The has been getting a grand tour of New Jersey - unwillingly. That's because the bus drivers who ferry band members and parents from school to games and competitions where they play take circuitous routes, avoid main arteries, and keep getting lost.
Diane MacKay, president of the CHS Band Parents, was frustrated when she related the band's problems with drivers of Negba Bus Company at Thursday night's meeting.
"They're late and they don't know where they're going," MacKay said. The bus drivers, she said, aren't allowed to take the Parkway or the Turnpike, even though those are often the most direct and quickest routes.
That might seem like a small matter, except that it took one bus driver at a recent New Brunswick game two hours to travel from Colonia to New Brunswick - normally a 10 mile trip, and maybe 40 minutes down Route 1 with traffic.
"They wouldn't listen to directions," MacKay said. The band uses two buses, and on this particular trip, the bus that was two hours late arrived only a few minutes before halftime, leaving the band with seconds to spare before they had to perform.
Negba Bus Company, based in Lakewood, lost half their bus routes from the Lakewood Board of Education after they were cited by the state with 150 safety violations. Parents of Lakewood kids also filed 186 complaints against the bus company, for many of the same reasons of which the CHS band parents have been complaining.
The same tardiness and getting lost has happened before, at a band competition that took place in Jackson, MacKay said.
"At competitions, the bands should arrive an hour early, sign in, and they're directed to the practice area prior to performing," she said. Because they were so late, "we skipped all the protocol and had to rush to perform."
On the way home from the New Brunswick game, the driver got lost again getting back to Colonia and ended up somewhere on Route 287.
The driver only yielded to the bus passengers when a teacher threatened to call the police, MacKay said.
Another issue is that during competitions, the drivers of both buses leave one for the use of the band members to store their instruments and items, while both drivers board the other bus and leave the competition. They eventually come back, but meanwhile, they don't lock the bus with the band members' property on it.
"It's a huge liability problem with all the instruments left on an unsecured bus," MacKay said.
It's a problem, admitted Business Administrator Dennis Demarino. "They can be fined for lateness" after so many tardy violations, he said, and it's something the board will look into.
Negba is one of approximately a half dozen bus company the district uses. "We haven't used them long," DeMarino said.
Negba has had a troubled history since last year, when they were nailed by a surprise state inspection that turned up 150 safety violations, according to a report in the Star Ledger. The violations included drivers running errands while students were on the bus and failing to pick up students. Twenty-four buses out of the bus line's 96 bus fleet were put out of service after that inspection.
Earlier this year, the Lakewood School Board decided to let Negba retain most of the district's business, according to another Star Ledger report. The Lakewood Board said they had 189 complaints of lateness and no-shows about the bus company.
A month later in February, the Lakewood Board changed their minds and decided to strip half the bus routes from Negba because of complaints like leaving children standing out in the cold, taking unauthorized bus routes, and running personal errands, according to another report.
The bus company couldn't be reached for comment.
MacKay said the Colonia band has only had contact with Negba this year. "I hope we can find a solution to this," she said. "It shouldn't take two hours to get to New Brunswick!"