- Indianapolis Public Schools is exploring a strategy of local charters to solve transportation problems by offering free city bus passes to students at all high schools, Chalkbeat reports.
- Charters don’t receive direct funding for school buses like most public schools do and must be more creative when examining transportation options — and the Purdue Polytechnic charter discovered it could secure unlimited IndyGo bus passes for its 260 students for about $62,400, compared to the $300,000 it would have cost to purchase yellow bus service through the public school district.
- Since then, more local charters have partnered with IndyGo to provide at least some of their transportation services, and IPS is moving in the same direction — though drawbacks include the length of transportation time for some students and the fact that IndyGo doesn't connect to all schools in the district, which may be addressed through a planned service expansion.
Under Indianapolis' new "IPS and IndyGo Pilot Program" for the 2019-20 school year, students will still receive school bus assignments, but they'll also have the option to use IndyGo buses instead. One of the program's stated goals is to provide high school students with greater mobility to explore the city while “gaining new skills and independence as they move toward their post-secondary plans.”
Of course, the move could also help the district cut transportation costs significantly in the future.
The use of public transportation for students has its advantages and disadvantages. While it's usually more cost effective and allows high school students greater flexibility to participate in after-school activities while exploring the educational and cultural benefits of living in a city, safety is the biggest concern.
The decision can also have an adverse impact on school attendance, as one study focused on Baltimore City Public Schools found public transportation was associated with a higher rate of absenteeism. Other studies have indicated that the need to travel through dangerous neighborhoods affects school attendance.
For students using public transportation, this may mean they need to adjust their route, which could lengthen the ride and make the commute more challenging. One approach that may help address the safety issue is the use of a badge system that could track students' locations, particularly if it could be integrated with mass transit operations to act as a bus pass, as well. This could give parents and educators more peace of mind even with traditional school bus programs.
Transportation efficiency is an ongoing issue for schools and districts due to the massive cost involved. Though mass transit isn't an option for every school district, it may be worth an examination for those where systems are in place. Involving school authorities in mass transit decisions is worth the effort in any case because school schedules affect transportation flow in urban areas.
As Carey Dahncke, head of schools for Christel House Academies in Indianopolis, noted about the situation in his city, "If you took all of that money that’s being spent on school transportation, as well as all the money that’s being spent on IndyGo, and you had a common platform or a common system to get all kids to school and to get their parents transported wherever they might need to be, I think our city would be much better off."