How Long is Too Long on a School Bus?

Like most western Loudoun kids, Erin Calley is used to long school bus rides.

Last year, she rode the bus for 30 minutes in the morning, from her home near Middleburg to Blue Ridge Middle School in Purcellville, and for 90 minutes in the afternoon.

“Usually, I try to get a little homework done before the roads get too windy,” she said of her afternoon rides. Then she sleeps or listens to books on tape until the bus stops at the end of her driveway at 5 p.m.

This school year, she’ll be on the bus 30 minutes longer each day, with an earlier pickup time of 7:20 a.m. “That will mean 2 hours and 50 minutes that a 12-year-old is spending on a bus every day,” her mother Susana Calley said. “When we saw that we were devastated.”

Many families who live along some of the county’s most scenic roadways woke up for the first day of school Monday to find they had even longer bus rides ahead of them than in years past. Some students are scheduled to be on a bus for three hours a day.

Calley spoke with a dozen or more families in similar situations. She said there’s a misperception that most western Loudoun families have a stay-at-home parent who can drive their kids to school. “They’re farm workers, firefighters, teachers, housecleaners. … These are rural families who don’t have the resources to take their children to and from school.”

After years of her children and her neighbors spending up to three hours a day on the bus, Tami Carlow, of Taylorstown, decided to work on a solution. She met with leaders in the school division’s Transportation Department for more than a year to organize a shuttle program that delivered students to Lovettsville Library after school. The kids hung out at the library while they waited for their parents to pick them up.

“They were on the bus for 30 minutes compared to an hour and a half after school. I was in tears when it first started because it worked so well for so many families,” she said. “Then we got an email this summer that said they weren’t going to fund the shuttle.”

Carlow and her neighbors understand that their kids will have longer bus rides than kids living in Leesburg or Ashburn. “But three hours a day is just cruel,” she said. “They expect kids to do everything—sports, homework, get a good night’s sleep and come ready to learn.”

“It’s like they’re adults and commuting to a job,” said Mo Thomas, who also lives in Taylorstown. “I feel like they talk about how we have such great schools here, but it seems like we don’t put any money into transportation,” which affects students’ learning.

Kids who leave near North Fork and Shelburne Glebe roads in western Loudoun were up early Monday as they navigated changes to their bus schedules. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
Kids who leave near North Fork and Shelburne Glebe roads in western Loudoun were up early Monday as they navigated changes to their bus schedules. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
Several families who live along dirt roads south of Lincoln are upset that bus service to their homes has been discontinued, requiring students to walk along Shelburne Glebe Road, a narrow gravel road, to their new bus stop. Adrienne Gardner, a parent of two students, said she’s generally in support of public transportation and more kids walking to school, but the roads in her neighborhood are unsafe for pedestrians, especially for kids as young as 6 years old.

“Most of the way there’s no shoulder, so they have to walk on the road—I don’t think the Transportation Department has come out and seen this,” she said, adding that in the winter it’s dark during morning pickup. “I know there’s a safer alternative.”

Why the Long Ride?

There’s nothing particularly unusual about the changes made to bus routes this school year, according to Kevin Lewis, the school system’s assistant superintendent of Support Services.

“Bus routes and pick up times are revised every school year based upon many factors,” he wrote in an email to Loudoun Now. Families new to the county, attendance boundary changes, and students moving from primary to secondary schools all require route adjustments, he said.

But other factors outside of the yearly ebb and flow of a school division are also in play.

The Transportation Department has seen a lot of leadership changes in the past two years. The current director of transportation, Michael Brown, was appointed to the post less than four weeks ago. He replaced Lonnie Reavis, who resigned earlier this year after first being placed on administrative leave. The school division’s Public Information Office would not say what prompted the action. Reavis was on the job for only 18 months, following the retirement of Alvin Hampton, who retired in September 2014 after leading the department for 13 years.

The department’s budget has also taken a hit. In the last seven years, its funding has increased by 23 percent while the county’s enrollment has grown by 38 percent.

