News

Brendan Fitzpatrick

February 8, 2024

Future Bus Operation Options Outlined to School Committee

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FRAMINGHAM - The Framingham School Committee has officially been presented with a number of future options for school bus operations in the city.

Executive Director of Finance and Operations for Framingham Public Schools Lincoln Lynch presented the choices to the group at the Memorial Building on Wednesday, February 7.

The development of these plans came amid the continued bus driver shortage that is impacting local schools. The city still has just 57 drivers each day, at most, serving students. That’s 20 drivers short of what Framingham’s contract with NRT Bus, Inc.—the company providing bus services locally—calls for, as Lynch noted that the situation has not gotten better during the current school year.

Lynch told the committee that the city has been out to bid for leasing buses as well as for a new bus service provider starting in the summer. However, the only vendor who submitted a bid for full services was NRT.

As a result, Lynch highlighted the options for next’s years busing: Framingham can either retain NRT’s services or bring school bus operations in-house. The executive director explained that NRT’s drivers already know the local routes, but they could be stuck with the cap of 57 drivers in service per day.

If the School Committee does eventually vote to begin in-house busing operations, drivers would become city employees while the buses themselves would be leased through a company. NRT could be an option for the latter, but Lynch added that New England Transit Sales, Inc. also submitted a similar bid for leasing recently.

Lynch said that there “will be challenges along the way” should Framingham start its own in-house busing, as he asked officials for patience during the creation of the system while the district commits to fixing this ongoing problem.

“With these options, I am not telling you that on September 1, or whenever the first day of school is next year, I will have 77 drivers,” Lynch told his colleagues during Wednesday’s meeting.

“I can’t even guarantee that I’ll have 65 drivers…It’s going to take a lot. It’s going to take a team effort to get what we want in place.”

Lynch mentioned that some NRT drivers could be coming on board with the in-house model if that becomes the future strategy for Framingham. He told the committee he believes that the hourly rate of $34 along with additional hours can help attract bus drivers to Framingham.

The School Committee heard specific options regarding in-house busing as well, with Lynch outlining costs for models accounting for both 77 drivers as well as 65 drivers. Lynch called the latter option a more “realistic” outlook for the upcoming school year. Both options would feature an additional decision: whether to lease buses from NRT or New England Transit.

With what he's described in the past as an “all-in” focus for pricing—an anticipation for the highest costs possible—Lynch said the cost for the in-house option featuring 77 insured drivers would be about $10.9 million, with the school department covering roughly $8.2 million and the city accounting for approximately $2.6 million. The all-in quote for an in-house system featuring 65 insured drivers would drop down to about $9.6 million, according to Lynch.

Lynch concluded by advising the group that he needs direction, especially if the school district has to begin a heavy recruiting effort for drivers at the end of the month. He requested a vote on the matter during the upcoming School Committee meeting on February 28.

Members of the committee agreed that any number of drivers north of 57 would be a welcome improvement, as they are now preparing to collaborate on a decision. If the School Committee does decide on endorsing an in-house model, District 4’s Adam Freudberg said that the group should work alongside NRT along with the Teamsters Union to develop a cohesive exit strategy for the current system.

“Now for the next few weeks, we have some time to really work as a team to make sure that we can get the certainty that, if switching to in-house happens, it is done thoughtfully—and with that, no kidding, what is the driver count number,” Freudberg continued.

In the wake of recent conversations related to behavioral issues at local schools, Freudberg suggested that cutting out the bus contractor could help resolve conflicts among riders. He contended that the right person within the school department would hear about incidents aboard buses through a more streamlined process if an in-house busing option is chosen for Framingham.

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