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Arlington Public Schools Changing Bus System

by Aaron Kraut August 6, 2012 at 4:30 pm 9,112 92 Comments

In an attempt to fix bus crowding, delays and long travel times, Arlington Public Schools will go to a new, voucher-based bus transportation system this school year.

School Superintendent Dr. Patrick Murphy announced the new policy, devised after an independent study of the system last fall, in a letter to parents in July. APS sent parents another letter on Aug. 1 urging them to update their addresses.

From the July letter:

With the start of the school year this fall, we will be moving forward with the plans that the Office of Transportation has outlined. One of the first steps underway includes the implementation of bus-routing software to help us plan routes that are more efficient so we can maximize the capacity of our bus fleet.

The second step that is critical to this plan is to serve students who are eligible to receive bus transportation services. As outlined in School Board policy, elementary school students who live more than one mile from school and secondary school students who live more than 1 1/2 miles from school will receive bus transportation.

In early August, principals will be sending families of students who are eligible for transportation services a letter that will include their child’s bus stop and route. This addresses a critical safety concern for students who ride buses and allows us to better communicate and serve families when we may experience a delay or other changes in service.

The distance rules are not a change to the transportation policy, APS spokesperson Linda Erdos said. Students who live within the mile or 1.5-mile radius who would have to cross large roadways or highways to get to school will still be allowed to take the bus.

The vouchers will be a way for bus drivers to become accustomed to the students on their routes, Erdos said, providing for what APS hopes is a safer, more efficient system with an expected 900 more students and the same amount of buses.

“We have had problems in the past when students who live in the walk zone walk outside the walk zone and get on the bus,” Erdos said. “Our priority is to add classroom teachers to teach children, not more buses. More important, the new system will let us know every student who is on a bus route. If something happened, this will let us know who’s on that bus.”

Students within the “walk zone” are being encouraged to walk or bike to school. Still, one parent thinks the new system will actually increase the number of students from inside the walk zone who drive or who hitch a ride to school, which could cause traffic and safety issues.

“I applaud Dr. Murphy on working to reform the bus system,” wrote Donaldson Run blogger Robert Cannon. “But creating a voucher system, and refusing to transport students who live just less than 1.5 miles from school is only going to make things worse.”

  • UptonHiller

    Papers please young child!

    • Taylor

      And if a boy or girl who lives .9 miles from elementary school has the nerve to try to board a bus to school without a voucher? I guess the bus driver will kick them off and leave them standing out there alone, right?

      Seems like a pretty draconian policy to solve a not-so-serious problem.

      • PattiS

        Do you really think an Arlington bus driver would leave a student stranded? This isn’t 1960’s Mississippi.

        • Way to make everything about race.

          And the answer is yes.

  • CW

    Am I crazy or does it nowhere in the article explain what this “voucher” thing is all about? All it seems to say is that the distance rules are actually being enforced. Where do “vouchers” come into play, aside from the passing references made to them that are never substantiated?

    • ArlRat


  • lpweaver

    I got the letter – nothing was said about “vouchers”. This is news to me. If it is going to be enforced – then perhaps the assignments will be confirmed on the bus with a voucher from each student? My high schooler says the bus is too crowded and I have to drive him every day – but it’s quality time that he does not realize 🙂

    • lpweaver

      I just re-read the email version of the letter – it does say to keep the bottom portion to give to the bus driver – and calls this a voucher. My mistake!

      • UptonHiller

        CPS will be by your home later to check on your reading skills.

        • bman

          they should have sent a twitter msg

    • Bender

      **My high schooler says the bus is too crowded and I have to drive him every day**

      Is he a paraplegic? An amputee?

      What’s wrong with his legs, other than having a lazy butt, that he cannot WALK there himself?

      • MommyDearest

        She never said they were withing walking distance. Maybe they live in the Barcroft area but go to the IB program at W&L? The point was that the bus was crowded, which is the exact issue APS is trying to remedy.

