Bus company now facing service complaints

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Rich Van Wyk/Eyewitness News

Indianapolis - An Eyewitness News investigation that discovered safety and maintenance problems with a private contractor's buses is now expanding to service. That service, or lack of it, kept some students out of school this week.

Buses from First Student, who provides transportation for many IPS students, rolled out Friday without incident, unlike Thursday when three drivers refused to drive. Nearly 100 children were left stranded on street corners Thursday morning. On Friday, only a handful of the company's buses were unusually late.

Late buses, typically those from First Student, are a common complaint among IPS principals. Jeffery White, principal of John Marshall Middle School, called them a nearly daily disruption.

"You have 20 kids coming in late, going to 20 different classrooms," White said. "Yes, that's a big time problem."

That problem has been getting more scrutiny since an Eyewitness News investigation last month uncovered alarming mechanical problems, prompting state police to pull numerous First Student buses from the road because of safety violations.

"We're not letting them off the hook," said IPS Superintendent Dr. Eugene White.

But IPS apparently has limited leverage and little choice but to do business with the company. First Student says it has 62,000 buses transporting four million children every day to schools across the U.S. and Canada.

"They are a monopoly," Dr. White said. "They bought up all the other bus contractors."

Dr. White says IPS could tell First Student to fire the drivers who wouldn't drive.

"They do that, we have a bigger problem, they are short of drivers. They need more drivers," Dr. White said.

A First Student vice president says two top managers were replaced and the company is working diligently to address operational and service performance. In the meantime, IPS is planning to reorganize its entire transportation system.

An independent audit of the transportation system - not just First Student, but the IPS fleet as well - including maintenance, routing, dispatch and service systems, one school board member says "was not very positive."

Another board member says they get more complaints about the buses than anything else. IPS plans to have a reorganized transportation system ready in June.