Annapolis School Buses: Unsafe or Uncomfortable?
County official says buses sometimes operate above capacity levels.
Greater Annapolis Patch reader Julie Kizer Ball asked why Anne Arundel County Public School (AACPS) buses are so full? She wondered if it's a safety issue since there aren't seat belts in buses, seeing how some AACPS students have to sit three to a seat. She adds that three kindergartners may fit in a seat, but it's a different story for three high school students.
School bus overcrowding is a fluid and transitory problem, according to Chris Carter, director of transportation for AACPS.
Overcrowding of school buses amounts to a safety concern for parents; however, for students and school transportation officials, it's simply an issue of comfort.
"All of our school buses are built to handle federal and state-rated capacity standards," said Carter.
Each of the county's school buses are built to handle a capacity of either 66 or 72 students, which translates to three people a seat. While this can get "uncomfortable," according to Carter, the buses are designed to deal with loads that sometimes include three students to a seat.
"Our school buses are over-built," said Carter. "They are designed to a standard that far exceeds the weight carried."
Seat belts are not required on school buses, since the vehicles are designed with an "egg carton effect" in mind, according to Carter.
Carter does concede that, at times, buses do operate above capacity levels. Usually, the beginning of the school year is the biggest problem.
The end of a sports season can cause challenges as well.
"Right now, were seeing people who were playing football, volleyball or doing other after-school activities now riding the bus," said Carter.
The extra load forces school officials to see what available buses have room to spare, and often they will shift some routes to spread the students more effectively.
"We look for buses with available capacity in the area [of an overcrowded bus] and see if we can change some routes so that the less crowded bus picks up a few extra students," said Carter.
While Maryland law gives school officials two weeks to get an over-capacity bus under control, Carter says that AACPS takes care of capacity situations within a matter of days.
"If we have a bus that is over rated capacity, we take care of it within a day or two," said Carter. "But you deal with those situations on a regular basis."
However, some overcrowding issues may really be more of a deception then a reality.
According to Carter, at schools like Annapolis High, there could be overcrowding initially but once the bus gets to its first stop, the problem is usually alleviated.
"You could have a bus that is overcrowded when it leaves the parking lot but within the first stop, it may drop off 30 kids," said Carter. "Then, you are looking at a bus that is far below capacity."
The problems are always shifting and school transportation officials have to "monitor on a day-to-day basis," according to Carter, because "it's a fluid situation where load counts fluctuate."
"We have a new challenge each day," said Carter.