Updated at 4:10 p.m., April 28
In a move that caught the Rochester City School District by surprise, the Regional Transit Authority announced today that it will stop providing bus transportation to city school students when the current contract with the district ends in June 2015. The reason given: student disruptions to public safety.
"As our region's public transportation provider, our first priority is to fulfill our mission to provide safe, reliable, and convenient public transit," RTS CEO Bill Carpenter said in a written statement. "Several student-related incidents at the RTS Transit Center have fostered a perception among customers of all ages and across our community that the RTS Transit Center is not a safe environment."
District officials were not aware of RTS's decision until earlier today when Superintendent Bolgen Vargas received a letter from RTS, says Chip Partner, spokesperson for the district.
The transit center and East Main Street have been the scenes of several fights involving city school students over the last several years. But school district officials say that they were in the middle of negotiations with RTS on ways to resolve problems stemming from having too many students in the new downtown transit center at one time.
District officials were working with RTS to reduce the number of buses going through the center from about 120 to 70, Partner says, which would involve major changes to both the transportation and school schedules.
RTS says that the decision will result in the elimination of 144 jobs, though officials say that they expect the number of layoffs can be limited through attrition.
The district spends about $60 million on transportation annually. Partner says that he doesn't yet know how students will be transported in light of this announcement.
Bus service continues normally for everybody else.
A statement from Superintendent Bolgen Vargas says that, "The abrupt decision by RTS to end 37 years of service makes it exceptionally difficult for the district to provide transportation for our secondary students this summer and in the next school year. We will have no other choice but to provide our students daily passes to access the public transportation system."
Spokesperson Chip Partner says that students will be able to access the bus system the same as every other customer. That means, obviously, that students would still be at the transit center — again, the same as every other customer.
The district statement also says that the district met every RTS requirement for negotiating a new contract, including plans to adjust school schedules that would reduce the number of student buses by 40 percent. And some earlier agreed-upon adjustments that would greatly reduce the number of students who transfer downtown will take effect next week.