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.
[PAGEBREAK]• Corner stops versus mid-block stops. The range of environments in which a district or bus company provides service will often dictate whether a stop is placed in the middle of a block (mid-block) or on the corner. John Fahey, senior consultant at Tyler Technologies and past assistant superintendent of service center operations at Buffalo (N.Y.) Public Schools, says that since Buffalo is an urban environment, Buffalo Public Schools used corner stops, explaining that students would wait as the bus stopped at the beginning of the intersection.
He notes, however, that mid-block stops have advantages. “You don’t have an intersection there, so you might have less traffic to worry about.”
Carol Karl, safety coordinator at Illinois Central School Bus in Bloomington, Ill., is in favor of mid-block stops, and it is a practice that Illinois Central School Bus upholds.
“If you’re at a mid-block location, the bus, by virtue of its stop arm and lights, can control the traffic,” she reasons. “If you’re doing corner stops, you’re only controlling one street of traffic — you can’t control the other street.”
With Trapeze Group’s routing software, VEO Transportation, users can create a corner stop or an address stop, according to Steven McKinley, operations manager, school division. Users then have access to alternate stops that are turned on and off automatically based on safety parameters that the users have set.
“They’re turned on and off based on whether the street has sidewalks, if the students can cross at intersections and other safety policies and parameters that have been set,” McKinley explains. “It helps establish the options for traveling to or from that bus stop safely.”
U.S. Computing’s program has tools that allow the user to do analysis to see how far students are walking to stops, and the software can create safe walking paths for students to get to and from the stops.
EDULOG President Jason Corbally says that with mapping technology becoming so widely used, from a county’s GIS agency EDULOG can get data on high-crash corridors, and that data can be incorporated into the company’s routing software, which can help operations in deciding bus stops’ placement.
“They also carry data of where pedestrians most often get hit by cars,” Corbally says of a county’s GIS agency.
• Avoid proximity to sex offenders’/predators’ houses. This is common sense, and officials say they strive to stay abreast of these people who reside in their areas of service. They typically have access to this information from their sheriff’s office, and Hennerley says that his operation regularly updates a bulletin board with details about the predators and offenders.
In addition, routing software from Transfinder, Tyler Technologies, EDULOG, U.S. Computing and Trapeze Group all offer the ability to store information about sexual predators and sex offenders in the system so that notifications will appear if bus stops or students are in the vicinity of these individuals’ homes.
• Minimize cross-over, and don’t overload stops. Fahey says students should approach a bus stop with the least amount of cross-over possible (i.e., students crossing the street to reach the stop) to reduce the potential of getting struck by a vehicle.
“Routing software should recognize the ability to minimize cross-overs and allow you to put in that restriction,” he adds.
Karl, whose company uses Tyler Technologies’ Versatrans routing software, says that it enables her routers to see where the majority of the students they transport are coming from, so they can make right-side stops to cut down on the number of students crossing the street to get to a stop.
Another item to consider, Fahey says, is the number of students at each stop, noting that having too many at one stop could create a hazardous environment. Karl says that with the Versatrans software, the user can enter the maximum number of students desired at a specific stop, and stops will be created based on that information.
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.