(I wrote this last year for the Monitor. I expected to get lots of praise from other commuters – instead, all I got was “why do you hate children?!?!?” emails.)
No disrespect to the nation’s public-school transportation network, but I hate it in late August when the signs outside schools change from “Have A Nice Summer” to “Welcome Back” and those big yellow buses come trundling out of hibernation.
It means I can no longer relax before my morning commute, but must once again rush to time my departure to the exact second so I can sneak between bus runs in my town and bus runs in the next town. If I miss that moment by even a smidgen, I end up stuck behind one or more buses for ages, stopping and starting and stopping and starting and stopping and starting, watching kids board the bus at the end of driveways every 50 feet between here and the next county!
Sorry – was I ranting? Commuting will do that to you.
The folks who run bus companies are sympathetic to my plight, sort of, since they hear from people like me. They also, however, hear from the other side.
“We try to make group stops as much as possible, where you have several houses with the students walking to a general driveway or a corner stop. … But if every parent had their way, you would stop at the end of every driveway,” said Jeff Finfrock, general manager for New Hampshire operations of Student Transportation of America, which contracts bus service at school districts throughout the state.
“You can go to a stop with two people that live next door to each other who don’t like each other, and that’s a problem,” he said. “I’ve seen it where the parent paints a line, the property line, and that’s where they expect the front bumper of the bus to be. If it’s 6 inches one way or another, you’ll hear about it.”
State law, by the way, acknowledges my morning dismay. One paragraph of RSA 265:54, the law that makes it illegal to pass a stopped school bus, says bus drivers should try to not be a traffic obstacle: “Whenever road conditions and space permit and whenever the number of vehicles following a moving school bus is 5 or more, the driver of the school bus shall pull over and let the following vehicles pass.”
It’s lovely when this happens – hat tip to the driver in New Boston who pulled over at the same place every morning last school year – but it doesn’t happen often.
That’s partly because there usually isn’t enough room: the law says the bus must pull over far enough that we can pass “without driving … across any unbroken painted line” on the road.
But partly, I think, it’s that few of us know about the law. I certainly didn’t know about it before writing this.
I asked Trooper Christopher Kelby, head of pupil transportation for state police. He noted that bus drivers have a lot of things to worry about and that impatient commuters who can’t see what’s up ahead of the bus may not be the best judge of what should be going on.
Concerns about violation of what’s know as the five-car rule are handled by local police, Kelby told me via an email from a press office, but they are rare. He reported having heard only “a handful of complaints annually.”
Of course, all of this exists within the more important issue of student safety. Even at my most impatient, I’d never think of going around a school bus that had stopped for kids, in case one of them stepped out at the wrong time.
Well, to be honest, I might think about if I haven’t had enough coffee – but I’d never do it.
I’ll just sit in the car and rant. That’s what commuters do.