Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Why the Worcester Public Schools don't just use the WRTA

On tonight's City Council agenda:
Request City Manager work in consultation with the WRTA and Worcester Public School Department to direct an evaluation to utilize existing WRTA buses and personnel to transfer Worcester Public School High School students to and from high schools
 Yes, Worcester, it's an election year, when suddenly the Worcester City Council remembers there are 27,000 city students and $100M city dollars going to the Worcester Public Schools and they decide to DO SOMETHING TO FIX IT.

Here, for those not familiar with our bus system, is the WRTA route map:

Notice anything?
Yes, Worcester has a lot of open space (it's handily marked in green on the map) but those are, in fact, neighborhoods in all of those spaces between the red lines, even that big blank space in the upper left (where the default assumption is that you have a least one car). And those neighborhoods have students who live in them.
Worcester has seven high schools; two are in the urban core and largely have a student body that walk. Of the other five, South High is in the bottom left corner of the map (on the Leicester line); North is along the right side (close to Lake Quinsigamond, which is the Shrewsbury line); Burncoat is in the upper right (near the West Boylston line); Worcester Tech is midway on the right side; and Doherty is close where a lot of the lines cross, by Elm Park (though at the edge of that big blank space). The majority of the schools are at the edge of the city. And those schools together serve ALL students. Worcester Tech takes students from all over the city, but so does the Burncoat Magnet and Goddard Scholars at South. All of those students are guaranteed transportation.
The WRTA (as you can tell from the map) runs on a spoke system, out of the central hub downtown. Assuming you are served by a bus (and, as you can also tell from the map, that's a significant assumption), you need, for most trips, to catch a bus to the central hub in order to get to anywhere else in the city. 
And service is not at all frequent.
Let's try, for example, doing what I see students doing when I head out to the train some mornings: they live in Tatnuck Square, and they go to Worcester Tech. Worcester Tech starts at 7:20. How could they get to school?
There are two bus lines that run out Tatnuck Square, the 2 and the 6. Neither of them starts service until later in the morning, however, so the first thing they have to do is walk the mile and a half to Worcester State. Then they can catch a bus to the hub, to catch a bus to Belmont Street, to walk up the hill to school.
And they'll need to start at 5:45 am.
(providing, of course, that they don't start the night before)

Now, this seems, I am sure, like an extreme example. But all high school students within two miles of their high school already are NOT provided with transportation, so they're already not on the buses. It's only students like this who Worcester DOES bus. Those high school students--as has been pointed out every single time this comes up--require the same buses that then carry the rest of the students to school who don't require buses as part of IEPs.

I'd love to live in a city in which this is possible. We don't.
If you want to fix the transit system, I'd be a huge fan. Taking yellow buses away from high school students using "exisiting WRTA buses and personnel" isn't the way to do it.

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