Fewer bus routes and longer walks: Prince William school system making some transportation tweaks

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Prince William County Public Schools will be making several changes to transportation for the 2024-25 school year in hopes of improving on-time arrivals and bus routing.

In response to challenges with student transportation, the school division contracted a third-party transportation consultant expert to conduct an independent study to review and evaluate the effectiveness and efficiency of the school bus routes.

In looking at some data gathered through the review process, the school division found it transports just under 73,000 students daily. The majority of those students — 57,000 — walk 0.2 miles or less to get to their bus stop, which Vernon Bock, the chief operating officer for the school division, said is a much shorter distance than students in neighboring districts.

Bock continued, saying the school buses are, on average, half full. He told the School Board that some bus routes are very low density — there are more than 1,000 trips a day that have nine students or less on them, which he called “very inefficient.”

Ultimately, these issues have led to 37% of the division’s school buses arriving late to school.

One initiative to help increase on-time arrivals is eliminating some bus stops and raising the distance some kids will walk to their bus stop.

“Raising that median up a little bit, allowing kids to walk maybe four or five houses farther from 0.1 to 0.25 will allow us to get in and out of neighborhoods a lot quicker,” said Robbin Marshall, the director of transportation for the school division.

The school division will be reducing the overall number of stops each bus must make next year, which will be accomplished by increasing the distances students have to walk to a bus stop.

The target distances the school division will be aiming to achieve will be:

  • Pre-K-Grade 5 students – 0.25 miles
  • Middle school students – 0.5 miles
  • High school students – 0.75 miles

The school division will also be asking families to indicate via ParentVUE their student’s need for bus transportation for the 2024-25 school year.

Currently, Marshall said, the school division plans routes and stops for any student eligible for bus transportation. Because of a high number of students not using the bus regardless of their eligibility, this has created inefficient bus routes.

Beginning June 3, parents and guardians will be prompted to complete a questionnaire regarding the need for bus transportation in ParentVUE. The deadline is Jun 28.

The school division noted, however, that parents’ upcoming decisions are not permanent. If circumstances change and a student requires transportation, parents and guardians will have the opportunity to update the information they provide, the school division stated in a news release.

The school division will also be adding a mix of vehicles to the transportation routes next year.

“Adding district-owned vans to our mix next year will allow us to route low-density routes more efficiently and potentially eliminate 63 of those low-density routes that we have on buses,” Marshall told the School Board.

Bock noted that before any routes are eliminated and new bus routes are created, a team from the school division will be reviewing each stop and ensuring that the walking route for students to get to their potential new stops is safe, as is the bus route itself.

School Board members were largely supportive of the changes.

“I think having those babies walk a little bit farther is good for everybody. You know, zip the coats up, put the tennis shoes on, walk to school, you’ll be just fine,” Erica Tredinnick, the Brentsville District member, said.

Richard Jessie, the Occoquan School Board member, told the division he thinks the new plan is solid. He did say, however, he’s concerned about the number of student drop-offs happening at schools in the division, which he said was creating problems at schools. The changes, he said, could potentially increase the number of drop-offs.

“What I’m concerned about is that this is going to increase and some of the kids are going to be lazy, don’t want to walk three houses up, and we’re going to have more cars and stuff, and it’s becoming a major problem,” Jessie said.

Bock said the school division has already been engaging with schools to try and refine school drop-off procedures and that it is something the division will be closely monitoring in the beginning stages of implementation.

Jennifer Wall, the Gainesville District School Board member, also showed support for the changes, noting that it’s possible these changes will actually encourage more parents to have their student ride the bus.

“I think more parents will trust the bus system and put their kids on the bus. Hopefully that will alleviate the long kiss-and-rides that we have,” Wall said.

The school division will be hosting webinars next week to delve into these changes and answer questions from community members. Those dates are as follows:

Student bus stops will be established and available by fall and available for parents and guardians to see in ParentVUE no later than Aug. 12 of this year.

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