If you have children attending Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS), you may have questions about their transportation to and from school and how to get your concerns addressed. Below you will find frequently asked questions and answers provided by FCPS’ Office of Transportation Services. The office is responsible for providing the safe and efficient transportation of all eligible students to and from schools and school activities each day.
You can also access this information via this link: http://www.fcps.edu/fts/tran/index.htm
The staff and contact information are:
Office of Transportation Services
8101 Lorton Center
Lorton, Virginia 22079
Telephone: (703) 446-2000
Frequently Asked Questions
The bus didn't show up on time for my child. How long should she wait at the stop?
Your child should arrive at the stop at least five minutes before the regular arrival time of the bus. If there is a substitute driver, the times may not be absolutely consistent with the regular times. If the bus is late ask your child to remain at the stop. Buses break down, roads are blocked, drivers become ill or have emergencies, but there will always be a bus at every stop. If the wait becomes extreme, please call your area transportation office.
What should be done if there is a transportation-related problem after office hours?
If there is a problem after regular office hours, call the School Security office at 764-2400. They are on duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are able to contact whomever is required to handle any type of situation regarding school buses.
My child's bus is overcrowded. Can some children be placed on another bus?
School bus sizes are stated in terms of passenger capacity for elementary school-aged children. It is assumed that elementary school-aged children will ride three per seat. Middle and high school students are assumed to ride two per seat. If the bus has 3 elementary students or 2 middle or high school students in each seat, it will seem crowded but it will not be over capacity. It is our goal to fully utilize all the space on all the buses in our fleet.
I see buses all the time with only a few children on them. What are they doing?
Fairfax County Public Schools' buses make two to four runs into and out of schools each day. We currently carry over 110,000 students to school and bring them home daily. On the majority of these runs, FCPS buses achieve a load factor of more than 60%. However, we have many special programs that require that students be transported considerable distances. When transporting students to these special programs, the time length of the run sometimes makes it impossible to fully utilize the capacity of the bus. Often, however, as the bus travels within the school's attendance boundary it will stop and pick up additional students.
Examples of these special programs would be:
Magnet schools and gifted and talented programs that encompass multiple base school boundaries and result in light loads due to the number of students involved and the time and mileage to the centralized locations;
Alternative programs, vocational programs, alternative schools, and other programs with limited enrollment and central locations result in light loads.
Special Education Programs - Special education runs tend to be light loaded due to the small number of children assigned to centers and the boundary can be countywide.
Another reason is school boundaries. Several high schools have boundaries that stretch from the western to the eastern part of Fairfax County. For example, Langley and Oakton High Schools have boundaries stretching from Loudoun County to McLean and Fair Oaks. Robinson and Hayfield also have large boundaries that extend bus runs in miles and time resulting in less than capacity loads.
We live very far from the school and there is no bus stop near for my child. How do I arrange transportation?
The FCPS regulation provides for transportation for elementary students living in excess of one mile from school and for all secondary students living in excess of one and a half miles from school. Regardless of the distance, transportation will be provided if the transportation office determines that unusual hazards make a walking route unsafe.
I drove it in my car and we live more than that distance from school.
Supervisors measure all distances with a walking wheel over the shortest safe route between the property line of the home and property line of the school. Car odometers are not accurate enough to precisely measure the distance.
But the walking route is not safe. To whom should I speak about that?
If you believe an unsafe situation exists, address your concerns to your area transportation office. Transportation staff familiar with the area and the traffic patterns will evaluate your concerns about the walking route. If a further evaluation is required, the school system safety officer will be consulted. If unusual hazards are identified, bus transportation will be provided.
Since you have staff to evaluate walking and bus routes, can I assume that my child is safe walking to the school or bus stop if he or she takes the most direct or most reasonable route?
No. It is impossible for the staff to assess the safety of every possible walking route to a bus stop or a school, and every family will have a different definition of "most direct or reasonable route." Even more important, what is "safe" varies from child to child. It is very important that you assess your child’s age and maturity before permitting him or her to walk unaccompanied to school or a bus stop. Keep in mind that children younger than age 9 or 10 often do not make good decisions regarding traffic safety, and generally should be accompanied by an adult or responsible older child. Regardless of the child’s age, if the child’s behavior or maturity suggests that he or she will be unsafe without adult or other supervision, or if the parents have any concerns about conditions on the route, parents should provide that supervision on the walking route and/or at the bus stop.
