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Oregon considers bill to make it easier to fund school bike buses

Transportation is a major challenge for school districts across the country, and Seattle is no exception. Bus driver availability and funding is a major deciding factor setting school walk zones and start times. Organizing student transportation is a huge undertaking, and lacking transportation can be a barrier for school access to some families.

A large group of elementary age kids biking to school.
A small part of a giant bike train to Seattle’s Bryant Elementary on Bike-to-School Day 2013.

House Bill 3014 in Oregon State offers an interesting idea for at least easing some of the challenge by building on one the city’s most positive success stories in recent years: Bike buses. The city has a long history with bike buses, but P.E. Teacher Sam Balto (AKA Coach Balto) has elevated the effort by leading weekly bike buses and documenting them in fun and inspirational TikTok videos. In short, a bike bus is just a group bike ride to school that travels a set route at a set time so kids can bike with the added safety and fun that comes with riding together. Parents and organizers handle intersection safety, corking to allow the group to pass through together. It’s wonderful.

Oregon’s HB 3014 would allow schools to fund alternative school transportation efforts like bike buses and receive reimbursement from the state’s school transportation program. I am not familiar enough with Oregon State law or the state of its larger school transportation system to comment on that bill’s text specifically, but the underlying idea is very interesting. Read Bike Portland’s story for more details on the politics behind the bill.

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There is a lot of promise in growing ideas like bike buses and walking school buses, which are always popular when they happen but take a significant amount of organizing work to make happen. I also wonder about the potential for organizing groups to ride public transit together, an idea that makes even more sense when paired with free youth transit like we have in King County.

Especially in lower income communities in which families are less likely to have the necessary volunteer time to make such efforts happen, public funding for such efforts makes a lot of sense. Seattle Public School and SDOT have funded walking school buses to some Rainier Valley schools over the years, for example, and there is currently a bike bus running weekly in South Seattle that is powered by dedicated parents, Peace Peloton, Cascade and Seattle Public Schools.

Bike Portland is skeptical about HB 3014 passing this year due to the state’s Senate Republican walk-out, which has derailed the session. But the bill’s sponsors worked with the union representing bus drivers to write it, which seems like a wise avenue for any such effort to take so that it is not used as a tool to reduce strained school bussing budgets.

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