Rapides Bus Drivers Foresee Route Problems
Melissa Gregory / Staff Reporter (Alexandria Town Talk)
Posted on August 7, 2001


Parents should be prepared for mistakes and delays on Rapides Parish bus
routes when school starts Aug. 20.

Some bus drivers said Monday that the new routes, redesigned by a computer
program, still have many kinks to iron out before the system will run
smoothly.

Alex Hall, Rapides representative for the Service Employees International
Union Local 100, said some shorter and rural routes are fine, but drivers
with multiple routes may have problems juggling them.

Hall's group is rallying for drivers to appear at the board's meeting at 5
p.m. today so they can protest problems created by the new routes.

School and board officials have acknowledged the new routes would create
some problems, but they have vowed to stick with the redesigned routes. Some
of the anticipated problems could include children on wrong routes or
overcrowded buses.

Hall said those drivers would have trouble getting students to school on
time.

His advice to parents?

"Just don't shoot at the bus driver because we didn't design this," said
Hall.

He said parents should be as prepared as possible, calling their child's
school or driver to ensure smooth pickups and drop-offs.

"You have a lot of parents calling drivers now," said Hall.

Larry O'Neal, a nine-year driver, said he has two routes on La. Highway 28
East this school year.

O'Neal said it would be easier and more economical to start picking up
children closer to his Deville home, but his new routes demand he start in
Libuse before transporting them to Buckeye schools.

"This is one of the things that they wanted to try to cut out, which is
double-back running," he said. "But they don't want me to start the closest
point to home."

O'Neal and Linward McCan, another driver with 13 years experience, weren't
optimistic the problems could be resolved soon.

Hall said the new routes don't tell drivers where to turn around after
picking up students on a street. That adds to a driver's "deadhead"
mileage - miles for which drivers aren't paid and don't pick up children.

Hall said the board's promise to work with senior drivers on route problems
won't solve much because so many drivers have new, unfamiliar routes. He
said drivers on new routes are ill-equipped to fix those problems.

All three agreed that the new routes don't address the original problem with
the operational reimbursement rate. Hall said some new routes add to
drivers' operational expenses.

O'Neal said he knows one driver who will have 24 "deadhead" miles and seven
miles of actual bus route.

McCan abandoned one of his routes because it had 1,000 deadhead miles per
month, he said.

"When we deadhead, we're not getting paid for that mileage. It's coming out
of here," O'Neal said, patting his wallet. "Well, we don't make enough now.
That's what the big argument is.

"It just puts more of a bind on us."

Melissa Gregory: 487-6330;

mgregory@thetowntalk.com

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