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Guidelines for using transportation services.

Few things in life run as smoothly as they should - parents are particularly reminded of this truth on most weekday mornings, as they rush to get children ready for school and out the door. Likewise, special education transportation services may not always run as smoothly as we might wish. But parents can do many things to help.

Children and parents deserve safe, reliable transportation services that are responsive to their concerns. Parents pay for transportation services either directly, through fees; or indirectly, through taxes. They have a right to expect these services to operate according to some standards of quality. Unfortunately, laws and regulations establish only minimum standards; and some states have no legally mandated standards at all.

Regulations, standards and contract requirements may affect the safety reliability and responsiveness of transportation services. In general, service quality depends largely on the money available to pay for it. Within these limits, however, most of a transportation system's operating characteristics are within the control of the personnel in charge of running it. But an informed parent can make many contributions to safety and service quality.

Understanding your

transportation system

To passengers and their parents, the "system" may seem to be simply the vehicle and its driver. But your child's vehicle and driver are only one cog in a complicated system including layers of dispatchers, schedulers, telephone receptionists, mechanics, training instructors and managers. Vehicles must be purchased or leased, maintained, cleaned, fueled, inspected, licensed and insured, as well as scheduled and driven.

Under the best of circumstances, operating a fleet transporting hundreds of individuals with a variety of special needs, traveling in every direction at the same time, is a task of daunting complexity. Now imagine what happens when it rains... when new drivers are still learning their routes... when there are traffic delays and accidents... when passengers are not ready at their scheduled pick-up times... or when operating personnel are overwhelmed with telephone calls...

Parents can help

Parents can do much to help the transportation service run more smoothly.

Here are a few guidelines:

* Be as flexible as possible in accommodating schedules. Scheduling hundreds of students for pick-ups and drop-offs is difficult. Adjusting a driver's schedule to accommodate a simple request - for example, "Can't you come earlier?" - can destroy the logic of an entire route, force other pick-ups to occur out of order and increase ride times for other children on the route. * Provide system officials with telephone numbers where you or others responsible for your child may be contacted at all times. When a vehicle runs behind schedule, breaks down or experiences other problems, it can take hours to track down and notify each passengers parents. Make sure operating personnel have the information needed to contact you quickly. * Know your child's pick-up and drop-off times and the "window of flexibility" for each. For example, a 10-minute "window" for a pick-up scheduled to occur at 8:30 am. means the pick-up should occur between 8:20 and 8:40 am. Always try to have your child ready before the window of flexibility begins. When it rains or snows, have your child ready even earlier, a well-run system will automatically try to pick up its passengers earlier in bad weather. Do not telephone system personnel until the vehicle is genuinely late. * Obtain telephone numbers of parents whose children are also on your child's routes. The most important numbers are those of passengers picked up and dropped off immediately before and after your child in the morning and the afternoon. Conversing periodically with fellow parents can help you monitor the quality of service and identify problems. If you are worried about a late vehicle, call a parent whose child is picked up (in the morning) or dropped off (in the afternoon) before yours. Better yet, appoint one parent to be "route captain;" that parent can communicate with system operator, then communicate individually with other parents of children on the route. * Establish a clear policy with system officials about "receiving " your child. It may not be safe for the driver to drop your child off without a responsible adult available to meet him or her. Let system officials know who is authorized to meet your child. * Make arrangements for your child to be dropped off at another home on the route if you cannot be home to meet the vehicle. Let system officials know who this will be. If no responsible adult is at the drop-off point when the vehicle arrives, the driver may be required to keep the child on the bus. Drivers usually do not have time in their schedules to "swing back" mid-route to drop off a child. In a case like this, your child could ride for hours until the driver has an opportunity to bring him or her home. * Always call system personnel to cancel pick-ups and drop-offs if your child will not be riding. Make these arrangements as far in advance as possible. When you want transportation service resumed, also remember to call system personnel in advance. * Provide system officials with detailed information, in writing, about your child's physical and medical condition(s). Include notes about behavioral issues, and any other special concerns. Also include phone numbers of your child's doctors. Ideally, the system should collect this information in the same way for all passengers. If it doesn't at least make sure it has this information for your child. * Do not alter regular pick-up or drop-off locations. Organized and productive transportation systems cannot juggle pick-up and drop-off points without inviting scheduling and dispatching chaos. If your child will be staying at someone else's home, make arrangements to have that person drive to the regular pick-up or drop-off point before the vehicle is scheduled to arrive, and wait for it there. * Do not ask the driver to be a messenger. Call system officials to convey information, file complaints or ask questions. if a schedule change is necessary, don't discuss it with the driver, contact system officials directly. Don't ask the driver to transport notes, lunches or any non-health-related articles. Have your child do it. * Communicate with system officials and personnel on all non-urgent matters during non-operating hours. Non-operating hours are those hours when children are in school. During operating hours, a system switchboard is often flooded with calls requiring immediate response from dispatchers and system managers. Unless there is an emergency or your child's vehicle is unusually late, do not contact system officials during operating hours.

Understanding the system

from the "operating perspective"

Share these ideas with the parents of other children on your child's route and others whose children use the same transportation system. Your child's transportation system will operate more smoothly if other parents also follow these guidelines.

Try to remember that the people operating the system do not see it the way you do. They can't. And they shouldn't. This does not mean your child is "just a number." But system officials are often responsible for the safe, reliable transportation of hundreds of children. And they have to exercise this responsibility within a limited budget. While they try to accommodate most of their passengers' needs, they cannot possibly accommodate every need of every parent. When discussing problems with system officials, let them know you understand these realities. They will greatly appreciate your understanding, and in return you will receive better information about the system and help in solving problems.

Ned Einstein is the president Transportation Alternatives, a southern California-based consulting firm specializing in the design of school transportation systems for children with special needs, and "paratransit" systems for adults with physical and developmental disabilities. A former consultant to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Mr. Einstein authored the summary report of the National Survey of the Transportation of the Handicapped, a report to Congress that formed the basis of the transportation sections of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Mr. Einstein conducts workshops on special transportation services and regularly provides expert testimony and technical assistance to attorneys involved in transportation-related cases, particularly those involving paratransit, school bus and special education services.
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Title Annotation:Education
Author:Einstein, Ned
Publication:The Exceptional Parent
Date:Sep 1, 1995
Words:1344
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