“We’ve struggled with transportation funding since I’ve been on the board,” said School Board member Jill Turgeon (Blue Ridge), who represents a large portion of western Loudoun. She will look into some of the more extreme busing concerns to try to find solutions, she added, but funding is a major obstacle. “I’m not trying to diminish the transportation concerns, but we’re trying to make the best use of what we have and put as much as we can in the classroom.”

School buses navigate gravel roads in western Loudoun on the first day of school Monday. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
School buses navigate gravel roads in western Loudoun on the first day of school Monday. [Douglas Graham/Loudoun Now]
As part of the board’s fiscal belt-tightening effort, the School Board has during the past three years instructed the staff to cut back on the number of students who receive bus service. They expanded school “walk zones” at many schools to up to 1 mile for elementary students and up to 1.25 miles for middle and high school students. That’s meant several thousand more students walking to school. They also launched a Safe Routes to School initiative that’s designed to provide more bike lanes and safe walking routes to and from schools.

Carlow said she, and many other western Loudoun families, would be willing to pay a fee for shorter bus rides for their children. Virginia law prohibits school systems from charging for transportation. Former School Board member Bill Fox advocated a change in that law, but his efforts did not gain much traction.

The school division is also in need of bus drivers, with 89 unfilled positions. Lewis put a call out for anyone interested in working as a bus driver. Starting pay is $18.10 with benefits, and most of the positions require four-hour work days. Learn more at

Funding and employee shortages are understandable challenges, but one small change that could go along way toward making families happier is improved communication, Gardner said. She and her neighbors were never told about their bus stop changes, but discovered it on the online parent portal, ParentVUE, less than a week before school started.

Families affected by changes to walk zones are notified “no less than three months prior to their effective date,” according to division policy. “At a minimum, I want them to give the equivalent notice that they are required to give to walkers so the appeal process can go through,” she said. It would also give transportation staff time to take a second look at some of the most dire situations.

The goal is to keep bus rides to no more than an hour, Lewis said. “But it is not uncommon for routes to exceed that target,” he added.

But some families may see improvements as the school year gets rolling, he said. His department will analyze arrival times and, as he put it, “adjust accordingly.”

10 thoughts on “How Long is Too Long on a School Bus?

  • 2016-09-07 at 9:33 am

    I’m always interested when people choose to live in a rural/remote area, and then complain that it takes a long time to get anywhere.
    I wish that people would stop describing themselves as “devastated” over things like finding out their child has a long bus ride. “I was angry when I found out,” would be an appropriate response. Save “devastated” for something that actually causes devastation – like earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.
    I am surprised that parents would want the school system to drop a busload of students at the public library for the afternoon. (The library, or the school system, or both, would be liable if something bad were to happen. The parents would not take responsibility.) My gratitude to all public library employees who have to function also as after-school workers. Sorry there was no raise, and probably no end-of-year thank you from the parents either.
    All that said, I think it could be viable for LCPS to invest in 15-seaters and do smaller runs from the outer edges of the county. They might even be able to find people who are willing to drive them, as opposed to the large school buses. (Kudos to our LCPS bus drivers and attendants.)

    • 2016-09-10 at 9:15 am

      Well, your response is just shows how you quickly judge people. The people that live in Taylorstown, they moved there, and there is Waterford Elementary that is very close to them. Are they zoned to go there?. NO. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have the young kids go there? Well they can’t because the school is so small and over crowded.
      They school system doesn’t care about the kids or the bus drivers.
      Do you even live out here in Western Loudoun County? Do your kids have to be on the bus for 3 hours each way? If not, you have no leverage to make such cold comments about this subject.
      For for your information, Western Loudoun is no longer remote..yes some parts are rural..but in no way remote. The only thing that you have said that makes sense is to find smaller buses for these routes.

