Local News

At a time of high gas costs, Durham school bus picks up one student

Posted August 18, 2008 6:22 p.m. EDT
Updated August 18, 2008 11:46 p.m. EDT

— Find a way to make up the difference: that is the order given to school districts across the state as they look at budget shortfalls in the face of soaring gas prices. However, WRAL News witnessed a Durham school bus that picked up one student on its route.

“I love driving a school bus,” Stephanie Smith said.

Smith is on a year-round middle school route that has only two stops.

“One of them doesn't ride, so I'm actually picking up one (student) most of the time,” she said.

With a 30-minute ride to school, one student had the entire school bus to himself, WRAL witnessed. Smith says the same school has another bus, with a route not far away, that could pick up the student.

“If we get the time just right, we'll cross,” she said.

“We're very committed to making sure that all of our bus routes are efficient,” Scott Denton, transportation director for Durham Public Schools, said.

So WRAL asked Denton about the one student seen riding the bus alone.

“Now that you've brought that particular situation to my attention, we'll be looking at that today to see if there's something we can change today to fix that,” Denton said.

Denton says districts statewide are over budget because of higher fuel prices. He projects Durham could be $700,000 in the hole.

On a different route, WRAL News saw a bus pick up a student at a driveway, and then stop again just three driveways down.

“Those are the kinds of situations we're absolutely targeting and thinking about,” Denton said.

Denton also said that once traditional schools begin, the system will cut costs by reviewing ridership patterns and consolidating bus stops.

“But we're not going to compromise safety,” he added.

In Johnston County, “We operate the sixth-largest fleet in North Carolina,” said Billy Sugg, director of Johnston County Schools Transportation Services.

Getting through the year will require “understanding that some sacrifices have to be made to be able to provide transportation for a full 180 days,” Sugg said.

Many school districts across the state, including Durham and Johnston, are trying wherever possible to have elementary students walk 3-10ths of a mile from home to a bus stop. The guideline for middle and high school students would be half a mile.

“Wake County has had the 3-10ths and 5-10ths (of a mile), I'd say, going on at least 10 years,” Eddy Adams, Wake County's senior director for transportation, said.

Adams said that has saved millions of dollars.

“It pulled at least 95 percent of all of our buses out of cul-de-sacs,” Adams said.

Wake County is attempting to drive down costs even more by expanding the number of schools that utilize express bus service.

“We try to create no more than five stops along a run. Four is better, fewer the better,” Adams said.

Most districts say they will limit idling time while increasing maintenance and upkeep.

WRAL got a call Monday afternoon from Durham's transportation department. They said they have made changes, and the bus that was picking up one student will no longer be doing that.