Are School Buses Disappearing?

By Harrison Howe

Loss of Bus Service 'A Shame'

It all comes down to money.

Buses, like teachers and academic programs, may simply become another casualty in the budget cuts that have swept school districts across the country in the past few years. For instance, the Coeur d'Alene School District in Idaho figures to save more than $90,000 this year by discontinuing service to routes in one rural county. In California, the San Francisco Unified School District, which has cut busing to hundreds of students starting this year, is seeking to cut transportation costs by 44% over the next two years.

Schools in California, unlike in many other states, are not required to provide busing. Only 16% of the state's students take a bus to school. Still, the elimination of routes could be an inconvenience to parents who will likely now have to drive their children themselves to school or to a bus stop, the latter which could in some cases be over two miles away.

The busing cuts in California join lay-offs of about 600 teachers, librarians and school nurses. As reported by California Watch in September, Long Beach Unified School District director Paul Bailey likely echoed most of the state's other districts when he said, 'It's a shame we're in the condition we're in.'

Even getting parents to pay hundreds of dollars per year for bus passes has not helped enough to avoid cutting off bus service to students living a long distance from school. In Indiana, a school district near Indianapolis began charging parents as some districts in California do to bus their children to school. It's estimated that a family sending two children could pay nearly $1,000 per year.

Safety Becomes a Concern

Opponents of school bus service reduction or elimination point to national safety statistics in their argument to keep buses rolling.

According to statistics compiled by the Surface Transportation Policy Project (STPP), a nationwide nonprofit coalition, transporting kids to school by bus is far safer than by car. School buses, which account for 25% of school commuting trips, make up only 2% of fatalities; on the other hand, cars make up nearly 60% of commuting trips and account for 74% of fatalities.

Concern has also been expressed over those students who may have to walk long distances to central pick up locations. Trustees in one California county are worried about the lack of walking lanes, crosswalks and even light along some rural roads. One trustee told the Merced Sun-Star in July, 'That's a long way for a child to walk to a bus and that concerns me a lot.'

Ironically, in the 1930's school bus transportation, then in its very early days, mainly served rural areas where it was simply too far for students to walk.

In rural areas, money is being saved in transportation and other areas in those schools choosing to move to a 4-day per week schedule.

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