        To another person’s post… there have been several communications from APS about this. The first ones did not mention any specifics and did not mention vouchers. Only the most recent letter/email mentions vouchers, and I’m betting half the recipients threw out those letters thinking, “I’ve already read this 5 times.” And they will probably throw out the letter with the voucher for the same reason. Over-communication can be a bad thing if the message keeps changing.

        • Bender

          Too far to walk?

          Get a bike.

          It can be done. I know. I and many others did it.

          • Josh S

            Here’s an idea: mind your own business.

          • drax

            It’s just a suggestion, Josh. Relax.

          • SHume

            My daughter lives near Crystal City and goes to HB Woodlawn. There are no safe routes for her to bike. It takes us 15 minutes to drive or 45 minutes on the bus. Riding a bike or walking with a heavy backpack is not an option.

      • arlutingfacts

        I hated taking the bus in high school here. we had 3 or 4 in a seat and some had to sit on the floor of the bus. After 2 years of that I rushed to get my drivers.

        • Mimi Stratton

          Kids today aren’t rushing to get their driver’s license.

  • Wilbur

    No Voucher – No bus:

    “Transportation Assignment Letters: Transportation Services will be mailing letters to the parents of APS students who are eligible for bus transportation later this month. Please look for your letter in the mail the week of August 20. It will include your child’s bus route number, bus stop and pickup time. The lower portion of the letter includes a “voucher.” Please be sure to tear it off and have your child carry it and present it to the driver when boarding the bus.”

  • Andy

    My son has taken the bus to elementary school for the past several years, and the bus got them to school late almost every day. But it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with extra kids on the bus. The problem was that the same bus and driver are used for both a middle school route (first), then the elementary school route (after the middle school route was completed). So any delays are compounded throughout the morning, to the point where the bus would finally arrive at the school late, almost every day. I’m trying to figure out how any kind of voucher system addresses this problem? Or did we just pay for a study and software that don’t actually do any good for us?

    On a grammatical note, shouldn’t it be “…an expected 900 more students and the same _number_ of buses”?

    • Louise

      Andy, is it possible the bus driver should just start his middle school route a little earlier?

      • Andy

        That would seem like the simplest solution, but it was never entertained by the transportation department. I’m not sure why.

        • Louise

          Did you contact them with your concerns? Were you able to get a group of parents together to lobby? Was it brought up to the school PTA? These routes often have success in APS.

          • Andy

            1. Yes. Transportation dept was non-responsive.

            2. No.

            3. Didn’t think of that. We complained to the school several times, but they always said it wasn’t their problem, it was transportation’s problem.

            4. Go to 1.

        • Neighbor

          My son who goes to swanson had the bus come to at 7:00 to pick him up. His bus arrived at the school at 7:15 for a 7:50 start. The buses are coming way earlier than necessary as it is. Try another idea.

      • drax

        Middle school kids already have to be at bus stops pretty early. There’s only so much time you can require from them in the morning.

  • Louise

    Great decision, APS.

  • Arl4ist

    Somehow crossing Carlin Springs and Route 50 to get to Kenmore doesn’t meet the “large roadways” exemption and falls within the walking zone.

    • Anon

      What R. Griffin says, below.

  • C

    I don’t know about Rt. 50, but crossing Carlin Springs is most likely deemed safe because there is a light with a walk signal and a crossing guard.

    • R. Griffon

      Probably b/c you can go UNDER it on Carlin Springs, so it really isn’t an issue. In fact, you’d have to actually do quite a bit of work to get up onto Rt. 50 at that intersection as it isn’t really accessible on foot.

  • Dr Murphy writes another bad prescription.

    Yet again, another screwed up process redesign by APS. The July letter promises us resolution by early August, but now we hear week of August 20, which is um, later August, and basically a week before school starts.

    If they’re going to be taking away bus stops, they should have gotten the word out sooner. But instead we’re stuck with another last minute communication that will undoubtedly be screwed up.

