Lauretti: Shelton buses ready to roll

City of Shelton school buses parked in Shelton, Conn. June 7, 2018.

City of Shelton school buses parked in Shelton, Conn. June 7, 2018.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON - The city-owned transportation company will have enough drivers for school opening Sept. 8, according to Mayor Mark Lauretti.

Bus companies across the state are seeking drivers. Some companies - such as All-Star in Newtown - have been forced to consolidate routes because of the lack of drivers. Lauretti, however, said the city-owned company is ready to go on Day One.

“We have enough drivers for the first day of school,” Lauretti said.

That has not been the case in some other communities. Three hundred students in Hamden public schools had to find alternate transportation for their first day of school Monday after the district notified parents over the weekend about a bus driver shortage. Hamden employs First Student Bus Company.

Some Shelton parents and Board of Education members complained this past school year about the unreliability of the Shelton Student Transportation Service and the increased number of last-minute bus run cancellations. And some of those same concerns have been posted on some Shelton Facebook pages in the weeks leading up to schools reopening.

Lauretti brushed off the concerns, saying a handful of people “bash me over the buses, but they couldn’t be more wrong,” he said. “They are just trying to incite people.”

Ken Nappi, Shelton’s student transportation director, confirmed the company has a “sufficient number of drivers” for Day One, but did not say the total amount of drivers or monitors on staff at present. Last year, the company ran 54 routes with 62 drivers and 15 monitors.

The city started transporting some Shelton students - those attending Emmett O’Brien and Platt technical high schools - Monday. Nappi said transportation for local students attending the agricultural school in Trumbull also begins this week.

“We’re looking great. We have enough drivers and spare drivers,” Nappi said, but added routes are still being finalized as more students are added to the registration lists. Those final routes should be sent to the schools and parents later this week.

Lauretti praised the company for updating the student lists. In all, he said some 600 names have been removed from the rolls, which has led to cutting a handful of routes through consolidation this coming school year.

“That is not insignificant,” Lauretti about the reduction in routes and culling of the student lists. “This should be done annually.”

Lauretti touted the overall success of the city-run bus company, saying that the city saved $800,000 two years ago and $1.6 million this past year. Lauretti said some of the savings were due to the pandemic shuttering schools at various points, but he also credited better management.

“We never closed schools due to lack of drivers, not like other cities and towns,” Lauretti said. “We were forced to miss some runs, very few by comparison. But at times there would be 17 drivers calling out at the last minute. COVID placed a big part in that.”

Lauretti also answered rumors city employees have driven buses. He said they hadn’t, but he planned to get city employees like police officers and public works staff certified so if the need arose, they could, he said.

“Who knows the roads better than the people that patrol them, plow them, maintain them?” he said.

Lauretti said training and certifying bus drivers was a time-intensive process. According to Nappi a number of recruits are in training and will be ready in October. He added that the bus company is always actively recruiting more drivers and continally advertises job openings on local websites.