Crowding, cuts affect bus routes

Published 8:44 pm Friday, August 7, 2009

Safety is always a high priority when it comes to transporting children to and from school. But this year, the continuing threat of proration and already tight budgets will require additional caution — and patience — of everyone involved.

“We’re getting cut on the financial end, and we’re getting more riders,” Chilton County School Transportation Director Joe Dennis said. “Thankfully, fuel is stable.”

There will be at least one double route in the Jemison area, which means one driver will have the responsibility of transporting two loads of between 50 and 60 students.

Dennis said the double route is one cost-cutting measure to offset the problem of overcrowding.

“We’re trying to stretch our dollars wherever we can,” he said.

The average load on a Chilton County school bus is about 60 students, Dennis estimated. Most standard buses have a capacity of 72. The school system has 88 regular route drivers and approximately 120 buses in its fleet, counting spares.

As the school year starts, the department will be monitoring loads and communicating closely with drivers.

Dennis urges students to refrain from behavior on the bus that could be distracting to the driver, and he asks parents to be aware of anything a driver says to them.

Parents should also know that it is against state law to board a bus in order to confront a driver about an issue.

But one of the most dangerous problems is when motorists illegally pass stopped school buses. This is most common on four-lane highways, Dennis said.

“On 145 out by the hospital we’ve had some significant problems out there,” he recalled. “Unless it’s a divided highway, all four lanes of traffic must stop.”

The following are a few additional school bus safety tips taken from the official student/parent information guide:

Be on time at designated pickup sites.

Obey all instructions given by the driver. Show respect.

Talk only in a normal voice; keep quite when approaching railroad crossings.

Keep all body parts inside bus at all times.

Do not throw objects within the bus or outside the bus.

Do not run alongside a bus while it is in motion.

Enter or leave a bus only at the front door, except in cases of emergency, as designated by the driver.

Do not stand in the road while waiting for the bus to arrive. If the bus is late, do not start walking down the road to meet the bus. You must board the bus at your regular place.

Cross the highway when necessary in the following manner after getting off the bus:

a. Make certain the bus is stationary, that the door is still open, and the stop signal is extended.

b. Cross in front of the bus within sight and hearing of the driver, look both ways, and stay out of the line of traffic until the path across the road is free from danger.

c. Proceed across the highway upon signal from the driver.