1st Student, Unit 5, and the safety of YOUR kids

By:  Diane Benjamin

The email below was sent to the entire Unit 5 School Board.  If your kids ride Unit 5 buses, you need to know the facts and ask questions.

From: David Bradley <Redacted>

Date: 10/12/2017 1:04 PM (GMT-06:00)
Subject: Staffing Issues at First Student

Good Afternoon Unit 5 Board Members.

Let me start by saying that I am not an attorney and do not fully understand the contract between Unit 5 and First Student.  As you are all aware First Student has had some issues with staffing in the past. Though this has gotten better since last year there are still some serious issues that need addressed.  My name is David Bradley and I have been a driver with First Student since December 2012.

First Student is still struggling to cover routes on a daily basis, but has gotten very good at playing the shell game.  Drivers are regularly asked/told to cover multiple routes in addition to their own, often causing buses to be ½ hour to 45 minutes late.  With an influx of new drivers this year the routes are usually covered by drivers who are eager for a few extra bucks or may not realize that they are enabling management to keep doing this.  Office staff is regularly out on a route themselves, leaving only a skeleton crew of often only an inexperienced intern to answer phones, radio calls, etc…

Many of our drivers are currently driving routes in a Chicago school district, in fact there is a weekly sign-up sheet for drivers who want to earn 8+ hours a day driving in Chicago.  Now that seems a little strange to me to send your workforce to another terminal when you don’t have enough drivers as it is to cover your own routes, so I asked.  I was told that some of our drivers would be sent up north to drive and in turn we will have drivers from Springfield and Bartonville come and cover our routes.  So it happens every day, at least 10 drivers from other terminals come to Normal to drive our routes while several of our drivers are spending the week in Chicago.  I should mention that in both cases our buses and our fuel is being used to get those drivers to and from the other locations.  It seems that it’s the same shell game played out on a statewide scale.

Today for example the head dispatcher was out driving a route and came on the radio begging for drivers to help cover extra routes this afternoon.  Now this is a completely normal daily occurrence, but I could sense the desperation in her voice so I asked ”The desperation seems to get worse and worse every day, at what point do we bring our drivers back from Chicago?”  The response was quick and swift.  “Not over the radio, if you have questions see Mark Bohl after route.”  Now I thought I was asking a simple legitimate question, but they didn’t want others to hear it, but on Friday afternoon there was a 5 minute long radio conversation about who was winning the Cubs game and that was never stopped.

I don’t expect that you believe a word I’m saying after all I may just be a dis-disgruntled employee, but I do ask that you listen.  Listen to the drivers and monitors who deal with this everyday and ask them probing questions. Listen to the Principals and office staff at the schools who are still dealing with late buses.  But most importantly I ask that each of you pick a random time and listen to the radio traffic using a cheap scanner that can be bought at Walmart.  You will quickly learn that everything I am saying is 100% fact.

I fully expect to be reprimanded/retaliated upon by office staff and management for sending this email, but the people of Unit 5 need to know what’s really happening at First Student. I love being a bus driver, but I am also a taxpayer, parent, and former Unit 5 student myself and we deserve better.

David Bradley
Bus Driver – First Student


8 thoughts on “1st Student, Unit 5, and the safety of YOUR kids

  1. Ok, I know nothing about how these places are currently run – BUT this sounds insane – One would think that all drivers would be living in the town they cover, working in the town they cover etc. There was a time when the school bus driver knew all “his” or “her” kids well, their situations, their personalities etc. This often times contributed to the overall school experience – it helped make it a community – of course there were drivers who were nicer/more caring than others but the fact remained the drivers KNEW “their” kids. This “First Student” operation sounds like a mess. maybe I’m too “quaint” or old fashioned in my thinking, but I think maybe a return to set routes with asset drivers who live in the town they drive in would be a positive thing and a good place to start improving services. I came from a smaller town than Normal, but our buses were almost NEVER late unless there was bad weather or a wreck on the highway etc – can the simplest things not be done now? We also somehow always got our sports teams to their games/matches/meets etc and returned in a timely fashion, as well as our band to their contests or appearances. Does everything have to be complicated and convoluted beyond belief, to the point that it is unworkable?


    1. Growing up, our bus driver knew us because he was our driver for years! He kept an eye on the troublemakers and dealt with them swiftly and without anger.
      If these routes have a different driver all the time, i have a hard time believing those drivers can know these kids or even go the next step to say something to a troublemaker. Let alone know the route.


  2. This is NOT an uncommon story. I worked 4 summers in National Parks as a tour driver, and hardly a day went by that a “ghost tour” (unscheduled or missed by reservations) showed up and we had to secure buses to haul the visitors. I recall one occasion where they sent out a bus with bad brakes even.
    Wonder how OFTEN the First Student drivers get to check out THEIR busses?
    I ALWAYS thought that Unit 5 SHOULD go back to using their OWN staff and busses!
    But WHAT do I know??


  3. Well, it will be all FINE and DANDY saving money using ANOTHER concern, UNTIL the first bad accident or loss of life..
    I found that the better paying concerns got WAY better drivers and thus morale was better, making for a better AND safer work environment.


  4. Sounds just like the trucking industry to me. Companies don’t pay a decent wage, so they can’t get enough drivers. Then they burn out all the drivers they DO get by making them do the work of three people.


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