Mayor, school and T officials outline safety plans for 8th graders riding MBTA
Mayor Martin Walsh discussed the city and state’s plans to accommodate the more than 2,000 8th graders who will now be riding public transportation to school in a press conference at the Maverick Blue Line station in East Boston last week.
Walsh stood alongside Boston Public Schools Interim Superintendent John McDonough, Boston Police Commissioner William Evans, MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott and MassDOT Rail & Transit Division/MBTA CEO Sean M. McCarthy to talk about student safety.
Walsh told the crowd that this was his first beginning of the school year as mayor and commented on the amount of work and coordination starting a school year requires.
“We’re excited to start this school year,” Walsh said. “We’ve had so many conversations and so many plans on how we can make our schools the best they can be. The work that goes into starting a school year and coordinating services is absolutely incredible. Today is an example of how our city works with the state, the MBTA, and police.”
McDonough expained that BPS is slated to save $2 million by teaming up with the T to transport 8th graders to and from school. But more importantly, McDonough said that this measure was agreed upon in order to improve the educational options for students.
“We know that as our before- and after-school programs expand, students need more options,” McDonough said. “As we embarked on this expansion, we realized we have an incredible opportunity to be very deliberate in collecting resources for safety, service and educational opportunity. That has been our mission this year and the result is a partnership built on cooperation and community engagement. This has been a phenomenal effort from the Boston Police Department, the MBTA, the Mayor’s Office, the BPS and our non-profit partners.”
McDonough said 685 students and parents have requested to opt into the program, while 241 have requested to opt out.
Walsh said that learning to ride the T is a vital part of growing up in the city, and that school and city officials have studied the bus routes and upgraded all of the public safety infrastructure around the T.
“This is a great learning experience for our young people to learn about responsibility,” Walsh said. “I think often times, we don’t give our young people enough credit for doing the things they do in the city.”
Shuttle services from certain T stops have been activated in order to get students where they need to go, and teams of 50 BPS workers along with City Year workers and police departments will be at major T stops wearing bright blue vests so students can ask them for help if needed.
“We are confident that the right planning has been done and the right supports are in place in the city,” Walsh said. “We’re going to be listening to feedback from parents, students, teachers and administrators about their experiences. We have heard the need for an MBTA youth pass, and now, the 7-day MBTA pass gives students more flexibility to do sports, extra curricular activities and still have a way to get home.”
Scott said that this new program was nowhere near the first time the T has transported large numbers of BPS students.
“We have the privilege of serving them every day and we will continue to make this a successful program for everyone involved,” Scott said. “This is the highest essence of public service. It’s about partnerships, collaboration, coordination, and at the heart of it we are all about people and communities. All of these kids are our kids. This is a community working together to get this right. We are trying to create the transit generation.”
McCarthy said that there won’t be any additional buses or trains needed to transport the students. He and his team have plotted out locations for pre-positioned yellow buses in case there is an issue with the T buses arriving on time.
“Over the last few weeks, we’ve seen to it that our front line staff has received proper training to handle this new segment of our ridership, to use common sense, aware of any issues going on and to report any issues right away,” McCarthy said. “We’re prepared and we’re excited. The MBTA is a safe and reliable mode of transportation.”
Deputy Chief of the MBTA Police Kenneth Green said providing security for BPS students on the T is nothing new to the department.
“We have advised our officers that they need to be patient with the young students as some may get lost, disoriented, lose their passes,” Green said.
“We will beef up our numbers on patrol in the morning and in the evenings. As complicated as you may feel that this is for us, it is just as complicated for these kids and we want them and their parents to know that we are here to help create a safe environment for them to get to and from school.”
MBTA Police, BPS Police and BPD have teamed up in a program called Operation StopWatch, where their objective is to increase public safety presence at key T stops, including Ashmont, JFK/UMass, Fields Corner, Forest Hills, Downtown Crossing and Ruggles during the morning and evening commute.
Operation StopWatch began in the 2008-2009 school year as an effort to reduce juvenile crimes and protect students from other riders if need be. It aims to reduce crime by convening local law enforcement, youth services and school administrators.
“We’ll be out there protecting the crosswalks and the bus routes as well as train stations,” Commissioner Evans said. “We addressed the principals from the BPS and we acknowledged a lot of effort in this. The students will be safe under this program.”