JCPS Students Speak Out About "Transportation Disaster"

We heard from JCPS students on their experiences getting to and from school on August 9th, the impact this had on their bus drivers, and more.

A close-up of the top of a yellow school bus.

On August 9th, Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS), Kentucky’s largest school system–in which 70% of students ride the bus to school, according to JCPS–began its first day of the 2023 school year. As reported by The Courier Journal, JCPS implemented a system requiring fewer drivers for buses. But what unfolded were not standard hiccups, but a disastrous, district-wide transportation upheaval. (Even JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio called it a “transportation disaster.”)

According to district officials, after an afternoon of delays and logistical chaos, the last students were dropped off at their bus stops around 10 PM. Reporting from Louisville Public Media outlined the impact of parents not knowing where their children, some as young as five years old, were for hours.

In the wake of demands for answers on the roots of the crisis, multiple local news outlets reported that JCPS spent or will spend $256,000 on a system designed by AlphaRoutes, which implements artificial intelligence to “optimize its bell schedule and bus routes ahead of the new school year.”

Speaking with Louisville Public Media, an anonymous bus driver said that her route was “riddled with inaccuracies,” and “longer and more complex than ever before.” However, the exact role of AlphaRoutes in the transportation failures has yet to be pinpointed, especially as long-existent infrastructure issues such as bus driver shortages were what led JCPS to employ the Boston-based service to begin with, according to The Courier Journal.

Executive Director of Kentucky Center for Economic Policy, Jason Bailey, pointed out that the Kentucky state legislature is not fulfilling their responsibility to fully fund school transportation, stating on Twitter: “If the state had been fulfilling its responsibility to fund transportation, JCPS would’ve had 82% more state dollars over the last three years dedicated specifically to hiring and retaining bus drivers.” 

Amidst statewide response, Republican lawmakers have called on Governor Andy Beshear to call the Kentucky General Assembly for a special session dedicated to overhauling many existing JCPS policies and structures––including, but not limited to splitting up JCPS, making “extensive” changes to its school board, and pushing for “school choice”-style policies (the likes of which have been notably opposed by student groups in other states). 

JCPS superintendent Marty Pollio has attempted to provide the JCPS community reassurance, saying, “We know it’s been a challenging time for families…[but] I do believe these will be positive changes that impact student outcomes for JCPS.” A “staggered reopening” plan was later announced, with elementary and middle schoolers returning to school on August 18th, and high schoolers returning August 21st. 


Kentucky Student Voice Team wanted to hear directly from students who experienced the JCPS bus crisis on their first day of school. When we reached out, one student summarized the experience with two words: “tired, upset.” Someone else pointed out that, since last year, bus delays have been fifteen-to-thirty minutes–but on the first day of the school, they had to wait for two hours standing outside. Other students discussed being late for work and the impact on bus drivers. Read on to hear perspectives from students about what exactly unfolded on their journeys to and from school on August 9th, and what they want adults to know. 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. In order to protect privacy, students have been granted anonymity.

Students on Their August 9th Experience

My morning bus was about thirty minutes late picking me up, and from what I could tell, I was one of the first people on the bus. The route was about an hour and a half long. When we finally got to the depot, we waited on buses for about thirty minutes. The bus was four to a seat–three of us in one seat and one girl sitting in another girl's lap because the bus driver said no one could be standing. I got to school at around 9:25 when school started at 8:40. Missed my whole first period. 

In the afternoon, I was really hoping things would have been better, especially after the rough morning but it wasn't, sadly. My bus was late and about 200 or so people were stuffed in our large cafeteria waiting on buses. Ours was the first to leave after about 20 minutes. When we got outside, it was super unorganized and later, I had a freshman ask me for help because she was told to get on the wrong bus. I gave her my phone so she could call her parents. There were probably five other people having the same problem. They were told to wait at the depot for someone to take them home. At the depot, we waited exactly one hour and twenty minutes for other buses to show up. All the while the sweet bus driver was trying her best to stop the fighting going on at the back of the bus. 

- Anonymous student, 15 

My bus was 20 minutes late picking me up. It's a 20-30 minute drive to the depot, so I got to the depot at 3pm. There were two other buses, but one bus was running late. We waited in the depot for about 30 minutes, and one of the bus staff got on and told us it'd be another 30 mins til the last bus arrived. Some kids (including me and my brother) were able to call our parents to pick us up at the depot. My 2nd bus takes about 30 minutes to get to my stop, so if I had stayed I wouldn't have gotten home til around 4:30/5pm. If my mom had been working, I still would've been sitting in a hot bus without air conditioning for an hour and a half, and then another half hour until I got to my stop.  

- Anonymous student, 17

My stop is an 11 minute walk away from my house in the pure darkness as my bus comes at 5:52 am. I feel as though walking distance and safety should be considered. I was on my first bus for almost 2 hours and was over 20 minutes late to school. In the afternoon, I was a little over an hour late to my stop and there were only 4 kids on my second afternoon bus, including me. We were sitting at the depot for a very long time in the humidity. 

- Anonymous student, 17

My situation was that my siblings and I all have different start and end times (there are 4 of us, two at the same school.) This wouldn't be an issue if only my mother wasn't a bus driver. The worst part of coming home on Wednesday, was not only coming home to an empty house and watching my siblings for an unknown amount of time, it was watching my mother walk through the door at 8pm knowing that she worked a full 5am to 8pm shift with barely any break and watching her barely have the energy to cook a microwave meal and fall asleep an hour after she walked into the house. 

