A string of recent articles on an issue in the Northern California public schools caught our attention today. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is threatening to cut off public bus routes that service local school districts, claiming that federal dollars designated for city transit should not be “subsidizing” school buses, harming the ability of private bus companies to compete. The students effected are from predominantly poor neighborhoods, using the buses to transport themselves to better schools than what is available around them.
As one post explains:
In the East Bay [Oakland-area], about 30,000 schoolchildren use [public] AC Transit buses to get to and from school, paying $15 a month for discounted youth passes. While many of those trips are on regular routes used for nonschool commuters, some of them with route numbers between 600 and 699 are specially scheduled and routed to serve specific schools. Local officials fear that the change sought by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would ban those special routes.
The FTA, however, has proposed no method of replacing these public buses — and certainly nothing speedy enough to be enacted before the next school year. There is no guarantee that private contractors would be willing to service all areas currently covered by public routes, and there is no guarantee that the school districts would have the resources to pay the additional cost.
Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-CA), whose district will be most affected, has voiced concern with the FTA’s mis-shapen priorities: “Instead of looking for ways to make it more difficult for kids to get to school, the FTA should be expanding transportation options for our students.”
Congresswoman Lee is right. The FTA, and the Bush Administration, need to put their money where their mouth is. At time when gas prices are through the roof, cutting access to public buses is counterproductive to ensuring students can get to school, particularly youth from less affluent neighborhoods who set to be the most hurt. (As a San Leandro High student explained, “Take this bus away, and I’ll end up in the streets and probably get into some kind of trouble.) It’s also completely contradictory to the Administration’s drive to encourage mass transit and reduction in energy use. If we’re supposed to be walking to work, carpooling in hybrids and riding the subway, then it would be interesting to hear how the removal of public buses for students furthers that goal.