HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) – Viewers have reached out to WMBF News about why some local bus pick-up and drop-off schedules are inconsistent.
Horry County Schools have seen many changes in the last year. While welcoming five new schools - although only three of them opened - the district said adding even one school changes all bus routes and times.
The most delays and issues are being seen in the St. James and Socastee areas.
Jim Wright is HCS' executive director of transportation. He said that, unlike previous years, much of the St. James area is seeing bus pick-up times as early as 6 and 6:10 a.m.
While normal for most other schools, it wasn't for St. James.
Wright said bus routes and routines are changed almost daily as students continue to sign up to ride the bus. He added most school districts have a 'cut-off' date to sign up as a bus rider. Horry County does not.
"You can come in and register your child today, and we'll get them on the bus this afternoon," Wright said.
However, getting a child on the bus mid-school year doesn't come without its domino effect to other students and their families, as adding more children and stops shuffles times and routes.
Wright said district officials also factor in weather, construction and traffic into holdups as well, specifically construction delays on S.C. 707.
According to Wright, the district transports 4,000 students by bus daily on 363 buses. He said improvements to times and routes could be drastically improved if parents would sign their student up as a bus rider at least three weeks before the first day of school.
Many parents, he said, wait until open house or after school starts. Students who just signed up to ride the bus today will affect another child's route tomorrow.
Wright also encouraged parents to be outside their pick-up location 10 to 15 minutes before the scheduled pick-up time.
"We get calls all the time, 'This bus is overloaded, overloaded, overloaded.' You go in and count, it's not overloaded," Wright said. "Is it crowded? Sure, it's crowded. Some people don't like to sit that tight together, you know. But, it's not overloaded by any standards that we have."
He added that buses have different capacities. While those carrying elementary school students are filled to full capacity, buses carrying high schoolers only fill to 75 percent capacity.
If a bus is found to be overcrowded, adjustments will be made, Wright said.
While he admitted the beginning of the school year is always difficult, Wright said the new schools brought more challenges to this school year.
The blending of schools and the creation of new ones mixed routes, forcing longer bus times. Wright noted that the district's bus driver shortage also makes operations difficult.
As of Thursday, there were 29 bus driver vacancies with Horry County Schools. The St. James and Socastee area schools were short 13 bus drivers.
"Driving school buses is very, very difficult," Wright said. "They do not get enough praise for what they do and how difficult that job is."
A lack of bus drivers, not including employees who call out sick, leads to daily reshuffling and can also change a child's bus times.
Wright said the district is looking at different ways to recruit people who want to be career bus drivers. One way is with a salary study.
District bus driver make between $12.07 and $16.40 an hour, according to Wright. While considered "middle of the range" for the income, he said the district lost some drivers to Coastal Carolina University and limousine companies, who offer higher pay and perks HCS cannot offer.
However, HCS is holding monthly bus driver training classes now. Anyone who is interested should call (843) 488-6957 and ask for Diane Taylor.