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by Mike Kirwan


Over the past decade, the scene at local schools has become increasingly familiar: long lines of cars, many capable of carrying seven people, arriving at the same time to drop three, two and sometimes only one student for the start of the school day. Meanwhile, the school buses meant to serve the student body roll up to the school gates half filled. Local school districts have been urging parents to put their children on the school bus for years, but their suggestions have ultimately fallen on deaf ears. But now more than ever, as our planet struggles to survive, riding the school bus is an important decision.

Traditionally, local schools have pushed children to ride the bus primarily for safety and traffic reasons. Simply put, the less buses have to fight for the roads and school driveways, the smoother the commute is for the entire student body. This year, however, as gas prices approach the $5 mark, more and more parents finally seem to be open to the idea of busing, and the prospect of saving a few dollars on gas.

Those parents who commute into the city each morning have already seen the transportation tide turning. Manhattan-bound trains are carrying more passengers than ever, often making finding a seat a blood sport. Public transportation is the greener choice, and the cost of driving makes commuting to work and school in a personal car just not practical anymore — at least not when there’s a shiny yellow school bus waiting outside the front door.

Jon Casano, a Larchmont father of two young girls, knows all too well how opinions are changing in the community. According to Casano, the price of gas has really become an issue over the summer, noting that many parents are now riding bikes to the train and have begun to coordinate carpools when schlepping kids to and from daycare and playdates. Casano admits that while parents have serious economic and environmental concerns about driving, convenience is what really drives the decisions regarding child transportation.

The idea of 30 children sitting quietly as their bus driver whistles at the wheel is nice, but more often than not it is fiction. For many parents, there is concern over the safety of riding the school bus. For one thing, some are uncomfortable putting their children on school buses that don’t have seatbelts. Also, they worry that drivers aren’t capable of controlling dozens of students while operating one of the biggest, and most important, vehicles on the road. But in reality, the chances of a student being injured in a school bus accident are far below the chances of being injured in a car accident.

Environmentally, dozens of SUVs idling in the parking lot is surely detrimental to the air quality, and Casano said he has already seen a change in habits. “At one point SUVs were ubiquitous in this town,” Casano noted. “Now people are driving hybrids around town. I think there is no question that Larchmont parents are going to put their kids on the bus; in this climate there really is no reason not to.”

In many districts, school busing is funded by local school taxes, and every child has a right to be picked up no matter where they live within the district. As the economy continues to stand on shaky ground, strapped parents will likely realize the foolishness of not using a service they have already paid for.

And with all the talk about the obesity epidemic facing children today, it’s a wonder that walking or biking to school gets left out of the conversation. Provided the distance is not too great and the sidewalk safe enough, an old-fashioned walk to and from school is a no-brainer for today’s students.


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