My title might not be completely fair. The Columbus Public School District, just like all the suburban districts, also has to deal with higher gas prices. But there’s no doubt that communities designed for walking and biking won’t be impacted as much by the problems outlined in this article:
Costly bus fuel forces schools to travel less
Tuesday, July 15, 2008 3:11 AM
By Nicquel Terry
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
Increased gas prices could mean fewer field trips and bus stops for students in local school districts this year.
District officials say they must be more efficient because fuel prices are taking a larger bite out of their budgets.
Columbus schools are projecting a 40 percent increase in fuel costs for the 2008-09 fiscal year, said Robyn Essman, the district’s budget director. They plan to spend $5.6 million on fuel this year.
To offset the rising price of gas, options include cutting expenses in transportation as well as spending less on tutoring sessions and textbooks.
“Every department takes a bit of a cut,” Essman said. “Just because the price increases doesn’t mean you get extra money.”
Dublin schools took about 3,000 trips for school activities and sporting events last school year, but they will take fewer trips in the coming year, said Treasurer Steve Osborne. District officials will encourage schools to consider field trips with the most educational value and athletic games closer to Dublin.
“We are looking at ways to be efficient,” Osborne said. “It’s costly to transport.”
So this is another pain at the pump story. The pain is for the schools, and by association the students, who don’t get to go on as many field trips. I would like to focus on solutions – walking and biking. The problem is it’s not always easy to switch transportation modes in a place that was only built for cars. Over the last 50 years, lower density development and larger schools instead of neighborhood schools have put fewer children within walking distance of schools. Look at this graph from a CDC study comparing data from the National Household Travel Surveys in 1969 and 2001:
Fig. 1. Active Transport to School Among Youth 5 to 18 Years of Age
A national movement called Safe Routes to Schools (SRTS) is trying to reverse this trend. The SRTS program is funded by the federal transportation bill (SAFETEA-LU), including over $20.5 Million over five years for Ohio. The goal is to encourage more kids to walk school and to build the infrastructure necessary to make walking safer. You can see from the graph that there is plenty of room for improvement. Some minor infrastructure improvements, like sidewalks and traffic signals, along with encouragement from parents and schools, could help some of the 82% of kids within two miles of school walk or bike. A good SRTS program usually requires a local champion like a parent or principal. They can apply for funding and lead efforts like walking school buses or other special events. You can contact ODOT here to learn more.
As a side tangent, I liked Pickerington’s solution:
Pickerington students might have to walk a little farther to their stops because the district intends to reduce the number of bus stops. Fuel is burned every time buses accelerate, so fewer stops will save money, said Dave Decsman, the district’s transportation consultant.
I’ve been arguing for years that COTA should do this. Maybe transit agencies will follow the lead of schools and also cut some stops to save money. Yes, some of you would have to walk a little farther to the bus stops, but in-vehicle travel time would be shorter, COTA would save money on labor, and there would be less bus bunching.