Rethinking ridership

02/01/2007

 

At a recent school budget hearing, a select board member, upon hearing that about a third of the town's students ride the school bus, suggested that '75 percent of those parents dropping their kids off and picking them up would be the first ones to go hug a tree.'

His tongue-in-cheek sarcasm aside, the point is valid. Why are so few kids in our school district riding our publicly funded school buses? Why are there so many cars at each local school every morning that they have all had to create drop-off zones and specific lanes?

Undoubtedly, there are valid reasons for parents to drive their kids to school in the morning or pick them up after school. It may have to do with dentists' appointments, work schedules or extra-curricular events.

But how can it make any kind of environmental and/or fiscal sense to pay for buses and have over half of the students arrive in private cars? We can't afford both.

It makes no sense to provide the type of transportation system we are providing if it is not being used. Perhaps we need to switch to smaller (non-diesel) buses like the vans used for special education. Perhaps we need to sit down and work through the excruciating Rubik's cube of coordinating the local public transportation system with our public school system.

Maybe schools need to work to encourage use of the school bus system. Maybe private drop-offs should not be allowed on Mondays and Fridays, or allowed at a fee. Passenger cars are the single largest contributor of emissions and particulate matter in Vermont. Diesel trucks and buses are not far behind.

How can we, in good conscience, continue to support a system that encourages profligate use of both private and public transportation to schools? Either we have a great bus system and we use it, or we scale our bus system back. Either we accept 200 single car drop-offs and pickups per day at local schools (1000 a week!) or we find a way to reduce that number via education, incentives or disincentives. Can students walk and bike to school? Have we made it safe for them to do so?

Not a day goes by that there is not more distressing and disturbing news about the acceleration in the pace of climate change. Global warming is happening. It is now. It IS happening in our lifetimes and we cannot continue to support this fiscally and environmentally irresponsibly method of getting our kids to school.

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