Omaha school bus switch mirrors Columbia plan

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OMAHA, Neb. - A new bus provider will bring students to Columbia Public Schools for the next five years after school officials voted to switch bus providers starting next school year.

The Columbia Public School board selected Student Transportation of America, STA, to serve as the school district's new bus provider. The contract replaces the current bus service, First Student.

The $53 million contract outlines details including more disabled-accessible buses, new technology with GPS and Wi-Fi, and lower fuel costs.

Columbia Public School Board Vice President Jim Whitt said the discussion about switching bus providers has been on the table since he's been on the board.

"I think every so often it's good to rebid a major service like that to see what else is out there to see if there are any significant improvements that we can make," Whitt said.

Whitt said he is looking forward to a new management style.

"I'd like to see better management, fewer problems in terms of on-the-bus problems, disciplinary issues," he said.

Whitt also said he hopes the new service can assure families more timely bus routes and an orderly transition.

"It's in our best interest to take a look at that large of a part of the business that we do and to do the best jobs we can to find a company that can service our needs," Whitt said.

Student Transportation of America launched its first contract in the Midwest with Omaha public schools at the start of the 2013-2014 school year.

STA Omaha Bus Driver Melvin Felton switched from a First Student to an STA employee with Omaha Public School made its transition to STA in 2013. He said there is more structure at work, and the company is run similar to the standards of corporate America.

"The most important thing that I find different between STA and First Student. STA, their number one priority is safety," Felton said. "They want you to be conscientious, alert, aware driver and their system is set up for that."

Felton also said STA management works to build a relationship with employees and as well as stresses the importance of building a relationship with the students.

STA's Omaha General Manager David Prince said nurturing personal relationships within the company improves services.

"It's not based off of what you can do for me. It's based off of what we can do for each other," Prince said.

In Omaha, STA provides ongoing training, anti-bullying campaigns and established programs to strengthen employee engagement and responsibility.

"This is the first contract we had in the Midwest (we're) trying to run it and run it right. So that people outside of Omaha can see what we're doing," Prince said.

A spokesperson for First Student told KOMU 8 News "It has been our privilege to serve Columbia Public Schools. While First Student regrets that the district has chosen a different provider, we wish them all the best and hope that we will have an opportunity to submit a proposal in the future."

The CPS board finalized the contract at it's December meeting. The new five-year contract will start at the beginning of the 2015-2016 schools year. Durham Transportation Services and First Student Inc. also bid for a contract with CPS. STA bid the lowest of the three services.