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Yellow bus service ends for most Boston 8th graders

Nate Homan

Some 2,100 8th graders who last year would have been on yellow buses are now riding the MBTA as their primary means of getting to and from school.

MBTA Spokesman Joe Pesaturo said that the T will use the same number of buses it always deploys for regularly scheduled weekday service. These buses will pick up students and regular commuters alike. BPS staff and City Year workers will have new responsibilities chaperoning students while working with T employees to ensure smooth rides.

School officials had originally proposed ending yellow bus service for both 7th and 8th graders this year, with a projected cost savings of $8 million in the department’s $1 billion budget. The department pulled back from that plan after meeting stiff resistance from parents.

While in the past some schools have opted out of yellow bus service for 8th graders, this is the first year yellow buses are not an option for 8th graders.

“Our data, so far shows, that schools who already use T buses to transport students are on time and have the same attendance rate as schools who don’t yet use the buses,” BPS Chief Communications Officer Lee McGuire said.

“One other advantage is the ability for students to attend afterschool and before school programs,” McGuire said. “School leaders have shown student excitement when it comes to having more flexibility. If they need to stay later, they can stay later without concern about getting home.”

The new program will hardly boost revenue for the T, given that the students will ride for 50 percent of the normal fare rate. Students can purchase the same passes as those available for students in grades 9 through 12.

Students are eligible for a Monday through Friday pass as well as seven-day passes, both for $26 per month. Discounted rides or passes require a Student CharlieCard or CharlieTicket, available at participating junior high and high schools.

“Student T-passes are good for unlimited travel on Bus, Subway, Express Bus, and Commuter Rail Zones 1A, 1, and 2 on school days,” Pesaturo said.

Pesaturo said that bus operators are trained to handle all customers, and that additional training for transporting students is not necessary.

“The MBTA has transported students for many years,” Pesaturo said. “This week, we are reminding front line personnel to be aware of the additional students on the transit system and to be attentive and helpful at all times. MBTA personnel are also trained to report any issues to the Control Center or Transit Police immediately.”

The MBTA Transit Police have been working closely with Boston Public Schools and Boston Police to focus resources on stations with heavy passenger volume. In addition, the award-winning StopWatch program has been very successful in deterring crime or other unwanted activity.

StopWatch is a collaborative program under the leadership of MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul S. MacMillan. StopWatch encourages and facilitates skillful, respectful interventions into situations of potential disorder, by officers in a manner that will maintain the confidence of the community and the respect of youth.

The program is designed to “Stop” and “Watch” the behavior of students on their way to and from school or to school-related functions while they wait for trains and buses. The mission of StopWatch is to build a collaboration of caring adults in the law enforcement and youth advocacy communities. This is done by positively interacting with the 40,000 students who use public transportation daily.

Not everyone is thrilled with the idea of students riding the T for their primary means of getting to school. Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey has been opposed to this new plan for financial reasons and safety reasons alike. He has qualms with the $2 million in the BPS budget for transportation for non-BPS students.

“This applies to private and parochial and charter schools as well,” he said. “The irony is that the dollars come out of the school department budget, and they should be a separate line item from another source, preferably from the state. The administration has not taken any steps for reimbursement.”

City Councilor Ayanna Pressley voiced her own frustration, saying that she has been opposed to the plan because of how it was presented to the Council.

“I am skeptical of the savings it will create,” Pressley said. “At a time of increased ridership, we see divestment on the T right now. It was presented as a cost saving measure that most parents were not aware of. I don’t know how they could move forward on a measure like this without every party informed, parents chiefly.”

Yancey said that many parents attended council meetings and expressed safety concerns.

“The plan was announced last spring, and was the source of many vigorous debates in council and in community meetings. It’s a case of being pennywise, pound foolish,” Yancey said. “Some people think they’re old enough to use the MBTA, but that may or may not be true. But disruption in service is unavoidable.”

Pressley echoed Yancey’s concerns over public safety and the academic impact the change may bring about.

“We all have safety concerns and are hoping to see our children arrive safely and on time,” Pressley said. “That was a big issue many parents discussed. But also if the bus is late, we want to know if it will it affect their grades or lead to punitive measures.”