December 13, 2012 by Sarah M
//By Dylan Thomas//
Nearly 3,000 high school students are riding Metro Transit buses to school instead of using bus transportation provided by Minneapolis Public Schools this year, and the transition has for the most part been a smooth one, according to a presentation at the Dec. 11 School Board meeting.
Since a pilot program launched with a few hundred students in 2010, the cards have been used for about 600,000 individual rides. In that time, 10 to 12 incidents involving district students with the passes have been recorded, “only two of which happened on a Metro Transit bus or [at] a Metro Transit bus stop,” said Robert Johnson, who is managing the program for the district.
“The vast majority of contacts that we receive are based around social issues,” Johnson said. “Other riders don’t particularly care of the language of our students from time to time. They don’t particularly care for the way our students dress. But, over all, the system has proven to be immensely safe for our students.”
Students made about 40,000 trips on Metro Transit buses during a typical week this fall. The majority of trips were made outside of school hours.
That was by design. The cards are active from 5 a.m.–10 p.m. daily so that students can participate in extracurricular activities, or ride the bus to the library or to the mall.
Johnson said there was anecdotal evidence student participation in sports was up this fall, but it was still unclear whether the rise was correlated with the use of Go-To Cards.
Not all the news was good. Data from Metro Transit indicates some students are riding the bus when they should be in school.
Johnson said he was working with Metro Transit to develop a limited-use card for students who “chronically abuse” the bus passes. It would limit the times during which the card could be swiped for a ride.
The bus passes are currently available to students at Edison, Patrick Henry, North, Roosevelt and Washburn high schools, as well as students at Wellstone International High School. It’s scheduled to expand next fall to students at South and Southwest high schools and Transition Plus, a program for adult students aged 18–22 with disabilities.
Johnson said he plans to propose a budget of about $1.3 million to $2.9 million for phase two of the program, the scope of which will be decided in early 2013.
“At the low end, only students who would get yellow busing traditionally would get Go-To Cards,” he said. “At the high end it says every high school student gets Go-To Cards.”