Matt Conway writes:
AC Transit (Oakland, CA and surroundings) recently came to an agreement with schools to adjust the start times at those schools to reduce the cost of providing bus service. I've never heard of schools adjusting [start times] to save agencies money!
Start and end times of schools can have a huge impact on transit agencies that are expected to serve them. If three large schools choose to start at the same time, rather than at staggered times, they can dramatically increase both the fleet needs and the operating cost of the transit system. To serve such a short, sharp peak of school demand, the transit agency needs more drivers to work very short shifts, and must own more buses for them to drive. Staggered school times can replace four buses with one, and replace two 1-2 hour driver shifts with one 3-hour shift. Note that drivers must often be paid more to work a short shift; often the rule is that they must be paid for four hours even if they work one. That's understandable; would you be willing to commute to work for just one or two hours' pay?
When I worked as a network design consultant for small agencies across California and the American West, I encountered this problem constantly. Schools were under intense budget pressure and were cutting their own school bus service, shifting their transportation needs on the transit agency. Schools would change start and end times for their own reasons, and falsely assume that the transit agency could deliver a fleet of buses at whatever time they choose. It's an example of a common problem wherever many government agencies overlap; your agency can appear to "solve" a problem by shifting it to some other agency.
Has this situation improved? Are many public transit authorities now co-operating with school districts to ensure that expensive transit resources are used efficiently?