Life in school bus central

If the school bus drivers of Minneapolis ever adopt your neighborhood, you have my deepest sympathies. I’ll even loan you my earplugs.

BELCH! Sccreeeeee. Wheeze! Klonk! Grrrrrrind! (Sorry, one just drove by.)

Minneapolis school bus drivers can do whatever they want. If they want to caravan past your house four times a day, trailing their unlovely symphony of pneumatic hissing, squealing brakes, grinding gears and unhealthy fumes, they simply will. And there’s nothing you can do to stop them.

There are a plethora of school buses here on my little corner of the world in Whittier — and believe me, the “in Whittier” phrase carries weight because neither city nor bus company would let this happen in Kenwood or Linden Hills.

Starting at 7:15 a.m., the Minneapolis Suburban, Minnehaha, First Student, Septran and Minneapolis Public School buses start parking, idling, hanging out and cruising by the corner on which I live. At 7:49 a.m., Bus 280; at 8:17, Bus 805; at 8:31, Bus 12; at 9:01, Bus 6403; at 9:07, Bus 44. I can go on; I have a chart. There’s a particularly rapid-fire machine-gun patch of seven buses that carom through here during the 15 minutes between 9:07 and 9:22. Lunch hour begins after 11, when short and long buses park along West 25th Street while drivers nap, play music, chat on their cell phones, or step outside to smoke and grind cigarette butts into my garden.

Bus traffic picks up again in the afternoon and drags on into the evening. Along about 6:30, one driver regularly parks along Pleasant Avenue to sweep out his bus and empty its litter on my sidewalk. Gee, thanks.

Of the 16 school buses that come by here every morning, and then noon, and then afternoon, and then evening, only two of them have actual bus stops here. Almost all of the buses screeching and grinding carry exactly one passenger: the driver. For whatever reason (maybe the coordinates of my corner are scrawled on a bus driver bathroom wall somewhere), bus drivers who have no need to drive past my corner nevertheless choose to cruise and park and idle here.

I’m not just offended by the sheer orangeness of the dang things. Inside my house, with the windows closed, the panes of glass rattle, the belching and wheezing reverberate and the screech and clang of brakes make simple conversation, much less work or sleep, impossible.

It would be a lovely thing to open a window in warm weather, but I know better. The living room fills up with the delicate scent of exhaust fumes and no amount of Febreze will cut the air.

Although idling is against a Minneapolis ordinance, many buses pull over here to just hang, engine thrumming all the while. From time to time, I walk out there and ask a driver to turn off his engine. Sometimes, I call the various bus companies, and I can tell you that the concept of customer service is, in large part, unknown there. One guy told me the ordinance against idling is for diesel only; not true, says Environmental Services of Minneapolis. Good bluff, though. Another bus company representative told me “I can tell my drivers not to idle, but they won’t mind me. Why don’t you call the police and try to get them a ticket? Maybe then they’ll listen.” I imagine the Minneapolis police love this sort of philosophy.

I talked to the Minneapolis school district, but bus companies operate as unattached entities and they washed their hands of the whole thing.

I called the city, more than once. The environmental concern of the idling was responded to, and official letters were sent — to only some of the companies that violate this law on this corner, but hey, that’s better than nothing. The buses still idle, sorry to say.

I talked to the city traffic folks about the legality of allowing enormous, lumbering, noisy vehicles to travel regularly on residential streets. One 311 responder told me that the signs around the city claiming that certain streets have weight limits and are not available as truck routes are just pretend. They are, he told me, “meant to scare off trucks,” but the city cannot actually restrict trucks or buses from going on any streets. However, Chapter 486, Article IV, 486.660 of the Minneapolis whatchamacallit says that the city engineer may restrict the use of streets if they are being unduly damaged by use. But never mind. School bus drivers in Minneapolis can do what they want.

If school bus drivers want to, they can wreck your life. They can diminish the value of your home. They can change the character of your neighborhood. Bus companies can choose and change routes without consulting neighbors, can set up a bus stop on your corner whether or not any kids live near you and can dictate the hours in which you’ll be allowed to sleep. At least if you buy a home on a city bus line, you know what to expect. But should school bus drivers choose your house as a parking spot, your rights don’t count, my dears.

That’s what the airport commission thought too, until they started having to pay out for all those lawsuits about noise pollution and had to equip homes with insulated windows. Hey. There’s an idea.

Pamela Hill Nettleton lives and writes in Whittier.