Sullivan: Increased Competition or Bringing Services In-House May Resolve Haverhill School Bus Issues

Haverhill School Committee member Gail M. Sullivan. (WHAV News file photograph)

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At least one member of the Haverhill School Committee says increased competition or bringing some school transportation in-house could be the answer to late buses and a shortage of buses and drivers.

Responding to parents last week, Committee member Gail M. Sullivan said the problem centers on the lack of competition. Local provider NRT Bus, for example, was purchased in recent years by national chain Beacon Mobility.

Parent James Salerno said the whole ridership program is rife with problems.

“Here we are in the third week of school and bus 11 is still repeatedly 20 to 40 minutes late on a daily basis. My child does not get picked up until 8:50 to 9:05. School starts at nine am,” he told members.

Salerno added the problem is not limited to his child’s bus, but others as well. He said this results in disruption of the classrooms when tardy students finally do arrive. He told the Committee the problem is compounded because no one in charge is telling the parents what is going on.

“The problem I’m having is there is no communication from anybody. This is infuriating,” he said.

Sullivan asked Superintendent Margaret Marotta to meet with other district superintendents to see if anyone has ideas on how to resolve the issue. She also suggested Haverhill take a look at providing its own mini-bus transportation rather than relying on outside services.

Acknowledging problems, Marotta invited Peter Delani of NRT, the company providing school bus service to the city, to talk about the issue. He said the problem comes down to a lack of drivers for the buses.

“At start-up, on our big bus on 8/17, we had a big bus driver quit and then on Aug. 25, we had an additional big bus driver quit and then the first week of school, we had two drivers who were out with COVID,” he explained.

Delani added the company has also been down on the number of minibuses needed, which he attributed, in part, to a decision by Ford and General Motors not to produce any minibuses at this time. He told the Committee, despite that, he expects to have the necessary number of all buses in service this week.

“We are in the process of re-engineering a number of minibuses that we have to ensure they are safe and road-ready in order to be able to balance that out,” he said.

Delani also said NRT is in the process of aggressively seeking and recruiting drivers for those buses.

In a related matter, Committee member Paul A. Magliocchetti said he had received calls from parents about the elimination of a school bus stop at Columbia Park. One of those parents, Ana Rodriguez, told the Committee, cutting the stop is problematic for those kids

“By the time I take them to school in the morning, they are exhausted from the walk. They have heavy book bags and this is every day and it is unacceptable for our kids.”

Assistant Superintendent Michael J. Pfifferling acknowledged the stop was eliminated as school administrators attempted to make the bus service as effective as possible. He promised, however, that he would be at the John Greenleaf Whittier school to count the number of students on the affected bus and try to work out a solution to the problem.

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