Life in the Carpool Lane
Thursday, August 16, 2007
Four mothers armed with calendars and schedules huddled around a kitchen table in Vienna plotting how to get their children to and from Trinity School at Meadow View when classes start in two weeks.
Who would stay late for choir practice? Who was going off-campus for soccer, and could one of the older boys drive another? Did anyone need to go straight home for a piano lesson?
Ninety minutes later, Sandra Forbes and Martha Hlavin of Vienna and Francine Vitek and Jean Lupinacci of Oakton had created two shifts: a 7:40 a.m. collective departure from the Forbes home to the school, situated 30 minutes away in Falls Church, and a 4:15 p.m. pickup.
For at least the fall sports season, no one needs to be fetched at 3 o'clock, meaning there are just 10, rather than 15 weekly trips to split four ways.
Across the Washington area, parents are engaged in a similar transportation tango, choreographing ways to get their offspring to classes and activities at hundreds of public, private and parochial schools.
Yes, virtually all public schools and some private ones offer free or paid bus service. Yes, older kids often prefer to ride with friends who drive, or take the Metro or public buses. Yes, some parents cherish "alone time" with their children, even if it means driving long distances every day.
But for many parents, carpooling is the only option, whether they do the chauffeuring themselves or delegate it to a housekeeper, nanny or older child. Sometimes one couple has to use two cars to handle a single shift, or families ditch the sedan for a larger vehicle that holds more children and gear.
"I would have had an SUV anyway, but I had to buy one that had a second back seat for all the kids," said Elizabeth Wainstein, an Alexandria auction house owner with three daughters in as many carpools. She chose one with roll bars because "I thought it was the safest."
Christine Antoniewicz, operations director for the 84-member Association of Independent Schools of Greater Washington, says that there is no overriding transportation policy among members and that individual schools determine what works best for them. The association does not get involved.
Landon School in Bethesda, which has 675 boys in grades 3 through 12 and offers bus service only to students who live quite far away, jump-starts the process in May. That is when new students and their parents visit the school and get directories with classmates' addresses and Zip codes, said communications director Jean Erstling. Juniors and seniors are allowed to drive, but only with written parental permission that specifies the number of passengers they can carry.
Browne Academy in Alexandria, with 280 students in preschool through eighth grade, no longer offers bus service because "we had a drop in ridership, difficulty in maintaining certified drivers and an increase in fuel and insurance costs," business manager Jim Ringer said.