Hamilton County Schools officials ask for patience with bus troubles as district extends hours of hotline to respond to parents

Hamilton County Schools officials ask for patience with bus troubles as district extends hours of hotline to respond to parents

August 8th, 2019 by Meghan Mangrum in Local Regional News

Lilly Howell, an eighth grader at Signal Mountain Middle/High School, gets off the bus for the first day of school Wednesday, August 7, 2019 in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. Both Signal Mountain Middle/High School and Nolan Elementary had different start times from past years.

Photo by Erin O. Smith

Late buses, missed stops — these are some of the usual challenges at the beginning of a new school year, Hamilton County Schools officials say, but this year there is the added challenge of working with a new transportation vendor.

First Student Inc. is now providing bus service for more than 22,000 students in Hamilton County this year, after the school board ended its contract with Durham School Services at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

But with a new provider, new buses and new routes, there can be some speed bumps, said Tim Hensley, spokesman for the district.

More Info

For questions or concerns about bus stops or routes, call Hamilton County Schools’ Transportation Department Hotline at 423-498-5555 between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.

"There are some extra challenges that we have this year," Hensley said. "Just because you're instituting several new things at one time: a new provider, some new drivers that aren't the same as last year, changing the bus software."

To respond to parents' frustrations and answer questions, the district is expanding the hours of its bus hotline. Those with questions about bus routes and stops can call the district's transportation department hotline at 423-498-5555 from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Extra personnel are on the clock this week to respond to calls, according to a news release.

Hensley said the transportation department and district officials also are still adjusting routes and making changes to bus stops during the first few days of the new school year, which can have a "domino effect."

He encourages parents to check route updates each evening for the first few days of school. Parents and family members can go online and enter in their address to find the most up-to-date information for their child's bus, he said.

"We thank parents for your patience as we work through route and stop scheduling," Hensley said.

Later this year, First Student will launch its mobile app, First View, that will allow parents to track buses while they are on their routes. The app is available for download now, but won't be active for parent use until October.

District officials are working to connect its bus routing software to the app to provide up-to-date information for parents, according to a new release.

The app will allow parents to know when the bus will arrive for a child to be picked up or dropped off. Parents also will be able to set alerts or notifications through the app.

First Student and more than 70 independent contract drivers transport students on more than 230 buses across more than 800 routes every day in Hamilton County.

Under the district's new $11 million contract with First Student, the vendor provided 185 brand-new, air-conditioned buses. The buses are equipped with multiple cameras and enhanced safety features, in part due to demand from the community.

For more information about your child's bus route, visit www.hcde.org/about_us/department_directory/bus_transportation.

Contact Meghan Mangrum at mmangrum@timesfreepress.com or 423-757- 6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.