First Student working to address bus issues - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

First Student working to address bus issues


WATERLOO (KWWL) -- First Student Bus Service has had its share of problems.  This school year, an Evansdale kindergartner was let off at the wrong stop.  Parents, teachers, and police searched for her for nearly an hour before she was found at home safe.  Also, parents of students at Bunger Middle School were upset when their students were hours late in getting home from after school activities.  Now, First Student is speaking out about how it's working to keep students safe.

First Student Bus Service admits that the flashing lights, crossing arms, and stop sign, aren't enough to make a bus safe.  Even with all the gadgets in the world, there's still room for error.  And in light of recent problems, the bus company is making some changes.

"We have identified kindergarten students by name on the route sheet at each individual stop.  So if there's a stop at Glenwood and Ray, and there's a kindergartner, that name pops up on the route sheet now.  If it's a substitute driver, they've got that route sheet.  They need to look for that particular student at school when loading and then when they get to that stop, they need to make sure that student gets off at that stop and there's an adult there," said Terry Dykstra with First Student Bus Service in Waterloo.

First Student says those new measures are part of a larger approach to student security.  And it says all of the big yellow rides it operates are equipped with several other safety features.

"We have GPS to show where the bus is at any given time so we can re-track steps of the bus.  And we also have cameras on the bus so we can view tapes and see where the student got off and if the student was on the bus," Dykstra said.

Drivers are even required to perform maintenance checks every time they get on and off the bus to make sure everything's in working order.

"This is used, and it's activated by the brake.  Once it's activated, you can't shut the bus down until you've walked back to front, checked for sleeping children, and then you have to deactivate it with a button in the back of the bus for the bus to shut down.  Otherwise, an alarm goes off," said Dykstra.

All that data gets plugged into a "Zonar" machine, which generates daily reports for the district on how bus drivers are doing.  Students are now also required to have a written permission slip from a parent to get off at a stop that's not where they normally go.  First Student says it will keep exploring other ways to improve its service, in hopes of keeping or gaining your trust with the most precious of cargo.

As far as added improvements go, First Student says it is looking at upgrades to its "Zonar" technology, with a live, web based program that could help keep track of every single student as they get on and off the bus.

Additional Notes:

First Student says it safely delivers more than 6 million kids to and from school each day nationwide.  The bus company currently provides service to public and private Iowa schools in Waterloo, Urbandale, Waukee, and Council Bluffs.  You may recall that Iowa City used First Student until 2007, when it switched to the Durham bus company.

You'll also remember that the family of Donnisha Hill sued First Student last month.  Adonnis Hill and Leneaka Johnson said the company indirectly contributed to their daughter's kidnapping and murder.  But a judge dismissed the case, saying the bus company did everything it could to keep Donnisha from getting off at the wrong bus stop.

Online reporter:  Kera Mashek


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