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Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Takes Action to Improve Bus Transportation for District's Youngest Children

PITTSBURGH (Sept. 14, 2016) – Pittsburgh Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Anthony Hamlet has implemented changes to the District’s transportation program that address a chronic shortage of school bus drivers that has presented particularly troubling situations for kindergarten and younger students, some of whom were spending 1 ½ hours on a bus to and from school. Effective this school year, nine public schools and 15 non-public schools for which the District provides transportation will issue Port Authority of Allegheny County bus passes to students in grades 9 -12. This ensures enough buses to provide elementary-aged students adequate transportation.

“It’s completely unreasonable to have five-year-old students spend three hours every day on the bus just to get to school, and sometimes, just to travel a few miles from home,” said Dr. Hamlet. “The national bus shortage is not perfect and we are not happy with it, but we are turning our focus on the children, and in this case the most vulnerable children affected are our youngest. All of our students need to get to school ready to learn and we’re thankful that parents, teachers and bus drivers made the District aware of this very important issue.”

The Pittsburgh Public Schools contracts with 18 transportation companies, deploying 694 buses. The nationwide shortage of school bus drivers is hurting companies in many cities including Pittsburgh. The PPS Transportation Department is responsible for arranging transportation for students who attend schools within the City of Pittsburgh and Mt. Oliver Borough, as well as city residents attending nonpublic and charter schools located within a 10-mile radius of the city lines. The latest schools to issue Port Authority passes include Pittsburgh Milliones 6-12, Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy 6-12, The Ellis School, Winchester Thurston School, and Pittsburgh Obama Academy’s remaining students not already on Port Authority.

“We know that Port Authority will run on time for the older students. Even before this school year, more than 3,500 older students were using Port Authority passes that PPS issued them, so for many students this is not a new situation,” said PPS Director of Pupil Transportation Ted Vasser.

District 6 school board member Moira Kaleida, whose young daughter attends Pittsburgh Public
Schools, applauded Dr. Hamlet’s action to adjust student transportation. “I've been pushing the District since I started to make changes, so I'm glad there is movement,” Kaleida said. “We can't have our youngest learners on buses for 3 to 4 hours a day.”

The yellow school buses typically transport students to schools from 6 to 9 a.m. each weekday,
and take them home after classes from 2 to 5 p.m., said Vasser. Depending on their routes, most drivers can make more than one run, he said.

“Because the school start times vary, we’re able to make things work,” said Vasser. The shortage of qualified school bus drivers has placed a strain on bus contractors and school systems, causing the need to focus on the level and quality of service, according to a report in School Administrator, the American Association of School Administrators’ award-winning monthly magazine.

In August, Dr. Hamlet met with nearly 300 bus drivers to listen to their concerns and communicate that they’re part of the PPS family. It was the first time a PPS superintendent met with the drivers for at least 15 years. The District also sent a survey to the bus drivers, seeking feedback.