Frustrated students hope buses will become less crowded

Students file onto the bus ready for a day of school

Carmen Santoyo

Students file onto the bus ready for a day of school

Carmen Santoyo

“Consider yourselves lucky.” The bus driver’s static voice booms over the intercom. Students cram too close together, shoulder to shoulder, some students practically sitting in the aisle, and others sitting three to a seat, on only a couple inches of the seat. They frantically try to get a hold of their seat to stabilize themselves, sweat trails down their foreheads; they sigh and wonder. Lucky? We’re the lucky ones?

Even West Ottawa’s official transportation page believes that riding the bus is a privilege. While that is true, they don’t seem to account for how uncomfortable and overcrowded buses can be for everyday riders. “Pupil transportation is not a required service, it is a privilege provided to eligible riders by the Board of Education,” states the West Ottawa Public Schools Administrative Guidelines for Transportation.

What a privilege it is to slowly walk the bus aisle, like a pirate walking the plank, desperately trying to find an open seat. Eyes quickly scan the rows of seats trying to find any empty spot, just one. Meanwhile, students who luckily already snagged a seat, look up at the straggler. It’s like Russian roulette. No one wants to be the one chosen to have to move over and sit three to a seat.  “After a long day of work and school you just wanna go home and it’s just really uncomfortable,” said one sophomore sitting 3 to a seat.

Buses packed with riders leave students feeling cramped, confined, and uncomfortable. Especially since most students have to ride the bus for long amounts of time. What can they do about this? One driver reveals that she doesn’t know when the buses will clear up and become less full. Truthfully  stating “I don’t know how long this will last.” The driver expresses the need for more bus drivers, knowing that is one of the reasons for the packed buses. “A lot of the buses are crowded due to a lack of bus drivers. We need more people to become bus drivers.”

The overcrowded buses result in riders being very uncomfortable, and they will become more unbearable as students ride throughout the year.  Soon, winter will arrive and along with the freezing temperature, colds, and the flu. Students are bound to get sick. Coughing, and sneezing, right in each other’s faces. Packed buses are a hotspot for sicknesses and germs to spread. Students sit up to three to a seat, they’re unable to remain physically distant from another, which increases the chances of sicknesses and germs spreading between riders.

However, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. “After the fourth Friday following Labor Day of each school year, a school bus shall not be used to transport more than 100% of the number of persons for which the school bus has a rated seating capacity,” states the transportation guidelines. Meaning that administrators are now in a position to find solutions.  Even now while students sit three to a seat, the bus driver says that “None of the buses exceed the maximum count.” However, transportation guidelines suggest there should only be at least 2 students in a seat at a time. “High school students in grades 9-12 will be assigned to approximately 2 students per bench seat (4 students per row).”

Assistant Director of Transportation Gary Corell want to assure that the buses, though crowded, are withing written guidelines. “As per district policy for efficiency, buses are loaded with the attempt of utilizing all of the seating space provided on a bus.  Buses have a maximum seat capacity as designed by the manufacturer.  As long as student numbers do not exceed the maximum rated capacity, the bus is not considered to be overloaded.”

“On Wednesday, October 12, we had the official state student count on buses. We transported 2772 West Ottawa students in the morning. The average ridership on all high school buses was 43 students with the highest count being 61 students. The maximum rated legal capacity is 77 students. We were well within the rated capacity. After count day,  transportation is always trying to balance our student ridership by adjusting routes and stops,” Corell said.

“Students need to be patient and considerate of others,” said the driver.

Some riders could see having to wait for a change as a loss and may still feel uncomfortable while riding the bus, but student riders can still ensure their safety while being on a cramped bus before any changes take place. Remember to stay well-behaved, and not disruptive, so the bus driver can focus more on the road. “The quieter and calmer the students remain means the bus driver can concentrate on the road and driving safety, not on behavior control,” said the driver.

Helping your bus driver directly helps you get home safely. So while you may not feel lucky riding your cramped bus, remember that change is on its way.  After all, the transportation department’s mission is “To provide safe and efficient transportation to get students physically present and emotionally prepared for learning to experience success to-and-from school… every school day.” So they are working to make the necessary changes for students to comfortably ride the bus.