By Bob Blake

As students climb the steps of those big yellow school buses again, they are boarding one of the safest and surest forms of transportation. America moves three times the population of New York City – 26 million students – each day by bus. Our school systems operate the nation’s largest transportation network.

North Carolina’s buses travel an average of 75 miles to shuttle 800,000 students each day. This transportation costs about $600/year per student, but every busload eases congestion and replaces at least 36 to and fro automobile trips. Simple math shows it cost each student, over the 180 day school year, about $3.30/day. Not bad, and this figure includes replacement costs.

AJ1706, school bus, bus, Children boarding a yellow schoolbus in Exton, Pennsylvania

North Carolina schools began bus transport in 1917 when the Pamlico County district commissioned the Corbitt Company of Henderson, NC to construct a 30-passenger vehicle at a cost of $1400. This was an open air type vehicle with only flapping side curtains for blustery, rainy days. To publicize their triumph, the school superintendent drove the bus to Raleigh and gave Governor Thomas Bickitt and fellow politicians a ride through the city. This demonstration convinced other rural counties to quickly follow suit.

A recent UNC Urban Institute report stated, “The average one-way student ride time was about 23 minutes over about 4.37 miles.” The shortest trip was 11 minutes in Roanoke Rapids, and the longest 81 minutes in rural and mountainous Macon County.  About 55% of students K-12 ride school buses. In a 180-day school year, North Carolina’s 13,365 buses travel over 180 MILLION miles!

School buses are much safer than cars. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that school bus travel is “seven times safer that travel by car or truck.” For perspective, traffic accidents kill about 30,000 people each year but, nationwide, only 134 people die in school-vehicle related crashes/year. Of those, only 8% were in the buses. Pedestrians, bicyclists and others outside the bus accounted for most fatalities.

Seat belts? Most buses now carry 44-48 passengers, two to a seat. North Carolina completed a pilot program of seat restraints in 2017. Kevin Harrison, North Carolina’s state director for pupil transportation, recently stated that North Carolina’s lap/shoulder seat belt program has “moved beyond a pilot, and is now more of an implementation.”

Virtually all school buses are diesel powered because of fuel efficiency and ability to haul heavier loads. Depending on the load and driving conditions, the fuel economy varies between 6 – 12 /mpg. The efficiency comes from the number of passengers aboard. Battery powered buses? A qualified “Yes…they are being tested.” An alliance of manufacturers are experimenting with an electric powered medium vehicle, named the Electric Bus chargE that has been configured as a school bus. More later!

What about the distinctive yellow paint now standard in all states and Canada? It was selected because of easy visibility at dawn and twilight. Color research demonstrates peripheral vision spots the color 1.25 times quicker than red. The brilliant shade even has a name and number: National School Bus Glossy Yellow, federal standard number Color 13432.

A clever bus driver once told the students, “Keep my bus clean…I know where you live!”