Flossmoor District 161 sees improvements to bus service

Flossmoor School District 161 administrators have been working with Paige Bus Enterprises on improving the quality of service since renewing the company’s contract in January, and say they are making progress.
The company’s current contract extends until the 2020-21 school year. Flossmoor school board members have expressed the need for improvements due to complaints from parents ranging from timeliness to reckless driving. 
District 161 Finance Director Frances LaBella provided the board with an update on recent changes during the Aug. 26 board meeting.
She said the biggest improvements have come from establishing a set of standard bus stops across the district and the company committing to better training for bus drivers.
LaBella said the start of this school year went much better than previous years, and she is optimistic the trend will continue.
“I’m taking a win,” she said. “I’m going to be honest with you, 90 percent went OK.” 
While some adjustments will be needed, the standard bus stops are designed using improved software to pick up and drop off students in a more efficient and simplified way. 
“It’s not 100 percent perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than what we had,” LaBella said. 
Students are assigned a stop based on their address upon registration. The stops are no more than one-tenth of a mile for a student to walk from their home, and in most cases they are only two to four houses away.
LaBella said mornings have been going smoothly, but in the afternoons some bus routes are taking too long to get the last student off from Parker Junior High before returning to the elementary schools.
They are working on creating another paired route between Parker and Western Avenue School as a possible solution.
“Most other things are starting to calm down now,” she said. “Now it’s going to be about, can Paige operate their routes effectively, and do they have the drivers to get out there and actually do it?”
The bus company’s current two-year contract includes a 10 percent cost increase each school year, largely in an effort to hire quality drivers that are motivated to stay long-term.
The starting pay for Paige bus drivers this year is $15.75 per hour, up from $15 per hour last year and $12 per hour previously. Even with the raise, the company is still hurting for drivers, LaBella said.
She said she is unaware of who particular drivers are from year to year, but the key is working with the ones who show dedication.
“We had one driver who we knew was going to struggle at first, but we also know that he’s one of those drivers that wants to know the route; he’s there every day, and he’s there on time,” she said.
“So you take your time up front with them, and they come to learn their route.”
Additionally, the bus company has “really stepped up their game this year,” with managers making sure drivers learn routes, she said.
Using GPS and Traversa transportation management software, the district office can monitor drivers and keep an eye on issues such as missed stops, driving too fast or arriving late.
“I’m literally on the phone with Paige going, ‘No, they didn’t stop there; I’m looking at the GPS, and they clearly missed the stop,’” LaBella said. “I have that information at my fingertips now to be on the phone in live time to have a conversation.”
The district will have the option to go out to bid for a bus company when the contract with Paige Enterprises expires.

This is the fifth year of Paige's contract with District 161.

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