By Dave Connery, SCS School Board member
Last year at budget time, there were discussions before and after the vote on bus issues. Recently, the bus issue has started a discussion on why people do and don’t take the bus. With this in mind, I decided to look into the issues around buses and how they fit into the school budget.
There are 51 buses in the CSSU fleet. These buses service Shelburne, Hinesburg, Williston, St. George, and CVU students. Charlotte (pre K-8) does not use CSSU buses. Rather, they subcontract out buses to a third party and do not own any buses. The average age of these buses is 7.5 years, and the oldest bus is 19 years old. (The youngest is pretty young, it arrived last week.) During the last school year, these buses drove 1,494,000 miles, an average of almost 30,000 miles per bus.
At regular intervals, buses must be replaced and a bond vote arises to pay for it. These bonds are in the individual towns of Shelburne and Williston, and in the CVU school district. You will note Hinesburg is missing there; they get their bus service through a long-standing agreement with CVU. But, in the end, it all evens out. While Shelburne residents may vote on a bus for Shelburne and a bus for CVU, the resulting costs and debt service are spread out based on use. This is why if you dig into the SCS budget there is an expense line and a revenue line for buses. In the 2013 budget vote for a bus, the cost for a new bus was $113,000. By comparison, in 2010, a new bus was $80,000. As with everything, the cost of new equipment goes up with the cost of living and required equipment on buses.
Once the buses are on the road, the variables of route times and stops must be balanced. Shelburne is a moderately rural town with some dense neighborhoods and country roads. Therefore, the number of stops and riders is optimized to make the rides somewhat equal. In addition, if you are picked up first in the morning by your bus and must sit on the bus for the whole route, at the end of the day, you get dropped off first (and vice versa). And lastly, the bus stops must be placed safely for all ages. No one would have kids crossing Rt. 7 to get on a bus or have kids regularly waiting on the side of the same road. Kindergarteners ride the same bus as 8th graders, which affects the ability to place stops in certain places.
Regularly, the transportation office looks at ridership on the eight buses that run. In April 2013, 49 percent of the student population rode the bus. In September of 2013, 55 percent of the student population rode the bus. This number does not subtract out the number of kids that live within one mile of school and don’t have a bus, but both are apples-to-apples comparisons. After the April survey, there was a lot of community discussion on transportation alternatives and strategies. Is that discussion a possible cause to the bump in ridership? Maybe. But conversations need to continue to seek out continued improvement in the traffic around school. Some of the non-busing solutions are older kids discovering the freedom of riding their bikes to school and parents walking with their kids from the center of town to school to ease Harbor Road congestion… and stopping to grab a coffee at the shops before returning to the car. Not every solution works for every family, just like the bus doesn’t always work for everyone. Buses are a very helpful tool to working families without flexible work schedules, and that is something we all need to remember.
Any transportation scheme is going to be affected by circumstances, weather, and the seasons. Hopefully, by continuing the dialogue on buses and transportation in Shelburne in general, we can ease congestion while not driving up transportation costs and make it convenient for all families.