    We live .99 miles from our Kids’ school according to Mapquest. (But if you drive to the front door of the school, it’s more than a mile. So here we sit on pins and needles wondering whether we’ll now have to rearrange out schedules to drive our child to school, and further increase the traffic and pollution in Arlington. (Most of the “shortest” route has narrow streets with no sidewalks and hills, so walking safely is out of the question).

    Why, oh why, can’t they

    • Dr Murphy writes another bad prescription.

      get this stuff figured out before last second.

    • My kids have legs

      My kids have legs that are made for walking. They appear to be none the worse for having to use their legs.

      Get over yourself.

      Too bad the schools are not cutting back on buses.

      • Arlington Mom

        Weather and highways aside, my seven year old daughter won’t be making the trek along Wilson Blvd. alone for safety reasons. So I’d have to walk with her, at least 15 minutes there and 15 minutes back for me, twice a day, until she’s old enough to walk alone (which let’s face it, she may never be while in elementary school. It’s a sick world out there. And no, there are no other kids she can walk with from our neighborhood.)

        So walking my daughter back and forth to school means an hour of travel time a day for me in good weather, even though we live just under a mile away. It is great exercise, and I truly wish I had that kind of time to spend just getting her to and fro. Most parents don’t, which is why they’ll just drive.

        • Louise

          I walked down Wilson Boulevard without my mom starting in kindergarten. Buddy up with a neighbor kid. She’ll be fine.

          • Arlington Mom

            No neighbor kids to walk with (kids in our neighborhood have a choice of two schools). But the other thing – used to be when I was a kid the school called your parents if you didn’t show up to class and you hadn’t been called in sick. Doesn’t happen here, not even a robo-call. If for some reason she didn’t make it to school, I wouldn’t realize it until after 4 PM when she is due home. Maybe after they modernize transportation they can modernize attendance procedures, too…

          • C

            You can still drive her to school- she just can’t take the bus.

          • Anon


          • Arlington Mom

            The original letter I got – which is not the same as the one posted here – discourages driving from within the walkzone, because the schools can’t handle the traffic. I know I can do it anyways and will have to, but the criticism that restricting bus access means more traffic near and on school properties is valid.

          • Well….

            That’s great for the environment and traffic. Yeah,let’s add a couple thousand cars driving their kids to school rather than 50 buses. THAT’S THE ARLINGTON WAY!

          • Another Arlington Mom

            My children’s elementary school calls if they don’t show up ans i forget to call reporting a sick day I’m pretty sure they all do. If not, they should.

          • Arlington Mom

            Your school might might, but I assure you I have never once gotten a phone call in three years from my daughter’s Arlington elementary school questioning an absence. They all should, but they all do not.

          • Cbone

            So did I,but the world is much different place now.

          • Chris Slatt

            That’s right – crime is way, way down from back then. Much safer walking alone now than it used to be.

          • Always_Armed

            You’re right…a much SAFER world now:

            Arlington crime rate in 1986: 5,158

            Arlington crime rate in 2011: 1,985

            The crime rate is the number of index (serious) crimes per 100k population.

          • Sam

            Most people I talk to about this topic aren’t so scared about crime but instead it’s the distracted and impatient drivers in the morning.

          • GC2

            Crazy people can live anywhere and strike at any time. A Brooklyn man was expected to plead guilty next week to butchering an 8-year-old boy who got lost while walking home alone from an Orthodox Jewish day camp.

            Read more: http://forward.com/articles/160385/leiby-kletzky-killer-set-to-plead-guilty/#ixzz22rquXzLu http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/07/13/missing-brooklyn-boy-leibby-kletzky-found-dead_n_896890.html

          • cbone

            Maybe you are more than willing to take the risk with your kids, no matter what the age. I am not. My kids are too young to making the walk on their own. Just because some folks did it 25 years ago does not mean that it is right or safe. We did not all have use seat belts back then, still think that is a good idea. I can make stats say what I want.

            The issue is that the county cut buses and tosses a non-realistic option as a solution. The result is more parents will drop their kids off, and create a huge congestion problem at the schools. But, since the county does not pay ( in dollars)for congestion, not a problem.

