CATA Becomes Lansing School District High School Ride Provider

LANSING — The Lansing School District is abandoning school bus routes for high school students starting this school year, opting instead to provide transit passes or gas cards.

At a press conference Friday, Superintendent Benjamin Shuldiner announced that Dean Transportation, the school district’s bus provider, will no longer be picking up high school students. Instead, the school district will provide all high school students who qualify for transportation, and their families, with Capital Area Transportation Authority passes.

“We’re so proud to work with CATA, to work with the community,” Shuldiner said, speaking at a CATA bus stop outside Sexton High School.

The Lansing School District and Dean Transportation, the district's bus provider, will no longer offer bus rides to high school students.  Starting this school year, high school students and their families will have the option of receiving Capital Area Transportation Authority bus passes for trips to and from school and around town.

Secondary students and their families will have the option of receiving a gas card if they prefer to drive to school.

Dean Transportation will continue to provide buses for K-8 students, students enrolled in special education programs in the school district, and transportation to events and competitions for track and field teams and others. after-school groups, Shuldiner said.

Removing high school students from school buses allows Dean Transportation to improve its services for K-8 students, Shuldiner said. And Patrick Dean, vice president of business development for Dean Transportation, agreed.

The decision was at least partly prompted by the shortage of bus drivers and the problems it created for schools last year, including late routes and missed routes. With CATA routes, if students miss their route, a bus will pass the same route multiple times.

After: Michigan bus driver shortage leads to hour-long delays and stranded students

Dean Transportation will start with 41 routes for K-8 and special education students in the Lansing School District, Dean said, and it looks like they have enough drivers to cover the routes, but they added that they were always looking to hire more. Now, Dean officials are focused on running routes as quickly and safely as possible, while finding back-up and replacement drivers, in addition to drivers who may participate in special events, such as competitions. athletics or art.

“We’re comfortable starting the school year,” Dean said.

CATA’s buses run all day, giving students the option to stay after school for tutoring or extracurricular activities, Shuldiner said, and still have access to a ride home.

Additionally, the school district will move start times at high schools from 7:25 a.m. to 8 a.m.

CATA ridership has plummeted during the pandemic, CATA CEO Bradley Funkhouser said, giving them the ability to compete with high school students in the Lansing School District.

“We are going to make sure that these students have a reliable and safe service,” he said. “Rest assured that we are taking the extra responsibility with our partners, to make sure students are tracked. We won’t have lost any children. If someone misses a bus, we’ll have people there. The district school will have people there. We will make sure the students get home safely.”

Two Lansing School District Public Safety Officers will be at the CATA Transportation Center in downtown Lansing mornings and afternoons to monitor and assist students in boarding buses.

The total investment in CATA bus passes is unclear as the school district determines how many students and families will want the passes, Shuldiner said. The school district will purchase semester passes at a discounted rate of $50 per student. The school district and CATA continue to negotiate the price of family passes, Shuldiner said.

He expects the cost of the cards to be about the same amount and possibly less than the costs for Dean Transportation to transport high school students to and from school. Shuldiner said it’s possible the savings could be as high as $100,000, with all savings going to support public transit.

CATA has bus stops scattered throughout Lansing and students will be dropped off at stops that already exist near Sexton and Eastern High Schools. A stop will be constructed near Everett High School.

Shuldiner hopes the new transportation plan will get more than 1,000 high school students on buses and to school each school day. Last year, about a third of high school students in the district took a bus to school, he said.

Missing the school bus is one of the main reasons most students struggle to attend school, said Lansing School District attendance specialist Bryan Crenshaw, because they otherwise have no way to get to school after missing the only morning bus.

“With an unlimited CATA bus pass provided by the Lansing School District, that won’t be a barrier anymore,” he said.

The switch to CATA should also benefit high school students who live in multiple homes in Lansing, Shuldiner said.

Additional buses will be added to public CATA routes in the mornings and afternoons when officials know students will be going to or leaving school, Shuldiner said.

Students will receive a family pass, allowing students and families to take trips through Lansing for school, work, shopping, recreation and other activities. He hopes it will be a boon for families and the city.

“Maybe you want to take (the bus) to the Meridian Mall. Maybe you want to take it to (Michigan State University). Maybe you want to take it to get groceries.” , Shuldiner said. “It’s the kind of stuff we really care about, that families are also empowered to use transport.”

Other major school districts in Michigan offer similar bus programs, including Grand Rapids Public Schools, which, like the Lansing School District, continues to offer school bus routes for students in preschool, elementary, from middle school and special education, while high school students can take Grand Rapids public transit, Le Rapide, to school.

When he first arrived in America 42 years ago from Argentina, Assistant Superintendent for Special Populations Sergio Keck said he had no car, so he had to take the bus.

“The CATA buses helped me familiarize myself with the community,” he said.

And now, 42 years later, he hopes to see new generations of students learn more about the city the same way he did – by driving CATA.

Contact Mark Johnson at (517) 377-1026 or Follow him on Twitter at @ByMarkJohnson.

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