PORTLAND, Oregon — Kids in Oregon may get some creative new ways to get to school if a bill passes in the state capitol.
"When you see the joy of children riding their bikes to school and being outside with their community, I don't see how you can't support something like this," said Coach Sam Balto, physical education teacher and one of the organizers of the Alameda Bike Bus.
Alameda Elementary School in Northeast Portland is nearing year one of its Bike Bus initiative. It’s when an adult chaperone leads a bike route - taking kids to school in a group - similar to a bus route.
"Well, I usually come just to have fun with my friends," said Elliot Valk, a fifth grader at Alameda Elementary joining the Bike Bus on Wednesday morning.
And a new Oregon bill may soon allow other schools to do the same.
"I haven't really missed a Bike Bus yet since last Earth Day and I'm not planning to," said Kaelyn Proia, another fifth grader riding in the Alameda Bike Bus.
House Bill 3014, also known as the Bike Bus Bill, would allow school districts to use money from their transportation budgets to fund other ways, in addition to still using traditional buses, to get students to school safely. Like paying chaperones to do a Bike Bus route, or pay crossing guards at busy streets.
"Oregon Walk's role is we believe in active transportation as a way to get to school,” said Zachary Lauritzen, interim director at Oregon Walks. “We believe schools need the tools, all the tools, to get kids to school. Sometimes that means walking, sometimes that means taking the bus, sometimes that's biking and sometimes it literally means they need a crossing guard. And right now they don't have those tools."
Alameda's Bike Bus relies solely on volunteers and this bill would change that.
"You know we don't rely on bus drivers to provide the amazing service that they provide for our communities, and we shouldn't rely on volunteers for this amazing service," said Coach Sam Balto.
11 Oregon democrats are supporting this bill. Seven in the house and four in the Senate. There's no organized opposition to the bill.
And what could further its cause is the severe shortage of bus drivers across the state since the pandemic.
Some districts, like Parkrose in East Portland, had to drop certain bus routes because they didn't have enough drivers. While the bill won't fix the labor shortage, it would provide safe alternatives to get kids to school other than parents driving them, or buses.
“That's why we need to institutionalize these types of programs,” said Coach Balto. “So they're not just based on inspired and motivated volunteers, but it's part of what we do."
KGW reached out to five school districts for comment on the bill, but has not heard back.
The bill is in its early stages in the house and would need to pass that, the state senate and get the Governor's signature.