POSTED: 11:39 a.m. HST, May 12, 2011
We have been driving school buses for 60 years — 30 years each — and for the most part we enjoy our jobs and enjoy your children when they ride our buses.
But school bus service on Oahu is now an endangered species. The Hawaii Department of Education has greatly reduced it and aims to completely eliminate Oahu's school bus service and ignore the environmental effects.
But school buses are a powerful tool to help relieve traffic congestion.
We need to rethink school bus service.
School buses that serve low-income areas are maxed out because students there get free passes while median- and higher-income areas generally operate well below capacity because the state has priced the service high, which reduces ridership.
Thirty years ago, when a ride cost just a dime, most of our buses were maxed out. The powerful mass-transit effects of school bus service are seen in how we prepare for the start of public school with the "Beat the School Jam" campaign. In one day, traffic goes from mild to congested, because the school bus is too expensive.
If school bus service was increased by reducing the fare to a quarter a ride or less, and service was doubled so students living a half-mile from school could ride, ridership would max out the buses again.
This would reduce traffic congestion during rush hours, with resources available today but vastly underutilized.
Although Hawaii is the only state with a statewide school district, the economic problems of our schools are seen nationwide, but on a much smaller scale.
With reduced funding, school districts in the U.S. are cutting school bus service and increasing their local traffic congestion.
With the price of fuel increasing, this congestion is taxing for parents driving their children to school and increases our net consumption of fuels at the worst time.
Even private school enrollment may be negatively affected by increased fuel costs compared with last year, possibly increasing public school enrollment and more congestion.
Our city bus system has a budget of almost $200 million. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) provides TheBus with $20 million to $30 million in grants annually. The DOE's annual school bus budget is estimated at $50 million to $72 million and includes all islands and special-needs transportation. The Oahu, mainstream component of that budget to be eliminated is $11.4 million, according to DOE testimony.
Even rail transit proponents concede that their system can only hold the line on congestion, not reduce it. If the FTA were to support the focused, mass-transit benefits of school bus service and match a school district's costs for student transportation, we could get ahead in our battle to reduce traffic congestion nationwide.
To implement such a fiscally prudent strategy, school bus service would have to be moved from the DOE to the state Department of Transportation, where mass-transit and safety issues are part of the job description.
We would also need our legislators to get our federal government to see the congestion relief this plan allows.
The paradigm that funds school bus service was developed 50 years ago when there was a lot less traffic. Our nation needs to realize that times have changed. Funding strategies need to change to address our modern problems.