Keller ISD's return to free busing goes smoothly

Posted Monday, Jan. 28, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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KELLER -- Despite some confusion among parents, the return of free bus service to Keller schools was a fairly smooth ride Wednesday, district officials said.

"We had very few problems," said Dana Chandler, district transportation director. "We had lots of parents calling who didn't realize that the routes were changing."

About 100 new riders had not registered in advance but were accommodated, Chandler said.

In November, trustees voted to reinstate free bus service for students who live more than two miles from campus. Officials had taken away free busing for most riders to cut costs before the 2011-12 school year. But because of lower-than-expected state reimbursement for required routes and reduced ridership on paid routes, eliminating free busing did not save the district much, Superintendent Randy Reid said.

Administrators opted to begin free service on the first day of the spring semester to give the transportation department time to adjust routes and hire drivers. Chandler said she added 13 routes to the 36 routes that ran in the fall. Each regular route serves two schools: one elementary and one secondary.

About 5,000 students were expected to ride, an increase of more than 1,000 from the fall.

Chandler said about 500 students within two miles of school who paid to ride in the fall did not re-register or let officials know whether they were opting out. The pay-to-ride fee has been reduced to $75 a semester, $100 less than in the fall.

Dorinda Kirch said she hadn't received any information about the restoration of free service. Most days, Kirch said, her son walks three miles to Timber Creek High School. She said she will try to register him so he could begin riding in the next few days.

The transportation department sent postcards to everyone who registered online with information about stops and times, much of which changed with the addition of routes. Details were posted on the district website, and schools sent out emails and automated phone messages to eligible riders, Chandler said.

Other than the information gap, the department's biggest challenge has been the lack of trained drivers. Durham, the Keller district's transportation contractor, has about 20 drivers in training classes, Chandler said.

Durham brought in drivers from across the region to cover routes until the trainees get their state licenses.

One bus was about 10 minutes late on its morning route because it was rear-ended near Heritage Trace Parkway and North Beach Street. The driver was alone on the bus, which was not damaged, Chandler said.

For registration information, parents can call the transportation department, 817-744-1300.

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