by Dr. Gladys I. Cruz
District Superintendent, Questar III BOCES
Did you know that local school districts are among the largest transportation providers offering an important service for students and families?
Each year, our local school districts and contracted school transportation providers drive tens of thousands of students to and from school, including outside placements in accordance with state law. Within Columbia and Greene counties, school buses travel areas ranging from 64 square miles in Germantown Central School District to 202 square miles in Taconic Hills.
School bus drivers are often the first and last people that many of our students see before or after school. They get to know students and families – and play a vital role in ensuring that students arrive to school on time and ready to learn.
Buses are maintained by experienced mechanics and drivers must undergo training and fingerprinting before they can transport students. Check with your local district on the requirements and availability of training if you are interested in becoming a school bus driver.
During the pandemic, there was an increase in the number of parents and grandparents driving students to school; however, there is a benefit to community busing. Every school bus is equivalent to 36 cars. According to the American School Bus Council, school buses keep an annual estimated 17.3 million cars off the roads surrounding schools each morning. This provides a national savings of 2.3 billion gallons of fuel and 44.6 billion pounds of carbon dioxide.
Moving forward, you will start to see more electric school buses on the road as the state and the federal government seek to transition our nation’s school buses to zero-emission vehicles and reduce carbon emissions. While EVs make up about one percent of the nation’s current school bus fleet, $5 billion in federal funding and $500 million in state funding is intended to accelerate this transition.
Last year, New York passed a law that will require all newly purchased school buses to be zero-emission vehicles by 2027 and all the state’s school buses to be electric by 2035. This mandate will require considerable partnerships and investments across the region and state to acquire new buses and develop the infrastructure needed to sustain and charge these vehicles. Last month, Governor Hochul released a roadmap and guidebook for P-12 schools to transition bus fleets to zero-emission. Visit the Governor’s website at https://tinyurl.com/bus-roadmap to learn more.
Partnerships are also key to school bus safety. We’ve heard the proverb that it takes a village to raise a child. Indeed, we all play a role in school bus safety.
October 16-20 is National School Bus Safety Week. You can help us by watching out for school buses, pedestrians, walkers, and bicyclists, especially during the morning and afternoon commutes, when most school bus accidents occur.
The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation estimates that there were 43.5 million violations, or illegal passing of stopped school buses, last year. I know everyone is in a hurry, but a few moments can help prevent a tragedy.
National data shows that our school buses are the safest option for transporting students to school, safer than walking or riding in a car. It also shows that speeding and weather are not necessarily the cause of these accidents.
Less than one percent of all traffic fatalities involve children on school buses, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). However, children are more at risk when approaching or leaving their bus.
As a reminder, yellow flashing lights indicate a bus is preparing to stop or unload children. You should slow down and prepare to stop. Red flashing lights and extended stop arms indicate a bus is stopped and children are getting on or off. You must stop your vehicle until the red lights stop flashing, the extended stop arm is withdrawn, and the bus begins moving again. Visit https://tinyurl.com/school-buses for more information.
Let’s continue to work together to ensure the safety of our students and school buses as we enter the second month of the 2023-2024 school year.