The Hillsborough County school bus system is "stressed to the breaking point," and is in need of a major overhaul, according to a report released by a transportation consultant.
Thomas Platt, a project manager with School Bus Consultants, released his study in advance of a School Board workshop Wednesday when he will present his findings.
"The analysis indicates that the system has been stressed to the breaking point," Platt wrote. "Either more funding must be provided or service delivery must be constrained. There is no alternative."
The consultant, who was hired in February after the board turned down two transportation proposals presented by Superintendent MaryEllen Elia and her staff, determined about a quarter of the district's 1,393 buses need to be replaced.
"There has been a gross underinvestment in bus fleet replacement for the past eight years, resulting in a fleet with an excessive average age of 12 years," Platt wrote.
According the report, fixing the fleet could cost between $11 and $16 million during each of the next 14 years.
"I think he makes it very, very clear that we need to make a significant investment," said Steve Hegarty, a spokesperson for Hillsborough County Schools. "We think the consultant did a good job. He took a lot of information and distilled it and set a clear direction."
"The fact that things have been neglected for so long is concerning to me," added Board Member April Griffin. "Trying to figure out how we're going to balance the budget is a big concern to me."
Griffin said she hopes the high price won't stop the board from moving quickly, especially when it comes to buying new buses.
"Even if we order them, they're not going to be built overnight. So that's the thing is that we have to start making these decisions fairly soon," Griffin said.
Platt also wrote that hiring more drivers is a must and could help improve morale, another issue raised by transportation employees during the last several months.
"The driver shortage must be rectified before any other improvements can take hold," the report reads.
Parents are hopeful this brings about change before the next school year.
"[The buses] are horrible. We definitely need some better ones," said Luis Betancourt, who has four children who ride the bus to school. "I believe that the buses are key for our children to get to school. That's their transportation. That's their means to get into school so that should be important as well."
The superintendent plans to present a tentative transportation plan to the School Board May 14.
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