          • drax

            Would you let your kindergartner do that walk today though, Louise?

        • Taylor

          We have the same issue along Lee Highway. Sadly, it’s just not safe enough to leave my 2nd grader and kindergartner alone to walk or bike to their school along busy, rush-hour roads.

          ACPS seems to trust traffic consultants (or whatever they’re called) more than common sense.

          And it’s very annoying that they’re changing bus routes with such little notice to families — my neighbors and I have no idea right now whether or not we’ll be “allowed” to us bus transportation, and it’s only a few weeks until school starts. Very disappointing planning & communication.

          • Well….


        • Kevin Diffily

          Your child is much more likely to get injured when you drive them to school than stranger dangered.

          • drax

            It’s not just crime to worry about, it’s traffic.

      • Well….

        They are cutting back on buses. And yes, to expect a 6 year old to walk 40 minutes on streets without sidewalks is a bit much in my opinion. I’m sure the bus policy will be changed after the first kid walking .99 miles gets run over by a car flying through the neighborhoods.

    • Always_Armed

      Just did a Google Maps check and I lived 1.2 miles from Williamsburg MS and 1 mile from Yorktown HS when I went there 25+ years ago. Never even thought of taking a bus or having my parents drive me. (School started so early back then that I was up and out of the house before my parents even came out of their room.)

      I know this is a typical gripe of the 40+ set, but why are we raising our kids to be such wusses? Is it really an issue if a 13-18 year old has to walk 20-25 minutes to school? Are parents really fearful that their teenager can’t cross a busy street? And, if so, why aren’t they teaching their child(ren) that skill?

      • drax

        This isn’t really about 13-18 year olds.

        • cbone

          spot on

      • Well….

        What about grade school. Did you walk a mile there too? A mile for middle schoolers may be borderline reasonable- but not for Kindergarteners.

  • internet tourettes

    I really hate the way that the school communicates with parents they always dance around the problem them purpose some convoluted solution for an ill framed issue. So is the problem that the busses are too crowded or that there are not enough busses? Will the Bus driver deny a student from riding a bus if he does not have a voucher? Why do they have to hand out vouchers are they going to check the kids ID too to make sure that the right child has the right voucher? Why not give the bus drive a list and have them take names as the kids come on the bus.

  • JimPB

    Toughen up.

    My neighborhood classmates and I walked (maybe someone occasionally biked) 3 miles each way to middle and high school in Cincinnati along a busy 4 lane (plus parking lanes) road, crossing a major intersection (with traffic light). I don’t recall any traffic guards for us older kids. (There were traffic guards — adults and kids — for the children.) The alternative: take a public transit bus. (A few may have occasionally biked.) I don’t recall any accidents involving any of us students.

    I grant that there are more vehicles on the roads now, and drivers may well be driving with greater haste and less concern for safety. Bring safety back with measures such as prominent signs and marked crosswalks, cameras to monitor for driver violations (with officers visiting the vehicle owners to “bring home” the seriousness of the offense, and of course fines — the stiffer the better) and, of course, officers vigorously enforcing driving laws. Other measures might be helpful, e.g., shaming and enabling community pressure by posting pictures and addresses of repeat (two or more) offenders for their endangering of children.

    • CW

      You cray.

    • drax

      “I don’t recall any accidents involving any of us students.”

      Then I’m sure they never happened.

    • Well….

      Did you have sidewalks on your route? We don’t on our route to school. Narrow streets, no sidewalks– = an accident waiting to happen– especially for little kids who are hard to see.

  • grace

    This doesn’t address the issue that because Arlington students can go to elementary schools outside of their neighborhood they end up with 3 -4 buses for each neighborhood.

    • Flyover_country

      Exactly. APS should only bus kids that are more than a mile from their neighborhood school, to their neighborhood school. You want your kid to Spanish Immersion, or ATS, you gotta get them there.

