Berkeley Heights School Board Mulls Adding Subscription Bus Service

Credits: Barbara Rybolt
Credits: Barbara Rybolt
Credits: Barbara Rybolt

BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ – Subscription bus service for students who live too close to school to be eligible for bus service may be available in the future.

A question about whether this could be an option for residents who have trouble getting their children back and forth to school because of conflicts with the parent’s work schedule was raised by a resident at a Board of Education meeting earlier this year.

At the Dec. 7 meeting, Board President Doug Reinstein told members that while there would be “no vote” on the issue at the meeting, he wanted to know if members of the board were “in favor of exploring” the options for such a service.  He added if no one were in favor, then nothing would be done.

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Board Vice President Bill Cassano said it “looks as though there is capacity on the buses” for other students to ride. The “downside” of adding students could be “longer rides” for those who already take the buses. He also wanted to know “what fees” the board should charge to parents who use the service, which he predicted would be limited in number. “I doubt if there would be enough interest to get another bus.”

Board Member Denis Smalley agreed that he doesn’t “want to extend the time the kids are on the bus,” but indicated it might be necessary to realign some routes. He wants to see what the demand for subscription bus service would be and how the cost would factor into demand.

Board Member Helen Kirsch cautioned, subscription busing could become “a scheduling nightmare … This might be more popular than you think for people who are close to the two-mile limit.” She favored looking into the demand and cost options.

Reinstein said there are already a number of school districts in the area who offer subscription busing. “We don’t have to figure this out on our own.”

Board Members Robert Cianciulli asked how the board proposed to “find out who is interested.”

Administrator Donna Felezzola suggested “survey the community.”

Cassano agreed the community should be told how there would be a fee for such service and that community members should know approximately how much that would be when the survey is sent out.

Board Member Gerard Crisonino said the service, “Could be very popular. You have to be careful that you don’t need to get a new bus.”

Reinstein said that was not a problem, “If we need more capacity, we would outsource the extra subscription service.”

Board Member Chris Reilly said, “as a board, it behooves us to help working families,” especially since work schedules for parents have changed while school schedules have not.  She said “My guess it will be popular for kids who are old enough to go home and be alone for a few hours after school.”

Felezzola reminded the board members that the bus schedules are linked, with the same buses and drivers being used for high school, middle school and elementary schools. A five minute delay on a high school bus route can turn into a “fifteen minute delay at Mary Kay McMillin.” About 95% of the high school students take busses; 100 % of MKM students and 40% of middle school students take buses, she said. Most of the elementary school students walk.  All told, there are 1,400 students taking buses, at a cost about $600,000 on contracted routes using the district’s drivers.

In the end, the board agreed that there should be some sort of interest survey as well as an idea of what the board would charge for the service. “We can learn from other districts Reinstein said.” Board members also agreed in principal that if the district decided to add a bus subscription service, that anyone who signed up for it would be required to do so for the entire school year and for two trips a day – one to school, the other home.

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