Transportation overhaul continues in Houston schools

Transportation overhaul continues in Houston schools

(Texas) Bit by bit, Texas’ largest school district has taken action this year to improve transportation by streamlining bus routes and piloting a student ID badge scanning system. The next step will be to reopen a handful of major bus stops, according to officials.

Close to 80 bus routes used by more than 3,750 students across Houston Independent School District were updated last week, and six stops will be reestablished on Monday, Nov. 26. Meanwhile, a badge system that started in October as a pilot program in about two dozen schools has already expanded district-wide.

Students swipe their ID badge when they get on and off the school bus, allowing parents to keep tabs on their children and district leaders to better determine who's riding the bus and make changes to routes as needed.

“The changes we’re making might seem incremental, but they’re all important,” John Wilcots, the district’s interim general manager of transportation services, said in a statement. “Each update we make increases our operational efficiency, but more importantly, it helps us provide better service to our students.”

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, nearly 600,000 buses carry more than 25 million students to and from school and activities every day, and traveling on a school bus remains one of the safest forms of transportation in the United States.

Still, accidents can happen. In July, the board released its review of two crashes involving school buses in Maryland and Tennessee in 2016–which combined were the cause of 12 deaths and 37 injuries.

Among numerous recommendations aimed at strengthening oversight of drivers, something found to be lacking in both cases, safety board officials called for lap and shoulder belts on all sizes of school buses to improve safety in case of an accident.

Last year, at least 29 states introduced bills that would address seat belts on school buses, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. In Texas, where lawmakers passed such a bill, all new school buses must now have shoulder-to-lap seat belts for all riders.

As of August, 420 of 1,132 buses in the Houston district have lap belts and 173 have three-point safety belts, according to a TV news report.

The Houston bus system is currently dealing with delays and a shortage of drivers since the district launched a new ‘hub’ system at the start of the school year that requires children who attend magnet schools to catch their route at hub locations outside their immediate neighborhood.

District officials are aiming to hire 120 additional bus drivers, Wilcots said, noting that his department has added back some neighborhood stops in addition to the main hub ones.

Additionally, the expansion of the Student Badge Program, which is designed to help the district track ridership and utilization of buses and routes, has received support from families because it allows parents get alerts when their students get on and off the bus.

Students also to be on board with the ID program, Wilcots said.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of students scanning badges every day,” he said. “Students are really embracing the program.”

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