Thursday, February 7, 2013

School bus vs school run - an adventure in public transport

While there are no signs of us giving up our two-car-family status, I still dream of alternative transport.

And I have been inspired by Straphangers, a book that raves about public transport but also about how cities worldwide develop based on their transport systems.

I wish we lived closer to my child's school, and thus could bow out of the short but inevitable daily school run. But my antipathy for moving is even deeper.

When I was a child in the US, we had school buses. They ran several shifts a day, for various ages of students. I'm a real fan - I think that Aucklanders should stop complaining about congestion and danger around schools and look at investing in these.
Ahh, nostalgia!

The school bus system in Auckland is variable, at best.

Auckland bus fashion of last millennium.
However, there is an ordinary bus system.

We adults are quicker to see the disadvantages of public transport. But our much-carted-around kids think riding buses and trains is super cool.


Our local online info service shows me a couple of possible buses at good times to get to the school. The buses are not at the closest stop to our house - still about a kilometre away - but the bus stops right outside the school.

On the one hand, a kilometre means I still need to go with my child to the bus stop. On the other, the school is over 5 kms away, and the dropoff there is in the crazy busy school zone instead of a pleasant beachside road.


At $0.90 for a child fare and the current cost of fuel, I estimate that the cost will be about half of driving.

I don't know when I will actually recoup these costs. At the moment, I'm still in the stages of introducing my child to the bus trip, so I pay to go along with him. It's an investment.

If this succeeds, eventually I hope both children can travel together, which is higher cost.  But it's still close to cost-neutral compared with driving, and the money is supporting public transport instead of just the fuel companies.

Worth a try.

Day 1 - A Bad Start

A late bedtime the previous night makes the boy grumpy and resistant to everything - school, riding a bus, you name it. The preschooler is also along for the ride. We find a parking space on a side street less than a minute's walk from our stop.

We learn some real lessons.

I carefully give our son exact change for the bus (as we had not bought a pass for him yet). He later assures me he has it in his pocket. However, by some evil magic, the money is gone when the bus actually arrives. I have no other small change.

Since I paid for myself with a pass, the bus driver kindly just lets us all on. On our way at last.

The kids are intrigued by the unusual occurrence of the bus driver backing up in a narrow suburban street to make a turn he misses.

In my concern not to miss our stop, I get us off one stop before the right one - cue complaints from Mr Grumpy about the 100m torture trek to the school.

Preschooler and I soon get our bus back to our do-it-yourself park'n'ride with no incidents.

Day 2 - Lessons Learned

Mood much better all around. It is just me and my schoolkid, and I keep firm hold of the bus fare myself. There are no bus backups, and we even get the stop right across from the school.

Days 3 and 4

By this time, I've bought him a bus card of his very own. He enjoys using it to make the system go beep.

We are now relaxed enough for me to ask him to pay attention to the trip. When he travels alone, I will make sure we tell the driver where he needs to go (in case the uniform isn't enough of a clue). Bus drivers are usually helpful about this, especially if it means they don't end up with a child stuck on their bus, and this is a quiet route at this time of day.

We see one other child from his school travelling alone.

And then we have to stop for the summer holidays.

First Day of School

I am optimistic about our progress, but I have no fixed idea when he will want to travel on his own. I also don't count on jumping right back into it after a long holiday. I don't mind because you know what? Riding the bus is a lot less stressful than driving the school run.

But he agrees to a very mild suggestion that he might ride on his own today. He says, "not many other kids have their own bus card, I bet" and loves how we attached it with a lanyard to his bag. So we all take the leap of faith - it will be tricky if he gets nerves at the last minute, because if I and our preschooler have to get on with him at the last minute, that will make her very late.

He is a bit startled when the card comes free from the lanyard with his enthusiastic tug, but we both remember to tell the driver his destination. Soon he is sitting carefully in front and ready to go. And as the morning wears on with no report of a truant child, I relax.

At the end of the day, he says it was really fun and cool. He and his friend can't wait to tell me how his friend saw us at the bus stop (while in their car), and him in the bus, and caught up with the bus near the school. And that her mother might even try to get her riding the same bus too.

Second Day of School

We miss the bus.


What would it take to get you on a bus?

1 comment:

  1. Good read! Talk to you after the 20th or so!