Rural Alaska

Lower Kuskokwim School District uses taxis to transport students

A mobile Kusko Cab dispatcher keeps track of his fleet on a board listing sections of town on a slow Aug. 28, 2014, in Bethel. (Erik Hill / ADN archive)

BETHEL – A Western Alaska school district is turning to taxis after scrambling to find transportation for students before the start of the school year Wednesday.

The Lower Kuskokwim School District doesn't have enough buses for Bethel-area students, so administrators reached a last-minute deal with a taxi company to fill the transportation gap, KYUK-AM reported.

Kusko Cab, one of two taxi operators in Bethel, will pick up students in a similar manner as the school bus system. The district will give cab vouchers to students, who will be picked up at designated stops, said Naim Shabani, the owner of the taxi company.

"We're trying to mirror the bus system as closely as possible," Shabani said. "Think of it as like a shuttle service, where folks going in the same direction hang out, and the shuttle comes by and picks up as many as they can."

The district finalized the deal about 36 hours before the first day of school this week. The district's rush for transportation occurred after it parted ways with longtime contractor Golden Eagle Unlimited. The contractor has provided transportation for students in Bethel for more than two decades.

The district was unable to reach a new contract with the company this summer, so it is purchasing a fleet of school buses for about $600,000 earlier than expected. The buses are expected to arrive in Bethel in about six weeks, Superintendent Dan Walker said.

Walker said it has been routine for some students in the district to take taxis.