How Far is Too Far to Walk?

Officials with Loudoun county public schools recently reviewed bus / walk distances and learned that their existing policy on busing wasn’t being consistently followed throughout the county.  Their current policy calls for elementary age students within .8 miles of the school and middle and high school students within one mile of the school to walk.  Enforcing the existing policy means close to 4,000 students will no longer be bused to and from school.  An official with Loudoun county public schools reportedly stated that new housing construction without rewriting of the bus maps had resulted in the discrepancy (see article from Inside NOVA here).

Prince William County has seen just as much, if not more, new housing construction in the past 10 years as Loudoun.  PWCS Regulation 431-1 stipulates that students living up to one mile from a school will be expected to walk to and from school, unless “student safety is jeopardized by traffic, walking conditions, or other hazards”.  The policy also states that “Students eligible for transportation may be required to walk up to one mile to a school bus stop.”

Does PWCS need to evaluate whether the policy on walker  / bus distances is being enforced in the county?  Like Loudoun discovered, I suspect there are instances where students who live less than a mile from their base school and have safe sidewalks to use are being bused.  I also suspect there are bus routes that could be shorter if students walked longer distances to them.

I know that many students who live less than a mile from their school are bused to school because their school was built on a busy roadway or in an area with no sidewalks.  I know there are buses that travel down no-outlet neighborhood streets to pick up students, and have wondered why those students couldn’t just walk to the through street to pick up their bus.  I know that parents have complained about bus routes that go down no-outlet neighborhood streets but have never heard back from transportation.  I know that many high school students walk along the medians of busy roadways with no sidewalks, because there are no activity buses or because their schedules don’t have them in class during the first or last period of the day.

Transportation costs in PWCS are projected to be $55.9 million in FY 2014 (that’s the $44.9 million from the Transportation Services budget plus $6.5 million in replacement buses and $555,000 in Liability Insurance from in the Fixed Charges budget, for those of you with copies of the FY 2014 budget). With 84,000 + students attending PWCS and roughly 50% – 70% of them bus riders, transportation costs range from $1,332 to $951 per bus rider per year.

We live in a large county, both in geography and population.  PWCS probably could achieve some savings by reviewing and revising bus routes and walker distances, assuming those revisions were made with student safety as the top priority.  I suspect parents of school age children will have suggestions for where bus routes could be streamlined.  Maybe PWCS should review and revise bus routes and walker distances throughout the county.


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