Seattle Schools gives one bus company more routes; still won’t be able to pick up all students | Washington

(The Center Square) – The looming bus driver shortage for Seattle Public Schools has hit one of its contractors harder than the other one, causing the school district to shift 78 bus routes to First Student.

Seattle Public Schools contracted with two bus services, First Student and Zum, splitting the number of routes between them. However, in late August, SPS announced that the general Bus driver shortage is causing some bus routes to not be in service for students.

SPS confirmed to The Center Square that the suspended bus routes will still not be in service when the school year starts. However, the district still “expect[s] to be able to provide increased service as the school year progresses.”

First Student’s agreement to assume 78 bus routes brings its total to 262 routes controlled by the bus service, according to the company.

“While we didn’t anticipate Zum to have difficulty meeting the demand of the recently awarded contract, we are pleased to be in a position to step in and make sure the district can live up to its commitment to provide safe and convenient transportation options for Seattle students,” First Student Area General Manager Michael Hamel said in a statement.

The original contract between SPS and both vendors stated that each bus service would provide up to 355 active buses throughout the city for students. The contract stated there is no guarantee of a specific number of routes to either vendors.

The agreement will last through December 2023 with the understanding that Zum will be able to improve its staffing levels by then. First Student shared with SPS that it is ready to help assume other routes if Zum continues to have difficulties with staffing levels.

“We agreed to step in and assist the district in covering these 78 routes until January, but if the district needs us, we are able and ready to continue as long as they need us, wherever they need us,” Hamel said.

First student has been the sole provider for bus services at SPS for the past 30 years. The service claims it is the nation’s largest provider of student transportation services, providing 5 million student trips a day.

The Seattle School Board awarded both bus services $39.5 million to provide bus routes throughout Seattle from 2022 through 2025, according to the contract.

Seattle schools are set to begin on Sept. 7. However, that could be delayed by a looming decision by the Seattle Education Association to strike, as teachers seek out a new contract with the district.