New bus passes will greatly restrict the thousands of city school students who have been using the RTS system to travel freely throughout the city, said school and city officials today. Most students will only be allowed to travel to and from school.
Beginning this Friday, more city students will be required to use the “express” routes with orange passes that take students to and from city neighborhoods to district schools. The express passes can only be used for the assigned bus routes in the morning and at school dismissal. They can’t be used at other bus routes or at other times.
Students who must transfer will have a gray “connection pass” with a time limit for transferring to a specific bus that expires 60 minutes after being issued. Students must ask for the connection pass when they board their first bus.
Special passes will issued for students who need connections to get to work or other activities.
The changes were announced at a press conference this afternoon.
This school year, nearly 10,000 city students in grades 7 to 12 are using RTS buses. But about 2,500 — about 1,500 city students and 1,000 students who attend private and charter schools — had connection passes to transfer from downtown. With the changes announced today, only a few hundred students will have the ability to transfer from downtown.
The new bus passes are the result of ongoing fights involving young people downtown, including a fight that broke out at the Liberty Pole nearly two weeks ago, where a gun was fired. Though there were no injuries and it’s not even certain that a city student fired the shot, Rochester Mayor Tom Richards said at the time that the situation had become dangerous for students and people living and working downtown.
And he said he wanted a plan from the district and RTS to address the problem.
Richards said he appreciates the changes that RTS and city school officials have made, but that it is a temporary solution to a serious, longstanding problem.
A concentration of unsupervised students downtown is creating an unsafe environment, Richards said. And the city and the district have been forced to divert significant resources to maintain law and order on Main Street, he said.
Rochester school board president Malik Evans said at today's press conference that the transportation the district offers is a privilege, not a right. Students with behavior problems can expect to see those privileges revoked, he said.
The city and the school district are doing everything possible to provide students with access to free or low cost transportation, Evans said, but students and parents have to take greater responsibility for their actions. The district and the city cannot accept responsibility for raising children and modeling good behavior, he said.
Superintendent Bolgen Vargas said that having students transfer through downtown costs about $3 million. Moving school resource officers and security personnel to downtown takes money away from instruction, he said.