Wausau will provide additional bus service for Horace Mann Middle School, a move approved Thursday by the Transit Commission.
Metro Ride added the service after more riders to Horace Mann began using the city’s buses. A change to school bus service happened in January.
The formal change occurred on Jan. 27 though the additional middle school-bound riders were using the city’s buses service a week before that, Metro Ride’s Operations Manager Megan Newman told the Transit Commission Tuesday.
The Wausau’s transit service has seen a significant uptick in riders in the southeast side of the city since about the third week of January, Newman said. The route along the southeast side has seen a significant increase – about 40% – but there has not been a similar increase in use along the 10th Street route, Newman said. “We have added one bus to that route permanently,” Newman said, bringing the total to three.
Yellow buses operated by the transportation company First Student were serving Horace Mann School and Metro Ride was picking up Wausau East High School riders before the change. School district officials requested Metro Ride pick up riders going to and coming from Horace Mann in addition to the high school because of yellow bus service cancellations, Newman said.
Like most schools districts in the state and the country, the Wausau School District is grappling with disrupted school bus services, with a shortage of drivers among the leading causes. The challenge for the district is likely to increase when Wausau implements its school restructuring plan.
The Wausau School Board approved the restructuring proposal last month, prompting significant concern over future availability of buses and the duration of rides. Because the school district is mandated to provide busing to students who live beyond a fixed distance from their assigned school, shifting to one junior high on the east side of the river and a single senior high to the west would mean that every single student in the district would be eligible for mandated busing for several years.
On Thursday, Transit Commission Chair Becky McElhaney asked how long the additional service would continue and whether district officials are going to address the yellow bus service.
Newman said that the additional service will probably continue next year too since the staffing issues have not improved. Transit Commission member Carol Lukens also said the staffing problems for First Student have not improved, based on the feedback she received from teachers.
McElhaney said city officials are happy to help the students and families and take up the extra load.