Making matters worse, school officials shortened the time frame to create, test, and modify the bus routes. School and city officials also blamed some bus drivers for showing up to work late, an accusation strongly contested by the drivers union.
In an effort to transform the transportation department into a point of pride instead of embarrassment, Johnson tapped Carl Allen about six months ago to be transportation director. He is an unusual pick; at 31, he has never managed a school transportation department.
But he did work for a while for the US Transportation Department on workforce development and studied transportation at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, where he earned a master’s degree.
“We are prepared,” said Allen, who also previously worked in the School Department’s accountability office, helping teachers and administrators enhance the use of test scores and other data in overhauling curriculums and teaching techniques. “It’s not going to be perfect, but it’s going to be a lot better this year.”
Allen has placed a strong emphasis on seeking the advice of drivers on creating the bus routes to see if computer-projected travel times match reality. A big problem last year, pointed out by many drivers, is that many routes scheduled no time between stops and sometimes had drivers dropping kids off at school at the exact time they were supposed to be arriving on the first stop of their next route. Consequently, the union filed a grievance before even trying out the routes, because it was so obvious on paper that the School Department was destined to repeat “massive, systemwide chaos.”
So far this year, the union has not filed such a grievance. More time between stops has been scheduled and routes increased to 3,642, almost 500 more than last fall.
“The routing does not seem to have the problems near the magnitude they had last September,” said Steve Kirschbaum, a driver and bus union representative. “I do believe the district has made an effort to correct the problems, but I will reserve judgment until we test the routes under real driving conditions.”
But regardless of the fixes the School Department makes, plotting routes will always be a challenge, Kirschbaum said.
“Boston is a tough transportation town — people know that; our roads were engineered by cows,” he said, “and you have multiple streets with the same name.”
Globe correspondent Adam Sege contributed to this report. James Vaznis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.