Updated: 08/20/2012 10:51 AM
Created: 08/17/2012 10:34 PM KSTC45.com | Print Story
By: Mark Saxenmeyer
School buses vs. Metro Transit.
On Monday August 27th, when school starts again in Minneapolis, thousands of teens will make the switch from traditional yellow buses to public transportation.
The school district says the plan will save more than a million dollars. But the organization representing school bus drivers is now claiming Metro Transit buses and drivers aren't adequately safe, and it says parents and students should be concerned.
"I mean they're not putting student safety as a priority," said Shelly Jonas, the executive director of the Minnesota School Bus Operations Association.
"Transit is a safe choice," countered John Siqveland, the public relations manager for Metro Transit.
A war of words, a battle of the buses.
Jonas claims school bus drivers are held to much higher standards than transit bus drivers. "There's a lot less rules about the background check," she said. "I mean, basically you just have to take a written test and you get a passenger endorsement."
Siqveland denies that, saying transit drivers must pass an oral exam, drug tests, and more.
Jonas says traditional school buses are specifically constructed to ensure child safety. "The seats are higher, they're padded," she asserted.
Siqveland points to a recent government study that concluded that the Twin Cities transit system has one of the lowest injury rates in the country. "We were at the top of the class," he said.
Jonas says Metro Transit drivers aren't trained to deal with kids. Siqevland counters, "Our drivers are getting a refresher on the fact that we'll have new young people using this system."
Prior to the school bus association's concerns, some parents and students at Henry High school were equally vocal about potential safety issues with Metro Transit. As a result, Henry students will temporarily be offered both options, rides on both Metro Transit and traditional school buses.
Statistics show there are 6.9 crimes committed per 100,000 trips on Metro Transit in the Twin Cites--both Jonas and Siqveland agree on that.
Siqveland says the vast majority of those are so-called nuisance crimes, like loitering or public intoxication.
He also says Metro Transit has actually reduced crime on its buses by 45 percent in the last five years.
And he points out that over the last three years, several hundred high schoolers in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Richfield and other suburbs have participated in a pilot program, riding mass transit without incident.
The use of Metro Transit buses is expected to reduce the number of traditional school buses and drivers employed by the Minneapolis School District. Last year it contracted with 380; it's expected that number will drop by at least 50 for the 2012-2013 school year. That's a significant loss of business, and some bus driver jobs, but Jonas insists that her association's overriding concern is for students' safety. "And we would like to see those students transferred on a yellow bus. That's what they were built for. That what they were designed for. Anything else is unacceptable," she said.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org