The wife and I are members of a Facebook group for local parents of children with Autism, and as much as transportation has been a major source of frustration for me, it’s been echoed in their own messages. And while it’s nice to know we’re not alone with a problem, it’s still a problem (and it being common doesn’t make it any better).
So today, because I really have little insight into why the Monster’s ride is 75-90 minutes, I decided to follow his bus in the morning.
The Monster rides the route simply because of how far away the school is. There’s no convenient way to drop him off and pick him up daily at a school that’s across town, so transportation is part of his IEP. The IEP specifies a car seat for him, which hasn’t ever been an issue, but leaves the nature of the service up to the discretion of the school system.
We are the first stop on the route. We’ve known that for a while – I almost suspect that Durham Bus Services and Baltimore City Public Schools did it to ensure that I couldn’t complain that the bus was late – but still, the issue is that the school is approximately 30 minutes away by city streets at 8 AM. (It’s a little faster if you take the expressway, but that’s not the way the bus goes.) Still, it’s hard for us on our own to think of why the route would take over an hour to get him from here to there.
One option would have been to get a GPS tracker, like a few other parents in our area (and some notable examples online) have done. I thought about that, but I didn’t want to cause a problem with the school, since I do like the Monster’s teacher and therapists. Maryland also has very tight laws about surveillance, and I will admit some concern that there’d be the potential for a lengthy fight if such a tracker was discovered.
On the other hand, I could do what I did last year, and follow the bus again. Barring the bus going onto private property like a gated community, it’s perfectly legal for me to follow the bus on public roads.
Option B it was, then, so at 7:48 this morning, my wife handed the Monster off to a replacement aide (yes, a replacement on the second day of school) on the bus as I pulled my car out of the driveway and onto the street. It was lovely and sunny out and traffic was moving decently.
The bus ride was very interesting. I’m aware that there are kids from all over Baltimore who go to the program at Garrett Heights, so I was expecting the bus to make other stops in our neighborhood. I was presented, though, with a tour of the northwestern corner of Baltimore City, going this way and that as we meandered our way west from the house…. and away from the school. By the time we’d actually started to head back towards the school, it was 8:30 and just knowing this part of the city as I do, I already had a bad feeling about the route.
So I’ll cut to the chase. By the time the bus reached the last two pickups, it was after the start of school and neither child boarded the bus. The parent at the last pickup before the school actually came out on the porch to yell at the driver about how her husband had to take their child to school since the bus hadn’t come. And the bus pulled into GHEMS’ lot at 9:19 AM. Only six of the nine (or perhaps seven of ten – I don’t know if I didn’t count a stop) kids assigned to a full-sized yellow school bus were on it, and all of the ones on the bus were late to school.
So the Monster was on the bus for 90 minutes, with no traffic or weather to make an excuse for the delayed arrival. Part of the problem could be solved easily enough with some optimization – there were a few loops in the trip, and they could probably figure out how to start out at the western end of the route so that the bus is consistently moving towards the school, but I don’t see anything that is going to solve the whole problem shy of breaking the route up.
I’ve already reached out to the operations manager at Baltimore City Public Schools to find out what they think of this. If they thought I was giving them trouble last year about the bus…