After-school transit: More bumps in the road
With the start of a new academic year, the issue of after-school bus service — which hit the end of a decades-long road last spring when funding dried up — has sparked fresh disagreements among local officials.
The after-school bus service, administered more than three decades through the Westport Transit District, lost its federal funding in June. A committee had been charged last winter to explore alternatives to the expected funding loss and, hopefully, find a solution to provide transportation for dozens of youngsters headed for after-school programs to Earthplace, Temple Israel, the Westport-Weston Family YMCA and other activities.
By the end of the academic year, however, no options had been found.
“It’s part of an ongoing need in our community to address mobility issues, whether it’s our seniors or our kids,” Jennifer Johnson, co-director of the transit district, said this week. “But there was never any option put forward, only just looking at the existing contracts with the vendors.”
Consequently, she said, no creative solution or pilot program was considered, even though she believes in all likelihood parents would have been willing to shoulder additional expenses.
“But we never got to that point of discussing it and that was something we advocated very strongly for,” she said, which ultimately left the after-school programs to fend for themselves.
“It was not resolved,” Johnson said. “The service went away and the issues still exist with the community ... We are extremely frustrated with how the current administration is handling important transportation issues,” she added.
“It just ended up being too expensive,” Dewey Loselle, Westport’s operations director, said of after-school transportation. He noted that officials from two main destinations for students — Earthplace and Temple Israel — met with transportation vendors about alternatives but he said they found them too expensive.
“Both the programs worked closely with the Board of Education and were able to identify a number of routes where children could get on regular buses that would go by those locations,” Loselle said. “So I think they did a pretty good job of being able to work that out.”
Amee Bors, preschool director at Earthplace, disagreed.
“The thing about transportation is it’s never going to be profitable,” she said. “It’s a service ..,
“It was a wonderful service,” she said. “The buses were beautiful. The drivers were fantastic.”
Earthplace, a nonprofit which hosts 20 to 25 students a day in its after-school daycare program, will now have to pay $130 a day for additional van service. While Bors praised school officials for allowing children at Kings Highway Elementary School to ride the standard school buses to Earthplace — if room permits — Earthplace now has to cover transportation costs from the four other elementary schools for other students.
“We appreciate those who have tirelessly looked at this issue from all angles, but at the end of the day, it falls upon us at Earthplace,” she said.
“My understanding is that a large number of students have been able to be accommodated, although not all schools have buses that pass by the program locations,” Loselle said.
“Basically it seems like it’s fairly well resolved for the moment, as best it could be,” he said.