Now that school's back in session, we've been wondering what happened to the old-fashioned bus stop.

Driving through Fairfield County in the morning is already an exercise in patience, but when you add to the equation buses that seem to stop in front of every other house, the commute can become unbearable. And that's not counting the time it takes for some parents to walk their kids onto the bus and into a seat.

But traveling frustrations aside, we would readlly like to know what happened to traditional bus stops. When we were kids -- no, we're not talking about walking two miles in the snow both ways; we're talking 20 or so years ago -- all the neighborhood kids would meet at the corner and wait to be picked up. It became a place and time where friendships were formed; where school lessons and the latest gossip were shared -- and not just for the students, but for parents who more often than not stood with us awaiting the arrival of the big yellow school bus.

The point is that we all walked to the bus stop, book bags and lunch in hand. The younger kids always had a parent with them -- or the neighborhood parents took turns until we were old enough -- but there was none of this stopping every 30 feet.

If you haven't experienced the behind-the-school-bus wait and seen first-hand how often they stop, one need only to take a look at the district's school bus schedules to determine that there are way too many stops. Westport's took up more than eight pages in print and Fairfield -- albeit a much larger district in terms of the number of schools and geography -- was a whopping 16.

Aside from the loss of the comraderie gained at a neighborhood bus stop, we wonder what additional cost all this stop and go has on fuel expenses and the environment. If the district did cut back on the number of stops, wouldn't you breathe a little easier knowing that your community is taking concrete steps to keep our earth clean and healthy for future generations? And, amidst the economic constraints facing municipalities and families, even if it saves just a few bucks isn't it worth it?

We realize there is something nice about sending your child off to school from the front door of your home and watching him/her skip into the bus and find a seat. But, if nearly every family does this, it's no wonder many feel that our sense of community and tight-knit neighborhoods are in jeopardy.

We also realize that there is a safety issue involved in the decision of where certain bus stops are. Clearly, if it's a heavily traveled or windy road, a bus stop closer to home makes great sense. But we venture to guess that this is not necessarily the case with every bus stop.

An example of how these central gathering places can reinforce the sense of community and help create healthy habits took place this week in Fairfield when several schools participated in "Walk to School Day." Many families met at street corners and walked the half-mile to school together. Granted, this is not a neighborhood bus stop, but it is in the same vein -- parents and children meeting up at the start and end of each school day.

We implore the school district to investigate whether there is potential savings in eliminating some bus stops, and we encourage parents who think this is a good idea to suggest stops that can be consolidated. Don't do it to make the commute easier for motorists, do it because our children will be better for it in the long run.