Kerry Somerville says a day he’ll never forget is when he received a call that two students had been killed near one of his operation’s school bus stops. At the time, Somerville was the assistant transportation director at a school district in Alaska.
“[Following the accident], I got calls almost daily from one of the students’ parents asking me why I killed her child,” he says. “It was her contention that if the stop was in a different location, the accident never would have happened.”
Now involved in the supplier segment of the pupil transportation industry as director of business development at U.S. Computing Inc., Somerville says he is adamant with the transportation personnel at school districts and bus companies that he works with about how important bus stop location is in ensuring student safety.
What to consider with bus stop placement
Where possible, many operations try to situate their school bus stops in residential neighborhoods, off of major thoroughfares and as close to students’ houses as possible. Such is the case at Queen Creek (Ariz.) Unified School District #95.
Director of Transportation Edd Hennerley says that the routing software his operation uses — Routefinder Pro from Transfinder — helps in these efforts. The software identifies where each student lives, and then Hennerley and his team can identify that a stop needs to be established where there is, for example, a cluster of 10 students.
“We can specify what roads we don’t want the stop to be on,” Hennerley adds. “The software will then show us the closest location for a stop that’s not on those roads. We also have the option to place students at a stop other than what the program suggests.”
Joseph Rossi, director of global sales at Transfinder, adds that the company’s software keeps a table of all the bus stops that the user can edit, and the user can keep specific notes about each stop. In Transfinder’s newest version, the user can also include documents, such as a discipline report from students fighting or parent complaints of vandalism, for each bus stop.
Is there room for the bus?
Making sure that your school buses have enough space to maneuver at their stops is essential in planning their locations on a route.
At First Student’s terminal in Wichita, Kan., the drivers are not allowed to back up their buses on a route unless the situation is extreme, and even then, the drivers must have a spotter, according to Senior Location Manager John Billigmeier.
Taking that into account, Billigmeier says, “We design our routes so that buses will not have to back up at any time. You don’t want a bus going down a cul-de-sac and not being able to get out.”
Adequate turnaround area for buses is also a consideration for the School District of Maple (Wis.).
David Korhonen, director of buildings, grounds and transportation, says almost every student for which transportation is provided is picked up or dropped off at their rural home addresses.
“Determining safe locations to turn around on rural roadways is of highest priority,” he says. “Because visibility at private driveways is an issue, we most always back into driveways. We always pick up students prior to backing up and drop off students after we have backed up at turnaround locations. We also get great cooperation with townships and villages to create turnaround areas at dead-end roadways when private driveways are inadequate.”
Rely on feedback
Pupil transporters say they often rely on their drivers to tell them if they believe a bus stop is in an unsafe location, and some also welcome feedback from parents.
“We tell parents that if they see bus stops that they think are unsafe, they can contact us and we’ll go down and look at the stops,” Hennerley says.
“In Wichita, we have over 2,400 runs a day between 505 routes, so input from the drivers is extremely important,” Billigmeier says. “We make numerous changes during our dry runs and the first couple of days of school. We have a safety team that also helps to go out to high-interest stops to ensure that we are operating in those areas as safely as possible.”
Somerville also emphasizes the importance of going out to look at stops’ locations as opposed to solely relying on the satellite view of stops through a routing software program.
He adds that at one school district that U.S. Computing worked with, the transportation department staff took photos of their bus stop locations and then stored the pictures in the company’s routing software program for future reference.