Englewood—Last June I received a very exciting letter; for the next academic year, my town would provide public bus transportation for my children to get to school.
My immediate joy was immeasurable. After five years of driving carpools, I would finally be free. No more buckling other people’s children into my car. No more fights over what song we will listen to next. No more worries about my minivan making it to school on icy and slushy roads.
Gone were the mornings where I would be woken up by a sick child and have to quickly and anxiously text the other moms in my carpool to see if someone could drive my shift that day. One year I had pneumonia and couldn’t drive for weeks. I was incredibly lucky to be in a carpool with women who were not only my friends, but also incredibly good hearted and flexible. Still, I thought, a bus trumps all.
In the past, my options were carpool or private busing. As a stay-at-home mom, I had trouble justifying the cost of private transportation, despite receiving a transportation stipend from the city. All parents whose children attend school at least two miles away from their home receive either the stipend or public busing. The stipend, called “aid in lieu of transportation,” covers a little less than half of the cost of busing. Some people use it to offset the cost of private busing, while others will carpool and use the money toward gas and other expenses.
A few weeks after I received the busing letter, my initial burst of elation began to wear off and the reality of sending my kids on a bus began to set in. My kids took a bus to camp all summer, but there was a bus counselor there to (hopefully) maintain order. The idea of putting three young kids on a bus without adult supervision is overwhelming. The bus driver’s responsibility is to drive the bus, not to police altercations between kids.
I also started to get nervous about my kids being unreachable. When they were in carpool, I could always call whoever was driving if there was some kind of emergency or information I needed to relay. During the years that I carpooled, there were times that I would be stuck in traffic, or at an appointment that ran excessively late, and I wouldn’t be home in time for my kids. I could just call my friend and ask her to wait at my house, or even take my kids home with her for a few minutes until I got back. While we never made a habit of it, my fellow carpool moms willingly did this for me, as I did it for them.
I was tempted to forgo the bus and drive my kids to school. My kids, however, were beyond excited about going on the bus, so I cast my fears aside. On the first day of school we waited at the bus stop with many of their friends.
As is turns out, the kids on our bus are really a lovely bunch. The older kids have been looking after the younger ones and all of my kids bound off the bus with smiles on their faces.
I am learning, though, that busing is a much bigger issue than just whether or not kids are nice to each other or are learning four-letter words.
There are some bus drivers who do not speak fluent English and cannot communicate with children or parents. Routes are written on a piece of paper, outlining each turn. This is fine, until all of a sudden a road is closed for construction and they need to find a way around it. Combine the unexpected with a language barrier and you have a recipe for disaster. That is exactly what happened at the beginning of the school year when a bus got lost because the driver was unable to communicate with school personnel and parents. All bus drivers should be equipped with a GPS that can reroute them in the event that the bus gets lost. I cannot understand why this is not standard protocol.
Furthermore, bus companies must be able to figure out where every bus is at all times. If a bus driver were to become lost or disoriented, the bus company should be able to locate that bus. There is a parent of a child on our bus who keeps my anxieties at bay. Her son has a cell phone, and she is able to use it to track the bus. She sends a screenshot of the bus’s location to a Whatsapp group that all of the parents are on, so that we know when the bus left school, and that it’s on the way home. All bus drivers should be traceable in this way; the bus companies are responsible for keeping track of their drivers and buses, not parents.
I’m learning to let go and allow my kids a sense of independence. I’m using the extra time I have to get things done much earlier in the day, so that being home for the bus is never an issue. I do implore the bus companies to take simple and inexpensive measures to keep track of their buses, drivers and the thousands of kids they are collectively responsible for every day.
By Robin Tare