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Cincinnati Federation Of Teachers Protest Elimination Of Metro Student Bus Routes

The Cincinnati Federation of Teachers protested the elimination of Metro bus routes for Cincinnati Public Schools students Thursday at the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce, demanding the decision be reversed.

In late July, the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA) ended the routes, citing the current hiring climate. CPS says the changes would affect roughly 6,000 students on the first day of school Aug. 19. CFT was joined by American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten following a meeting between the two parties earlier that day. She said the decision to do away with the routes for students is the worst decision she's ever heard.

"It says you care about profits over kids," Weingarten said. "It says you're throwing your kids under the bus. It says you don't want the kids to be safe. This is wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong."

CPS and CFT say the cuts will mean extra travel time and multiple bus transfers for students. Students may not be the only ones affected. Neil Kelly uses a wheelchair to move around and rides the bus daily. He is worried about the impact more crowded buses will have on his mobility, as well as the mental health effects navigating Metro could have on children.

"I know what it's like to take one transfer, to take two transfers to get where you need to go," Kelly said. "And I also know what it's like to be late for one of those transfers, and you're left out waiting for a bus in a neighborhood you don't know, where it might be raining and it's a little scary. That's as an adult. I can't imagine having to do that as a kid."

According to CFT President Julie Sellers, the protest was held at the chamber to voice their demands directly to SORTA Board Member Brendan Cull, who is also the senior vice president and chief operating officer at the chamber.

Sellers says she met with Amalgamated Transit Union Local 627 President Troy Miller, who says the city has not been hiring and their wages have fallen behind those of school bus operators. He had previously warned the SORTA board they would be short drivers back in January.

Last week, CPS' Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a resolution opposing the elimination of Metro XTRA Service Routes for Cincinnati students. Earlier that same week, Board Member Eve Bolton said CPS' director of pupil transportation didn't renew the district's contract with Metro for XTRA routes. Board members were not aware of this decision, the Enquirer reports.

SORTA Director of Transit Development Steve Anderson said they had worked closely with CPS over the past few weeks, including discussions about bus routes, schedules and service improvements. He says the changes will improve the travel experience overall.

CPS spends approximately $8 million per year with Metro for passes distributed to Cincinnati students. Their concerns with the route eliminations include preventing the spread of COVID-19, students having to make bus transfers and overcrowding.

Metro says roughly one in six 7-8 graders were already riding regular bus service during the 2019-2020 school year. SORTA says the new routes will increase eligibility to students, expand service hours and offer shorter ride times.

CPS and Metro have announced a working group to discuss next steps for students impacted by the elimination of XTRA routes.

To see more photos from Thursday's protest, click the photo above.

Cory Sharber attended Murray State University majoring in journalism and political science and comes to Cincinnati Public Radio from NPR Member station WKMS.