Fewer city students will catch transfer buses downtown

Posted by Tim Louis Macaluso on Tue, Oct 1, 2013 at 5:39 PM

New bus passes will greatly restrict the thousands of city school students who have been using the RTS system to travel freely throughout the city, said school and city officials today. Most students will only be allowed to travel to and from school. 
Bolgen Vargas. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • Bolgen Vargas.

Beginning this Friday, more city students will be required to use the “express” routes with orange passes that take students to and from city neighborhoods to district schools. The express passes can only be used for the assigned bus routes in the morning and at school dismissal. They can’t be used at other bus routes or at other times.

Students who must transfer will have a gray “connection pass” with a time limit for transferring to a specific bus that expires 60 minutes after being issued. Students must ask for the connection pass when they board their first bus.

Special passes will issued for students who need connections to get to work or other activities. 

The changes were announced at a press conference this afternoon. 

This school year, nearly 10,000 city students in grades 7 to 12 are using RTS buses. But about 2,500 — about 1,500 city students and 1,000 students who attend private and charter schools — had connection passes to transfer from downtown. With the changes announced today, only a few hundred students will have the ability to transfer from downtown.

The new bus passes are the result of ongoing fights involving young people downtown, including a fight that broke out at the Liberty Pole nearly two weeks ago, where a gun was fired. Though there were no injuries and it’s not even certain that a city student fired the shot, Rochester Mayor Tom Richards said at the time that the situation had become dangerous for students and people living and working downtown.

And he said he wanted a plan from the district and RTS to address the problem. 

Richards said he appreciates the changes that RTS and city school officials have made, but that it is a temporary solution to a serious, longstanding problem. 

A concentration of unsupervised students downtown is creating an unsafe environment, Richards said. And the city and the district have been forced to divert significant resources to maintain law and order on Main Street, he said. 

Rochester school board president Malik Evans said at today's press conference that the transportation the district offers is a privilege, not a right. Students with behavior problems can expect to see those privileges revoked, he said.

The city and the school district are doing everything possible to provide students with access to free or low cost transportation, Evans said, but students and parents have to take greater responsibility for their actions. The district and the city cannot accept responsibility for raising children and modeling good behavior, he said. 

Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said that having students transfer through downtown costs about $3 million. Moving school resource officers and security personnel to downtown takes money away from instruction, he said. 

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While it is true that students at the age that most of the City School district students are who wait for the buses now relocated on Main St. near Clint can be very active, vocal and excited that should not cover up the role the Transit Authority has played in decision=making with little thought to the City at large or to its realities. Perhaps this is because the Commissioners who represent the Authority largely come from suburban and outlying areas. The current decision to move the bus stop from the shelter at the Liberty Pole area to Main and Clinton raises serious questions of judgement. The area near the liberty pole is a bigger space than the one on Main which of course means that the large number of students who wait for buses at the previous site would cause more crowding when moved to the sidewalks on Main. It;s a mere visual check. Both the Transit Authority , the City and the School Superintendent claim the other made the decision to move the stop. Of course this points to another problem that of the lack of real communication among the players. This type of distant involvement by the RGRTA is common but not excusable. The Authority rarely asks adult bus riders who depend on the bus for real feedback and solutions to some of the related problems. The so called town hall meetings the Authority holds do not provide an organized way for the collective action that would be needed by those relying on the bus to have. Instead, the town hall meetings are there to be used to satisfy speech but not to organize for needed changes. Perhaps one of the most frustrating aspects related to the change in bus stops is the images of primarily black students being contained by police on horses who from my observation were noisy yes excited and lively yes but not violent. Those that set this change in motion have not been the focus as they should be. I contacted WXXI when the earlier reporting was done and presented the view that I am now writing about but the reports that followed by the media continued to omit any further evaluation or accountability. Bonnie Cannan

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Posted by Harry Davis on 10/09/2013 at 11:36 AM
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