Thousands of high school students using public transportation to and from school in Buffalo are being given greater access to the transit system with the anticipation of a new contract being ironed out between the school district and the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority.
Changes include eliminating preassigned routing, giving most students more flexibility to take the bus routes they prefer. Students also are being allowed to use their bus passes for more hours during the day.
That’s according to parents who were provided the framework of a new agreement – the first in nearly 30 years – as both sides continue to negotiate some of the final details.
In fact, students started the new school year riding Metro Bus and Rail under the new terms of the contract with the understanding a deal will soon be struck.
Parents and students have complained for years that the passes are too restrictive and didn’t provide the same services afforded to the general public, even though the school system pays full price per pass.
“We’re really happy about it. The changes reflect a good amount of what the parents wanted,” said Larry Scott, co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization. “We’re extremely appreciative of the district, in particular, and for the NFTA negotiating in good faith.”
The BPTO and the District Parent Coordinating Council, another parent group that has pressed for the changes, anticipated that the School Board would approve a new contract at its Sept. 19 meeting, but that didn’t happen. While still hopeful one will be signed soon, parents stopped short of claiming victory.
The district and NFTA, meanwhile, are still mum about the specifics and what’s holding up a new deal. The parent organizations, though, shared what was being told to them in a letter distributed by the Buffalo Public Schools. Terms of the new contract include:
• Reducing the multiple number of bus passes down to three – a blue standard pass, a green work-study pass and a red pass with restrictions for students who cause disciplinary problems on the bus.
• Extending the amount of hours students can use their bus passes. The standard pass gives students a window between 6 to 10 a.m. to ride the bus to school – an extension of 30 minutes. Students can take the bus home between 2 and 7 p.m. – two hours longer than the previous window. And if they are involved in extracurricular activities, students can have their standard pass upgraded to catch the bus home as late as 11 p.m.
• Eliminating preassigned routes for students, which is one of the biggest changes. Parents and students have complained for years that the imposed restrictions contributed to numerous problems, like causing students to miss connections or wait for a bus in sketchy parts of the city.
Exceptions are ninth-graders, who are using the passes for the first time and will be assigned specific routes home, and students with a red pass, whose passes will be limited due to a disciplinary problem on the bus.
Students also will have access to buses on Saturday mornings to take part in activities at the district’s community schools.
The school district pays roughly $8 million a year for about 10,500 student bus passes. That’s an average of 20,000 student trips a day totaling almost 3.5 million trips a year.
Cost of the new contract was not clear, but school officials previously indicated the district will pay less than the $75 a month per pass that it had been paying.