Bus Routes Update

Thank you once again for your patience as we worked with the bus routes for the first few weeks of school! The purpose of this post is update you on changes that are going to be made beginning on Tuesday, October 10th. 

On September 22nd,   I met with Cindy MacKenzie ( Manager for North Reading Transportation (NRT),  Vicky Lake( Safety Supervisor for NRT),  Barry Belanger (GPS Transportation Coordinator) ,  Laura Markarian  (Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent) and  Michael Anderson ( Director of Buildings and Grounds) .  The purpose of this meeting was to (1)  check on the ridership,(2) review the length of time that  students are on the buses by route (3)  review and address issues that have been raised by parents  and (4) determine what, if any,  changes should be made.

Here’s what I found out.

1. All of the buses for the elementary routes are now arriving to school on time in the morning after some initial issues with Bus 2 which was late many mornings in the first couple of weeks.  Our goal is to have all buses arriving 5-10 minutes before school begins.

2. Buses have been arriving  to pick students up at  PB before 3:00 PM but we want them to be there closer to 2:45 PM . All routes are completed before 4:00 PM but we want them done by 3:45 PM. I learned that MHS buses load quickly but since the drivers are stopping at all of the stops, the arrival time at PB in the afternoon is later than we need it to be.

3. The road construction has had some impact on the time of the routes but less than we anticipated. Highway Surveyor Peter Durkee tells me that the Elm Street project is ahead of schedule and should be done by mid-October. This should minimize the issues caused by any road construction or need for the buses to be rerouted or delayed.

4.  The original routes were made according to eligible riders not actual registered  riders. The drivers are now able to eliminate some stops from both the MHS and PB routes  because no students use those stops. This should shorten the routes a bit.

5.  There are three buses (3,4,5 ) that require some students to ride longer distances in both the morning and afternoon. While we are not able to rectify this situation for this year because reversing the routes would result in time changes for 3/5 of the riders and the change in times would be anywhere from 20-40 minutes for many students. This would be disruptive to too many families at this point in the year but we are committed to seeing if there is anything we can do to minimize and/or avoid this situation in the future.

I provided the School Committee with an update and a list of proposed changes we are planning to make last Thursday evening.  I have included this information below.  New information including changes to routes and times will be available on the transportation page on the website today.

Here is what we are going to do.

  • Eliminate stops where no students are picked up or dropped off however it is still important for parents to be at the bus stop 5-10 minutes early and be prepared to wait for that same amount of time on the other end of the day.  The times that are posted are estimates and variations in times may occur from time to time.
  • Consolidate the two runs for Bus 2 into one run. Right now this bus does two routes, a short regular route and the “convenience” run. There are only 8 students who use the convenience run and the rest qualify by distance. Based on the actual ridership and the fact that the convenience run is only a couple of stops, the bus company believes they can consolidate these two runs into one. This will eliminate the need for students to wait at the school for the second run and save the school some resources. The overall length of the route will extend slightly but no students will be arriving home as late as they currently do because of the double run.
  • The route for elementary Bus 3 will have a section of streets off of North Street removed and these streets will be shifted to Bus 1. This will affect 12 students and will shorten the route for everyone. New times will be posted on October 4th.   These changes are for elementary routes only. The Middle High School routes may have some time changes due to stops being eliminated but no students are changing buses on those routes.
  • The students at the Moulton and Monroe stop will be shifted to Bus 5 which will save the current route 5-7 minutes in travel time.
  • The one issue we were not able to solve in this round of changes was the first on and last off dilemma without increasing the time students are on the bus.  Right now, our goal is to make the routes as short as possible by eliminating stops, getting the buses in and out as quick as possible and making a few changes on several routes which should make the ride for the students on the bus for the longest is within acceptable limits. We realize that this does not address the issue of fairness and that is what bothers me the most. Even though I can see why it happens, it is not optimal for some students. Through our discussions, I found out that this is not the first year this has happened and actually it has been this way for some buses every year.

Next Steps

Since the bus routes have been a perennial problem for the past several years, we will be taking a different approach when we create the routes this coming spring and not in the summer as we have done in the past.  Our plan is to build the routes around 5 major streets in town. (East Main Street, West Main Street, Central Street, North Street and Andover Street)  We are currently matching those areas with the actual ridership from our database to see if these routes can accommodate our current riders and allow for some additional students should they move to town.  Our goal is to use the registration information to map out the distribution on the streets so that we can create the most direct routes possible, try to address the first on last off issue and go back to a more neighborhood routes model.  We have all agreed that we want to have all of the  routes drawn out this spring and we will design them based on registration and not eligibility.  We are optimistic that if we let parents know in advance as to how the routes will change and if they are more logical, we can start next year without all of these issues.

If you have any questions, please let me know. Please refer to the website for any changes.