      • drax

        But that means only kids with parents who can drive them have access to those schools.

        • Joe

          And long term that idea means that the only kids going to many schools will be those whose parents who can afford to live in the local area for those schools.

  • Cbone

    I like how my child, who lives in the walk zone, now has to walk outside the walk zone to get to school. That make a great deal of sense.

  • SmartAhs

    Busing kids? Ridiculous. Most places they walk or ride bikes.

    • drax

      Do they now?

    • Joe

      Are you kidding? Do you really want more bicyclists on the roads? Imagine having to dodge even 10 bicyclists in the place of every bus. We’re never going to get to work.

  • Elmer

    Still baffled by why Arlington has to have so many schools OTHER than neighborhood schools. Why do we have to pay for “choice” schools and then have to bus kids all over the county for these schools such as Montessori, ATS, Science Focus, etc.?
    Are our neighborhood schools full of drugs, rampant crime, gangs, rotten teachers, ancient crumbling facilities which are falling down on the kids heads? If Arlington was a ghetto like inner city where such conditions may exist I could understand that parents may deserve another taxpayer supported option but in Arlington? Why? Why? Why?

    • Elmer

      AND to state the obvious, a return to the neighborhood school concept would go a long way to resolving the APS problems with bus crowding, bus delays and long travel times.

    • drax

      Why the heck not, Elmer? What’s wrong with school choice, and having the best school experience for your kid? Jeez.

      • Elmer

        Drax, Choice? Then open up your pockbook and write your check to the school of your choice for your kid. Choose any private or religious school, you want. Why should I and the rest of the county taxpayers have to pay for your choice? You don’t have the
        excuse that the neighborhood schools in Arlington are so bad your kid won’t get a throughly decent education. Do You?
        Double Jeez.

        • drax

          You don’t pay for my choice, Elmer. They’re all public schools. A kid going to one public school in Arlington is a kid that does not go to another. Doesn’t cost the taxpayers any more.

          So why shouldn’t a kid get the best school for him or her, at no additional cost to anyone? What possible reason would you have to oppose that? What’s next, will you oppose elective classes?

          • Well….

            But we do pay (in most cases) for the buses to get the kids to the non-neighborhood schools. If you’re going to nickel and dime by eliminating routes that are .8 or .9 miles from the elementary school, they should eliminate the more expensive bussing to the county-wide programs. From the perspective of maximizing bus capacity and dispersion of students – the cost of running buses for the non-neighborhood programs is clearly substantially higher. What’s good for the goose….

  • Newsy Mom

    Anyone know if they have to show the vouchers everyday or just the first day they ride the bus? I can’t even imagine what those vouchers will look like if they are expected to produce them everyday – and how long it will take for everyone on the bus to lose them! Should be fun!

  • Loocy

    Thank you for finally explaining the communications from APS, which had been completely opaque. When my child started at middle school, I found out that we were just within the 1.5 mile walk zone. Given the large dangerous (no light or guard) intersections she would have to cross, that is ridiculous for a 6th grader. I did make my opinions known to the school board and others, but nothing was ever done. In order to get to school, we discovered that she could walk in the opposite direction about 1/2 mile to a bus stop (a much safer walk) and that worked well for us. Occasionally I would drive her, and the traffic congestion around the school in the morning was horrendous.

    This “voucher” system is designed to prohibit children like my daughter from using the buses. It will solve nothing, and push more people into driving their children. I thought we wanted to encourage the use of public transportation!

  • CW

    Can I just say as a general comment on the site that I absolutely detest these articles where you have to click through and read an original source document to even undrerstand what the hell the article is talking about? Like this article which mentions vouchers twice and then never even explains anything about vouchers.

    If I wanted to have to do my own research to get my news, I would go to the parking garage and meet with Deep Throat myself. But I don’t. I want to read the news story and have it make sense.

