Bus routes accommodate new bell schedule

Abby J Siu, Managing Editor

After the state’s decision to change the start times of their schools in order to accommodate for the average high-schooler’s sleep schedule, PUSD’s bus system has had to make several changes of its own in order to make sure that everything runs smoothly.

“Part of [the schedule change] is a benefit to us [bus staff] because we think that there will be at least some consistency between routes for students and drivers,” PUSD Head of Transportation Anton Lotter said.

With start times for high-school students getting pushed back, there’s more of a chance that students will have the same driver in both the morning and the afternoon.

“It’s important [to have consistency] because especially with our special needs students, many special needs students don’t do well with change,” Lotter said. “Also, for drivers, it’s really important to be able to drive the same route and the same students because the more familiar you are with your route and your students, the safer driver you are.”

With middle schools starting at 8 a.m. and high schools following closely after with a 8:35 start time, it’ll be even more important for the drivers to know how to get to their next stop quickly.

“[Originally,] we were able to drop off students at both levels, somewhere between 10 and 20 minutes [before school] this year,” Assistant Head of Transportation Aurora Bishop said. “High-schoolers will be getting [to school] five minutes before the start bell, later than they’re used to, and will be getting off the bus and straight to class.”

Before every school year, PUSD plans out each route that the buses will take based on the number of students in each area. 

“The entire school bus fleet had to serve the entire district and all of the schools: elementary, middle, and high school,” Bishop said. “The bigger buses that pick up the general ed students [are] determined by the demand  from the different schools.”

Every year, the school district generates roughly $1.4 million from bus passes alone.

“We have roughly 80 special education routes, and about 35 general education routes,” Lotter said. “If you take away the general education, it will also take away the district’s ability to provide trips, our extracurricular and co-curricular trips, and the school’s educational trips.”

Not only that, but according to Bishop, buses are also proven to be the safest form of transportation that a student can use to get to and from school, estimating to be around eight times safer than using a normal car.

According to Lotter, every school bus has certain requirements that need to be followed while it’s being built. In addition, each school bus driver is required to take a rigorous bus driver training program at the state level to be qualified to drive a school bus.

Another safety factor about school buses are their bus stops. There are several regulations as to where each bus stop can be placed in order to make sure that the least number of accidents possible happen each year.

This year, they’ve had to plan around certain areas because of construction.

“We’ve had to change some student bus stop assignments,” Bishop said. “We won’t necessarily pick up at every single stop we picked up in the past.”

Something that’ll help the buses get from stop to stop faster is Merge 56.

“When that goes through, [there’ll be a way] for us to go underneath,” Bishop said. “ [Merge] 56 will actually help us in many ways because it gives us another avenue that we can drive.”

As part of the district’s safety protocol, the transportation staff has to research every new route in order to make sure that it’s safe enough.

“We don’t just [plan] it on paper, we actually drive a school bus [beforehand] everywhere we go to see if we can physically, regularly, safely travel those routes,” Bishop said. 

Bishop said she hopes that they will be able to reinstate stops that are a bit closer to students’ homes if they’re able to safely bring the school bus through the area while picking up the students in the morning.

“We’re the first face that a student sees on their school day, and we’re the last face the students see as well,” Lotter said. “[We] want you to leave the bus happy you were there.”