"With some 30 contracts in the past seven years, the costs have more than double for those and that issue clearly needs to be addressed," said MPS Management Partnership Services Consultant Tim Ammon at a Department of Education board meeting on Tuesday.
But consultants who just released a new report called the “School Bus Transportation Study” the say there's plenty of blame to go around for the skyrocketing cost of school bus transportation.
They said years of inconsistent data, staff not trained to handle a big budget and complex contracts, and a system sorely lacking in routing technology were major contributors to the problem.
"We just didn't have the data to deal with the problem," said Asst. Superintendent of the School Transportation Services Branch Ray L’Hereux, who has only been on the job since July 2012.
Consultants were against the idea of a state-run bus system, where they would inherit an aging, money-draining system and have to pay for a staff of bus employees.
Instead, MPS consultants recommended renegotiating the same contracts, but with better oversight, and only after other companies, possibly mainland companies, are given enough time to thrown in competitive bids too.
"It’s tough geographically, but we know it can be done. Other companies need at least 9 months, more like a year’s advance to figure out how to make it happen," said Tim Platt, president of MPS.
He said another problem is that, right now, the state pays for buses per route which the report found to be costing the state big bucks.
Instead, the report recommended a set, daily fee for the use of each bus, and, implementing a GPS routing system, so drivers can pick routes effectively and tackle areas clustered together.
"The cost of what we’ve been dealing with for years, it hurts, and we’ve had to deal with this before so this is tough," said DOE board member Wesley Lo.
Board members practically begged for short-term solutions, citing major cuts to services earlier this year.
But it was a request with little response from a team that said their solution will take time.
"This is where we think you need to be," said Platt.
Consultants believe a revised bus contract model can be implemented in 18 months.
The state says may be able to use GPS routing software that they already have, but part of the problem, they said, is that they just didn’t have enough data on ridership and route options to even begin programming software.