Bus Company Has Ten-Point Safety Plan

In the spotlight: bus safety.
In the spotlight: bus safety.

Their job is to keep our children safe on the school bus, and now Laidlaw has answered the Savannah-Chatham school district's ultimatum.

Problems had been simmering and hit the boiling point in April, when a school bus driver was fired after sending three students off the bus to raise the arms of a railroad crossing. A train was just a few hundred feet away.

A few weeks later, another driver was suspended after forcing children to stand on the school bus all the way home.

Those were just the tip of the iceberg for acting school superintendent George Bowen, who demanded Laidlaw fix the problems or have its contract revoked. "They either fix the problems or they are out of here," he said.

Today, Laidlaw outlined a ten-point plan of attack to keep its job, and keep students safer in the future. It was presented to Bowen yesterday, but school officials say Laidlaw isn't out of the woods just yet.

"We call it the Laidlaw Educational Services Savannah Ten-Point Action Plan," said the company's Rufus Smith.

Long name, quick turnaround for Laidlaw. "It's a good plan, a well-thought-out plan," said Smith. "We put a lot of time and thought and effort into this."

Two weeks before the school district's deadline, Smith outlined the plan, point by point:

1. They will open a new operations facility.

2. Laidlaw held four driver meetings last month to go over concerns and increased road supervision.

3. Addressing school availability, including late buses.

4. A principal's hotline will be set up for direct access to Laidlaw.

5. Laidlaw will crack down with consistent discipline for driver misconduct.

6. All parent calls and concerns will be recorded and logged.

7. Students will receive safety training aboard Buster, the robotic bus.

8. A strong bus driver recruiting effort will start soon.

9. A new employee handbook will be issued.

10. Daily bus inspections.

"That's what this action plan is designed to do, resolve past problems, any perceived problems, and any problems that may arise," Smith said.

"He's going to give Laidlaw the chance to see those out," said school district spokesman James Harvey, speaking for Col. Bowen.

Harvey says the acting superintendent likes the plan, but will keep a close eye on how well Laidlaw implements it. "I think the pressure is still there. If Laidlaw does not meet expectations, Col. Bowen will revisit this."

"I am prepared to handle the what-ifs, if they happen," said Smith.

A lot of this plan of action has already been implemented. The rest will be in place by August.

One thing Laidlaw points to in its defense is safety. They say numbers show the amount of complaints and accidents have decreased from the time they took over the bus contract in 1998 to now.

Reported by: Don Logana, dlogana@wtoc.com