- Anonymous student, 15

Okay, so, in the morning, I walked to where my bus used to come because the school said nothing about it changing. So then the bus comes down to the old bus stop, and comes to pick up 4 other kids that also walked to the old stop telling us the stop changed. Then we ride to school and we have to wait in the car rider line for our bus to actually get to the bus circle. Also, there were so many buses coming in at once that we couldn’t go around. We had to wait for about 25 minutes and we were late to first period on the first day. 

- Maniyah, 16

The bus was really late in the morning, bus driver passed way too many stops. The day was alright until my phone died, and I couldn't call my parents or text my boss that I'd be late. My bus didn’t show up until 5 and I was supposed to be at work at 4. 

- Anonymous student, 15

I boarded my bus at around 3:00 PM. I got on the bus and was taken to my depot. When I was at the depot I expected to wait about 10-15 minutes like I did in the morning. Except that is not what happened at all. I waited a whole hour in a bus that was so hot I could barely breathe. I was hungry, I had to use the restroom so bad, and I was tired but did not sleep because I did not want to miss my stop. I was in tears but trying my hardest to hide them. After the last bus got to the depot everyone on my bus cheered like we had all won $100,000. I finally reached my stop and ran right to my mom. I got home at 6:18 and was so happy to get off of that bus.  
- Sascha, 11

It was completely different and took way longer than last year's first day–about an hour longer. The bus driver had to ask the students for help because the sheet that she was given was not efficient. It did not provide the info she needed. I have to walk way further and I almost missed the bus on the way home because of the new way they made it.

-Anonymous, 13

Students on What Adults Should Know

My seven-year-old sister's bus never showed up at her school. After two hours of waiting at the bus stop, my parents finally got a hold of someone who told them that she was still at school. Throughout the day it was really unsettling hearing bus monitors giving out missing persons descriptions of kindergarteners with no response. 

- Anonymous student, 15 

I just wanna ask school staff and administration to show some respect for our bus drivers. They put up with a lot–buses without AC, and sometimes even without heating, along with rowdy kids. I'm not happy with the disrespect being shown to our bus drivers by the administration. They are not replaceable. Bus drivers are rare people who have a lot of patience, as well as compassion for me and my peers. The bus drivers deserve way more respect, and dare I say they even deserve a little more pay too. 

My other thing is, it's unfair for kids who are from low-income houses to have to walk half a mile to their bus stop, and then sit on the bus for 3 or 4 hours, especially on a bus without AC when we've been having record heat. We are people, not cattle. Regardless what kind of family we are from, where we either can't be picked up from school because our parents work full-time or two jobs, or because our families don't own a car.

- Anonymous student, 17

Tired, upset

-Anonymous student, 15 

A. Treat the drivers better. My bus driver was not helped when she needed it, which created more of a delay. She needed assistance because 3 of the 4 kids–everyone but me–had stops she was told not to go to, so she had to figure out where to bring these kids all while not being answered over the speakers. I think everyone, students, teachers, and drivers alike, should be treated better as a whole, *especially* in crisis. 

B. This system is a mess, especially for the children. I'm talking elementary kids, new middle schoolers, etc. Some of these kids have never been on a depot bus before–heck, some of them haven't even been on a bus before and the fact that they were thrown into this mess is ridiculous. It doesn't feel like they thought about everyone in this situation. 

C. The information sent home about buses was incorrect. Bus finder had the correct information but bus finder has been so unreliable for me in the past 7 years I've ridden a bus so it's hard to take what it says seriously because who knows how that's gonna work out? Overall, I understand the attempt, but this feels like something that needs slow integration. Have they seen this work before? Because if not it's a bit of a crappy time to try. Maybe I'm biased because it's my senior year, but I think something this big takes time and trials before announcing it and changing everyone's everything.

-Anonymous, 17 


We need to feel safe and also be able to get home on time. I think they need to take is not nti because then we will have the problem of kids not doing their work and flunking/failing out of school. JCPS just needs to get their act together and think about what is safest and best for all of the kids in their district because this is pitiful.

- Maniyah, 16

My second issue is that on 8-10-23 they still had the audacity to call her into work and make her drive her routes as if it was the bus drivers' fault that their impossible routes were not done the way JCPS expected. My mother sat down with me and told me about all the new and old bus drivers that quit/plan to quit and was laughing at the fact that she knew it wouldn't work because JCPS was understaffed with bus drivers in the first place. This system really is screwed and the way that the bus drivers' complaints were only listened to after this disaster happened makes it even worse. I hope for better for bus drivers and anyone else who is inconvenienced by this system

- Anonymous, 15

What happened on Wednesday was absolutely ridiculous, and I feel for every family who didn't get to see their kids get home until late at night. Children were dropped off at the wrong stops and were lost, buses didn't pick kids up for school until hours later, and the last kid was dropped off at home at 10:00–WAY past their bedtime. That's gotta be so scary for them, having no way to call their parents and wondering when they're gonna be home :( and some of these poor babies were on the buses for hours; tired, restless and crying, with no access to food, air conditioning or the bathroom. And the parents? their anger and frustration is totally justified. If I had a kid, best believe I'd be picking them up for the rest of the school year. But not all parents can do that, y'know? Some can't always request work schedule changes, some don't have cars, and some don't always have trusted family to pick up/drop off kids. All in all, this is just a mess and I hope it gets resolved soon, because if we have to go to NTI or wait until September to go back to school, I will lose it. All I want is a normal senior year, and so far it looks like it ain't happening :( 

- Anonymous student, 17

I want them to know that the bus routes being made by AI is just horrible. They need to do it themselves.

-Lucy, 9


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