MINNEAPOLIS - On the first day of school, Aug. 27, many high school students in the Minneapolis Public School District won't be boarding the school bus.
Minneapolis Public Schools has partnered with Metro Transit to trade some yellow buses for city buses, following in the tracks of other cities like New York, Chicago and Seattle. The plan was finalized last Tuesday at a school board meeting.
A group of students and parents want to put the brakes on the plan, including Gary Vang, who will be a junior at Patrick Henry High School.
"Many of the Hmong families, when we talked to them said they wanted the yellow school buses. Maybe they should make it optional for a bit and see how it is, because many of the Hmong parents are very traditional," said Vang.
Vang says his mother expressed concerns about the safety of her high-school age children riding the city bus, and even considered transferring him to another school over the decision.
More than 2,500 students from five Minneapolis area high school locations, Patrick Henry, Washburn, Edison, North and the Roosevelt, Wellstone schools, will receive a free student Go-To pass.
Minneapolis Public Schools says moving away from yellow buses brings more options on board, giving students more access to before and after school activities from college classes to sports and even tutoring.
The Go-To pass can be used from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. Students on the free and reduced lunch program who live within a two mile walking distance of those schools will receive a free bus pass as well. South and Southwest high schools will follow next year.
Spokesperson Latisha Gray says the plan is cost neutral and it may not bring savings for more than five years. Gray says a pilot program involving 2,000 students over the past three years has incurred no problems, adding that most of the parents and students had positive feedback.
Vang says many students and parents worry the true cost is safety, and the district agreed to provide buses for one extra semester for Vang and other concerned families, in an effort toease the apprehensions surrounding the transition.
Shelly Jonas with the Minnesota School Bus Operators Association, based in Annandale, represents private school bus companies. She says her members are concerned that the district has removed one of the safest vehicles on the road. Opponents also say outside influences make transit buses more dangerous than school buses.
According to Metro Transit, there are 6.9 incidents per 100,000 customer trips. Metro Transit Spokesperson John Siqveland, argues the system is one of the safest in the country. He says the high school program in Minneapolis is modeled after the University of Minnesota student transit program, stressing every driver has a radio contact, is monitored by GPS, and the Metro Transit police force, with patrol surveying busy stops on foot. Siqveland says every bus has high resolution security cameras and audio can be captured as well.
Metro Transit records show that senior high school students have boarded Metro Transit buses and trains with their student passes 424,000 times through the first seven months of 2012.
While Vang has tested out a city bus, he'd like his district to reconsider their route, believing the school bus is the safe link to the education his family has long dreamed of.
"For me, when I get on it I am more cautious, cautious and aware," said Vang.
Opponents say they will launch a Facebook page, and possibly a protest this week. Siqveland says Metro Transit staff will be at school open houses this week to answer questions and will be on hand at the new city bus stops during the first week of school.
Parents can review routes and map locations at www.metrotransit.com/mps.