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'Going to make sure we take care of their precious cargo' | Greensboro leaders answer questions ahead of students using city buses to get to school

High schoolers at 8 Guilford County Schools will be without school buses for 2 weeks and have the option of taking city buses in High Point and Greensboro instead.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Leaders with the city of Greensboro and Greensboro Transit Agency joined the WFMY Good Morning Show live on Sunday to answer questions about how high school students can use the city bus system to get to school, ahead of the changes Monday.

The partnership between the city transportation system and Guilford County Schools was announced Friday, after a bus driver shortage and surging COVID-19 cases left the district with limited drivers to take kids to school.

The district said high school students will not have access to school buses for the next two weeks but will have access to free service through public transportation provided in both High Point and Greensboro.

This change impacts eight schools between the cities of Greensboro and High Point, including Andrews, High Point Central, Kearns Academy, Dudley, Grimsley, Page, Smith, and the Academy at Smith.

The Greensboro Transit Agency and Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan answered some of the most-asked questions viewers sent in to WFMY News 2.

Q: How do I figure out what the closest route and bus stop is to my house?

A: Kevin Elwood with Greensboro Transit Agency said the easiest way to know what bus stop to go to is to download the free TransLoc app.

"By going to that you're able to see real time information on bus movement it will show you where the closest bus stop is to you and it will even allow you to set an alarm to alert you when the bus is arriving," said Elwood. 

"There are just 5 schools in the city of Greensboro that are involved in this. You can literally click on your school and download a route to your house. We've tried to make it as easy as possible," said Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan.

Vaughan said the app also allows riders to see if a bus is running late.

Q: How do I know if and when I have to switch buses?

A: Elwood said the TransLoc app or Google Maps can help serve as a trip planner with all of that information. 

"It will tell you exactly what route you would get on what stop you would get on and a majority of the riders will not need to change routes but the ones who do, they will change at the depot and those instructions will tell you what route to change to. Also parents and students are encouraged to contact our customer service line, which is open whenever we are in service. That number is 336-335-6499 and the live operators will be glad to take your address and be able to tell you what buses you will take to get to your school," said Elwood. 

Q: Will the bus drop my child off directly at the school?

A: Elwood said it depends on the school. The bus stops are usually on the edge of the campuses, so Elwood said they will have to get off the bus and then walk onto the campus. "But that depends on the school. If they use the Google Maps option, it will actually plan your entire trip including how long you need to walk to the bus stop from your house and how long you need to walk from the bus stop to your school," Elwood said. 

Q: Will there be enough space for my child?

A: Elwood said buses typically hold 45 people seated, another 20 standing if need be. 

"This works great in that we're offering the services in off-peak hours, so the buses should be pretty light in terms of ridership," he said. 

"Buses run throughout the day, which I think is important, so we're not talking about just one route there and one route back. They do run on an ongoing basis," Mayor Vaughan said.

Q: Will my child be safe riding the city bus? 

A:  Elwood said they take safety seriously. All buses contain a professionally trained operator that can respond to any kind of emergency, as well as cameras and microphones recording the trips. He said they understand the safety concern parents have, but he assures parents and students it is safe to ride the city buses in Greensboro. 

"Public transportation, it does sometimes have a negative perception in terms of crime and safety, but public transportation riders are just a microcosm of society as a whole. The people who ride our buses, they're going to work just like we are, they're going to school, they're going to doctors, and they're a very close-knit in terms of supporting each other," Elwood said.

The Greensboro transit system also has COVID-19 protocols in place. 

"Since the beginning of the pandemic, we've been doing everything we can to protect our riders, which has included requiring face coverings, we have sanitizer available on the buses, free masks for riders that need them, we have sneeze guards up around the operator and we've been sanitizing the buses in between some of the runs so we are definitely keeping safety forefront," he said.

Q: If they don't have a One Card will they be able to ride?

A: "We've been told all of the students will have a OneCard so if they do not have one they will have to address that with Guilford County Schools. Our operators will be looking for that OneCard to offer that free ride on GTA," Elwood said.

Q: Are GTA drivers prepared for this change in ridership? 

A: Elwood said the drivers with GTA are career operators who place customer service first. They will be doing their best to help students ride the bus, answer questions they may have during their trip and make sure the students feel comfortable, according to Elwood.

Mayor Vaughan said the city is prepared to continue giving students access to the city bus system beyond two weeks if that's needed. 

"Of course the first couple of days I think people should be prepared for some shifts. We will have to look at capacity on what routes and whether or not we would have to add a bus," she said. 

Vaughan said using the transit agency's website is very helpful and parents can find a lot of useful information on there. The mayor said GCS and the city have worked through the weekend to make this transition as smooth as possible. 

Elwood said parents should think about this transition similarly to the first few weeks of the school year. 

"We are going to be monitoring closely and following up where need be but rest assured we are going to make sure we take care of their precious cargo," he said.

The district delayed start times for middle and high school students Friday after a bus driver shortage worsened by COVID-19 cases put many drivers out of work. High school students started an hour and a half late. Middle school students started an hour late. 

It's a problem that may not go away anytime soon either, based on what Dr. Contreras said earlier this week.

"It is also possible we will not have enough bus drivers to provide transportation for all students to and from school. If you can bring your child to school, please do so," Dr. Contreras said Tuesday.

The Greensboro Transit Agency will answer questions in a live stream on its Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages Sunday night at 5 p.m.

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