In a teen's cool world, buses are a last resort

Frank Di Giacomo, Publisher
Posted on November 1, 2002

A recent article in the New York Times affirmed what we have known for years: Many teenagers won't ride a school bus because it's "uncool." Those teens fortunate enough to have a driver's license and their own car prefer to drive themselves to and from school or to hitch a ride with a friend or their parents — anything rather than ride the "loser cruiser."

The article focused on the lack of parking space at high school campuses in Connecticut, a situation created partly by the reluctance of teens to ride available school buses. Because of the teens' unwillingness to ride the "loser cruiser" to school, the article said campus parking spaces are scarce and school buses are arriving at school with few students aboard.

This is a sad state of affairs in more ways than one. Not only does it suggest that school transportation programs are an inefficient use of taxpayer money, but it also accentuates the fact that teens would rather drive themselves than take the bus.

Oldest are least likely to ride
The New York Times article cites a Connecticut study performed by Dunlap & Associates that shows that younger students are the most likely to take the bus and older students the least likely. According to the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) recent study, "The Relative Risks of School Travel," teens driving themselves and friends to and from school are far more likely to be killed than those who walk, bicycle and, especially, ride the bus.

A study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety bolsters the TRB study's findings: Teen drivers have the highest death rate per miles driven than any other age group. Not surprisingly, 16-year-olds have the highest death rate among teens. Parents should be aware of this statistic before handing their teenage sons and daughters keys to the car, or allowing them to ride to and from school with teenage friends.

Are parents who drive their own cars to and from work rather than using public transportation setting a bad example for their children? That is, why should kids ride the school bus when their parents hop in the car every morning for their commute?

It's a good question, but not always valid. In many cases, public transportation is less convenient than school bus transportation. School bus stops are generally less than a half mile from a childÕs home, whereas transit stops may be farther away. Also, adults often work long distances from their homes, making it difficult to use public transportation without time-consuming transfers and other trade-offs.

Still, adults should use public transportation when it's convenient, even if only a couple times a week. Like school buses, transit buses help to reduce traffic congestion and pollution.

A few suggestions
Rather than just gripe about this situation, I'd like to offer a few suggestions. Why not convince parents to encourage their children to ride the bus through presentations at parent-teacher organization meetings? Or how about packaging some information about the results of the TRB study and including it in school newsletters sent to parents? It's the parents, after all, who need to persuade — or order — their children to ride the bus. Maybe the parents can't get full compliance, but even if they can get their children to leave the car at home twice a week, that would probably save lives.

If you have any other ideas on how to get the kids back on the school bus, please e-mail them to me. I'd like to hear what you think.

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