By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer
Students in the Waco Independent School District (WISD) can now ride the Waco City Transit bus system for free, the Waco city council and school board decided last week.
According to Transit general manager Allen Hunter, in 2013, the school board proposed a pilot program intended to improve attendance. The pilot program was not as successful in improving attendance as they had hoped, but it showed that transportation was a needed service for Waco students, as the buses provided nearly 19,000 rides over the 2013-2014 school year, according to Hunter. Each year since, the Waco City Transit has offered to renew the program for an estimated cost of $15,000 per school year, Hunter said.
“The attendance didn’t really improve the way we had hoped,” Hunter said. “I think it improved, it just didn’t improve to the level they had hoped it would. But what we found was that by providing this service, students were able to get to part-time jobs or student activities and weekend activities at school. There were a number of benefits that providing the service did provide students.”
Last Tuesday, the city council approved Waco City Transit’s proposal to offer the school district free rides to students with an ID, and on Thursday, the school board decided to accept the offer for three years.
“Dr. Nelson, this year, was excited about doing this to offer the students,” Hunter said. “I think they recognize that there are a number of students that would like to hold part-time jobs that transportation could be a barrier for, but it’s also after-school activities. We offer a student that doesn’t have access to transportation — the world becomes a much smaller place [without it].”
Other problems that access to transportation solves include irregular senior year schedules that the school bus system does not accommodate, and access to college courses that high school students pursue at McLennan Community College and Texas State Technical College, Hunter said.
Trae Hicks, a junior at MCC, was frustrated that his brother would have to walk for 30 minutes to school before the city made the decision to provide free city bus access. The school bus system does not serve high school students within two miles of the school, Hicks said. His mom is single and working, so their options were limited.
“My mom was worrying about how to get him to school because we don’t have, like, a huge family,” Hicks said. “We don’t have people to rely on and I’m only going to be here for another year or so. Kids shouldn’t have to worry about that and it’s not just my brother. It’s okay for him to walk to a bus stop, but not front and back to school every day. Who knows what else he’s going to have to do if he wants to go to extracurriculars or things like that.”
Before the transit decision was finalized, Hicks expressed his hope that it would pass and be implemented, as that would solve his family’s problem.
Not every public school student in the area will have automatic access to the service, though. Students who do not have an ID can purchase one from the bus station at 301 S. Eighth St., but students in Midway, Lorena, La Vega and other surrounding school districts will not have free access to the system unless their school district buys passes.