Unless you use skis, skates, snowshoes or a sled, snow and ice usually make it tougher to get around.

Winter this year was particularly challenging, with storm after storm dumping massive snowfalls again and again, as far south as Atlanta. Many days began with subzero temperatures across the country.

Advisories like this one were common: “Arctic air will continue to spread through the eastern two-thirds of the U.S. this week, with high temperatures as much as 20 to 30 degrees below normal in some locations. In the northern Plains and Upper Midwest, the cold temperatures combined with gusty winds will lead to dangerous wind chills. Also, these gusty winds will create areas of blowing and drifting snow leading to blizzard conditions.”

School buses were often a part of the weather-related stories. Sometimes it was because they got stuck in the snow or sleet, or had a hard time starting when temperatures plunged below zero. Sometimes it was because they were involved in accidents. Here’s one such media account from NBC Washington: “Some school buses making the trip to school still had a rough commute. Four Prince William County [Va.] school buses were involved in accidents Wednesday. The school system says all of the accidents were caused by other drivers. Three of the buses were transporting students at the time; no one was injured.”

Many stories had a heroic bent — about how school buses and their drivers performed extraordinarily well despite horrendous conditions.

It may be the Postal Service creed, but it also applies to school bus drivers: “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”

So, I’d like to salute school bus operators everywhere for handling their appointed rounds so well!

When the cold is gone, the lesson of this winter is an important one for policymakers everywhere: School buses are an indispensable community service.

It’s a point that can’t be overstated, because adjacent to stories about school buses doing yeoman work in terrible weather conditions were others about legislators threatening to cut service for budgetary or even social reasons.

When a teacher calls in sick, there are substitute teachers. What is the substitute for a school bus?

If the answer is that more students should be walking or riding bicycles to school to save money and/or promote healthier lifestyles, that shouldn’t go unchallenged.

First, there’s the compelling safety benefit of the yellow school bus (walking and bicycling are not as safe, according to federal statistics). There is no safer substitute.

Fresh from the winter of 2014, it’s a good time to ask those seeking — or unfortunately in some cases, planning — to reduce school bus service to explain their proposed substitute. How would it work during the winter months? Are children really expected to hoof it or bike to school with snow on the ground and freezing temps? Without the predictability of a school bus at both ends of the school day, what would that do to learning, and to parents who have jobs to go to?

Think about the adverse traffic impact if hundreds if not thousands of parents were forced to drive their children to and from school in good or bad weather.

Dollar for dollar and for so many tangible reasons, the school bus is one of the best investments a community can make to facilitate a predictable, smooth day at school for students and teachers alike, and to provide parents with convenience and peace of mind. There is no comparable substitute.

It’s in that spirit that we excerpt a Feb. 12 letter to the editor of the Woodstock, Ga.-based Cherokee Ledger-News written by Janice Ray, a former school bus driver and trainer.

“As I sit here and listen to the news reports of the heroes on our school buses today, I wonder why it took this snowstorm for people to realize what heroes they really are every day. …

“These people are the most important people your child will encounter during their day at school.

“The drivers treat your children as their very own ‘Precious Cargo.’ … They undergo continued training sessions to make sure they are capable of handling any kind of situation that should arise, whether it is a traffic situation or during a tornado, massive rainstorm or freezing roads covered in snow. …

“Believe me, there is no such thing as ‘just a bus driver.’ These people are here because they want to be, because they have a calling. …

“You may be thanking your child’s driver today or whenever you see them again because of what they did during the snowstorm, but don’t forget to say a prayer for them and thank them always.”

Hear, hear, Janice! Very well said.