SORTA pushes back on safety, crowding concerns in student busing issue

Published: Aug. 17, 2021 at 6:45 PM EDT
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CINCINNATI (WXIX) - Cincinnati Public School District parents and educators on Tuesday held a rally before a meeting of the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to protest the elimination of dedicated, non-stop student busing for CPS students.

Later, inside that meeting, SORTA CEO Darryl Haley had the rare opportunity to combat some of the arguments being made against the new busing plan.

School starts district-wide on Thursday.

The issue suddenly became public in July when SORTA announced it could no longer provide the so-called “XTRA” routes for students due to a driver shortage.

The XTRA routes will be eliminated in favor of new public Metro routes created with student ridership data in mind. Students will be given regular Metro passes to ride the new routes.

>> CPS unable to salvage dedicated student bus routes in meeting with SORTA

Haley said the change came in response to missed XTRA trips, numbering 300-400 each month in April in May, due to “high operator absenteeism and [a] national driver shortage.”

The goal, Haley said, is to ensure “no students are left at bus stops.”

Student riders will be delivered fewer than 200 ft. from the school, Haley said.

Ridership times will be cut ten minutes on average, he said.

“Previously, more than 400 students had to take 3 buses to get to school,” Haley explained. “Now no student has to make more than one transfer.”

Responding to crowding concerns, Haley promised increased frequency and 5-7 minute headways during drop-off and pick-up times. “Shadow buses” will be used during the beginning of school to evaluate ridership patterns.

>> CPS officials announce security changes, route adjustments to ease transportation transition

Prior to the SORTA meeting, teachers and parents urged SORTA’s board to vote to reinstate the XTRA routes.

If not, they said Mayor John Cranley, who appoints five of SORTA’s board members, and the Hamilton County Board of Commissioners, which appoints the remaining 11, should rescind their appointments.

Crystal Wagner is a CPS teacher and a former CPS student. She remembers the days before the XTRA routes.

“It was a daunting, terrifying experience, especially knowing that I was going to be on the bus with just regular, everyday people and not my peers,” she said. “I had people that touched me, people that pulled my hair, people that said racist, crazy things to me.”

The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers argues the elimination of XTRA buses will add travel time, confuse students with mid-route transfers and create potential safety hazards.

“We have had way too many kids hit by cars and injured and killed,” said Jule Sellers, CFT president. “We don’t want that to happen this year.”

CFT officials also say the new system could increase the rate of absences and drop-outs during a school year when it’s critical for students to make up in-person instruction time lost during the pandemic.

Cincinnati City Council member Betsy Sunderman, who removed her children from the district last October over its virtual learning policy, says she feels for parents who have to figure out the new system.

“It’s terrible,” she said. “These kids are getting on the buses tomorrow. Most of them have no idea where the routes are. They don’t know if their kids will be safe. I’m scared for the safety of the children.”

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