District 51’s growth calls for three new bus routes

A long line of buses at Mount Garfield Middle School

School District 51 students have a little less elbow room on buses to and from school thanks to an influx of new students.

The district conducted a study during the first weeks of school to determine whether school buses were traveling at or over capacity.

What the study found was that of the 131 routes traversing the Grand Valley, 20 buses, almost one in six, were either full or were bursting at the rivets. The final count Oct. 1 confirmed the heavy bus loads, said Dave Montoya, director of transportation services for District 51, with no signs of tapering off.

“We haven’t had this kind of an impact before,” Montoya said. “Our load counts pretty much have stayed the same over previous years.”

The district had to adjust, in some way, every route that was red-flagged for less space, Montoya said.

Most of the routes were modified so less-crowded routes overlapped with crowded ones or expanded to cover wider swaths of the district to accommodate the extra students, Montoya said.

Three routes, however, could not be modified or expanded, he said, so the district is adding three routes to alleviate the overcrowded buses, which is the first time the district has added routes in at least four years, he said.

First Student, the company that contracts its buses to District 51, began noticing “load problems” in the Clifton, Palisade and Pear Park areas, said fleet manager Marvin Shipley, who said he voiced capacity concerns to the district, which prompted the study.

Bus routes serving the Redlands and Fruita are also overcrowded, Montoya said.

District 51 enrolled 832 more students this year over the 2007-08 school year, pushing enrollment above 22,000 students.

Shipley said his bus drivers have noticed the increase primarily with secondary-level students, but

Montoya said the number of high school students has fallen off as more kids get rides from friends.

“Kids are hitching rides whenever they can,” said Ben Fox, a student at Fruita Monument High School.

Fox, who lives about 10 miles from his school, said he and his friends have worked out a carpool system to and from the high school.

As per the contract agreement with First Student, each new bus route added this year will cost the district $189 per day, Montoya said.

The district buys its own gas because of tax breaks provided to school districts, Montoya said, and it costs about $30 per day to fuel a bus.

The three extra bus routes were added to the readopted 2008-09 budget and will cost the district $96,000.

The district first budgeted fuel costs at $3 to $3.50 a gallon for the 2008-09 budget at the beginning of the year, Montoya said. Even though gas prices are coming down, Montoya said he had to adjust the fuel budget over the summer when gas prices flirted with $5 a gallon.

Montoya said he opted for the “worst-case scenario” and adjusted the fuel budget to reflect $4.50 to $5 a gallon.

The adjustments and additions of routes have shuffled pick-up and drop-off times, Shipley said, but all affected families were notified of the changes.

“Less than 100 kids have been affected in the reshuffle,” Shipley said. “It’s just a matter of time until things settle.”


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