I can't see my child's bus stop from my house. How can I get the bus stop moved closer?
Bus stops are placed at centralized locations that can be safely accessed by a significant number of students to minimize the time length and mileage of the run. If you have concerns about your child's safety you are encouraged to accompany your child to the bus stop or arrange a neighborhood buddy to walk with your child. Elementary children may be required to walk up to one mile to a bus stop. Secondary students may be required to walk up to one and a half miles to a bus stop.
We live within the walking boundary but very close to a bus stop for my child's school. May my child ride the bus from that stop?
Transportation can be provided for students within the walking boundary if there is space available on the bus and if they have a safe walking route to the bus stop. The "Request for Exemption to Ride School Bus" form may be obtained in your school office. Complete and submit the form to the area transportation office for evaluation. You will be notified of the decision.
Is approval of transportation for a walking student permanent?
If approved and at a later date the bus becomes overcrowded, the walking route becomes unsafe, or the stop is removed, the approval will be rescinded in order of the most recent application first. The approval is granted only for the current year and must be resubmitted.
My child goes to a day care provider in an area with bus service. May my child ride the bus?
FCPS regulations authorize us to provide transportation only on a space available basis to children in day care situations. Approval must be rescinded if the bus becomes overcrowded.
My child is a special education student. To whom should I speak concerning his transportation?
The area transportation offices are responsible for transporting LD, most ED, some MR, and some non-categorical students, in addition to ESL, GT, Head Start (FECEP), vocational, and administratively and alternatively-placed students. Students requiring lift buses and other special education students are transported by the special education transportation staff. Their office can be reached at 446-2050. If you have a question about who should transport your child, call your area transportation office. They will be happy to assist you.
My child left a coat (glasses, instrument, retainer, books) on the bus. How does he get it back?
Drivers check their buses after every run. Items left by students are held by the driver for several days and may be claimed on the bus by the child. Fragile items are often taken out the buses in the evening for their protection, but will be available the next morning. After several days the driver will make an effort to locate the owner. Unclaimed and unlabeled items are donated to charity. You can help by labeling all of your child's school belongings with the child's name and school.
What are the different types of school buses?
Fairfax County Public Schools has several types of school buses. There are Transit Style buses that have a flat front, like a Metro bus. Some of these buses are rear-engine; others have the engine in the front. The benefits of this design are that (1) it affords the driver excellent forward visibility, (2) since there is no large hood, it is easier and safer for the driver to check the engine prior to driving and (3) allows more seats in the same overall vehicle length. Practically all of the buses that Fairfax County has bought since 1990 have been this type of bus.
The second major style of bus is the Conventional Style, which is the traditional style with the long forward hood. The decreased forward visibility afforded by this design is compensated for by swing-out "crossing gates" which force any students crossing in front of the bus to walk well out in front of the bus so that the driver can see him or her. The difficulty for the driver to open the heavy hood to check the engine has been reduced but has not been eliminated. Fairfax County has not bought this type of bus since 1989.
There is a third type of bus that is, essentially, a short-nosed conventional bus. The hood is very short, so there is still good foreword visibility, and the hood is fairly light, so it is not too difficult to open. Fairfax County bought a few of this type of bus in 1994.
In terms of bus sizes, there are the large buses that are used for most students. These include some 84-passenger transit buses, a large number of 78-passenger transit buses, and a lot of the older 64-passenger conventional buses. The large buses are the ones that are used to transport most students.
The smaller buses range in size from 54-passenger to 36-passenger buses. These are nominal sizes, though. Many of these buses are equipped with wheelchair lifts. A single wheelchair position requires the same space as two or three bench seats. Therefore, a lift-equipped bus will carry far fewer passengers than its nominal size might indicate.
