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High Fuel Prices Mean a Hard Road for School Buses

Schools across the U.S. are looking for ways to reduce transportation costs. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Education Report.

High fuel prices are affecting all areas of life, including education.

The United States has an estimated four hundred seventy-five thousand school buses -- all painted yellow. Each day they carry more than twenty-five million children, half of all schoolchildren in the country.

But these buses, on average, use four liters of diesel fuel to travel less than sixteen kilometers. When the school year began last fall, diesel averaged fifty-five cents a liter nationally. The price nearly doubled, to a dollar and eight cents, by the end of school in June.

Bob Riley speaks for the American School Bus Council, an industry coalition. He says fuel prices negotiated for schools are not much lower than others have to pay.

As a result, schools are looking for ways to reduce transportation costs. Bus routes are being redrawn or, in some cases, canceled. Some areas are buying buses that use natural gas or other alternative fuels. And a few places are investigating hybrid fuel-electric technology.

Other steps include fewer field trips and less travel by sports teams. And some school districts may end any bus service not required by law.

Most states require bus transportation through high school for public school students who need it. Massachusetts requires it only for elementary school. And schools can charge to ride the bus. State education officials say some districts may begin to do that, or raise existing fees.

Studies show that school buses are the safest form of transportation to and from school. The American School Bus Council say cuts in bus service are bad for children and possibly the environment. It says removing buses from the road will mean an increase in other vehicles transporting students. Spokesman Bob Riley says another concern is that reducing bus service might reduce attendance.

But it could also get more children to walk or bicycle to school. And that would surely make people happy at the National Center for Safe Routes to School. More kids walking or biking safely to school is the aim of a three-year-old federal program, part of an international movement. The goal is to increase physical activity and reduce air pollution.

The United States will celebrate Walk to School Day on October eighth this year. But for some students, high fuel prices could make every day a walk-to-school day.

Next week, we'll talk about other ways that schools and students are reacting to the prices.

And that's the VOA Special English Education Report, written by Nancy Steinbach. I'm Steve Ember.