Thursday, December 2, 2004/lk
If she didn't love the kids so much, being a bus driver would drive Bobbie Gorence crazy.
"I don't understand why motorists can't see our big yellow buses," she said.
"They won't slow down when our yellow, caution lights are flashing. Sometimes they don't even stop when the stop flag is out. They'll even try to pass us as we are slowing to drop off kids," Gorence said.
Gorence and her fellow bus drivers all cringe each time they take out their 80-plus passenger buses, holding their breath until each child is safely delivered.
When they get back to the bus garage, it takes a while for them to de-stress before heading out on their next route. Often that de-stressing time means they share their war stories of the motorists' latest blatant challenges on the road.
"Why can't the motorists leave a little earlier or a little later and just avoid us all together?," asked long-time Sunnyside bus driver Sharon Costello.
"They know we are going to be out there at the same time every day," she lamented. "But they always seem to be in an all fire hurry and forget that we're stopping to unload their kids," she said.
All of the bus drivers have tales of motorists who apparently don't care about the drivers' precious cargo. They share horror stories of motorists whizzing pass them as the bus slows to a stop with yellow lights flashing. The motorists have even been seen trying to pass the buses as the children try to cross the road to and from their homes.
"We're always telling the children to wait until we give them the 'go ahead' signal. We worry every time the children step out," said Egbert Terry, a Sunnyside School District bus driver.
Terry said motorists race past them as they try to unload children, even though the bus's bright, red "stop" flag is dangling off the side of the bus.
It might as well not even be there for all the attention some motorists pay it, the drivers grumble.
It's the safety of the more than 2,200 children who daily ride the buses to and from school that concerns the drivers. It's also the safety of the nearly 200 public school youngsters who ride the bus home after dark following the district's 21st Century after-school program.
"We have six buses working the 21st Century routes well past 6:30 p.m. some nights," said David Taylor, Sunnyside School District transportation department supervisor.
"Motorists who aren't likely to slow down for buses during the day are even less likely to do so after dark," he said.
The safety of the children is always on the minds of the drivers, who are charged with transporting children every day of the school year, Taylor said.
"Every year we have the same problem. Motorists defy us to let them pass while we are trying to deliver children," he said.
Bus driver Donna Bronkhorst said motorists seem to think that it is OK to pass buses if they are stopped. "It's a wonder more children don't get injured by the careless motorists," said Bronkhorst.
"I wish that parents would put reflective tape on their children's winter coats," she added. "It would sure make it easier for motorists to see them after dark," she added.
"Mostly, I wish the motorists would just slow down and obey the traffic laws," she said.
In addition, the drivers wish more parents would volunteer to help watch over the children at some of the busier bus stops.
"We think it would help cut down on the possibility of kids getting too rowdy while they wait for the bus," said Taylor.
In addition to the motorists, he said the bus drivers fear that the children who gather in large groups at some of the larger bus stops might accidentally be pushed or shoved into the path of an oncoming car or the bus.
"It could happen so fast," said Taylor.
He said there are a number of areas where more volunteers are needed, such as the Parkland Home stop, the South Hill Apartments stop, the Lincoln Avenue-First Street stop and all along the North Avenue area.
"These are your children," said George Johnson, a long-time public school bus driver.
"We watch for the cars, even if the children don't. But we need the motorists to watch out for the kids as well," Johnson said.