Bedford Charter Service: Covid School Bus Protocol Means Reserved Seats

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The fleet of school buses at Bedford Charter Service is ready to hit the road after six months of literal idling.

“Our drivers basically lost months of work, and for the most part we didn’t lose any [of them],” said Orna Miles, general manager. “We are extremely lucky.”

Many of the protocols in response to the Covid-19 virus have been handed down from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, Miles said, while others were developed by the bus company in concert with the schools’ business office. Pre-school planning is “always a lot of work, but especially this year, in a compressed amount of time.”

One of the biggest changes is assigned seating. “In previous years, bus routes were published on the website or in the newspaper and students could decide whether to get on the bus,” Miles said. “It was available. You could choose to ride it if you want.”

This year students were required to register for the buses and days they plan to ride. “They have to let me know so I can make sure there is a spot,” Miles said.

The maximum capacity is 25, although if there are siblings they can exceed that total since kids from the same household can share a seat, she noted. Normal capacity is 77 on an elementary school bus and 51 for middle and high school students.

Miles said there are 16 middle and high school routes, combined in the morning and separated in the afternoon. There are 13 routes each for Lane and Davis Schools. This year there are three buses to service Metco students from Boston; the administration is trying to shorten the ride by covering more streets with more vehicles, Miles said

Bedford Charter did not have to add buses to the fleet for several reasons, Miles said: Some 15 percent of students have opted for full remote learning. More families have decided to transport their children to school in private vehicles. And the hybrid model alternates student cohort on different days, so the passenger load is further diminished. That’s how Bedford Charter is managing the Hanscom Air Force Base contingent without adding buses, she said.

The schools plan to notify households about not only bus numbers and bus stops but also seat numbers, Miles said. “We are assigning seats to prevent kids from passing each other in the narrow aisle. So a bus fills from back to front.”

Everyone on the bus is required to wear a proper face mask, she said, noting that the schools are providing drivers with extras for kids who forget theirs.

Miles said the company is sanitizing each bus every midday, with a botanical disinfectant solution applied through an electrostatic backpack sprayer.  The non-toxic agent is the same as being used in the schools, she said. “The spray is in the air and surrounds every surface,” she said. “High-touch areas are sanitized multiple times a day.”

Bedford Charter is maximizing bus ventilation by opening roof hatches and all the windows – halfway in rain or cold, all the way in good weather, Miles continued. “There are at least eight windows per side and the potential for lots of moving air. The bus is actually more of an outdoor environment.”

She also pointed out that the seats on a school bus are almost like partitions with their high backs. “It helps protect the children; it’s like an egg carton concept. I call this one of our tools to help keep everyone safe.”

Bedford Charter also handles transportation for Carlisle students, and several private schools, including Fenn in Concord, Cambridge School of Weston, Gann Academy in Waltham, Belmont Hill School, and Jewish Community Day School of Watertown. ” They all look to us for the protocols,” Miles said. “We want to keep our drivers safe.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763
Click this link to learn more about The Bedford Citizen’s first community reporter.


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