Students from Edison High School in Minneapolis board Metro Transit buses in front of the school at the end of the school day.

Marlin Levison, Star Tribune

Students' bus switchover has a few bumps

  • Article by: STEVE BRANDT
  • Star Tribune
  • October 5, 2012 - 7:33 PM

Jim Higgins, who has run an insurance agency on Central Avenue for 40 years, could tell without a picture window that most Edison High School students were now taking Metro Transit instead of the school bus.

Groups of up to 75 students migrated after school to the bus stop by his office. Sometimes they'd fight. It took three squad cars and additional security guards to quell one altercation among girls last month, he said.

Now the southbound bus stop is closed for the hour after school and buses detour to Edison's doorstep. "I don't see the kids that we used to see," Higgins said.

That's an example of the adjustments that school and transit officials have been forced to make as most Minneapolis high school students switch from yellow buses to metro bus passes this year. With almost 3,800 students enrolled in the pass program, school and transit police and administrators are making constant adjustments.

"We connect daily on how things are going," Edison Principal Carla Steinbach said. "There are going to be kinks."

District officials have declared the transition successful. But the incidents have been so frequent that outreach workers from the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board have supplemented school and transit police at Edison recently, and now are at North High School.

"There has been quite a few incidents at the bus stops or going to the bus stops," said Officer Charles Adams III, the police liaison and the football coach at North. Mostly they involve general rowdiness at stops, where Adams said students don't feel bound by school behavior rules, but there also have been fights. That behavior doesn't seem to carry over to the bus itself, Adams said.

That's probably true of students who end up on the express route 761 that Metro Transit driver Nona Wood steers between Brooklyn Park and downtown Minneapolis. She doesn't seat young people unless they've hitched up saggy pants. But she frets that tardy students make her late on her route, delaying the full-fare customers.

That's because drivers are told to wait for anyone running for the bus, she said. Some students are habitually running, although they frustrate her even more by slowing to a walk once they know she's waiting. She's planning to tell them they need to be at the corner five minutes early. Metro Transit spokesman John Siqveland said that drivers have discretion on waiting.

Privileges for students

Wood said she also has students using passes to board in the morning in Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center, although the district said the passes are issued only to Minneapolis resident students.

Wood has complained that drivers have been told to let students ride without paying if they forget their passes and identify themselves as "MPS" for Minneapolis Public Schools. "And they can go to the Mall of America," she said.

Siqveland said that policy applied only to the first few days of school.

Students are able to board using their passes from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day. Lists of students who ride during school hours are turned over to schools so they can determine if an absence was excused. District officials say the long after-school and weekend hours allow students to participate in later school activities or travel to internships or cultural sites such as museums.

"The kids are getting a little older and these are skills they should be learning," said Officer Victor Mills, the liaison at Patrick Henry High School. That school had the most resistance to the bus switch, mostly from Hmong families, so limited school bus service was retained for this semester only. The district said that ridership on the four routes fell from an average of 72 riders daily in the first week of school to 42 riders in the fourth. "They saw their peers with the benefit of the Go-To pass card and migrated in that direction," said Robert M. Johnson, the top district official involved with the switch.

One bright spot reported by the district is downtown, where students appear to be moving through transfer stops without overwhelming the stops. "The bulk of kids get off the bus, get on their transfer bus, don't hang out downtown," said Ann DeGroot, executive director of the youth board, the employer of six outreach workers who help speed that transfer.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438 Twitter: Brandtstrib

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