carrying “precious cargo”. He said that the company is hiring and training new drivers and believes that the problems will be ironed out soon.

This is the first year of a 4-year contract for Reliable Transportation of Baltimore.  Previously the Kent County Public Schools had contracted since 1997 with Kent County Bus Contractors LLC to provide bus service.   Kent County Bus Contractors LLC – known colloquially as the LLC – is a consortium of local bus owners who had organized, among other reasons, to make negotiating contracts easier. This way the school system did not have multiple contracts.  However, due to budget problems, the school system decided to put the contract out to bid for the 2017-18 school year.  Reliable won the bid.

The Kent County Board of Education meets tonight, Sept. 18, at the school board offices in Rock Hall; the open portion of the meeting is at 6:30; the transportation problems are on the agenda. The Support Our Schools group, parents who are concerned over a wide range of educational issues in the county, plans to make a presentation to the Kent County Commissioners Tuesday night, Sept. 19; the meeting is at 6 p.m. in the county office building, 400 High St.

*

Letters to Editor

  1. gretchen stroh says:

    Thank you for following up with this issue. We will see how things proceed at the School Board Meeting and Commissioners meeting. Needless to say, many of us are skeptical

  2. Francoise Sullivan says:

    Many parents are planning to attend the BOE meeting tonight for an update on transportation as well as the County Commissioners meeting tomorrow night for the opportunity to address the County Commissioners about their concerns.

    The agenda for the BOE meeting tonight includes this item –

    TO: Members of the Board of Education
    FROM: Dr. Karen M. Couch, Superintendent
    RE: Cancellation Agreement
    DATE: September 18, 2017

    PURPOSE
    I am requesting approval to negotiate a Cancellation Agreement with Reliable Professional Services, LLC d/b/a Reliable Transportation.

    SUMMARY
    The Board and Reliable Professional Services, LLC d/b/a Reliable Transportation (the “Contractor”) entered into a Student Regular Route Transportation Services Contract for student transportation services effective July 1, 2017 (the “Bus Contract”). Unfortunately, despite the sincere best efforts of all parties, starting with the first day of the 2017-2018 school year, the Contractor encountered difficulties in fulfilling the terms of its Bus Contract due to unforeseeable circumstances that resulted in the Contractor being unable to fulfill some of its driver route obligations and making the Bus Contract no longer feasible.

    In light of these unforeseen circumstances and difficulties in fulfilling the terms of the Bus Contract, the Contractor and I agree the Bus Contract is no longer feasible and should be cancelled as soon as practicable in an effort to mitigate the difficulties encountered by the Contractor in fulfilling the terms of the Bus Contract and to facilitate the timely, safe, and efficient transportation of the students in the Kent County Public Schools. We have been discussing the terms of a Cancellation Agreement, and I would ask for the Board to authorize me to negotiate the same and to execute such an Agreement on the Board’s behalf.

    ACTION
    I request approval from the Board of Education to authorize me to negotiate the same and execute such an Agreement on the Board’s behalf.

    http://www.boarddocs.com/mabe/kcps/Board.nsf/goto?open&id=AQYQLE652C35

  3. Carol Schroeder says:

    Does anyone know what was paid last year for bussing and what the new 4 year contract amount is? What was the difference between the two bids that the School Board picked an out of Kent County company rather than hiring the bus owners’ consortium? The Support Our Schools group knows that good schools helps the economic picture of our county and yet the Board hires a Baltimore company. There may be a lot of details that are not public but the result is that we have fewer Kent County people employed and a currently problematic school bus service.

    • Francoise Sullivan says:

      According to a KCN article from Feb 8, 2017 –

      “Reliable Transportation is the low bidder, coming in at about $1.49 million for the first year of the contract. That provides 20 regular buses and four special needs buses for 180 instruction days. Reliable Transportation seeks an annual 2 percent increase over a four-year period, bringing the final year’s cost to just shy of $1.58 million.

      Kent County Bus Contractors bid nearly $1.8 million for 180 days based on 24 routes. No annual increase was listed on its proposal worksheet.

      An addendum to the RFP shows what the district spent on student transportation over the last three fiscal years: $1.63 million in Fiscal Year 2014, $1.63 million in FY 2015 and $1.59 million in FY 2016.”

Write a Letter to the Editor on this Article

We encourage readers to offer their point of view on this article by submitting the following form. Editing is sometimes necessary and is done at the discretion of the editorial staff.