I think it’s fair to say that most legislators are less than well informed on what goes into operating a safe and efficient pupil transportation system.
Trouble often arises when a senator or representative — perhaps with good intentions — attempts to legislate an improvement to school bus safety.
The latest example came in Texas, where state Rep. Oscar Longoria filed a bill that would require school buses to pick up and drop off students on the side of the road that they live on — a requirement that research has shown would be costly.
In announcing the legislation, Longoria cited an incident last year in which a La Joya (Texas) Independent School District student was struck and killed by an illegally passing vehicle while crossing the road after being dropped off by a school bus.
“Through many meetings and conversations, I thought a viable solution was to pass a law which required students to not cross roadways when being dropped off,” Longoria said.
That may sound good on paper, but in practice it would drive up transportation costs and bus ride times. And Longoria’s bill (at least in its current version at press time) makes no mention of providing additional funding.
Requiring home-side school bus stops is a topic that was explored by Iowa researchers in a 2012 study. The research team worked with an Iowa school district, revising an urban route and a rural route to comply with home-side loading.
As a result, 33 more bus stops were added to the urban route, and 17 more miles of travel were added to the rural route. The researchers found that a home-side loading requirement would increase the annual costs of the urban route by $8,000 and the rural route by $24,000.
“Home-side loading has the potential to affect the cost per pupil transported significantly without a defined quantifiable benefit to justify these costs,” the researchers said in the study.
Legislators in Louisiana apparently didn’t see that study. A bill that was passed last year prohibits bus stops that require students to cross the street. In late July, just a few days before the mandate went into effect, the Louisiana attorney general issued an opinion that provided some relief, advising that “school districts should comply as soon as reasonably possible.” Now, it appears that the Louisiana State Legislature may reconsider the mandate in an upcoming session.
Back in Texas, in response to Longoria’s bill, the Texas Association for Pupil Transportation (TAPT) released a position paper in which it estimates that complying with the proposed home-side stop requirement would raise operating costs by about 30%. That, in turn, could negatively impact the safety of students.
“Limited by existing resources, districts may be forced to reduce or eliminate regular education transportation services,” TAPT says in the position paper.
Loading students on the side of the street that they live on should be the goal, but it’s not always feasible. As the Iowa researchers put it, “Districts should continue to be encouraged to consider home-side loading as a matter of best practice and discretion and stop short of a specific requirement.”
Thomas McMahon is executive editor of School Bus Fleet.