The Dance of the 23 Buses (updated)

The District’s plan is to have one fleet of 23 buses transport all elementary age children to and from both the new 750 student, grade 2-6 school at Wildwood campus AND the PreK-1 school at Crocker Farm campus.

Here is what the morning and afternoon commutes would look like for our kids.

Morning Pick-Up

In the morning, a bus would pick up all the kids in a neighborhood/area, travel to one school to drop off one set of kids (2-6 grade or P-1), then travel through downtown to the other school to drop off the other set of kids (P-1 or 2-6).

Since some kids (presumably from the north end of town) will arrive at the Wildwood campus first and others (presumably from the south end of town) will arrive at the Crocker Farm campus first, there will be a bunch of kids waiting around at each school for the rest of the student body to arrive before school can begin. What will they be doing during this time? What staff members will be responsible to supervise them? Does this mean that school will be starting later than it does currently or that pick-up from homes will start earlier? What will be the total travel time for the kids who are one of the first to be picked up from home and who get dropped off at the second school?

Afternoon Drop-Off

One set of kids would queue up at both schools.  A long line of buses would queue at Crocker Farm – if it is half the fleet, that’s 11 or 12 but it’s not clear if that many can even fit there. The rest of the buses will be in the traffic circle at the Wildwood campus. Only about 12 can fit in the bus loop in single file so any more than that would have to park side-by-side. That means that kids would have to walk in-between parked buses to board.

After this first batch of children gets on the bus, all 23 buses pass each other as they travel north/south through downtown to the other school and, once again, line up to collect more kids.

While all this is happening, half of the kids are still at both schools, waiting for the buses to get to them. What will this set of kids be doing while they wait? Who will be supervising them?

Why 23?

Right now, a set of buses travels between homes in each district and each of our three elementary schools: 6 for Crocker Farm, 6 for Fort River, and 7 for Wildwood – a total of 19.  The proposed consolidation/reconfiguration involves busing kids from all over town to both schools and would necessarily result in much longer ride times. To mitigate against this, the plan is to add more buses.

The District hired an outside consulting company to model scenarios using 19 or 21 buses.   The 23 bus model was proposed in response to concerns that the ride times were still too long.  When we spoke to Versatrans, the company that built the computer model, they recommended running the routes, as their model “optimizes” on the data drivers provide. To date, no actual trial runs (that we know of) have been completed.

What does this all mean for kid travel time?

The following graphs show morning and afternoon bus ride times for the our current three K-6 school system and computer modeled times for 19, 21, and 23 buses for the proposed consolidation/reconfiguration.

Some important notes

  1. The current 19 bus data is based on actual run times for the current school year in which 6-7 buses each travel between homes and a single elementary school. (http//:www.arps.org:district_info:services:transportation:bus_routes)
  2. The 19 and 21-bus models shows projected run times produced by the District’s consultant and is based on a computer model.  (Tyler Technologies, ARPS Run Reconfiguration, October 5, 2015)
  3. The 23-bus model has only been done “in-house” by setting the maximum run time at 34 minutes.
  4. A traffic study was conducted after the School Committee decided to reconfigure and consolidate our elementary schools and after the School Building Committee decided to site the 750 student building at the Wildwood campus.  It was also done after the computer modeling was done, yet it did not evaluate the impact of 23 buses traveling through downtown to go between schools, nor the possibility that with longer bus times for students, more parents may chose to drive, adding to traffic volume.  See Can the Wildwood campus (and the rest of Amherst) handle the increased traffic of a double-sized school?

Overview and take-home points:

  • While the longest run in the 23 bus model is only 2 minutes longer than the current longest run, overall the run times increase significantly.  Half of the runs would be longer than 30 minutes, as opposed to only 1 run being that long in the current system.
  • Currently, 13 of the 19 bus routes take less than 25 minutes.  For both the 21 and 23 bus models, all but 3 bus runs would take more than 25 minutes in the proposed plan.
  • Many of our youngest students (5 -6 year olds) that currently attend Wildwood would spend up to twice as long on the bus as they travel from home to the new school and then on Crocker Farm in south Amherst.

How long would it take for teachers to gather their classes together in the morning, and then wait for dismissal in the afternoon?

The assumed times do not consider many other potential delays associated with doubling the number of buses lining up and boarding/disembarking. Teachers can now gather their students in less than 10 minutes at every school. In fact, at Wildwood the 7 buses come in and disembark students in about 7 minutes. Under the proposal, because they would arrive in two separate waves, this will increase by at least 15 minutes (IF every bus can simultaneously drop off all their students, which doesn’t even happen now, with 6 or 7 buses!).  This will likely increase both disciplinary and safety concerns and take more time away from learning.  More likely, if buses arrive as they do now, roughly one per minute to a site, it will take teachers almost 1/2 hour each day before class can begin.

What are the transportation related costs of the proposal and its 23 buses?

  • The additional 4 buses will cost $220,000 more annually (not including any staffing costs to supervise the waiting students).  This amount will only increase over time, further depleting the presumed operational savings this plan is supposed to produce.
  • The total number of bus miles driven per day would increase from 220 to well over 380 miles, or >160 miles MORE per day  – that’s over 28,800 additional miles every year. These numbers are based on the 21-bus model – the District did not provide the data for the 23-bus version, but more buses will only cause the total mileage to go up.
  • Dividing the same number of kids into more buses means that the number of students per bus goes way down.  Three of these buses would carry fewer than 23 students, and another three would be less than half full – not a very efficient use of fossil fuels.

Future Predictions?

One can imagine that as budgets grow tight or diesel costs increase, a more efficient use of buses will be the logical choice to reduce costs.  That means going back to the 21 or 19 bus model that would have a lot more kids on a lot longer bus rides (35+ minutes) every morning and afternoon.  As it is, the longer runs times for a cohort of very young riders may lead to more parents driving their child to school, adding to traffic and pollution.

Bottom line

Transportation has always been a very problematic part of the proposed plan.  There are financial, environmental/health and safety, and logistical consequences of reconfiguration/consolidation and they would fall most heavily on those with the fewest resources.

 

Updated version of “The Dance of the (23) Buses”, from August 7, 2016.

 

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