Yellow vs. Metro ruling could cost Mercer Island schools

The revelation that it is against the law for public bus routes to be established to transport school children is a blow to the Mercer Island School District. The district spent a great deal of time and effort working with King County Metro on the arrangement to transport 600 Mercer Island High School students to school and home each day. This bit of news comes as the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction has estimated that by the end of this school year, fuel costs to districts statewide will have increased more than $22 million. The move to Metro has saved a good deal of money for our district, whose administrators must be constantly vigilant about saving funds while meeting their obligation to educate students.

Not only did the Metro plan save money for both the state and the district on fuel, but it enabled the district to be more flexible with its buses, save wear and tear on the vehicles and utilize transportation personnel in the best way possible. If there were flaws to the Metro model, they were few. Since Metro Transit rotates drivers every couple of months, new drivers sometimes lost their way as they learned their new routes — although they no doubt got a lot of help from MIHS riders who were not shy to point out the way. Metro did refuse to provide service along East Mercer Way, deeming it too dangerous for its big vehicles — rather prudent, we’d say. Using Metro did require that the district had to track who of the 1,200 students at the high school was eligible to ride the buses and distribute bus passes.

It is our hope that a solution can be found so that the school district follows the law and can keep transportation costs as low as possible.

As a result of the arrangement with Metro, high school students jam the buses in the morning. No figures are available, but perhaps more upperclassmen, notorious for their disdain of yellow buses, jumped on Metro rather than driving themselves or along with other teen drivers. As an added bonus, students who were lucky enough to receive a pass could use it anywhere in the county — not particularly fair to those who live outside the one-mile radius to the high school. Metro Pass holders perhaps found that taking the bus is easy and convenient and maybe started thinking of riding transit regularly rather than driving. That, in and of itself, is a good thing.

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