All but eight of our buses are diesel-powered. These eight are powered by Compressed Natural Gas. All of our buses are equipped with automatic transmissions. Additionally, all of our buses are equipped with two-way radios.
Why are school bus seats spaced so closely together?
The basic purpose in spacing school bus seats so closely is to contain the child in a cushioned compartment with only a minimum amount of space between energy-absorbing surfaces.
After extensive research during the 1970's, the Department of Transportation and its agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) determined that the safest and most practical arrangement for school bus seating would be a "compartmentalization" concept. Accordingly, the new safety regulations established in 1977 included this requirement among many other improvements made that year. Under the compartmentalization concept, seat backs in school buses are made higher, wider and thicker than before. All metal surfaces are covered with foam padding. This structure must then pass rigid test requirements for absorbing energy, such as would be required if a child's body were thrown against the padded back. In addition, the equivalent of a seat back, called a "barrier," is placed in front of the first seat at the front of the bus.
In addition to padding, today's seats also must have a steel inner structure that springs and bends forward to help absorb energy when a child is thrown against it. The steel frame must "give" just enough to absorb the child in the seat ahead. Also, of course, the seat is required to be anchored to the floor so strongly it will not pull loose during this bending action. The floor itself must be so strong that it will not be bent or torn by the pulling action of the seat anchors.
Finally, the requirement is added that seat backs can be no farther apart than a distance that is deemed safe. Clearly, if the backs were too far apart, the child could be thrown too far before being cushioned and/or could be thrown outside the compartment altogether. Today's rules call for a seat back to be no farther than 24" away from a defined point in the middle of a child's abdomen (the seat reference point).
Why aren't seat belts required in school buses?
Seat belts are not required in school buses because research by DOT and others determined that compartmentalization was a better solution, as mentioned under question #15. Some of the key arguments favoring compartmentalization over seat belts are as follows:
a) Compartmentalization is more manageable. The protective surfaces exist in place without depending on any action by the children or any extra special supervision by the drivers. Seat belts require discipline and supervision to keep them clean, unraveled and in use.
b) Compartmentalization works equally well for 1, 2 or 3 students per seat. Today's 39" wide standard seats may contain three small children or two large ones, or any combination in between. Arranging seat belts to properly handle any combination is difficult, if not impossible; the best known solution with seat belts is to restrict each seat to two students and two belts, which has the disadvantage of sharply reducing the carrying capacity of bus fleets.
c) Compartmentalization works whether students have fully developed abdominal areas or not. Conventional seat belts, which are lap restraints only, are not suitable for small children whose abdominal area and bone structure are not adequately developed to take the force of a lap belt alone. They need the help of chest harnesses also, which adds to the complexity of a proper seat belt solution.
d) Compartmentalization, once it has done its energy-absorbing job, leaves the student free to escape the bus. Seat belts could leave students strapped in, upside down, perhaps unconscious, in burning or flooding buses.
e) Compartmentalization is most affordable. Although not a part of the DOT reasoning, this is a factor to be considered. In evaluating the cost of seat belts alone, one should include the cost of retractors and chest restraints also, since those appear needed. Even more important is the probability that a seat belt solution should lead to two students per seat and greater spacing between seats, thereby requiring more buses for the same student load.
For additional information see The National Association of State Directors of Pupil Transportation Services position paper on Passenger Crash Protection in School Buses.
Why are 39-inch seats in school buses rated for three children when they only will accommodate two?
The rated capacity of a 39" width passenger seat was devised many years ago by the committee that was then making recommendations to the National Minimum Standards for School buses. In determining seating capacity of a bus, an allowable average rump width standard was established.
Accordingly, 13" of rump width was suggested when a 3 - 3 seating plan was used. This suggested guideline is still recognized by most states as the accepted approach. It is not a federally mandated requirement.
Do state regulations for school buses supersede federal requirements?
No. State laws do not supersede federal requirements. State regulations for school buses can and usually do add requirements for safety. These requirements are additional to the federal requirements.
Why are buses sometimes late?
