SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Empty school busses belonging to the San Diego Unified School District are being driven around even though most students continue virtual learning.
While this happens, San Diego Unified sits in Phase One of its reopening plan — meaning many students are still at home.
Erin Coller's 5-year-old is in the school district. Right now he's learning from home but Coller says she seen busses in the neighborhood.
"Every time I see one of those busses I just think who is riding them - where could they possibly be going," says Coller. "It stopped at our house around the time that it used to come to our house and I was loading the kids in the car and I was like are you and angel can you just take them and drive them around please, what are you doing and he was just driving the route."
At the end of October, Team 10 followed school busses on several days to see where they're going and what they're doing. After leaving the bus yard in Kearny Mesa, one bus headed north to the Scripps Ranch area. The bus made several stops like it was following a planned route, but no students ever got on or off. About 90 minutes and 31 miles later, the bus was back at the yard.
Another bus left the yard later that same afternoon and headed to a school in the Poway area. It picked up one student and then headed south to drop them off.
The next week, another bus bus went from the yard to Interstate 805 south. It continued on to State Route 54 east to then over to SR-125 north. The bus then completed the circle on SR-52 west. About 40 miles and 53 minutes later, the bus was back in the yard. It never stopped.
Standing outside the school lot, bus movement is constant. SDUSD says for good reason.
"Just starting them up and running them in the parking lot for 10 minutes is not sufficient. They need to put on several miles to make sure that that transmission is maintained that fluids are at the right levels that seals and gaskets are all working also to make sure that our batteries are all charged," says Marceline Marques, SDUSD's operations support officer.
Marques oversees the district's transportation.
"During a regular school year, you would see busses operating empty. I think it just stands out right now because most of our students are participating in online learning," Marques said.
Part of that time on the road is driver proficiency. Right now, along with honing their skills, drivers are doing everything from delivering textbooks, to educational supplies, and computers to students' homes.
They are evaluating stops for safety and space with social distancing requirements and evaluating school drop-off areas for physical distancing needs and adjustments among other things. The list of driver responsibilities goes on.
"If it's diesel it needs to be run or it can have problems but as far as delivering supplies I'm shocked to hear that they are doing that because we have multiple students at our school who can not come pick up supplies," one parent told Team 10.
The district says it pays $1.83 per gallon for renewable diesel. Busses average about seven miles per gallon. So that first 30-mile trip we watched cost a little less than $8 in gas. The bus that didn't stop, about $10.50 for that trip.
"I think that the practice of running our buses far outweighs the cost of the fuel or the concern that folks have when they see it running without a passenger," Marques said.
Right now, about 150 busses are transporting students. Others are being used to help in other ways and some like we saw are rotating through that maintenance schedule. The district says overall, it needs to be ready for the next phases in reopening.