School transportation important in Arlington

The yellow school bus is an American icon. Transportation to and from school is such an important part of the school experience that Washington state includes it as a necessary part of “Basic Education,” the range of services to which every student is entitled. Arlington Public Schools fleet is comprised of 50 buses and a staff of three mechanics, over 55 bus drivers, one secretary and two supervisors. APS provides daily transportation for students who live outside of a one-mile walking distance from their school. Of the district’s 5,600 students, 2,200 ride the bus each day on over 110 routes. We transport students daily to specialized schools throughout Snohomish County. Transportation services are provided all year; our buses travel over 800,000 miles annually. The state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction consistently rates the APS bus system as 100% efficient. APS has acted to improve the quality of the buses over the past three years. Financial incentives from the state encourage schools to buy new buses, operate them for 13 years, surplus them, and buy a new replacement to repeat the cycle. Financial pressures – especially in times of student population growth – sometimes compel districts to buy used buses, finance them or operate buses longer than 13 years. That happened to Arlington in the 2000s. In 2016, 66% of buses were over 13 years old. Now only 34% are over age 13. Fleet quality improvements lead to better safety, healthier bus cabin air and lower tail pipe emissions. Last summer all buses were equipped with interior video cameras to help identify a variety of problems. The bus driver is the most important part of the fleet. They must possess a commercial driver’s license, participate in 160 hours of classroom and supervised driving training, pass a medical exam and be drug free. They operate a 40-foot bus with 70+ students in challenging weather conditions with a high degree of safety. Drivers also receive 14 hours of professional development each year. Oct. 21-25 is National School Bus Safety Week. As the days shorten and the weather worsens, please keep an eye out for students waiting for the school bus. Thank you for keeping students safe.

Brian Lewis is executive director of Operations for Arlington Public Schools, which has a monthly column in this newspaper.