School bus drivers can have the same reasons as motorists for being late. Traffic delays, weather conditions, accidents or driver's illness are just a few reasons. School buses also have mechanical breakdowns or "no starts" that cause delays in picking students up on time. A school bus may be able to run but have a red traffic light malfunction, which would make it unsafe to pick up or discharge students on our highways, before it is repaired. In cases where the regularly assigned bus or driver is unable to pick up students, a separate bus and driver are dispatched to pick up the students. Generally, when a bus starts out late on its first or second run, it continues to be late for its third or fourth run also.
Why aren't buses always available for field trips?
The first priority is to provide transportation to and from school. The school bus fleet does not contain a separate set of buses designated for field trip use. Therefore, whenever school buses are not in use for normal to and from school transportation, they are available for field trip use. For planning purposes, school buses are available on school days prior to 6 a.m., from 9:15 a.m., to 1:30 p.m. and again after 4:00 p.m. Occasionally in the spring, the demand for field trips can outnumber the drivers and buses available. Transportation staff and requesters of field trips discuss individual circumstances.
Why can't all high schools, middle schools and elementary schools start at the same time for each group?
In order to maximize the use of our school bus fleet and to provide a more efficient operation with as few buses as possible, schools are put into one of four distinctly different time schedules. That enables one bus to serve two to four different schools within 2 1/2 hours in the morning and afternoon. High schools are generally in the first or second time schedule, middle schools are on the first, second or third schedule and elementary schools can be on any of the first, second, third or fourth since there are more elementary schools than any other.
Typical school time schedules are:
High/Middle School - 7:20/7:40 a.m. - 2:05/2:30 p.m.
Elementary School - 8:30 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Elementary School - 9:05 a.m. - 3:40 p.m.
It is necessary to change some schools starting and ending times each year due to program changes such as the restructured seven-period day or other changes that my prevent the use of additional school buses.
How can the number of students transported increase more than the total student enrollment increase?
Nearly 70% of the total student enrollment is bused to and from school each day. If a prediction is made that student enrollment will increase by 800, but students transported increases by 2,000, the most common reason is because students were assigned to schools or centers other than the base neighborhood school.
This can be the result of school boundary adjustments, school closings or opening of new schools, safety factors concerning students who walk to school, and placement of students in schools with special programs. Current walking distances for students are one mile for elementary to school or a bus stop and one and a half miles for middle and high school/secondary students to school or to a bus stop. Anytime exceptions are made to these walking distances due to safety conditions changing, increased student ridership on school buses increases.
Why are spare replacement buses needed?
Buses operate throughout the day with shuttles, kindergarten runs, and field trips, in addition to the normal to-and-from school transportation requirements. In order to have the required number of operational buses each day, a group of backup or spare buses must be retained. By state regulation, school buses are required to be serviced and inspected every 30 days. When a bus is in for service, a spare bus is required to continue its runs without interruption. Furthermore, when a bus has mechanical problems or damage from accident or vandalism that require it to be out of service, a spare bus is needed to perform the duties of the out-of-service bus. Often, this can be for an extended period of time, especially in the case of accident repairs.
Spare buses are also used during the year to augment the operating fleet when new student transportation requirements necessitate that the daily operating fleet be increased. Because of delays created by the budget, procurement, and production processes, it can take from nine months to a year for additional buses to arrive. During that time, the spare buses are used to satisfy the requirement.
What is the definition of a school bus?
A school bus is a vehicle that is sold or introduced in interstate commerce for purposes that include carrying students to and from school or related events, but does not include a bus designed and sold for operation as a common carrier in urban transportation.
A school bus can be used to carry non-students, if local rules allow it, usually with the requirement that school bus signs and warning lights not be used. But a normal everyday transit bus or shuttle bus cannot be used to carry school children. Such buses do not have any of dozens of safety features required on a school bus, such as joint strength, roof strength or compartmentalized seating.
How can my child get picked up or dropped off at a day care provider's location?
If you want transportation to or from a day care provider's location, you should contact the route supervisor responsible for transportation to your child's school.
How can I arrange to have my child ride a different bus home from school for one day?
The child's parent or guardian must send a written request to the school principal. If approved, the principal will provide written authorization to the driver of that bus.