Throughout Hillsborough County, school bus drivers have been parkingbuses beside their homes in residential neighborhoods during off-hours.
Thursday, Hillsborough school officials were surprised to learn the city may curtail that practice.
Banning school buses from parking in residential neighborhoods would cost the school system millions of dollars, years of planning and likely would lead scores of drivers to quit because they don't own cars to get themselves to central bus parking lots, school officials said. About 375 of the school system's 758 buses are parked within the city limits, officials said.
"You can pass an ordinance overnight, but you can't locate 375 buses overnight," School Board attorney Crosby Few told the City Council.
While revising city codes earlier this month, the City Council tentatively defined what kinds of commercial vehicles are prohibited from parking in residential areas. The written definitions are based on what the city has been enforcing.
According to code, vehicles used for commercial purposes cannot be parked in residential neighborhoods, with the exception of cars, 1-ton pickup trucks and vans used for transportation between an individual's home and job site.
The regulations don't prohibit school buses from parking in residential neighborhoods, and city officials never have forbidden the practice. But during the discussion Thursday, some council members said school buses should be parked elsewhere.
"Somewhere down the line, we're going to have to be fair to the public," council member Eddie Caballero said Thursday. "I find it hard to tell the owner of a 35-foot truck he can't park in a residential area, yet the School Board can do it."
The City Council asked school officials to meet with city zoning officials to discuss the issue before next week's final hearing on the regulations.
Jack Pilsbury, transportation director for the Hillsborough schools, said acquiring land for central parking lots would add millions to the school district's $27-million transportation budget.
And the many bus drivers who don't own cars probably would have to quit, he said.
Hillsborough's bus drivers, 95 percent of whom are women, earn from $7.22 an hour to $10 an hour and work from six to seven hours a day, Pilsbury said.
"Some of them would have to buy a car and it would be a definite hardship for them," Pilsbury said.
The school system receives four to six complaints a month about buses in residential neighborhoods, Pilsbury said. Though most of those complaints are resolved once residents understand the situation, school officials will move the bus to a school bus compound if residents are adamantly opposed to having the bus in their neighborhood, Pilsbury said. About 50 of the school system's 758 buses are now in bus compounds because of residents' complaints, he said.
"We don't go fight people, we want to try to solve things," Pilsbury said.
The City Council may delay next week's hearing on the parking issue if school officials and zoning officials don't reach some consensus.