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A sharp increase in buses arrived to Boston schools Friday morning before the bell

The Boston school system experienced a significant increase in buses arriving to school before the morning bell on Friday.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

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The Boston school system experienced a significant increase in buses arriving to school before the morning bell on Friday, following a week of concerns about a bus driver shortage that turned into a hot issue in the mayor’s race.

Some 81 percent of the district’s buses got to school in time for the morning bell on Friday, the second day of the school year, while only 1 percent of buses were more than a half hour late, according to data released by Acting Mayor Kim Janey’s office.

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The punctuality of the bus fleet was much better than the first day of classes Thursday when 57 percent of buses arrived on time, the best first day on-time performance in six years.

Buses tend to arrive more promptly on the second day of classes as drivers and families settle into new routines. But Friday’s performance stands apart because it was well above the system’s five-year average of 73 percent.

The school system also recorded its highest attendance rate ever for students returning to school on the first day Thursday, with 80.5 percent of those registered showing up.

“These milestones are the result of dedication and collaboration and I want to thank the entire BPS community for their tireless work,” Superintendent Brenda Cassellius said in a statement. “As we greeted students and staff returning to school [Thursday] I saw so much joy and happy reunions.”

The stronger performance comes as the district is under pressure from the state to increase the efficiency and reliability of its busing fleet as part of a sweeping agreement beginning this year to improve the overall running of the school system and the academic achievement in its schools.

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But so far the effort has been rocky. Cassellius and Janey warned families a week ago to brace for major bus delays spurred by a severe driver shortage. Boston buses 25,000 students to school daily, relying on about 700 drivers. The officials said their contractor, Transdev, was short between 40 and 60 drivers, and the school system still needed to hire about 100 bus monitors.

The shortage quickly turned into a political issue as the mayor’s race heads into the final days before the preliminary election, with Janey, who is hoping to secure the city’s top job permanently, taking heat from her rivals.

In an effort to avert a busing crisis and encourage more drivers to work during the pandemic, Janey, Cassellius, and Transdev struck a deal Tuesday night with the bus drivers union to temporarily extend their contract, which expired this summer, to mid-November. The deal came with incentives, including up to $250 in bonuses for drivers who work the first five days of the school year and extra pay if they showed up 15 minutes early.

Janey said she was pleased the school system exceeded its on-time performance of its buses this year in comparison to previous years. She also said all bus routes had drivers assigned to them on Friday.

“I’m grateful for the support of parents, students, bus drivers, teachers and motorists, as we work to get every BPS student to school on time,” Janey said in a statement.

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Some parents on social media questioned the validity of the statistics over the last two days and claims that all routes had coverage. A few have shared messages they received from the school system informing them their children’s bus routes were uncovered, including on Friday. Others said they were not contacted at all.

“My kids bus was not covered on the way home after being transported in the am. No call or text,” a father from Charlestown tweeted around 3 p.m. Friday.


James Vaznis can be reached at james.vaznis@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globevaznis.