    • Josh S


    • Deep Throat


  • Ren

    As yet another person who grew up in non-busing districts with parents who had way too many obligations to worry about driving us, I’m in the “kids can handle more than you think and the world is not that dangerous” camp. I do think, however, that there should be a policy with repurcussions for staff when a child does not show up for school unexpectedly and no one is notified. Also, I totally agree with the posters who make the point that given that all neighborhood schools are of a pretty sound quality, that if a student elects to attend an alternative school, they should be responsible for transportation.

    And finally, may I request that someone tell the bus drivers who come flying through my neighborhood each morning and stinking up the air that VA has a 2-foot passing requirement for cyclists. A few of them didn’t get the memo.

  • PLinARL

    If this helps at all, APS has school walk zone maps on their website: http://www.apsva.us/Page/2932. You can double-check whether or not your house is within your school’s walk zone. For example, my house is 1.4 miles from my child’s elementary school, and it is not in the walk zone.

    • Well….

      Interestingly, the maps are clearly done using actual nautical distance to school– not accounting for things like roads and where they go and don’t go. We live at the SE corner of Glebe’s Neighborhood. Although the 1800 block of Quincy is allegedly within a mile, that doesn’t account for the fact that this is Arlington– AND roads dead end all over the place.

      The shortest distance on streets is 1.2 miles, but the ballyhooed routing software doesn’t seem to account that we aren’t birds and can’t fly in a straight line to our school (but actually have to use streets– wow, novel concept). And in neighborhoods like Cherrydale and Waverly Hills, the shortest distance is NOT a straight line, but a path that looks like it was designed by a drunken sailor.

      • cbone

        And that your child will probably have to walk through another elementary schools area to get to Glebe.

      • Irish Pub singer

        What do you do with a drunken sailor
        What do you do with a drunken sailor
        What do you do with a drunken sailor
        Early in the mornin’?

        Let him draw the streets of Arlington County
        Let him draw the streets of Arlington County
        Let him draw the streets of Arlington County
        Early in the mornin’.

        • Well….


  • Seeing it like it is

    APS…lets use some brains. You are adding trailers to just about every school. You will need to add buses and drivers too. I saw the post earlier where they were stacking kids in the seats on some of the buses. A few well placed law suits after an injury of a child should do the trick.

  • arlington resident

    Inconsistency in APS Policy and Practice that should help those appealing. School Board policy should overrule practice:

    On the Appeal Form the following is stated as School Board Policy http://apsva.us/cms/lib2/VA01000586/Centricity/Domain/161/Transportation%20Services%20Appeal%20Form.pdf) :
    The Arlington School Board Policy Implementation Procedures 50-5.1 for Pupil Transportation states:
    “… The area within one and one-and- a-half miles respectively is referred to as the walk zone. Walk zone distances are measured along the shortest safe walk path commencing at the school property line and terminating at the property line of the student’s home.”

    However, on the web site it says the measurement is based on GPS NOT the “shortest safe walk path”:

    APS measures from the property line of a student address to the school property line. For greater accuracy, the school division uses a Global Positioning System, or GPS, to measure the exact distance between homes and schools. With this newer, more accurate mapping system, some students may now be identified as living within the school walking area. Please note that a lack of sidewalks in a neighborhood does not instantly qualify a student for bus service because the majority of Arlington neighborhoods do not have continuous sidewalk systems.

    The School Board Policy says safest walk path – not GPS.

  • DL

    A concerned neighbor called Arlington Police at around noon on Sunday two weeks ago this summer because my 13-year old 8th grader son (last year of Middle School) was walking on the side walk alone to a restaurant just across the street from our house; he is small for his age and somewhat distracted. The neighbor called because they were concerned about traffic safety and thought my youth looked like a “seven” year old. The police brought him home and questioned his safety. If concerned neighbors and the Arlington Police Department were uneasy about my teenager walking one or two blocks alone on a quiet Sunday noon, how would they feel about numerous kindergartners and first graders walking about a mile during the increased rush hour traffic in the mornings, crossing difficult to cross streets, possibly during inclement weather (rain, thunderstorms, and snow), and in the early dark fall and winter mornings?


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