The previous article in this series emphasized the importance of transportation professionals selecting bus stops instead of students or their parents doing so. Regardless, while plenty of tools are available to help, the critical tool for evaluating and approving safe bus stops is a live Earthling.
With its wealth consolidated among a small handful of the Obscenely Rich, today's America has starved its drivers into near poverty, and management has been thinned to a desperate dependence on digital paraphernalia. In terms of safety, this formula is lethal, and its success relies largely on a mix of mythology and luck. Worse, the implications of these trends on policy and budgetary decisions are creating new forms of havoc:
One large, fast-growing school board decided that competition would improve its schools, and adopted a policy of what can fairly be characterized as "needless choice," permitting students to attend any school within their huge county. For that district's transportation providers, this paradigm shift annihilated the neighborhood orientation of transportation service and the potential for creating coherent scheduling to accommodate it. Instead, countless additional, partially-filled vehicles were unleashed in all directions with no conceivable logic or rationale for deploying them.
Provided with only a marginal increase in funding to accommodate this holocaust of naiveté and incompetence, the district's overwhelmed transportation staff was forced to rely on software for practically every decision - including the selection of bus stops - which certain "features" were designed to facilitate (to the delight, of course, of their software developers). After the third student's crossing-related death - this one at the unsignalized intersection of an eight-lane, high-speed highway with staggered cross-streets, left turn lanes in both directions, a sloped median strip containing an open grate, no crosswalks, and countless other hazards - management was "ordered" to identify the number of similarly dangerous bus stops in the system... and found 300 of them.
As the school board's forensic expert in the inevitable lawsuit, I withdrew from the case when, after two years of pleading, I was finally permitted to physically examine this unconscionable bus stop. I had never been impressed by the debate over the disabling of the software "feature" that would flag dangerous bus stops - an issue around which much of the lawsuit revolved. Of course, a plethora of safe bus stop options that did not emerge in the process went entirely unnoticed: Two blocks south of the intersection described above, and ½ mile away from another profoundly dangerous stop that actually "met" the software's criteria, I found a pedestrian crossing bridge that spanned the entire highway. Not being a street, this bridge did not appear on the aerial photographs on which the software's stop selections were based.
As an alternative to launching monkeys into orbit, President Eisenhower had the foresight to insist that our first globe-circling satellite contain an astronaut. But that was an era when live Americans answered the telephone, manufacturers supported their products, and policemen plucked your cat out of a tree. Today's shift of practically the entire planet's wealth to a few thousand oligarchs makes labor-intensive transportation system design and operations rare and unlikely. So we must make better choices with the crumbs we are given. One of the choices we must not abandon is the use of live Earthlings to examine and evaluate bus stops. We would also do well to recognize the impacts of policy decisions that cannot be accomplished safely without a significant infusion of human involvement - even when those decisions can be rationalized by twisted forms of faux educational goals.
Before our combination of fiscal starvation and digital madness mauls a few hundred more students each year, as it inevitably will (our community's grossly-undercounted crossing fatality statistics are a farce), it is time for us to admit that many members of our community do not understand the fundamentals of schoolbus operations. Without this understanding, substituting software for personnel will not only exaggerate the characteristics of poor system design, but make the system even worse.
Understanding the basics of safe and sound operations is not beyond our grasp. The number of principles involved are finite, and their application is not beyond our reach or capability. And our community enjoys a sizeable collection of unique and highly-beneficial knowledge, insight, practices and equipment. But despite our accomplishments, the lives of millions of students are hanging by a thread on poor procedures, and that until we decide to employ sound ones, this precious cargo will remain at considerable risk. Assigning a qualified professional to examine each bus stop is an important link in the chain of activities that must occur. Successive installments of this series will identify others.
Ned Einstein is the President of Transportation Alternatives, a passenger transportation and automotive consortium engaged in consulting and forensic accident investigation and analysis (more than 600 cases). Specializes in elderly, disabled, schoolchildren. Mr. Einstein has been qualified as an Expert Witness in accident analysis, testimony and mediation in vehicle and pedestrian accidents involving transit, paratransit, schoolbus, motorcoach, special education, non-emergency medical transportation, taxi, shuttle, child transport systems and services...
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