HUNG ‘FLOKI’ NGUYEN
For most people, the sound of their morning alarm is a call to action. Get up. Get dressed. Get to school. But for a group of students who ride the yellow bus to school, there’s an added component to their morning ritual: Show up late.
By the time bus riders arrive to school, teachers already have received an email alerting them that buses are running late, with buses 401, 402 and 403 being consistent offenders. And it’s not just minutes behind; some buses show up more than an hour late.
Sophomore Makana Haynes has taken bus 401 for the past two years and is outraged by the lack of organization within the district’s transportation department.
“I would get to school at 9:17 a.m.,” he said. “I missed a lot of school work. It’s super annoying trying to just jump right into the lesson after being so late.”
Haynes said the consistent late bus arrivals began to affect his grades.
“I had this project due … and I had to turn it in late and get a late grade on it,” he said. “It affected my grade a lot.”
Freshman Isaiah Banks also used to ride bus 401. He gave up on the yellow bus after several late arrivals and opted to take the Metro bus lines, which comes with its own set of logistical problems.
“The Metro was harder because the bus stop by my house is closed down, so I have to walk pretty far to the next one,” he said. “Sometimes I would forget that it was closed, and the bus would pass right by me.”
Like Haynes, Banks also was missing large parts of instructional time in class. He has Physics and Individual/Dual Sports as his morning classes and struggled to keep up.
“In Ms. [Sharon] Gard’s class … she gets moving real fast, but in Mr. [Ryan] Kastl’s class, it’s easier,” Banks said. “I get caught up by the people at my table.”
Banks said it’s getting better now that he has an alternative to riding the bus: his grandmother.
“I was missing a big chunk, but it’s gotten better … they have a new bus route, and now I think that the bus will be better.”
According to Kathleen Katterhagen, director of Logistics for Seattle Public Schools (SPS), there is a shortage of bus drivers for the district. First Student, the company that provides the yellow bus service, has struggled to keep steady drivers to cover all the routes.
“There is so much competition in the Seattle area for commercial bus drivers,” Katterhagen said. “First student has to compete with Metro bus drivers, Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks; there is a lot of need for drivers.”
The lure of full-time work with health insurance is a strong one over a part-time job without any benefits. Katterhagen said the problem wasn’t a local one.
“This is a labor market issue that is regional and nationwide.”
As a solution, SPS have consolidated some of the bus routes in order to reach more kids on time. The district also reached out to other companies for help.
“We … recently contracted with an alternative bus service who happen to have 15 buses and drivers available to pick up and add them to our district services,” Katterhagen explained. “They are basically going to cover 15 routes for us to and from school.”
Students who ride the buses do not have to worry about being marked late. Attendance specialist Lynda Hoang and the main office staff have a detailed list of bus riders and make sure teachers are alerted early when buses will be late. Since September, they have sent dozens of emails about tardies.
More recently, it seems as if the solutions from SPS has proven to work. Haynes said he used to be late to school every single day, but now his route has a new bus driver that has remained consistent.
“It’s not late at all; it’s actually super early,” he said. “I’m happy about that.”