Updated: Mar 5, 2020
There are a contingent of individuals intent on labeling Board of Education candidates as “pro” or “anti” busing, based on no objective criteria I can discern. Their labeling seems to be based on whether or not a candidate supports the ongoing countywide boundary analysis. If you support that first-in-decades, objective, substantive, county-wide, expert data collection and analysis (as those of you who have read my posts know I do) you are labeled “pro-busing”. Not really sure how those dots connect, especially since lately those leading the ‘anti-busing’, ‘neighborhood schools’ narrative now say they support the boundary analysis. Why – I think they read some of what I and others have said from the beginning about the need for solid, objective, comprehensive, system-wide data as a starting point for all future MCPS decision-making. Really, it’s hard to argue with that.
What do I think about busing? How about what do I know about busing. Bottom line: Six out of ten MCPS students take a bus to school every day. My opponents throw the word “busing” out there like it’s a swear word. Prospective Board of Education members should focus on reality - busing isn’t a good thing or a bad thing - it’s a fact. If you care about our school system as a whole, let’s have a more important conversation. If we’re going to make ‘busing’ an issue in the campaign, let’s do it in a thoughtful, constructive and forward-thinking way.
So let’s talk busing. Anti-busing? Pro-busing? What do I think about busing? Let’s do what the labelers have failed to do -- start with some MCPS ‘busing’ facts.
· MCPS has the largest bus fleet in the state of Maryland
· Daily our bus drivers collectively transport students a distance equal to about four trips around the world --- close to 100,000 miles
· In the 2019-20 school year, 103,960 of our 166,300 students ride a bus to/from school daily
o 1203 routes
o 630 regular bus routes – 92,860 students
o 512 special education routes – 5900 students
o 61 magnet program routes – 5200 students
· Annual fuel consumption costs MCPS about $2.6 million dollars
· Average HS bus ride time – 21.53 minutes. Longest – a Springbrook route – 80 minutes
· Average MS bus ride time – 18.02 minutes. Longest – Hoover route – 62 minutes
· Average ES bus ride time – 14.55 minutes. Longest – Sherwood ES route – 60 minutes
This doesn’t include other MCPS bus trips – field trips, athletic events etc., the buses that take my students to clinicals every day of the second semester.
Overall, as a student proceeds further along in their K-12 journey, they are more likely to ride a bus to school. That makes sense– because there are so many more elementary schools – 135 as compared to 40 Middle and 25 High schools - just the law of averages, you’re more likely to live close to an elementary school.
Bottom line: Six out of ten MCPS students take a bus to school every day. That’s a lot of busing, by necessity and by choice. My opponents throw the word “busing” out there like it’s an expletive. I think prospective Board of Education members should focus on reality - busing isn’t a good thing or a bad thing - it’s a fact.
But – if we’re going to make ‘busing’ an issue in the campaign, let’s do it in a thoughtful, constructive and forward-thinking way. I’ve been paying attention to countless aspects of our school system for a long time. I have some thoughts, based on all of that time and work, about how we can transform the way MCPS students get to school.
Bus Routes that may no longer be necessary:
We run some bus routes within MCPS “walkability” guidelines due to safety concerns --- like a high traffic roadway bisecting a school’s geographic assignment area. Looking pragmatically at ongoing pedestrian safety work throughout the county, and in partnership with Montgomery County, MCDOT and State DOT – we should take another look at some of those. With the ongoing safety improvements, it may well be feasible and more economical to have strategically placed crossing cards rather than running buses.
MCPS provides transportation to and from school every day for a lot of students. The ongoing boundary analysis, which includes “walkability” as a specific item for analysis and builds in an assessment of public transit as a resource to help students access schools and programs, can help us think pragmatically about how to reduce the size of the MCPS bus fleet – for economic and environmental reasons. With KidsRideFree, looking at placing programs equitably throughout the county at locations well-served by transit is a real resource to reduce MCPS miles driven, and make it possible for students to access any program in which they have interest.
Safe Routes, Safe Stops and Pedestrian Safety :
In October 2018 MCCPTA began partnering with MCPS, Vision Zero, the Montgomery County Pedestrian, Bicycle, and Traffic Safety Advisory Committee and MCDOT to mobilize our school communities to do a wholesale evaluation of the safety of our bus stops and bus routes, and assess the areas around schools – sidewalks, drop-off loops, crosswalks, intersections, “school zone” speed limit enforcement- to brainstorm ways to better ensure that students can get to school safely no matter how they get there. Enhancing that work – with student advocates – to get real, common-sense safety improvements implemented and installed around our schools – can truly make it not only feasible for a student to walk/bike/scoot to school, but safe as well.
Boundary analysis as a tool to decrease the MCPS bus fleet and increase the number of students attending the school nearest them:
The ongoing boundary analysis, with its comprehensive, objective, whole county review and data collection, will provide an opportunity --- for the first time in 30 years – for MCPS to pragmatically assess school assignments and program placement so that we can spend our resources better.
The data from the analysis, and the analytical tools developed by WXY Architects, will let us identify options to even out capacity, and create more walkable schools, not less. Meaning we can truly look at reducing the size of our bus fleet, the number of bus routes, the miles driven and fuel consumed. Looking at the demand for programs, geographic distances, and transit as a resource – we can also look to more equitably place programs to ensure access for all – without having to send a bus.
Sustainability in MCPS transportation:
Given the data and planning tools MCPS and in the Montgomery County Planning Department now have, and soon will have– MCPS and the county must collaborate to create transportation infrastructure that serves all county residents, including those whose daily destination is a school, better, more economically and more sustainably.
With more students who can safely walk/bike/scoot to school, we can reduce the demand for MCPS buses. With MCPS programs pragmatically placed so that more students can utilize KidsRideFree to access any course or program in which they have interest, we can reduce the demand for MCPS buses. If we reduce the demand for buses, we can reduce the miles driven and the number of buses. That saves money – in actual buses, in maintenance for buses, in fuel for buses. That savings – maybe redirected to RideOn to enhance available routes in underserved areas of the county. Increased RideOn routes increases the need for drivers – experienced MCPS bus drivers could help meet that demand when MCPS’ bus needs decrease.
And – it’s time for MCPS to follow the lead of other climate savvy systems in converting our bus fleet to all-electric. RideOn is already starting that process, and County Executive Marc Elrich has identified a way to cost-effectively make that switch. All-electric buses aren’t cheap, and we need to look at range and recharging time in the context of when, where and how far our MCPS buses are driving in comparison to how our current fleet operates. That will help us calculate costs, taking into account the annual $2.6 million we spend on fuel – but MCPS doesn’t need to invent the wheel on this work. Looking to the experience of other systems, and the research our student climate advocates have done, is a good starting point.