KELLER -- Starting with the spring semester, many Keller school district students won't have to pay to ride buses.
Trustees voted unanimously Monday night to restore free bus service for those who live more than 2 miles from school. A less expensive pay-to-ride option for those who live closer to their campuses will be offered where space is available.
"I'm just so glad we're reinstating our bus service," Trustee Brad Schofield said.
More kids riding buses will improve student safety and relieve some of the traffic congestion around campuses, Schofield said.
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Officials cut regular bus transportation before the 2011-12 school year, part of more than $26 million in budget reductions after district voters said no to raising property taxes and the state Legislature cut funding.
Superintendent Randy Reid said officials decided to propose restoring free bus service after paid ridership declined and funding from the state for special education bus routes also went down. School districts are required to provide special education routes free of charge.
This year, fewer than 4,000 students paid to ride buses, down from 6,000 who rode regular free routes in 2010-11.
Reid said the new transportation system would not look exactly like it did before pay-for-ride. Officials reduced the number of stops and routes to save money. While administrators expect to add routes, they do not plan to have as many as they did before the pay system. In 2010, Keller had 66 routes; this fall, there were about half that many.
For the current semester, families are paying $175 per rider for the first two riders in a family and nothing for additional riders. Officials said parents who paid for the full year would be reimbursed for the second semester.
Where space is available, a pay-to-ride option inside the 2-mile radius will cost $75 per semester.
Board President Kevin Stevenson said, "We did what we did because at the time it was appropriate for the budget situation."
Charlene Fallis, a parent who was paying for students to ride to Timber Creek High School and Trinity Springs Middle School, said she was glad free bus service is coming back.
"I think it will be safer, especially with all the construction," Fallis said.
She was hoping that officials would add enough routes to alleviate crowded buses.
The system of free rides for students beyond 2 miles and a reduced rate for those within 2 miles will go into effect Jan. 23 with the start of the spring semester.
Trustees said they were happy to bring back free transportation for thousands of students.
"We're always about making sure we're doing the right thing for kids," Stevenson said. "And we'd like to make things easier for families, if it works out financially for the district."