A new express bus route designed to make traveling to school more efficient for magnet students at Underwood Elementary School isn’t working as intended, some families say.
The families’ experiences vary: Some have concerns about later-than-expected drop-off times in the afternoon or crowded parking lots at centralized stops, while others are worried that the new express stops are too far away.
“On so many levels, it’s been incredibly frustrating,” said Rachel March, the mother of an Underwood student.
The express routes have only a few central stops, as opposed to neighborhood routes with far more. Families travel to the stops from a wider area than they would to the stops on a typical neighborhood bus route.
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The routes are important to magnet enrollment because the school district doesn’t want to make the commute so difficult that suburban families don’t want to travel to downtown schools. Wake County school officials must balance convenience with containing costs.
School officials announced in August that there would be 4,000 fewer bus stops and 116 fewer runs during the 2014-15 school year compared with last year, including on express routes.
“The idea is to make fewer stops so the child can get downtown more quickly,” said Bill Poston, a school system spokesman.
At Underwood, which is near Five Points, the express route runs northwest, as it did last year, to Brier Creek Country Club.
This year, though, the express route dropped from five to three stops: at Martin Middle School, Hilburn Drive Academy and Brier Creek.
Under the new route, March drives her son to Hilburn, rather than waiting at a stop closer to their home near Umstead Park. Though the bus now has fewer stops, her son is arriving home later than he did last year.
Pick-up and drop-off also is complicated when they overlap with Hilburn’s morning carpool line or afternoon events. On a day when the bus wouldn’t have been able to enter the parking lot because of an event, parents ran to the road and flagged down the bus to pick their children up there, March said.
“It’s not a safety thing like you’re trying to cross a three-lane highway, but it’s uncomfortable,” she said. March said she knows attending a magnet school comes with some sacrifices, such as giving up neighborhod bus service, but she thinks this route could be better designed.
Erica Kosal, the mother of two children at Underwood, lives near the intersection of Duraleigh Road and Edwards Mill Road. Last year, the neighborhood had a stop along the route for about a dozen Underwood students.
This year, about 15 students from the neighborhood are instead assigned to the express stop at Martin Middle School.
Kosal said if parents are going to drive to Martin, some would rather make the trip all the way to Underwood.
“It’s not very convenient, and it just seems silly,” Kosal said.
Poston said the transportation department has heard the concerns from families in Kosal’s neighborhood. Officials are looking into whether a more convenient central location exists.
Across the county, though, the new routes appear to be working well, he said.
“We are seeing on the whole that we’re having better on-time delivery of students to schools,” he said.