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October 15, 2013  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Gauging the safety of school bus alternatives

Many school districts and contractors are employing a variety of vehicles to supplement traditional yellow bus service. These alternative arrangements often cut costs and shorten ride times, but the safety implications of transporting students in taxis, vans and other non-school bus vehicles have become a contentious issue.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author

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American Logistics Co. arranges alternative transportation services for school districts. Here, a driver helps a student out of a van.
<p>American Logistics Co. arranges alternative transportation services for school districts. Here, a driver helps a student out of a van.</p>

Realizing the benefits

Some news outlets reported that Dallas ISD decided to phase back in school buses in place of the alternative transportation, but ALC's Prettyman told SBF about two weeks after the school year started that the district was continuing with the program. However, all taxi vehicles were removed at the district’s request.

Prettyman says that as parents adjusted to the new service and got to know their children's drivers, they became more comfortable with it and even began to see the benefits. He cites an example of a mother who wrote to Dallas ISD officials asking them to stick with the alternative transportation.

The mother wrote that her son's ride to school took one-and-a-half to two hours one way in previous years. Now, on an ALC shuttle, the ride is less than 30 minutes. The mother also noted that the driver is professional, timely and, by her son's account, a safe driver.

Checking the drivers
Along with the safety of the vehicle, the safety of the driver is a key concern raised by critics of the use of taxis, vans and other such vehicles to transport students.

In its service for school districts, ALC contracts with existing transportation providers, so their people are already in the driving profession.

"We'll find a small business; they may have a shuttle service or a limo service," Prettyman explains. "They're already in the community, already licensed. We find those resources and talk to them about this opportunity."

ALC confirms that the drivers undergo driving record reviews, criminal background checks, and random drug and alcohol testing. The company also works to ensure that the drivers meet the district’s own specifications, such as CPR certification or certain special-needs training. In Dallas, for example, more than 50 alternative transportation drivers attended a deaf education training seminar.

Checkered cab drivers
Elsewhere, problems have surfaced with drivers employed by other companies.

Earlier this year, NBC Chicago investigated cab drivers who were transporting students for area school districts and discovered many with checkered pasts.

The news outlet found 66 school cab drivers who had been arrested for or convicted of such crimes as aggravated battery, possession of a controlled substance, firearms violations and assault.

For instance, NBC Chicago reported that school cab driver Jean Juste was convicted in 1994 of sexually assaulting a teenager. He was also convicted of smuggling and selling cocaine a few years later.

In response to the news, the Illinois secretary of state office launched an investigation of the hiring practices of the cab company that employed Juste.

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