Pain at pump means full school buses
EAGLE COUNTY – When gas prices started skyrocketing this past summer, consumers began to look for ways to save at the pump. Some purchased hybrid cars, some carpooled and others rode the bus.Many local parents decided one way to save pennies at the pump was to send their children to school on the bus. Parents, who used to chauffeur tykes to the front door of their neighborhood school, are now waving them off at the bus stop near home.School buses have been carrying much fuller loads since the beginning of the school year, says Melanie McMichael, director of transportation for the Eagle County School District.
“The more gas goes up,” she says, “the more people try and ride the bus.”The number of riders on Eagle County school busses has jumped 15 to 20 percent over last school year. In fact, riders have grown so much this year that McMichael is petitioning the school board for more buses.The need for more buses in the immediate future isn’t entirely due to gas prices. A growing population invariably translates to more riders. McMichael notes that new developments are still going up in the valley. But, she adds, there is little doubt that much of the immediate spike is indeed due to pain at the pump.
“My drivers talked to people who say they don’t want to have to drive their children all the way into school,” due to gas prices, McMichael says. “They just want to drop them off at the bus stop.” So far, McMichael hasn’t had to add more bus routes. What she has done is shuffle drivers. The district has 38 drivers and is enjoying an exceptionally stable driver pool, compared with years past. McMichael said. But if move riders get on the bus, those drivers may not be enough, she said.”If we have to have additional routes, it would stretch us so thin we might not be able to have any athletic trips or any other kind of extra-curricular trips,” she says.
Elementary and middle school trips would be the first to be curtailed, since high school athletics are a higher priority, she says. Complicating the problem is the fact that the school district never knows exactly how many students will choose to ride the bus each year until the first day of school, when they show up at the bus stop.By law, regular-sized buses can’t carry more than 65 riders. The newer, larger buses can carry up to 72. The school district has approximately 5,000 students. Last year, buses were accommodating roughly 3,300 riders; this year, they are transporting nearly 3,750.