COLUMN: Is the era of school buses nearing its end?

It’s been 20 years since there’s been a school-aged kid around the house, so matters relating to education and its access ...

COLUMN: Is the era of school buses nearing its end?

On the Other Hand by Mark Rushton

It’s been 20 years since there’s been a school-aged kid around the house, so matters relating to education and its access have not been top of mind for quite some time.

A story in one of the dailies yesterday did, however, catch my attention since it hailed the demise of school bus service in Maple Ridge.

Axed as a cost-saving measure, the service to some 370 kids in that community ends in 2016.

What surprised me, other than the impending cancellation, is that fewer than 400 students in such a large district used that bus service.

What was even more eye-opening in the story was that Abbotsford and Chilliwack school districts charge kids (parents, actually) to use their school buses.

As a parent with children riding the bus in this community, you are obviously aware of all this.

For those of you like me who weren’t, here’s what it costs to transport kids each morning on those ubiquitous yellow buses: $200 per child annually, rising to $400 for three or more riders in the family to get to their local school. If the student(s) attends a “school of choice,” the annual fees rise to $350 per, $700 for the family rate of three or more kids.

To be clear, I’m not complaining about the cost. Any kid who rides public transit to and from school obviously pays, so why should the district (taxpayers) provide a free ride on a school bus?

I’m not sure what private schools charge, if anything, for their school transportation, though I remember not only paying a user fee but an additional amount monthly to purchase the school bus service when my eldest son briefly attended such a school.

It was fair then, and I assume parents think it fair if that’s occurring today.

For those who live in rural areas, having a school bus roll by the door each morning and afternoon is a convenience not to be taken lightly.

And it has to be far less expensive and time-consuming in the long run than personally driving your kids to and from class.

Far better, I’m convinced, than the massive traffic jams I see in front of many urban elementaries as parents, oblivious to the rest of the motoring public, crowd and cross streets when picking up their kids.

I’m never sure if it’s laziness or parental fear that their children will come to harm if they walk or ride their bikes to and from classes instead of being driven, but I do know that cycling to school has virtually disappeared.

For the many years I’ve been driving past one elementary, the bike racks were usually empty. Now they no longer exist on that school’s yard.

I suppose, however, that had I children in school today, I might also be driving them if a bus was unavailable. The weather, volume of traffic and the potential for some creep to pounce on them just makes it so.

On the other hand, seeing those big yellow buses cruising through our rural areas morning and afternoon always brings back fond memories of my childhood and frosty mornings waiting at the corner for a ride.

I also recall eagerly awaiting my 16th birthday so I could banish from my life the communal bus in favour of a beater car to get me back and forth, and to so many other more exciting places as well.

markrushton@abbynews.com