Dayton making major change to high school bus service

Ponitz Career Technology Center students board a Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority bus after dismissal Tuesday. Since Aug. 12, high school students have been able to use Dayton Public Schools-paid RTA passes to ride existing routes to and from school. Starting Monday, RTA will run “limited service” routes specifically designed to serve the high schools. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF
Ponitz Career Technology Center students board a Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority bus after dismissal Tuesday. Since Aug. 12, high school students have been able to use Dayton Public Schools-paid RTA passes to ride existing routes to and from school. Starting Monday, RTA will run “limited service” routes specifically designed to serve the high schools. CHRIS STEWART / STAFF

District works with RTA to stop confusion before launch of 46 limited-service routes to serve six high schools.

Dayton Public Schools switches to Phase 2 of the new high school busing service on Monday, as Greater Dayton RTA launches 46 new limited-service (LS) routes designed directly for Dayton’s six high schools.

The effort will cost $4.1 million this year and $3.2 million per year after that, all with a goal to improve high school attendance.

While Stivers (94%) and Ponitz (92%) had better attendance than the Dayton average last year, the other four high schools ranged from 81 to 83% last year — among the bottom 4 percent of schools in the state.

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Both DPS and RTA are working this week to eliminate confusion about the LS system, as brochures distributed in the schools last week led multiple parents to think there were only a few spots to board each bus.

RTA officials said Tuesday that’s not the case – in fact there are so many stops where students can board the buses that they wouldn’t fit on the brochures.

“The maps and timetables (on the brochures) give you a general understanding of where the bus will travel and time points it is hitting,” RTA Communications Manager Jessica Olson said. “Parents should find the route closest to their house and locate a stop (on that route) near their house — which will be labeled on the sign with an ‘LS’ sticker.”

The LS buses are a change from the first seven weeks of the school year, during which DPS high school students have been able to use district-paid RTA passes to ride normal RTA routes, some of which go very close to the schools, while others don’t.

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Starting next week, there will be 6-10 separate LS bus routes going to each high school in the morning and back to neighborhoods in the afternoon, so that students from each general area of the city can get to and from each school. The routes will not cover every single neighborhood, so some students will have to walk to a bus stop.

Students with their school photo ID passes can ride the limited-service routes for free, as DPS is paying RTA.

“It went well with the passes (this fall), and I don’t anticipate any (problems) beyond the usual things, like a student forgets their ID pass,” Associate Superintendent Shelia Burton said of Monday’s switch. “We have a call center and RTA has a call center, so parents can still contact us, and we’ll be able to tell them exactly what they need to do.”

Bus stop confusion

The biggest issue this week has been confusion over where students can get on the LS buses.

As an example, the RTA brochure for Belmont shows seven LS routes serving the school from various parts of the city. Belmont Route 3 starts at Third and Keowee and goes all over the east side from Third to Garland to Smithville, Huffman, Fifth, Keowee, Wayne, Wyoming and a half-dozen other streets.

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But the map shows dots at three specific intersections, with times listed for those spots in the timetable below. Olson said those are just guidelines for when the bus is supposed to pass certain markers.

RTA planning manager Rick Bailey provided a spreadsheet showing that route actually has more than 50 bus stops where students can get on or off the bus. Bailey said RTA is trying to get the detailed bus stop information posted on its website at www.i-riderta.org/schools.

Olson said by 12:01 a.m. Sunday, parents will be able to put their address and the school’s location into RTA’s Transit App to locate the stop most convenient to them, and know how long it will take to walk there.

Belmont parent Lisa Taube said the switch of busing systems seems like it is “a rush job” as most parents didn’t understand the brochure, and the detailed bus stop information won’t be available until the day before the routes begin.

“When I first looked at it, I thought the bus stop was so far away, I’ll just give my son $2 and tell him to catch the (regular RTA) bus and call it a day,” Taube said. “But I’m in favor of this high school busing if they can get it to work correctly.”

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Charleana Carr, whose three kids attend Ponitz, also had trouble understanding the new maps, as there are 10 separate routes for Ponitz. She said the current system of students riding normal RTA routes has been great, as her family lives along Salem Avenue right near a bus stop. They’ll have to walk a little farther to an LS bus stop starting next week. She wondered whether students will walk several blocks for a bus if it’s raining or cold.

“The way it is right now is so convenient,” Carr said. “Last year I had two that went to Ponitz and one at Miami Valley Career Tech. I was spending almost $160 a month for passes to get all my kids to school.”

Both Carr and Taube said they had heard from school officials that high school attendance is up this fall with the RTA bus passes available. DPS officials did not provide attendance data to compare to last year’s figures.

The LS buses only run right before and after school, but Burton said DPS is purchasing extra RTA passes for students in sports or other after-school extracurriculars, so they can still get home via regular RTA route.

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“We’re telling RTA the number of passes we need every month, once school principals let me know how many they need,” Burton said. “The principals will have those passes to give to those students.”

DPS will continue to bus kindergarten through eighth-grade students with its own yellow buses as usual.

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