Growth, not gas prices, fueling bus ridership

LAWRENCEVILLE - More students are riding school buses this year, local districts say, but students piling onto the buses are a result of growth, not parents trying to save gas money.

Sloan Roach, spokeswoman for Gwinnett County Public Schools, said about 75 percent of students take the bus to school. Some schools have reported increased ridership, she said, but not because of gas prices - parents were asked to put their children on buses to decrease traffic and for safety reasons.

This year, the district expects to spent $11,082,500 for its 7,050 daily routes, up from $7,553,178 last year. The previous year, the county spent $4,049,500 on gas.

Buford schools spokeswoman Elaine Carter said about 56 percent of students ride the bus. The district has added one new route - up to 16 - but the addition was due to growth, Carter said.

In fact, more elementary and middle schoolers have arrived at school in cars than in the past, she said. Particularly for the 256 kindergartners starting school this year, it is because their parents want to bring them.

Additionally, the district has a number of nonresident students who cannot take buses to school.

Lisa Leighton, spokeswoman for the Barrow County Schools, said she is confident the district will spend more money than the $500,000 it has budgeted for fuel this year. Last year, they overspent their $350,000 allotment, even after requesting an additional $6,865.

Leighton said the elementary routes have the number of students the district anticipated, but middle and high school routes have been fuller than normal.

One reason might be that construction at Winder-Barrow High School has all but eliminated its parking lot, she said, requiring students who might otherwise drive to board the bus.

Gas prices might play some role in the trend, she said. Parents may also be telling their teenage children the car is staying parked.

"I would think the parents would say, 'You're riding the bus,'" she said.