Since the beginning of the year, the township school district and community have grappled with transportation problems that are causing bus overcrowding, lateness and unhappiness among parents.
Issues include buses that arrive up to an hour past their scheduled time.
“From what I’ve heard it’s been a disaster,” said Wendy Szarkowski, a mother of three boys who go to Oak Valley Elementary. “One of my son’s friends came home an hour after she was supposed to, and when the mom called, there was no answer at the transportation office.”
“I’ve started taking my son to school because of the issue,” said Jennifer Henriquez, whose son goes to Deptford High. “It has forced me to adjust my schedule.”
As parents struggle with bus problems, the drivers themselves have their own issues.
“Normally (the transportation department) picks runs in August, which gives us time to test out the routes ourselves and figure out the best route,” said Melanie Jones, a former bus driver who left in early September. “But this year, they were not picked until Sept. 2.”
Jones said problems have also arisen within the transportation department, whose leaders reside outside of Deptford in towns like Vineland and Galloway.
“The route I was given, for instance, had me going through Divine Drive,” Jones explained. “But Divine Drive is a dirt road and there is no way I can drive a bus through there. I had been a bus driver for about 10 years, and I know to avoid that road. But a newer driver doesn’t know that it’s a dirt road, and when they go down that road (it) causes issues with time.
“The drivers are doing everything they can and they’re getting the blame.”
Jones also described the Deptford transportation department as a “hostile work environment,” with shifts cut from six to seven hours to just four. That means drivers make less money, an issue that, among others, has led to the resignation of six drivers, including Jones.
“There are so many issues going on inside the transportation department that it’s just unreal,” she noted.
Despite that, some residents have seen improvement since a recent schedule change.
“Sure, we had issues the first week, but lately the buses have been on time, especially since the time change,” said Edna Santana, mother of two girls who are Deptford students. “We adjusted, and it works for us now.”