CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Public Schools Board of Education painted a dismal picture for the crowd at their Wednesday meeting, describing a scenario where 1,000 students catch Metro buses on a busy Clifton Avenue.
That was in response to Metro ending dedicated routes for nearly 6,000 students and forcing them to use new, regular Metro routes instead.
“It’s too dangerous for our students,” Cincinnati Federation of Teachers president Julie Sellers said. “Not fair to our kids.”
It’s not clear how many of those students would then need to transfer to other buses to get to school.
“That means the Cincinnati Police Department will be managing the children,” board member Eve Bolton said. “They will be in the hundreds waiting for the next bus. That’s unacceptable.”
The XTRA routes were put in place decades ago to help students get to school safely – board members said they learned about the changes one week ago.
“They’re choosing what to eliminate, and what they’re choosing is the bus routes for children,” board member Ben Lindy said.
The board unanimously voted to oppose Metro’s elimination of the XTRA routes. They plan to write a letter to SORTA, which oversees Metro, meet with their board members and bring everyone to the table to discuss options.
“This is a service that they wanted to take away – we need a year to figure that out, certainly not three weeks,” board member Mike Moroski said.
Others said stronger actions should be taken.
“(The) district should talk with the legal department to find out if they can seek a temporary injunction prohibiting any change until a real plan can be developed,” Sellers said.
The consensus from board members is that it would take months to reconfigure bus routes – and that’s time they don’t have. School starts in the next few weeks.
“There is irreparable harm,” said David Brenner during the meeting. “It’s a huge safety issue for students.”
The district’s director of transportation – who negotiated the deal with Metro – is now on administrative leave. He’s accused of making decisions without telling senior administrators or the board and misrepresenting the talks with SORTA.
Metro spokesperson Brandy Jones said the new system will be much better for students, partly because it will be more reliable. The XTRA routes missed hundreds of rides a month. By merging school routes with regular routes, those mistakes should be taken care of. Also, she said, it’s too late to make a radical change before classes start.
“There is no time left, 10 days prior to the start of school to redesign our service -- that is not a feasible option,” Jones said. “Per our contract, CPS was to deliver to us the new start times of the school year back in March, that did not occur until July. And so, we were not given the information. Months later, that per the contract, we’re supposed to have back in March.
The issue, she said, comes down to miscommunication. Once parents get a chance to look at the new route information, Jones thinks they will see the enhancements made for students.
“Under the new model, no student will make more than one transfer,” she said. “We had students who, you know, if I missed my bus, if I’m running late, and I’m five minutes late, there’s no other bus that I can take. Now another bus is coming five to seven minutes later your way. And so, if you look at the frequency, the more trip options that students can take, the shorter the trip time.
She said the ride to school will be 10 minutes shorter on average and students will be picked up withing 200 feet of their home. Metro was able to make that adjustment because CPS provided it with every student’s address.
SORTA is hosting a virtual meeting Thursday, August 5 from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. where they will discuss the route changes. The meeting will also be streamed on Metro’s Facebook page.