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CPS Parents Worry About Transportation On First Day Of School

People gathered at City Hall on August 17, 2021 protesting the recent elimination of XTRA Transit Routes for Cincinnati Public Schools students.
Cory Sharber
People gathered at City Hall on August 17, 2021 protesting the recent elimination of XTRA Transit Routes for Cincinnati Public Schools students.

As Cincinnati Public Schools students return to classrooms, recent changes to Metro bus routes have parents concerned about their kids' commutes.

CPS parents have been voicing their frustrations for weeks after the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority ended student Metro bus routes right as school was about to begin. SORTA says it has a driver shortage and the decision is necessary to avoid delaying or reducing services under the Reinventing Metro plan.

CPS says the changes affect 6,000 students. However, SORTA says roughly 4,000 were already commuting to school using regular Metro routes.

Some parents are upset over the short notice and lack of public input before the decision was made. Mike Schur has two sons at Walnut Hills and says their commute will take twice as long now.

"They're dropping this big unpopular change at the last minute with no community or parental input," Schur said. "Basically, they do it at the last minute so there's really no time to adjust."

Katie Carroll Smith's stepson also attends Walnut Hills. It's his first year there. After riding yellow buses to his old school, Smith's worried how he'll adjust to a new system.

"With all of the uncertainty that surrounds that start of school because of COVID, layer in you're also going to have to navigate a bus system that you've never been asked to navigate before (and that) adds a lot of stress," Smith said.

SORTA says its discussions with the district's transportation department followed the same process as every year. According to media reports, school board member Eve Bolton said CPS' director of pupil transportation didn't renew the contract for XTRA routes. Board members say they weren't aware of this decision. SORTA CEO Darryl Haley says otherwise.

"We were under the understanding that they were all informed, as a matter of fact, I personally was told that they were informed," Haley said.

The school board unanimously approved a resolution opposing SORTA's decision to eliminate XTRA routes. The move came a week after that decision was announced. At the time, board members were disappointed with the situation. Some even discussed delaying the start of the school year. However, board members are coming to grips with the new plan.

"This board, I think there is a 100% committed focus that this is not the plan we wanted," Board Vice President Ryan Messer said during a special meeting on Aug. 16. "At the same time, we are thrilled to open Cincinnati Public Schools this Thursday and we want to make sure that we successfully navigate these troubled waters."

Meanwhile, parents are taking matters into their own hands. Schur says his kids will wait a couple weeks before attempting to ride the bus, and some of his neighbors are looking at other options.

"We're just scrambling to put together carpools," Schur said. "What's it going to look like this first day? How many kids are going to be on the bus? What's it going to be like when he has to transfer?"

Teachers are also concerned, including Kevin Curran who teaches AP history.

"A lot of our schools start at 8 o'clock in the morning," Curran said. "A lot of our students are going to have to get on the bus at 6:15 to 6:30 just to make it to their first bell on time. If you're a teacher and you've got a class first bell that's only half full, I can't necessarily get mad at the students because they're trying their best to get there. It's going to create a lot of problems down the road if students don't get those credits in first bell that they need."

CPS and Metro are implementing measures to help with transportation. School staff will provide additional supervision at Metro stops and transfer hubs. Security at CPS will be trained as licensed crossing guards, and some city of Cincinnati crossing guards will assist as well. Extra buses will also be available for the first few days for routes with capacity issues.

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