  • 2016-09-05 at 5:42 pm

    Back when the school first started cutting bus routes, Bill Fox, then a SB member, very proudly stated that transportation was not the job of the schools. This was when the SB stated they were merely enforcing the policies and not looking for cost savings. Bill and the others were not believable then and the SB is once again prioritizing the wrong programs.

  • 2016-08-31 at 8:06 pm

    This is the norm in a significant amount of counties throughout the SW part of the State, especially Bedford, Franklin, etc. I’m not saying it’s right, nor am I saying it’s safe, but it takes a massive financial transportation and labor/salary burden off the County by consolidating the kids into as few buses from the rural areas in lieu of having many empty buses. I can’t imagine my kids, or me, on a bus for more than 30-minutes without going stir-crazy.

  • 2016-08-31 at 4:28 pm

    3 hours on a bus in one day? That’s insane!

    Kids walking down Western Loudoun County dirt roads to their “bus stops?” Just as insane and even more deadly!

    Have you ever driven down those windy dirt roads? Not only isn’t there enough room for two cars to pass, those roads are cut through hills leaving no shoulder nor any area for pedestrians to move off of the road. The line of site in many areas is zero and we all know it’s harder to stop suddenly on gravel.

    Isn’t the goal of a Transportation Director to get kids to school safely and in a timely manner? Maybe they should be looking at why they can’t keep good bus drivers and address that issue, rather than creating new ones.

    Just today, a 5-month old being pushed in a stroller by his mother was tragically killed and she was walking ‘safely’ in the crosswalk. Does Loudoun County Public School System really want to risk putting kids directly IN the road during these drive times. This is recipe for disaster! Someone needs to step up and do the right thing before another tragedy occurs!

  • 2016-08-31 at 1:51 pm

    How much does LCPS spend to bus LCPS students to FCPS TJ ?

  • 2016-08-31 at 12:08 pm

    The LCPS Transportation Department needs a complete overhaul. From their lack of vision and desire to creatively solve challenges they face, to their irresponsible allocation of resources (ask them about the 100’s of tablets that were purchased and sit unused – er – unusable!), to their inability to recruit and retain the needed drivers (with 100’s of people looking for part time jobs in this county!), to their unwillingness to focus on student safety (especially in the rural areas), to their consistently rude employees that answer the phone when a valid concern is brought forth – something has to change.

  • 2016-08-31 at 12:08 pm

    Something is very wrong. Bus Stops are added to route’s within 0.4 miles of a school, where most children walked last year walked on PAVEMENTS to school and did not use the buses anyway. Yet stops are being removed from roads where there are NO pavements and the bus stops are in DANGEROUS locations on single lane dirt roads. A child/children WILL get hurt, it is simply a matter of time, and LCPS will have blood on their hands. Let us also not forget, that these roads which LCPS say are “too dangerous” for the buses, are State Roads. If they are in such a bad state of repair, then something should be done about the roads.

    Clearly LCPS knew this would cause an uproar hence no prior communication of such significant changes. Western Loudoun rural communities are being prejudiced, which has some major socio economic consequences in the long term.

  • 2016-08-31 at 7:12 am

    LCPS board’s “fiscal belt tightening”? Are you kidding me? They have increased funding by 7%+ each of the past few years. Per pupil spending increased 5%. They are spending like drunken sailors. But many try to increase their spouses’ salaries (as LCPS employees) and cut all remaining costs. They also try to lower class size even though that actually has the opposite of the desired effect.

    These kids should not be on a bus for 3 hours each day. LCPS shouldn’t throw money away on transportation but 3 hours is way too long. And elementary kids shouldn’t be walking on gravel roads with no shoulder in the dark.

  • 2016-08-31 at 7:06 am

    I would say that it is hard for a department to develop any sort of synergy or management strategy when the leadership is constantly changing. Staffing shortages and constant leadership turnover indicate that there are some significant fundamental issues within the department and/or Support Services division.

    Alvin Hampton did not lead the department for 13 years, he was employed with LCPS for 13 years. He became Director in 2009 after the death of Mike Lunsford. The story of his departure from LCPS is “questionable”.

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