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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
UK may get yellow school buses
A row of yellow shcool buses
The yellow school bus is a great American tradition
By Washington Correspondent Rob Watson

Yellow school buses are as American as apple pie or hamburgers.

Here at White Marsh outside Baltimore at 6.30 in the morning, a whole fleet of them are revving up their engines for the morning school run.

Before they move off, drivers like Eric Witherspoon go through their series of morning safety checks.

He walks through the bus, checking that the seats are properly tightened and upright.

"You don't want them falling out of their chairs," he said.

The last thing he checks is the horn. "Then you're ready to go," he adds.

Morning run

Out for his first run of the morning is the driver everyone knows as George W, Wallstram that is.

Like most of the drivers at the First Student Bus Company, he genuinely seems to enjoy the work.

"I love the children. Believe it or not, I'm crazy about my kids," Mr Wallstram said.

He has a picture of one of the children on the side of the bus. "He was the best boy on the bus that week," he explains.

As he picks up his first child, he wishes the boy a good morning.

Great American tradition

As the big yellow bus, now filled with students, arrives at school, English born teacher Christine Amiss pays tribute to what she sees as a great American tradition.

"It's really part of the culture. Many students wouldn't be able to get school unless we provided yellow school buses," she said.

"It really is a symbol of students getting to the school building in a safe and orderly manner," she added.

Another American export?

And if it works in America, why not in Britain?

That is the thinking of Muir Lockhead, Chief Executive Officer of the British private transport giant, First Group UK.

"It's got a world reputation for being the more secure way of taking children to school, and in the UK of course, traffic congestion at peak times, 20% of that is attributed to children going to school in their parents' cars," Mr Lockhead said.

But, is this simply an American gimmick for making more money?

"I don't think it's a gimmick at all," he responded, adding, "when we look at the serious problems we've got in the UK with traffic congestion, this is one way of helping to resolve it."

Mixed opinion

The safety record is certainly impressive.

Each year in the US some half a million school buses travel carry more than 23 million children to school with an average of less than 10 deaths.

As for their discerning young passengers, their attitude towards the buses is mixed.

"It's fun to ride a bus because you have friends to sit next to," said one student.

But another would rather walk to school.

"You don't ride a bus home. You don't have to see a big old crowd of people," he said.

The first yellow buses are due to be road tested in England later this year, and - given the approval of local education authorities - could be carrying their first schoolchildren soon after that.

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