Behind the scenes, officials in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district’s transportation department do what they can to have school buses running smoothly and on time. Sometimes, weather or traffic conditions on Pacific Coast Highway cause route delays. Other times, mechanical issues force them to call for backup vehicles.
In recent weeks, though, department director Neal Abramson and his staff have been dealing with a more unusual obstacle: the Porter Ranch gas leak.
The massive methane leak at Aliso Canyon Oil Field in an area of Los Angeles County between the San Fernando and Santa Clarita valleys has led to the evacuation of hundreds of homes amid public health concerns and prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency earlier this month.
The leak has also led officials to close Los Angeles Unified School District campuses in the area, meaning hundreds of students are being transported to other sites. And the urgency of the situation has given L.A. Unified priority over SMMUSD and other districts for bus scheduling.
The strains on transportation have been felt in the local school district since the start of the semester, spokeswoman Gail Pinsker said. Three trips for February are being rearranged, and transportation officials are working on future reservations as issues arise.
The leak has complicated SMMUSD transportation scheduling for extracurricular field trips, including sporting events. It has also impacted bus logistics for students traveling within the district, like when Malibu students travel to Santa Monica for honor band rehearsal.
“With our resources of companies, this has not caused the cancellation of any trips, only some challenges with making sure all our needs are covered,” Pinsker said. “We expect as they get more into a routine that the impact of this situation will lessen and go away.”
SMMUSD does not have long-term contracts with school bus and tour bus companies because it is a relatively small district, so it typically books individual trips a month or two in advance. But the Porter Ranch gas leak has caused some local scheduling to get “bumped” as bus companies address L.A. Unified’s needs, Pinsker said.
“We are committed to safe and timely travel by bus and parents need not be concerned about this added challenge,” Pinsker said. “We can assure parents that bus transportation continues as planned and, as in the past, if there is an issue they will be contacted. This is only unique because it is potentially ongoing for a little bit of time and not just a one-time issue to resolve.”
The gas leak has not impacted home-to-school transportation. The district uses its own fleet of buses to provide that service for students with special needs as well as for about 300 children who ride from home to Malibu schools.
SMMUSD doesn’t offer home-to-school bus service for interdistrict transfer students. Many of the students with interdistrict permits have parents who work for the district or the City of Santa Monica, Pinsker said.
“We have a few interdistrict transfer students who take one of our regular buses from Santa Monica to a Malibu school, but they are picking up at a regular stop within our district boundaries,” Pinsker said.