By Brook Ellingwood
For the 2011-2012 school year, the cash-strapped Seattle Public Schools Transportation Department has come up with a plan designed to cut costs while still providing school bus service to many students. A primary part of this plan consists of consolidating multiple stops into central locations designated as “Community Bus Stops.” An FAQ on the SPS site (PDF) describes how Community Bus Stops will work.
Q. My transportation eligibility is “Community Bus Stop.” What does that mean?
A. Community Stops are located at or near your neighborhood school and within the walk zone of the school. This could require up to a one mile walk. If you do not live in a walk zone for an elementary or K‐8 school, the bus stop will be at a regular neighborhood stop and could require a walk of up to a half a mile. If you live within a half a mile of the regular transportation zone, you can apply for space available transportation and walk to a corner stop within the zone.
For my family, this will mean traveling a half mile to the Beacon Hill International School so my son can catch the school bus that used to pick him up across the street from our house. Sure, it’s an inconvenience, but I’m well aware of the financial problems the district is facing and while I hope they get their house in order, I’d rather they make cuts to bus service than to educational programs.
But on the other hand, when I read the phrase “Community Bus Stop” I think “Don’t we already have one of those in front of Beacon Hill’s Link Light Rail Station?”
To provide efficient public transportation, Metro Transit and Sound Transit have coordinated their services so that they converge in one spot. From this one location on Beacon Avenue, mass transit riders can board bus routes 36, 38 and 60, or take the elevator to the light rail platform and board a train. What they won’t be able to do under the new Seattle School District transportation plan is see their child safely onto a school bus and then easily board a Light Rail train or a number 38 bus. Instead, parents of children assigned to the Beacon Hill International School bus stop will find themselves half a mile from our neighborhood’s existing Community Bus Stop for the entire community.
The School District is suffering from terrible reputation problems, fueled by highly publicized scandals and an impression of lax oversight and poor responsiveness to community needs. I would suggest that a step towards restoring the district’s reputation and better fulfilling its mission could include aligning its transportation services with the services offered by Metro and Sound Transit. Effective education means understanding the needs of families, not just the children in those families, and making choices that better help working parents better juggle getting their kids to school, themselves to work, and everyone safely back home would be an indicator that the Seattle School District understands this.
As a practical matter, school buses can’t block the Metro bus stops on Beacon Avenue. However, they could conceivably stop on Roberto Maestas Festival Street, 16th Avenue, or even on the other side of the block on 17th Avenue across the Festival Street from where a school bus stopped at the El Centro de la Raza driveway all last school year.
What matters less than these details is that the stop would be near a real Community Bus Stop that already meets the transportation needs of many families. The School District projects an image of a out-of-touch bureaucracy that plans in isolation and is incapable of managing its affairs. Aligning school bus stops with Metro and Sound Transit’s regional transportation plans won’t change this perception overnight, but it could help demonstrate an awareness of the need to work better with the communities the District serves.
While on vacation last week I sent an email to the Seattle School District Transportation Department proposing this idea. This week I’m going to follow up by emailing the School Board and both emailing and calling the office of School Board member Betty Patu, who represents the Southeast District, linking to this post and asking that they please consider this idea.
If you agree and would like to express your support, here is direct contact information:
(Thank you, Brook! Have an opinion on something? The Beacon Hill Blog welcomes opinion articles. Email us.)
(One sentence was edited for clarification after publication at the request of the author.)