Bus issues mar Boston’s back to school

BOSTON — At 6:43 Thursday morning, Elizabeth Foxworth-Jones’ daughter was supposed to have boarded a school bus to begin her freshman year at Madison Park High School. By 7:30, that bus still hadn’t shown up.

“I called [Boston Public Schools] transportation [office] twice, and they told me the bus was on its way,” Foxworth-Jones said. “They kept saying the GPS was down. They couldn’t track the bus.”

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Finally, Foxworth-Jones had no choice but to drive her daughter to school.

“I know it’s the first day of school, but I think an hour is unacceptable,” she said. “I think the longest I’ve ever waited on the first day was 15 minutes, which that’s fine; I can accept that for traffic and everything. But an hour? That was outrageous.”

Across Boston, elected officials and candidates for office said they heard from numerous parents frustrated with the opening day bus situation.

“I heard from many families in our city that they were very anxious that the bus was late,” said mayoral candidate Michelle Wu. “[I] did hear that there was lots of stress across the city, and we need to do better tomorrow.”

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“Our children don’t need free pencils, they need their bus to show up on time,” said Andrea Campbell, who is also running for mayor. “It was horrible. There was a student just on my street who was waiting on his bus that did not show up on time. Other parents have called in and talked about their bus didn’t show up at all.”

Boston Public Schools, like many other districts around the country, has been dealing with an ongoing labor shortage, including a lack of skilled school bus drivers. But both Wu and Campbell said there was plenty of time during the summer to plan for that problem.

“Part of it is many folks are not excited to be bus drivers, but we’ve known about this,” Campbell said. “This is not new. This means the district and the acting mayor should have been prepared, should have proactively planned so that every single family was aware of what their transportation options were.”

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“There’s been a labor shortage across the country and across the city in all different sectors, but what we can’t do is let that uncertainty fall on the shoulders of our kids,” Wu said. “The grown-ups in the room have to figure this out.”

“All of our bus routes were covered today. We had 57% on-time arrival; that is higher than last year, it’s higher than the last time we had all in-person learning, which was the 2019-2020 school year, and it is higher than our five-year average,” Acting Mayor Kim Janey said. “We will continue to work to make sure we are improving in that number to make sure that all of our kids are getting to school on time.”

As for Foxworth-Jones, she said it’s important to consider the larger ramifications of a very late bus.

“It’s very frustrating, especially for a working Mom,” she said. “You know, because it made me late for work. I had an appointment this morning, so everything got pushed back. So, I think they need to get a handle on this.”

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