Students and parents lined up testify against recent changes to the MTA student bus pass (Photo: Brian Clark Jr., Patterson Press)
By Amadou Bah,
Students, teachers, parents and others attended a public hearing on Thursday, January 5th to testify to City Council about the need to extend the MTA student bus pass to 8:00 PM. The hearing took place at Frederick Douglass High School at 4:00 PM.
Until this school year, students were using S-PASS, which allowed users to ride the MTA bus for free between from the hours of 5 a.m. and 8 p.m. The S-PASS allowed for multiple rides throughout the day, making it possible for students to go from home, to school, to after-school activities and back home again.
However, with the new “One Pass”, this has changed. The current contract between the school district and the MTA limits the hours students not taking part in school-sanctioned activities can ride the bus for free, cutting it from 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. In reality, this is also impacting many student athletes as well as students who participate in after-school clubs like Coding Club, the Patterson Press, Chess Club and many others.
Many critics of the new MTA policy believe that the changes are being implemented in order to save MTA money. However, Sean Adgerson, deputy chief operating officer at MTA, denies this. In an interview with ABC2 News, Adgerson asserted that “any suggestion that the MTA has changed its S-PASS policy to save money at the expense of Baltimore City’s school children is simply inaccurate”. Adgerson told ABC2 News that MTA has created a process for the school system to provide bus fare for after-school programs.
Despite these assurances, students participating in non-athletic after-school clubs at Patterson are still not being provided with any additional bus fare and often have to leave their activities early to ensure that they get on the bus before 6:00. With a dismissal time of 3:35 PM, after-school programs at Patterson often do not start until 4:00 or later. Also, many Patterson students live far from the school and have to transfer busses multiple times. This makes it necessary for some students to board a bus after 6:00 PM if they stay for an after-school activity.
Additionally there is the issue of students who work after school or participate in other activities outside of school, such as volunteering, buying groceries for their families or spending time at a community center or a place of worship. MTA officials insist that this is not their concern. “Our contract was always designed to take kids to and from school and school related activities, not for jobs, not for those other things,” Adgerson said to ABC2 News.
Students and teachers stated their opinions about the bus pass issue at the City Council hearing and elsewhere.
“It’s really a shame that students are not able to ride the bus for free between the hours of 6 am and 8 pm as they were in the past”, said O’Brien Bobbi, an English 1 teacher. “I also think that there are a lot of problems with how the new S-Pass policy was rolled out to the schools because the first we’ve heard about it–well, the first I’ve heard about it–was when students were struggling and didn’t know that the bus pass stopped working at 6pm. I hope this problem will be fixed soon”, she said.
Nathan Nieves, a sophomore from Patterson High School, talked about having to leave Casa de Maryland’s Mi Espacio program early every day. “I’m trying to do my part by seeking out the positive, by learning how to help my community. I hope Baltimore City does their part too, to make sure I get home safe”, he said.
A Patterson student named John Dingzon commented on this issue, stating, “It’s really unfair for students that have after-school activities and don’t have enough time, due to this issue. Students that leave after-school activities wait at the bus stop and sometimes buses are running late.” Dingzon added, “When students get on the bus they’re expected to pay a fee of $1.70 which most kids don’t have and some bus drivers are rude and will not allow them on, due to this issue. All I want is that the new Bus pass be extended back to 8 or 9 pm.”
Dingzon had more to say but the City Council didn’t have enough time to hear him testify. A long line of students and parents who were still waiting to testify were turned away without getting an opportunity to speak. At 5:45 a member of City Council said, “Students need to be dismissed right now. City Council and MTA will try to find the best way to pass this bill”. Some members of City Council have pledged to fight until a new bill is passed and the bus pass for students is extended.
The hearing closed promptly at 5:50 p.m. so students could get that 6 p.m. swipe for the bus home, an irony that was not lost on the students and others who had come to the meeting to testify.
It remains to be seen whether City Council will figure out a way to get this issue resolved.