SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Public Schools (SPS) board is expected to discuss and potentially vote on a new transportation plan for the district on Wednesday night.
The transportation recommendations come in response to a shortage of bus drivers that is affecting not just Spokane, but districts across the nation. SPS hopes to improve transportation for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year to ensure all students arrive at school safely and on time.
In documents posted ahead of tonight's meeting, SPS said that Durham Bus Services, which provides buses for the district, has gone from 150-158 bus routes and an average of 170 drivers before 2020 to 91 routes and 85 drivers currently.
In a presentation posted to the district's website, five possible short-term solutions were outlined, along with three long-term proposals. Tonight's meeting follows a chance for SPS students, parents, and staff to weigh in.
Here are the transportation options that SPS is considering:
Option 1: Increased efficiencies of routes
The first of the five short-term proposals is a two-part plan, with the first part calling for the elimination of some bus stops and creating more centralized stops. This would require some students to walk as much as half a mile to reach their bus stop.
The other part calls on the district to ask families to register for bus service during the previous school year to allow more time for planning.
Option 2: Extend bus arrival times
The second short-term proposal is to extend bus arrival times to allow more time for pick-ups and arrivals.
An example of this would be changing the time buses arrive to pick up high school students from 7:40 a.m. to 7:20 a.m. and elementary students from 8:20 a.m. to 8:10 a.m. According to SPS, this will require increased supervision at the schools.
Option 3: Expand the walk-zone radius
The third short-term plan would see the district increase the size of the walk-zones around schools, which is the area around a school where students wouldn't be eligible to take the bus. These would remain at one mile for elementary school students but go up to 1.5 miles for middle and high school students.
For example, the current number of school bus routes for middle schoolers at Chase Middle School is 11. With the proposed changes, four bus routes would be eliminated.
According to SPS, reducing school bus routes could lead to increased staff needs and the need to identify new hazardous areas.
Option 4: Partnership with Spokane Transit Authority (STA)
The fourth strategy that the district could implement in the short term is to buy more STA passes for high schoolers. The district already does this for some students.
If this is implemented, student tracking, safety, and ridership rules would need to be established with STA.
Option 5: Explore alternative transportation service options
This short-term solution proposal would call on the district to explore alternative options for some programs, such as choice programs and early learning.
The board will also discuss three long-term recommendations.
The first proposal is to evaluate the district's contract with Durham Bus Services. The contract ends after the 2022-2023 school year.
The second long-term proposal would increase the partnership with STA further.
The final proposal would see the district move bus services partially or completely in-house, in which case SPS would partner with other area districts for assistance.