I-Team: Here's the reason Wake County School bus rides can be so long

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Here's why the bus ride to your child's Wake County School can be so long; it's not just the homework. (WTVD)

It's not just the homework!

With the countdown almost over to the first day of school, many Wake County students and parents are nervous about early wake-ups and long bus rides.

The ABC11 I-Team sifted through nearly 1,000 bus routes in the Wake County Public School System and found a range of routes between three and 113 minutes.

"I'll wake up, get ready quickly, and take my breakfast to go," incoming freshman at Enloe High School, Alana Goldman, tells ABC11. "I'm worried about missing the bus."

Indeed, Goldman should expect a longer bus ride since her commute is from her family's home in Cary to Enloe, which is downtown Raleigh.

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Still, she must be at her bus stop at 5:39 a.m. - 96 minutes before school starts at 7:15 a.m.

The bus, EL Magnet 45, is one of 44 WCPSS buses that perform double duty; the route actually includes pick ups and drop offs for Carthage Middle School.

"I'll plan to go to bed earlier," Goldman, 14, quips to ABC11.

Her mom, Evelyn, said she understands the choice the family is making by sending Alana to a magnet school, but they don't understand why going to good school should cost Alana a good night's sleep.

"I'm very concerned about Alana having the concentration in school. She probably isn't getting lunch until 1:00 p.m. because of her schedule. That is a long day - and she'll get home at 4:00 p.m."

According to WCPSS reports, 85 percent of students who take the bus will spend 31 minutes or less on the bus, while the remaining 15 percent - 12,766 students - will endure rides of 31 minutes or longer.

LINK: Look up your child's WCPSS bus route

In reviewing bus routes for all 110 elementary schools, the I-Team found buses beginning routes from a range of times between 5:45 a.m. to 8:57 a.m., making between one and 23 stops.

The wide range of times and duration are evident in a number of different schools:

  • ES 02 - 7:35 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. (70 mins), 11 stops
  • ES 04 - 8:36 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. (9 mins), 8 stops

  • 05 Blue - 7:46 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. (59 mins), 9 stops
  • 08 Pink - 8:37 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. (8 mins), 5 stops

East Garner
  • 01 Red - 8:03 a.m. - 9:00 a.m. (57 mins), 17 stops
  • 03 Yellow - 8:31 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. (14) mins), 3 stops

  • 14 Owl - 7:14 a.m. - 8:54 a.m. (100 mins), 8 stops
  • 16 Robin - 8:27 - 8:44 a.m. (17 mins), 2 stops

Lynn Road
  • 01 Red - 7:18 a.m. - 8:10 a.m. (52 mins), 15 stops
  • 02 Orange - 7:38 a.m. - 8:00 a.m. (22 mins), 8 stops

  • ES 05 - 8:20 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. (25 mins), 11 stops
  • ES 06 - 7:54 a.m. - 8:55 a.m. (61 mins), 20 stops

Walnut Creek
  • ES 01 - 7:54 a.m. - 8:48 a.m. (54 mins), 11 stops
  • ES 05 - 8:37 a.m. - 8:45 a.m. (8 mins), 4 stops


Lisa Luton, a spokeswoman for WCPSS, tells the ABC11 I-Team the district uses a "team of professional routers" that use "routing software and adjust using driver and parent feedback."

Luton adds that the district understands and acknowledges concerns, but administrators explain many scheduling issues are the result of a shortage of bus drivers.

"This is a nationwide crisis from which our community is not immune," Luton laments to the I-Team. "While the vast majority of routes will not see a change, some will. To manage this acute crisis, some students will experience increased ride times and early arrivals and late departures. While it is our goal to minimize the impact of this crisis on students as much as possible, it is required to ensure safe, reliable and on-time transportation for students."

The numbers back up the district's assessment: During the 2014-2015 school year, WCPSS employed 881 drivers to manage 891 routes. The number of drivers has declined school year after school year (814 in '15-'16, 753 in '16-'17, and 734 in '17-'18). Ergo, the number of routes has also decreased significantly (820, 762 and 734, respectively).

LINK: WCPSS Transportation Department Update

Nicole Schlosser, Managing Editor of the trade publication School Bus Fleet, tells ABC11 the nationwide driver shortage is affecting states coast to coast, including Hawaii, Indiana, and Pennsylvania.

"It comes down to lower pay and lower hours," Schlosser said. "There are drivers who love their jobs, but they leave because the pay isn't competitive enough to support themselves." She adds that school bus drivers also have a tough time maintaining the split schedule, with jobs in the morning and later in the afternoon.

In Wake County, the district held four job fairs over the summer, but that only yielded eight new hires. Luton said district managers and board members are discussing changes in compensation, as well as looking for other sources of drivers, like teachers and teacher's assistants.

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