Bus budgets

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The public is invited to a community forum tonight at 6 p.m. at the Andalusia High School auditorium, where Andalusia City Schools’ transportation director Bob Harry will discuss the changes to the city’s bus routes for the 2009-10 school year.

In April, Harry told the Andalusia Board of Education the bus system would need to limit its number of stops in order to save money on maintenance costs and fuel. Tonight, Harry will provide a list of all the times and locations for those stops, including routes for the city’s nine school busses.

“We’re going to have a presentation where we display all the bus stops for the parents to see,” he said. “We don’t want there to be any surprises about it when school begins. This way, parents have the opportunity to see the routes ahead of time.”

State law makes no regulation regarding the location and frequency of bus stops, but does provide several suggestions. Among those suggestions are that school systems establish a minimum distance between stops — usually between one-tenth and two-tenths of a mile.

Harry said the new bus routes will make less frequent stops, but will stay within the state’s minimum suggested distance. He estimated no stop will be more than two city blocks away from a student’s home.

“We probably could have gone a farther distance than that, but we’ve tried really hard not to do that,” he said. “We’ve gone out and looked at the stops and clocked them on the odometer, but it’s possible that we might have missed something. It might be good for the parents (tonight) to provide another set of eyes to look at the plan and offer any suggestions.”

Harry said the change in bus routes is necessary due to statewide proration in the education budget. In addition, annual “fleet renewal” money — which is normally used to purchase new busses or upgrade existing vehicles — can now be used by the school system for other purposes.

“What parents and the public need to understand is that we have to maintain what we’ve already got,” Harry said. “The money isn’t really there to buy a new bus as often as we’d like. Frequent stops put a lot of wear and tear on a bus, especially when it’s a route in the city and the bus is constantly starting and stopping. If you’re stopping every 500 to 1,000 feet, then the wear-and-tear is only going to be even greater.”

In April, when Harry initially brought the issue before the Board of Education, he suggested that one bus route could be cut from 53 stops to 25 stops. He also said that a route with fewer stops might also be safer, since traffic would not be impeded as often.

Parents will be given the opportunity to fill out suggestion cards at the end of tonight’s meeting, and Harry said the plan is not “set in cement.”

“It could certainly change, especially if we have kids who move in or move to different houses,” he said. “Right now, we’ve got some stops on the plan that won’t be used because nobody’s living on those streets. But in the future, if a kid moves out there, we’d go ahead and make that stop.”

Harry said tonight’s meeting is important, because both the parents and bus drivers need to be on the same page, in order to make the system work smoothly.

“I think these changes we’re asking parents to do are a small sacrifice for being able to have the bus service,” he said. “I know it might not always be convenient, but these are moves we have to make in order to keep providing this free service. Our goal is to get the kids to school safely every day.”