Whose N.C. school bus ride lasts longest? Hint: Look west

School children get on the bus. Photo: Derek Graham

With students heading back to school Monday, Aug. 24, at most Charlotte-area public school districts, school buses are already rolling as drivers practice their routes. (Nearby S.C. schools mostly opened this week.)

School buses constitute the state’s largest public transit system. An estimated 13,400 buses will carry some 800,000 N.C. youngsters to school and back during the 2015-16 academic year, traveling some 180 million miles.

How long is the average morning school bus ride in your school district? How long are the longest rides? How far do students have to travel to the bus stop? Using information from the 2014-15 school year, UNC Charlotte Urban Institute researchers compiled these maps, working with staff for the Transportation Information Management System who are housed at the institute. (What is TIMS? See below.)

For the 2014-15 school year, TIMS data show the average ride time per N.C. student was 23 minutes and the average distance to school was 4.37 miles, with 55 percent of the total public school population riding buses. The earliest average bus stop time was 5:46 a.m., for a 7:30 a.m. bell time. Across the state, 13,365 buses ran for 180 days, traveling 179,971,379 miles.

As the map shows, average morning bus rides range from 11 minutes in Roanoke Rapids City Schools in northeast North Carolina to 81 minutes in Macon County, in the state's far western mountains. Among the longest bus rides statewide (the average of the longest 5 percent of rides in each county), the longest is 200 minutes, again in Macon County. That unusually long average results from one student from a remote part of the county choosing to attend an early college program in Franklin, a trip requiring several shuttle rides. In a county of just 34,000 people, one lengthy ride can skew the average.

The shortest of those lengthy rides—31 minutes—was in Roanoke Rapids City Schools. Students in Gates County, in the northeast corner of the state, average only 66 feet from where they live to the school bus stop, while those in mountainous Clay County average 1,090 feet, about a quarter mile.

Comparing school bus rides in North Carolina

(Click on radio buttons to show various school bus statistics. To see information for each school district, mouse over the map, or choose a district from the dropdown menu.)

Map: Zach Szczepaniak

TIMS is a statewide project to maintain and improve efficiency in school bus transportation at the district level, using standardized, comprehensive school bus routing and scheduling software.  TIMS is a collaboration among the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute, the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (NCDPI) and the Institute for Transportation Research and Education (ITRE) at North Carolina State University.