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Roanoke City school bus drivers warned of brewing trouble

Students dropped off and picked up late, if at all, in new school year

With kids getting home from school hours after they're supposed to, parents and drivers are frustrated.

ROANOKE, Va. – Roanoke City Schools switched bus providers this year and the transition has been anything but smooth. On the first two days of school, students were picked up and dropped off late, some not even picked up at all.

It's the exact kind of chaos some school bus drivers warned 10 News over the summer was going to happen. Comments on the division's Facebook page from any parents show things are not right. On Wednesday, the school had to have a phone bank because parents overwhelmed the phones for the school bus operations office the day prior. They all wanted to know what's going on.

On Wednesday night city school families received their second automated phone call of the day.

"I'm calling with an update on transportation issues," the call said. "There were improvements today, but there are issues yet to be resolved."

Parents like Tim Newman didn't need anyone to tell him that there are issues. His 7-year-old daughter's principal rode the school bus home with her, and she was an hour late being dropped off.

"She had Ms. Tate riding home on the bus with her, and they got here a little before four," Newman said.

The first two days of school have been bad ones for Durham Transportation, which said it has 90% of the drivers it needs, with about 15 vacancies remaining. Drivers who were afraid to go on camera because they feared their job, said both in person and in email Wednesday that they're not provided enough time to do required pre-trip inspections, exit the yard at the same time, and make it to where they need to be in time.

Those issues combined led to buses missing pickup and drop-off times, some running nearly two hours behind. School leaders said some drivers had to double up and cover other routes, parents said they saw buses 

"To me, if you start school, you should have everything lined up in order, ready to go," Newman said. "I mean that's the only question that I have."

It's the exact same question a handful of bus drivers have too. About a month ago, 10 News received messages from some drivers who said Durham would not be prepared to start the school year and changeover from the old vendor was so difficult, that many drivers just didn't come back. They cited paperwork issues, a lack of organization and communication between the company and employees.

We were working for you when we asked city school leaders about it a week before school started, but they said there would be no issues. On Wednesday, deputy superintendent Dan Lyons said the division stands by the company.

"We have all the confidence in the world with Durham, they're great to work with, we're partners in this," Lyons said.

He did say there were errors and that they will make those right. But parents like Newman aren't so sure.

"If I bring my kid an hour late to school, I'm reprimanded," Newman said. "But for this it's like 'oh, we'll try better next week, or tomorrow.' I mean it only got worse."

Roanoke City Schools told parents to expect issues through the rest of the week, but that it should be fixed by next week.