Taking On Big Bus

busLocal school districts are right to be freaked out by this attempt to curtail some public bus routes serving students.  But, in the forest and trees category, there is a bigger set of issues here.   In fact, shouldn’t we be going in the other direction and trying to get school districts out of the busing business altogether?   Big school districts like to boast about how they bus more passengers each day than Greyhound.   That’s true, but also sort of insane if you think about it and consider that their primary mission is teaching and learning.  

Besides, today’s buses are horrendous polluters even when greener technology is available, control over transportation means control over parental decision-making, and school districts often aren’t even very good at designing efficient transportation schemes or adapting to changing circumstances like $4 gas, which was not exactly an unforeseen issue in the transportation world…Student safety means that, especially for younger students you want to be careful about how you merge transportation schemes, but having local or regional agencies that handle transportation would pay a lot of dividends if was approached with the dual principles of being greener and more parent-and civic friendly at the front-end.

12 Replies to “Taking On Big Bus”

  1. It’s not always the problem of the school districts. Towns and cities permit massive suburban sprawl, big McMansion developments, that set children far away from schools. And then parents, who pay the taxes, clamor for busing. I’m with you, though. If someone chooses to move to a ridiculous house (that looks just the one next door) with cathedral ceilings and other energy wasting features, then that parent should be prepared to get his own kid to school. It would have an effect on land use, and promote walking to school which would be good for kid’s health.

  2. Cooler Heads: It’s not only the suburbs that must pay for long bus rides for school children. In rural districts, often times there is only one school (or one high school) for an entire county. The children traveling the farthest may well be lower income children. Let’s not just blame “McMansions” for busing/fuel problems in America.

  3. TFT: Actually, I don’t live in a McMansion. I was commenting based on my experiences with small towns / rural areas around the state.

    Though I will say that from my understanding of local government, the large houses usually pay high property taxes. In law school, we learned that local governments are more leery of families with kids living in apartments, b/c they pay (per capita) lower property taxes. Schools are mostly subsized with property tax funds from business and larger, single family homes.

  4. In my town, the city fathers are leery of people with children because they cost so much to educate, regardless of where they live.

  5. Both urban and rural areas have students suffering exceptionally long bus rides. These students spend hours of their day being transported to and from school. We need more neighborhood schools in urban areas. Students could easily walk to school or put the responsibility of transportation back on the parents. Rural districts need to look into the more efficient use of vans and smaller busses to transport students who live farthest from the schools. Transportation directors must utilize the technology available in order to develop the most efficient routes. When school districts purchase new busses, they should be looking at hybrids. The cost of fuel is only going to continue to rise.

  6. tft: No hard feelings. It’s too bad that these transportation problems can’t be avoided. Maybe MFC’s suggestion of using smaller buses or vans to cut back on pollution and fuel costs is worth trying.

  7. I live near Boston, and I think there’s very little city-run busing there — there are student passes for the public transit system, and that pretty well takes care of it. But most areas don’t have that kind of public transit network…the thing that’s striking to me about school busing is areas may have a ton of need for buses a couple hours each day (say, 7-8am and 3-4pm, or thereabouts), and little to no need at other times, which doesn’t sound like a way to support a functioning public transit system.

    My hometown had surprising amounts of public transit for a sub-50,000-person-town, but neither the capacity nor the routes to handle the school system. Alas.

  8. To me, this is just another example of how mis-manged our local governments are. Why is the school districts in the transportation business anyway? They should focus on teaching our kids how to read and write.

  9. Disclaimer: I am a school transportation contractor, however, all that follows is verifiable, and I include links where possible.

    I agree, school districts should not be in the transportation business. Private contractors provide the service much more efficiently and at a significantly lower price. (http://www.cgcs.org/publications/KPI_Report2.pdf)

    Regarding the polution issue, today’s school buses produce 95% less emissions as pre-2004 school buses(http://epa.gov/cleanschoolbus/regs.htm). In 2010, the standards change again, making school buses even cleaner.
    Hybrid school buses are just becoming commercially available, and currently cost more than three times the cost of a normal diesel school bus (If a prius cost $75,000, would you see many on the road?) My company will be taking delivery of the first Hybrid School Bus on Long Island, New York in about six months from now in a test program for the state. These prices will come down eventually. I believe that the hybrids will make a real impact in the future.

    In addition, it is important to remember that the average school bus in the US is responsible for taking 39 cars/suv’s off the road which otherwise would be taking kids to and from school. Even if all 39 cars are hybrids, the school bus is still the cleaner, more fuel efficient alternative.

    Regarding the need for school buses at all, I point to the current seat belt debate on school buses (I am for them, by the way). The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s research indicates that by spending many millions of dollars fitting buses with lap-shoulder belts, we may be able to save one life annually. However, if all students were simply mandated to ride a school bus to school (at less cost, since the service is already available in most areas) we could save over 450 lives annually (http://www.trb.org/news/blurb_detail.asp?id=673) This is why the NHTSA has reccomended not putting lap-shoulder belts in buses, but instead, spending money trying to get kids to ride the buses in the first place.

    Putting aside all of the above, the issue here revolved around unfair competition. Can a transit agency provide transportation less expensively that a private school bus contractor? This is very very deceptive… Transit agencies get 80% or more of their funding from government agencies in the form of grants. While the School District may only seem responsible for a smaller amount, the taxpayers are getting hosed, big time. If you include all costs, you will find the transits are far less efficient, dollar for dollar. Also, creating a system where the older kids are on transit and the younger kids on school buses.. requires many more buses and drivers, for what can be easily avoided by simply adjusting bell times for multiple routes.

    I challenge any school district anywhere to prove there is a safer, less expensive form of transportation for their children than school bus contractors. Can’t be done.

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