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Jefferson schools add bus routes as more opt to ride en masse
Ridership up 2 percent since Christmas break
First-grade teacher Heather Holman, left, and Paige Purvis, a kindergarten and first-grade teacher, make sure Jefferson Elementary School students make it home safely Wednesday. - photo by Brandee Thomas

JEFFERSON — The Jefferson City School System is noticing something that it hadn’t seen prior to students leaving for Christmas break — more bus riders.

Since returning to school on Jan. 6, around 45 students who were already enrolled in the system have started riding the bus, according to a report from the system’s transportation department. This accounts for about a 2 percent increase for the system’s transportation department.

"Usually we see an increase after the first six or eight weeks of school, especially with the pre-K and kindergarten students, because many parents feel like their child is settled in at school and they are okay with riding the bus," said Earl Griffin, Jefferson schools transportation director. "But seeing an increase like this one after Christmas break is unusual."

Jefferson transportation officials attribute the increase in ridership to budget-cutting by families.

"I think we have seen an increase because a lot of parents made the decision to let their children ride the bus in lieu of driving them to school as a way to cut back on fuel consumption costs," Griffin said. "There are more parents out there who are looking at their finances and making wise decisions like letting their children ride the bus instead of driving them, or letting them drive themselves, in the case of high school students."

Although 45 new students may not seem like a big deal, for a school system that only has around 2,500 total students, every additional student makes a big difference.

To accommodate the new riders, the transportation department has had to add double afternoon routes at the system’s two elementary schools and the middle school. A double route is when a single bus picks up one bus load of students, delivers those students to their bus stops and then returns to the school for another load of students.

Now instead of covering 476 miles per day, the school system’s buses travel 485 miles each day, an increase of nine miles each day.

According to Griffin, the system’s buses get around 5 miles per gallon. With the additional mileage, those extra trips could end up costing the school system around $111 a month or around $333 for the rest of the year with the system paying $1.85 per gallon for diesel.

"The extra routes are an additional drain on the school system, but we have to make them because we can’t overload the buses," Griffin said. "And if we were to buy another bus for the school system, that would cost around $77,000."

Jefferson isn’t the only system that has noticed an increase in riders; so has the Hall County school system, which has around 26,000 students total.

"We’ve had more riders (since Christmas break), but it hasn’t been a significant increase," said Jewel Armour, Hall County schools’ executive director of operations.

"We’ve had around 100 to 150 (new riders), but that’s about normal."

Gainesville school system transportation officials said they haven’t seen a change in bus ridership.

The increases in ridership comes at a time when most school systems, including Jefferson, Gainesville and Hall County, are trying to cut expenses to prepare for reduced funding from the state Department of Education.