School parking fee hike causes bus ridership spike

Not sure if the buses got this bad, but Bainbridge students did have to get cozy during the first days of school.

Looks like a very, very large parking fee increase at the high school may have caused the record-breaking busing boom.

Read on for the full story….

While you’re at it, check out island mom/blogger Tamara Sellman’s post on the district’s overcrowded buses. Sellman believes increasing bus ridership may lead to good things, including fewer “mommy chauffeurs and ‘greener’ kids.”

Higher parking fees lead to school busing boom
By Tristan Baurick

A school parking fee hike spurred a record number of Bainbridge students to leave car keys at home and squeeze into overcrowded buses this week.

Unprepared for the ridership boost, Bainbridge Island School District buses quickly filled beyond capacity, unleashing a flood of complaints from parents and crampt riders.

“We’ve never had as many student riders in our middle school and high school buses,” said school district spokeswoman Pam Keyes. “The number of students is historically unprecedented and therefore unexpected.”

District officials to put another bus in service on Tuesday and shifted schedules and stops to redistribute riders.

The district was swamped with calls last week from unhappy parents. Many calls came from north end residents who live miles from the high and middle schools.

School officials were unable to give specific details about overloading, but Keyes estimated that an added system capacity for 60 students was required to offset crowding.

“We’ve added a bus and we’re looking at which stops create more kids than is reasonable,” she said.

Officials believe the tripling of student parking rates this year drew many students out of their cars and into buses. Bainbridge High School’s annual parking pass was increased from last year’s rate of $75 to $240 starting earlier this month.

Some parents said gas prices have also led families to keep cars at home and send students to neighborhood bus stops.

But some parents found in the opening days of the school year that their neighborhoods have fewer stops than last year.

Saddled with higher fuel costs of its own, the district reduced the number of stops and altered routes to curb the growth of its transportation budget.

The district’s transportation costs are $1.5 million but state funding covers just $830,000, leaving an expanding gap of over $670,000.

The route changes are aimed at cutting fuel costs and the time that bus drivers are on the road.
Parents have expressed concerns that the changes force young children to walk unsafe distances between buses and homes.

If the higher number of bus riders continues, the district may receive additional transportation funding to restore or boost services. The state allocates funding according to the number of riders counted during the week between Sept. 22 and Sept. 26.

“Increased transportation funds give the district ability to improve some bus services, and these improvements will come if ridership is very high that particular week,” Keyes said.

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