Published: Sep 09, 2010 11:36 PM EDT
Updated: Sep 09, 2010 2:55 PM EDT

LEE COUNTY, Fla. - WINK News summarized the findings.

First, school choice make bus routes longer and increases drivers working overtime.

The good news? The district accident rate is below the national average.

The problems? The bell schedule of different start times creates long layovers for bus drivers, thus, increasing overtime. The district has too many school options which increases complexity and the cost and length of ride times. The district has too many buses in inventory. The districts bus system has major IT problems. The district has more than 1,000 zero student stops. The fact that no students get on isn't the problem; it's that the buses have to swing by those stops - adding length and time to the route. Finally, there are some buses circling back on top of their route.

So, what are the solutions? Changing the LCPS bell schedule from a couple start times to more could help alleviate some of the problem. The district should consider alternative transportation for students on some of the longest routes. 10% of buses have route ride times of 90 minutes or more. Finally, the district should consolidate some routes and eliminate zero student stops.

LEE COUNTY SCHOOLS PRESS RELEASE:

The District is in receipt of the Pupil Transportation Study conducted by TransPar Group. The original completion date was set for April, but TransPar readily admitted their staff needed more time to do a complete and thorough review due to the complexity and intricacies of our District.

The report has been posted on the District's Internet Web site (www.leeschools.net) under the News & Events section of the Main page.

As with any study/audit, there are findings that show many District processes/procedures are effective and efficient while other findings show there are alternatives that may increase efficiency and reduce costs. Some of the findings and recommendations contained in the study include, but are not limited to:

§ The LCPS transportation system costs per bus is only 3% higher than the Florida average and its cost per student is consistent with choice programs [TransPar] encountered elsewhere;

§ The current school bell time structure facilitates long bus ride times;

o Adopting an alternative school bell time structure could reduce ride times but might not substantially reduce costs;

§ The utilization rate of maintenance facilities is superior;

§ There may be too many buses in reserve/spare buses - they recommend establishing a 10% "spare factor" and selling off any excess buses to recoup funds;

§ The accident rate, currently at .56 accidents per 100,000 miles, is exceptional (better than the national average) and reflective of a solid training program and dedicated driver staff.

One area that garnered extensive attention in the audit/study is the bell time transportation tiers. TransPar believes modifying the District's bell times and moving to a three-tier system will facilitate shorter bus rides and drive up the Average Bus Occupancy (ABO.) In addition, they recommend curtailing Courtesy Bus Ridership, working to eliminate "zero rider stops," consolidating stops and/or routes and moving towards sequential routes - all of which they believe would aid in shortening bus routes and ride times while increasing efficiency.

Earlier this year, TransPar provided the District with preliminary suggested actions concerning the aforementioned topics, which staff considered as they began preparing for the current school year.

As with any study/audit, time is needed to review all the findings and recommendations in order to determine if they can be implemented in the least disruptive fashion possible. TransPar indicates as much in their Study and recommends a "thorough analysis" and thoughtful review of the entire transportation system prior to making changes. As you may remember, many of the points made by TransPar concern procedures that we formerly implemented to benefit students and families (i.e. courtesy bus ridership, adding bus stops to routes for convenience, etc.,) which is why care must be taken before rushing to implement any changes.

TransPar also cautions that a balance should be maintained between safety, performance, and efficiency. Keeping that in mind, staff is hopeful that the District will be able to incorporate many of the recommendations into the Transportation Department in the future, which will increase efficiency and reduce costs.