Gearing up for winter | SteamboatToday.com

Gearing up for winter

School buses roll along in face of increasing events

Zach Fridell

Strawberry Park Elementary School and Steamboat Springs Middle School students ride the bus home after school Thursday.

— In a time of increasingly fast-paced lifestyles for parents and more after-school activities for students, Steamboat’s school bus service is still going strong.

Ed Dingledine, director of transportation for the Steamboat Springs School District, said that a combination of eager drivers and new volunteers has resulted in smooth operation for the district’s buses, in spite of workload additions such as more trips for Tier 2 sports. When the Steamboat Springs School District announced in August that Tier 2 sports would require certified drivers in district vehicles for all away games, School Board members expressed concern that there would not be enough drivers to handle the additional load. Despite the uptick in miles required for school events around the state, drivers spend the bulk of their time on regular bus routes and operations have not changed with the new requirement, Dingledine said.

Operations also have not changed with the hectic schedules of parents, who often value the time spent in the car with their children while driving them to school. Dingledine said some routes remain at capacity as the buses prepare for winter, their busiest season – and he even is researching cleaner fuel sources for the district’s fleet.

That fleet covers a lot of miles.

To transport bus riders on a daily basis, the district uses 15 bus routes driving as far north as Clark and as far south as Yellow Jacket Pass. From Milner out to near Rabbit Ears Pass, students ride an average of 20 minutes but up to an hour and a half each way to get to school, Dingledine said.

Of the more than 2,000 students in the Steamboat Springs School District, about 750 students ride the bus regularly. The number of students in the district has remained about steady, and so has ridership throughout the past years. There are four long routes, and the last drop-off in Clark is at 4:35 p.m. The longest distance the bus drives is about 75 to 80 miles per route, and the lowest is 25 miles per route.

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“That’s a fairly normal amount of time on a bus for some places,” especially in other rural areas, he said.

Time together

Not all parents want to put their students on the bus – or at least, not every day.

The time it takes to drive three miles can be a good chance for family bonding, said Bill Cropper as he waited outside Strawberry Park Elementary School last week to pick up his son, David.

David usually takes the school bus after school, but on days Bill Cropper isn’t working, he said he likes to drive David home to have the chance to talk with him.

“I enjoy the time with him,” Bill Cropper said. “It gives us time to be together, and he has enough time with his friends.”

Dingledine said the major impact for bus ridership in the district is weather and after-school programs. During cold weather, he said more students tend to ride the bus, but there also is a drop-off when Winter Sports Club and other activities keep students after school. Dingledine also said there are many more riders at the elementary schools than at the high school.

Urte Delliquadri waited outside Strawberry Park Elementary School last week before picking up two of her children, ages 6 and 9. She said she had to pick up her children because the bus would get them home too late to take part in after school programs, including ice skating and music lessons. Delliquadri lives near the Yampa River Botanic Park, but she said her students have to walk up to Freshies – across a set of railroad tracks – to the bus pick-up location.

She said the bus would pick up her children at 7:25 in the morning, but if she drives, they do not need to leave the house until 8:10 a.m. Because of that, she tends to drive both directions every day.

“I would rather not drive,” she said. “I’d love my kids to ride at least in the afternoon.”

Delliquadri’s children also ride their bikes during the summer and for most of September, she said.

There are an average of 50 to 60 students on the buses, and some routes are at the capacity of 75 students, he said.

The district also has a set distance of how far away from the schools the students must live before they can ride the bus: one mile for the elementary schools, 1.5 for Steamboat Springs Middle School and two miles for the high school. But Dingledine said the transportation office is “kinda loose” on those rules to help students get to school safely.

“We often make exceptions because a major thoroughfare is in the way, and we don’t want them to have to cross the thoroughfare,” he said. “The Hilltop area is one major area of exceptions because there are no sidewalks and only one trail to the Strawberry Park campus.”

Fuel sources

The transportation office already has switched to cleaner diesel-burning fuel. Dingledine said the district uses about half the amount of diesel as would be required if the buses ran on gasoline, and because of the ultra-low sulfur diesel, the sulfur emissions from the buses have dropped from about 500 parts per million from a few years ago to 15 parts per million today.

Dingledine would like the buses to move in an even cleaner direction – liquid propane. Although he has not yet discussed the option with other district officials, he said he eventually would like to see the fleet run on liquid propane, which he described as “way, way cleaner and cheaper.”

By the numbers

2,000: Estimated number of students in Steamboat public schools

750: Students who ride a school bus on a regular basis

80: Estimated miles of longest bus route

25: Estimated miles of shortest route

55: Average number of students on a route

75: Capacity for a route

15: Parts per million of sulfur emissions by the buses, after switching to cleaner, diesel-burning fuel

500: Parts per million of sulfur emissions before the switch