Sometimes I wonder how we got to the point of doing things the way we do them. Did you ever ponder men wearing ties? Or elaborate birthday parties for one year olds? Another one struck me the other day.
How did we get to the point of having a whole fleet of big yellow school buses for our high schools, most of which sit around during the day? It’s not a universal practice. In fact, it’s not even all that common except where there is no alternative. Perhaps it’s time to rethink it, at least in some cases.
Many places in the world rely on students using public transportation to get to school. Not third world countries, but first world countries. Urban areas where students and schools are concentrated commonly avoid the inefficiency of having idle buses during the school day. They avoid the cost of acquiring and maintaining all those buses and the labor costs of specialized employees to act as drivers. Why don’t we do the same?
Recently there was an article in The Bakersfield Californian reporting an additional 3 percent reduction in rides on Golden Empire Transit. A review of the details of the ridership report shows that most routes average between 10 and 16 total riders during each trip, often each person for only a portion of the journey. Most of those average six or seven people at any one time. And the heaviest times are after 9 a.m. So the buses are running mostly empty during the hours students would be commuting.
Right now we are running a parallel system of polluting vehicles down the same streets as the GET buses. Just because some of them are run on compressed natural gas doesn’t mean they are clean, just cleaner.
Oh, but that will never work! The kids will get lost! Nonsense, they don’t elsewhere and our kids aren’t any dumber than they are.
Well, the students can’t afford it! They don’t have to. Elsewhere students are given a transit pass each month paid for by the school which they can then use 24/7. Which means they can get to after-school jobs, sporting events and other places without Mom and Dad driving them. The passes are paid for from the budget not spent on buses and the public transit system is much healthier. A special bulk student pass fare is negotiated between the school district and the public transit system.
But the buses don’t run there! Make an adjustment in some routes. It was done by GET not that long ago in Bakersfield and could be done again selectively.
The kids will all be murdered or kidnapped! Really? Our society has its problems, but with 30 students on a bus they will be fine just as they now are on school buses.
But it won’t work everywhere! True, but so what? Some areas won’t lend themselves to such a system. Some buses will still be needed for school events, away games, field trips and special needs students. But it would work for a bunch of students. And it would reduce traffic congestion, pollution and the school districts’ future employee and pension obligations. For students from low-income neighborhoods, it would be especially helpful in providing transportation during non-school hours.
The Kern High School District has 177 buses now, of which 55 are powered by natural gas. We might be able to retire some of the oldest, most polluting diesels by transitioning to public transit passes where possible with a plan to move in that direction more and more.
This is my modest proposal: Let’s seriously explore using public transit buses to get students to high school and reduce the need for a separate fleet of school buses which will reduce traffic, pollution and provide the community with a stronger public transit system.