'We can't transport our kids without Metro': Bus plan approved for Cincinnati Public Schools students

Metro riders board a bus at Government Square in downtown Cincinnati in March 2022, as Metro offered a week of free rides in response to rising gas prices.

Cincinnati Public Schools officials unanimously approved a new contract with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority on Monday, ending a year of turmoil and uncertainty around student transportation.

The contract means students will ride Metro buses when school starts Aug. 18.

Students in ninth through 12th grades will be able to ride Metro buses to and from school and after-school activities during the school year.

Students in seventh and eighth grades will ride yellow buses to and from school, but can ride Metro home after after-school activities, such as athletics and clubs. Those students can also ride Metro to and from school with an older sibling, officials said.

School officials say the new contract ensures students will have one transfer at most, walk no more than 1 mile and ride the bus for more no more than 55 minutes.

Metro added new employees to its routing team to make these changes happen, according to school board member Mike Moroski.

He said there have been issues every new school year with transportation, but he hopes there will be fewer this year.

“A lot of it was our fault,” Moroski said. “We learned our lesson.”

No Xtra bus routes for Cincinnati students

Last year, SORTA ended largely student-specific Metro bus routes, called Xtra, before the start of the 2021-22 school year. The move, prompted by bus driver shortages, was controversial with families and CPS leadership.

In November, SORTA announced it would end its contract with Cincinnati Public Schools.

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Moroski, the school board member who rides the Metro bus and considers himself a champion of this form of public transportation, was livid. He and other school board members talked about looking for options outside of Metro buses for CPS students.

Those conversations didn’t get very far.

“We can’t transport our kids without Metro,” he said. “There is not a universe where that’s possible.”

Xtra routes are not returning with this new contract.

“That’s a disappointment,” said Eve Bolton, a school board member. “It appears to be something of the past.”

Bolton is hopeful the new contract will keep each student to a maximum of one transfer. But until the district knows where every student lives, there is no guarantee it will work.

This year, students will receive route postcards in the mail from the school district transportation department before the start of school. The route postcards will have more information about how students can get to and from school, and serve as students’ bus pass on the first day of school.

The Enquirer made a public records request for the new contract. The district will likely end up paying more than it previously did, Bolton said, but Metro did not increase the cost of bus passes.

“Cost has never been the issue for the Metro contract,” she said. “It’s been the logistics.”

Of the district’s $50 million transportation budget, Bolton estimates the Metro contract is less than $5 million.

“We’ve reached an agreement we think can work,” Bolton said. “We’re starting at a remarkably better place than last year.”

How students can ride the bus

Students and families are encouraged to visit Metro’s student transportation website for route look-up information and the Transit App. To view the most up-to-date routes for the opening of school, users should enter Aug. 18 – the first day of school – or after in the date selection.

Students will pick up their Metro passes from their school on the first day of school.

If students do not receive their route cards by Aug. 15 or have additional questions, they are encouraged to call the CPS’ transportation hotline at 513-363-7433 from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday or visit www.cps-k12.org/transportation.

CPS will host a virtual transportation information session for parents at 4 p.m. Aug.14.

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati Public Schools approves Metro bus plan for students