While buses line up in a yellow wall outside Hillyard’s Arlington Elementary School, third-graders Ryan and Robbie Benson hop a cab at taxpayer expense.
Because of student safety concerns, Spokane School District 81 cannot stop a bus in front of the Bensons’ home along busy Market Street north of Francis Avenue.
So every morning and afternoon, the Bensons and three other Arlington students who live on Market are ferried to and from school via taxi.
“It’s cool,” Ryan Benson said Monday afternoon, talking loudly over a Buffalo Springfield song on the cab’s radio. “You don’t have to walk around in the rain or snow.”
The school district started transporting students who live on North Market in cabs at least nine years ago.
The rides average between $12 and $13 per student round trip, depending on the number of students who are picked up. That is considerably higher than the $3.50-per-student round-trip costs for regular busing.
On other rare or unusual occasions - usually when only one or two students need rides - the district will call a cab. Last year, the district spent $10,810 in vouchers to cab companies.
“It may not fit the normal image, but in some cases, … it is the best option,” said Walt Rulffes, district budget manager.
The unusual arrangement is likely to remain, at least for now. In a meeting with county traffic engineer Bob Bruggeman on Tuesday, school district safety director Joe Madsen asked for striping changes and the addition of “School Bus Stop Ahead” signs in the area.
The changes, requested by the district’s busing company, would prevent cars from passing each other, reducing chances a car would hit a child getting off the bus.
The changes were denied because the road is too narrow, Bruggeman said. He said the district had not approached him before about changes that could allow regular bus service.
Without the changes, Madsen said taxis would continue to show up in front of the student’s homes every morning and in front of Arlington every afternoon.
The state subsidizes cab rides as a “temporary” alternative, said Madsen. Routing a bus through neighborhood roads to avoid Market would be too expensive.
The only other alternative would be setting up crossing guards, but the district rejected that, in part, because the state does not provide money for them, said Madsen.
A district study said it was too dangerous to let the students walk or bike to Arlington because of high traffic and narrow walkways. Some student live as close as five blocks away, others up to 10 blocks.
The Bensons said they would rather bike, but don’t mind catching a ride from a cabbie named Gary. They are home in 5 minutes, and, as Ryan Benson said, “There’s too many loud kids on the bus.”