by Emma Fitzhugh | staff writer
You step onto your bus and take a quick look around you. As far back as you can see, every seat has at least two bodies in it, maybe more with all of the backpacks and such added into the mix. Your bus driver remains firmly in his seat, ready to get you to where you need to be. You slowly make your way through all of the kids knowing you’ll almost be in your seat mate’s lap for the ride.
According to Rusty Stanfield, supervisor of the NEISD Transportation Routing department, this year more students are relying on buses to transport them to and from school. And while it’s starting to become a comfort issue, the transportation office insists it is not a safety issue.
“Buses are allowed to run with 71 students on one bus. Yes, capacity of a school bus is 71 [students],” Stanfield said.
This means that buses can transport a little more than two students per seat, because there are 24 seats on a typical school bus, according to Stanfield.
Stanfield went on to say that no bus at Johnson has ever transported more students than this capacity. If that were ever to occur, then a law would be broken. However, transportation is aware of this issue and how it can be perceived by their high school clients.
“I think buses are actually very crowded this year mostly because of all the freshman. I mean at our bus stop, we have tons and tons of freshman….what we could do is we could actually get some of the freshman to ride another bus,” sophomore Brianna Chacon said.
Another student agrees with Chacon’s idea that freshmen are more than likely the reason for this problem.
“Yes, [my bus is crowded]; there are a lot of ninth graders…last year a lot of people had the entire seat to themselves in the morning and afternoon. It’s more crowded in the afternoon because of all of the freshmen too,” sophomore Millie Dorsui said.
Sonny Sturgill, supervisor of the Transportation Saftey & Communication office attributed some of the crowding to a shortage of bus drivers. And according to Stanfield’s office, it is still technically the beginning of the school year and the office is still working out the routes and scheduling.
Either way, now riders are beginning to openly voice their frustration.
“Yes, I actually have heard other people talk about how crowded their bus is. A bunch of my friends have said to me, ‘Oh, our bus is really crowded,’ and I’ve told them how bad my bus is too. I’ve told them, and my parents as well, and I’ve asked them, ‘Hey, has this ever happened to you?’, and they’re like, ‘No, it shouldn’t be like that.’ They’re right. It honestly shouldn’t be like this,” Chacon said.
Some students feel as though they may have a possible solution to this issue and are hoping that somebody will take action soon.
“Well, maybe they can open more bus routes and have more buses. Since each one probably hits two neighborhoods, maybe one [bus] could hit each neighborhood,“ freshman Harshan Raj said.
Assistant principal Julie Shore offered her take on why so many buses became overcrowded in the first place.
“I do think it is a problem, and the reason for it is because at the beginning of the school year, transportation services estimate the number of kids that ride the bus. For example, they might estimate 100 kids are eligible to ride, but not all of them may actually ride the bus. If, let’s say, there are 100 kids and you start with two buses, but for some reason only 42 kids could ride. There’s just a lot of different variations,” Shore said.
Even though every bus is different, students still try and do whatever it takes to get their bus even a little less crowded, even if they’re not entirely sure where to go first.
“I’ve been there as we’re waiting for buses, and I’ve had kids come up to me and say, ‘You know, Mrs. Shore, there are way too many kids on my bus,’ and I don’t think that they really know what to do to take care of it. But the best thing to do to take care of it would be two different things. The first thing would be to talk to the bus driver and say, ‘Are they gonna, you know, look at relief for our bus?’ and so that would be the first thing I would do is have the student try and talk to their bus driver to try and make sure that there are steps being taken to ensure that there’s another bus. And then the next step would be to have the student, or the parent, call transportation and say ‘I ride the bus and it’s really crowded, is there anything y’all can do about it?’. Just make sure that they’re aware of it,” Shore said.
So while bus riders are frustrated, voicing their concerns to the transportation office is probably the best way for them to get some relief.
“…The transportation [office] wants to hear, and unless it’s where the bus isn’t truly full, you know if it’s everyone wants a seat to themselves, that’s obviously not something that they are going to accommodate. But as long as it’s, I mean; especially if it’s high school kids, I think two to a seat is good, is a good amount. High school kids are bigger, so if it is an issue they will try to work it out because it is a safety concern,” Shore said.
Stanfield also acknowledges that reporting an issue is the best way to get some attention.
“Those that report on the issue, [eligible bus riders], it [then] takes a couple days or so to confirm that it is in fact an issue, and then we [NEISD Transportation] make sure [the bus is] in fact overloaded. Then we figure out which student from which stops [are experiencing the overcrowding issue], and then we have some kind of a plan to get a new bus.”