School bus ridership levels in Cape, Jackson remain same despite increases nationwide

Thursday, August 24, 2006

From staff and wire reports

Most weekday afternoons, Atlanta resident Patricia Israel waits in her front yard for the school bus to drop off her 6-year-old twin sons.

The boys beg to ride the bus every day, which Israel said is fine with her. She sees it as environmentally sound transportation that reduces traffic on the streets and at the school.

It also saves money on gas for her sport utility vehicle. "We're looking at getting a hybrid," Israel said. "Every time I fill up the gas tank, it's like $75."

With gas prices hovering around $3 per gallon, more parents are sending their children to school on the bus this fall, and school districts across the nation have noticed the increase in ridership.

"The more the prices go up, the less riders get to school on their own and they go with our buses," said Doug Geller, assistant director of transportation for the Clarke County School District in Las Vegas.

But Cape Girardeau and Jackson public school officials say they haven't seen such a trend locally.

"We transport a little over 3,000 students," said Carol Woods, transportation director for the Jackson School District which covers a 280-square-mile area.

She said that's about the same number of bus riders as a year ago. "We have 55 routes we run every day," Woods said.

No figures yet

Cape Girardeau finance director Brenda McCowan said the district hasn't compiled total ridership figures yet. But she doesn't expect a big change from a year ago as a result of higher gas prices. "I don't foresee that is going to make much difference," she said.

But in Las Vegas, ridership has risen to about 45 percent of the district's more than 320,000 students. The system opens an average of 10 new schools a year, sprinkling bus stops throughout the surrounding neighborhoods, Geller said.

In the fast-growing Phoenix suburbs, bus ridership is skyrocketing as districts grow by thousands of students each year. Gas prices help attract riders, but heavy road construction and new air-conditioning in buses have also contributed to the increase, said Dianne Bowers with Gilbert Public Schools, southeast of Phoenix.

Some schools are doing more to encourage bus riders.

Janette Shealy, a teacher in the fast-growing Atlanta suburb of Alpharetta, Ga., said her school sends letters to parents about the environmental advantages of the bus system and sponsors a "bus ridership week" each semester when bus riders get candy and prizes.

"We try to just create an awareness of the fact that car vapors impact the quality of our air -- the fewer vehicles on the road the better," Shealy said. "Plus, you're never tardy when you ride the bus."

At the Atlanta school where Israel's twins attend, Principal Sidney Baker said he has noticed fewer cars waiting outside the school in the afternoon since classes started last week.

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