COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — When they return from winter break Wednesday, the bulk of 38,000 students at Columbus City Schools will see at least one change to their bus commute. 

Whether it is a new driver, different pick-up and drop-off times, or a changed location — or all of the above, at once — students who take yellow buses to and from a CCS public or charter/non-public school will likely be affected as the district makes changes to all its routes and switches its software. 

Some parents, including LyRie Parsons, are worried about the changes, which take effect the day before break ends, according to the district.

Parsons’ daughter’s new bus pick-up and drop-off is outside their neighborhood — and requires her to cross several busy intersections. Parsons said she’s worried about children’s safety.

“Actually get out and walk and see what’s going on in this neighborhood and see what you’re making these kids walk through,” Parsons said.

How to find your student’s route

CCS first began reaching out to parents and guardians in mid-November about the newly-altered routes, according to a December superintendent’s report. The district mailed informational cards, schools within the district sent general route details home with students, and public information was shared via social media.

Each student’s individual morning and afternoon route details are now available in the parent portal, Infinite Campus. The district also began to email families that same route information with the subject line “important update to your child’s bus route” on Dec. 22.

For questions, the district recommends parents and guardians call the Transportation Call Center at 614-365-5074. For the rest of winter break, its hours are 6 a.m. through 4 p.m.

CCS is also rolling out the use of a new communication software, EZDistrict, to send alerts when a bus route is “delayed or uncovered,” according to the report. Families will be automatically enrolled, but the district recommends they check that their contact information is current.

What are the changes, and why?

The district’s new technology system, Versatrans by Tyler Technologies, is partly driving the bus route overhaul. Citing a “routing software misstep,” CCS ditched the AlphaRoute software used at the start of the 2022-2023 school year and shifted back to the Versatrans system, which was previously used.

Going back to Versatrans “will restore the ability for CCS transportation staff to update bus routes, add or remove riders, and adjust the number of routes to better match the number of available drivers,” according to the district.

Starting Jan. 3, CCS said it will cut 112 of its existing bus routes and add more students to fewer routes. The district will service 461 routes and outsource another 65 to contractors.

Some of the “unprecedented” changes also stem from a bus shortage, which CCS and other districts, both in central Ohio and across the country, have been battling in recent months.

CCS employed about 100 less drivers in December than the number on its payroll in mid-July, according to the report, although they are still able to cover the number of currently proposed routes. The 506 drivers — down from 607 — currently on payroll also rebid on the new routes, which is why students may see a new face at the wheel.

Even with the decrease in drivers, they still outnumber the number of buses the district has, Rodney Stufflebean, CCS' interim director of transportation, said at the Dec. 20 school meeting.

"We have plans in place for those unassigned drivers -- we'll have those for any that call off, for situations that may need, we can put sweepers out there in case we have students that are missing buses," Stufflebean said.

To answer questions about new route times and locations, the district said it has also bolstered its call center staff -- more than doubling the number of people available to answer calls. The call center is closed on Monday, but reopens at 6 a.m. Tuesday, the day before CCS students return to school.