In this Thursday, Sept. 14, 2017 photo buses await students at York Middle School. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty | AP

YORK, Maine — The School Department is delaying implementation of a new bus route system until next fall, after parents, guardians and School Committee members raised concerns about it, said Superintendent Lou Goscinski.

The new system, which relies heavily on bus stops instead of door-to-door pickup, was to have been implemented Jan. 2. But Goscinski said in a letter to parents Tuesday that based on feedback he has received, “both unfavorable and favorable,” he was going to suspend plans.

Instead, the School Department and Ledgemere Transportation will take the nine months to more systematically roll out the bus routes, he said.

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Ledgemere will discuss its route system publicly by next spring, giving parents and guardians time to respond to the recommendations and Ledgemere time to make changes if warranted, he said. The School Committee will approve the routes, which will be publicized in August, “well before the start of school,” he said.

But even though he’s approved the delay, Goscinski said the underlying problem with the existing system is not going to go away. For one, York has had a perennial shortage of bus drivers, going back at least three years. There are only nine buses in service, down from 10 at the start of the year and 12 a decade ago.

As a result, bus routes are longer and door-to-door pickup exacerbates the issue, he said. Some students ride the bus for more than an hour, and some buses have been consistently late arriving at schools. Goscinski said at a recent committee meeting, “If we’re going to make this an effective and efficient transportation system, we need to go to cluster stops.”

At that same meeting, parent Michelle Marean said she was likely “the first of many parents” who would come before the committee with concerns. She echoed earlier comments by some committee members that these routes needed to be well publicized in advance, not sprung on parents in January.

[School committee members, parent raise concerns over new bus route plan]

She was particularly concerned children would have to walk to stops on roads that have no sidewalks – particularly in winter when snow banks cover the shoulders. “Children should not be expected to walk on roads. Given our rural nature, this is something that needs to be considered beforehand.”

Goscinksi referenced this in his letter to parents, saying student safety is a priority.

“Some of the safety factors I am considering with Ledgemere are line of sight for both bus and community drivers, speed limits, curb width, age of student and road signage,” he said. “Rest assured, Ledgemere Transportation would not propose nor would I approve a bus stop that would put a student in a dangerous situation (e.g. walking on routes 1 and 91). Students who need to be picked up at their homes due to safety concerns (is a practice that) has and will continue.”

He said parents will soon receive information from Ledgemere about how to obtain an app called Safety Stop. This will allow parents to monitor the location of the child’s bus while it is en route, and will also allow Ledgemere to text information as necessary, such as a late-arriving bus.

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