Roanoke City Public Schools’ busing contractor said it has taken steps to address communication, an area of concern from parents and guardians this school year.
The company introduced the Durham Bus Tracker smart phone application in Roanoke on Oct. 17.
Parents and guardians can view the location of their child’s bus in relation to their assigned bus stop through the app, available through a web browser, the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
The tracker app has a rating of 1.7 stars out of 5 based on 75 ratings in Apple. Durham, which works with hundreds of school systems across the country, first launched the service five years ago.
The app tracks buses by using GPS units already installed in the buses, according to the company. Users must provide specific information to ensure only parents and guardians of individual students can view the location of their child’s bus.
Some parents said the application has been useful at times, but has a significant flaw — it doesn’t notify them when their child’s bus is running late. A recurring complaint this school year in Roanoke has been a lack of adequate notice when bus routes aren’t covered.
Durham said it’s working to update the app to send notifications, and is in the “final phase of tests to roll out this feature in the very near future.”
Some students are not picked up by their assigned bus because of the company’s driver shortage. Other causes include driver absences or bus breakdowns. When a child rides a substitute bus, a Durham dispatcher can program the change in the app, but delays in updating are possible, according to the company.
Other complaints about the app include its precision. Durham said location readings can run behind based on poor cell signal or other factors, but the location is usually accurate up to 25 seconds.
School administrators and company executives said transportation services steadily have improved since Durham’s contract began in August, despite a staffing shortage. This week, delays in morning pickups or afternoon drop-offs have ranged from 20 to 45 minutes, a Durham spokesman said.
In the company’s most recent invoice, Roanoke penalized Durham more than $34,000 for late bus runs.
Durham’s September billing totaled about $1 million, including the deductions for late runs. Roanoke charges Durham each time it fails to cover a bus route. The Roanoke Times obtained a copy of the final bill last week from the school administration.
Durham said it has received “a steady flow” of job applications since increasing its signing bonus by about $1,500 on Oct. 2, but did not provide an exact figure.
The company is hiring 10 to 15 drivers, a spokesman said.
Durham executives have appeared at each of the past two Roanoke School Board meetings to update the board on the company’s staffing levels.
The school board meets again at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at Patrick Henry High School.