Some Fairfax Students Get an Eaaaarly Start to Their Day


(Friday, March 16, 2007 6:25 AM EDT)

Think of a school bus, and laughing, chatty students may come to mind.

That image might be true of an afternoon bus, but sleep and silence are much more likely on the first bus of the day.

The first Fairfax County Public Schools bus departs the transportation lot around 5:25 a.m. and starts picking up students at 5:42 a.m., finishing the run about 80 minutes later.

“Some of the students sleep,” said bus driver Susan Bachmeier, who makes her first pick-up at 5:50 a.m. “Other students talk or listen to the radio, but in the mornings it is very quiet.”

This first bus has to leave early, because it collects students from the northern part of the county and has a long distance to travel. Other buses need to make pick-ups on the early side because of numerous stops, or because of traffic.

“Some buses have lots of stops in a fairly small area, but then they have to travel down the road to get to school,” said Fairfax County Public Schools transportation services director Linda Farbry. “Anything coming west to east in the morning is going to be in heavy rush hour. It's tough traveling.”

Bachmeier, for example, picks up her students in Centreville, and then has to drive on Interstate 66 to get to their school in the Tysons area.

“One of the greatest challenges being one of the first buses of the day is being on 66 in rush-hour traffic,” Bachmeier said. “But if I take an alternate route, through the city of Fairfax, then I have lights.”

Some early-morning bus riders might be tempted to convince their parents to move to Arlington, since the neighboring county's earliest school bus leaves the lot at 6:15 a.m. and makes its first pickup at 6:25 a.m.

Fairfax students and parents may complain about the early pickup time, but, with more than 1,000 buses that make regular runs every day, operations have to be well-choreographed.

“There are some complaints, understandably,” Farbry said. “But based on our limited resources, this is the best we can do.”

Complaints, though, do not seem to be the norm. Bachmeier said she has never heard a complaint about early pick-ups. And even though she has to get up at 4:15 a.m., Bachmeier said she likes her job.

“I enjoy my runs, period,” she said. “I enjoy being out there and communicating with the students.”

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