Monday, July 15, 2024

Student Transportation


Talking Transportation

By Jim Cameron

Author: “Off The Record: Confessions of a Media Consultant

In our small town we call it “The SUV Parade”, the weekday ritual-like procession homing in on a handful of targets, carrying that most precious of cargos:  our kids, heading to school.

But why the private car parade when the town already spends hundreds of thousands of dollars on school buses?  Why aren’t the kids on the yellow buses?

Sure, sometimes they have early activities or don’t want to shlep their tuba on the bus.  But often its because the kids don’t think its cool to “bus” when mom (or increasingly, work-from-home dads) can drive them?  Safety is another big concern, especially where there are inadequate sidewalks or kids would have to walk through a sketchy neighborhood.

Even riding the school bus can be fraught with danger when motorists ignore the flashing lights and decide to pass a stopped bus. First offense for that is $475 and in a construction, utility, traffic or fire zone that move will cost you $925.  There’s even a call for equipping school buses with cameras to catch offenders.

According to the Federal Highway Administration there has been a sea-change in student transportation in the last 50 years, especially since COVID.  Today private cars carry more than half of all students with school buses carrying about 35%.

Interestingly, the parents with the highest education levels themselves are the ones most likely to drive their kids instead of putting them on the bus.  Of course the former group is more likely to be a stay-at-home parent while the less educated are probably headed to jobs themselves.

In a time of tight budgets, “right sizing” school bus routes may be a more attractive source of cost savings than cutting teachers.

But what’s wrong with walking?  When I was a kid, I used to walk a mile each day to and from school… up hill, both ways!  Today bike and foot transport is just 11%.  And those taking public transit is about 4%.

But in some cities, like Hartford, the CT Transit bus system is so disjointed as to make a two-mile trip a 50 min ordeal.  Proponents call student transport a matter of social justice.  They want students to have free bus passes, just like in NYC where school buses are a rarity.

For college students that option is already there: U-Pass.  For just $20 a semester full-time college and university students can ride for free anywhere in Connecticut, even on Metro-North and The Hartford Line (but not on the Amtrak-run trains).  For cash-strapped students this free transportation option often makes it possible for them to attend a school otherwise out of reach.  Plus, they get to use transit to go shopping or attend social events.

U-Pass was the brainchild of then-CDOT Commissioner Jim Redeker back in 2017.  Not only does it fill empty seats on mass transit, U-pass is training the next generation about the value of taking the state’s trains and buses… even if their parents started them out by being chauffeured.

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. His weekly column “Talking Transportation” is archived here.  You can contact Jim at [email protected].


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