Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Link between Truancy and the Local Bus System

With a weekly local bus ridership of 241,071, the MTA public bus system plays an oversized role in the daily lives of many Baltimore citizens1. It’s no exaggeration to say that our students’ success is dependent on the smooth running of the MTA local bus system. Without a private bus system to provide transportation to school, the students in the CFCC Truancy Court Program are at the mercy of their local bus. Perhaps this wouldn’t be such a destructive issue if these same students didn’t also face other major barriers in their lives, all of which operate to prevent them from achieving consistent school success.

At our first orientation meeting at National Academy Foundation, one student expressed her frustration with the bus system. She identified the bus as being a major hurdle in getting to school on time, rattling off reasons: sometimes the bus is so full that it drives past her, it doesn’t get there on time, she has to walk six blocks each way to catch the only bus that brings her to NAF. These are not novel concerns, and she is hardly the first student to express irritation about the bus system when getting to and from school. In fact, the difficulties with the buses are a recurring theme at the TCP table and have been for many years.

Not heeding the wisdom of this ninth grader, I naively thought that my experience with the local bus would be different. The week following orientation I committed to take public transportation to the Truancy Court Program at NAF on Tuesdays from the Midtown area near University of Baltimore.

I was, of course, nervous about relying on the public bus system, especially given my lack of experience with public transportation. I didn’t have an easy time figuring out the schedule from the MTA website, so I mostly relied on Google directions and the kindness of strangers to help me find my way. There was, however, some optimism in me that I could make it work.

Imagine my excitement when, a few days after I committed to start taking public transportation, I successfully arrived at an internship placement using the #21 bus. Of course, that was a fail-proof attempt, as it didn’t much matter what time I showed up. Nonetheless, It was a huge relief to discover on that trip that the #21 bus passed NAF on its route. I had found a direct trip to NAF without having to change bus lines. How serendipitous, I thought! Plus, the entire experience was fairly pleasant and enjoyable. The day before I was scheduled to return to NAF for the Truancy Court Program, I tried the route again on my way to the internship placement. I picked up the #21 bus at the corner of Biddle and Calvert at 8:36am, boarding along with another passenger, who was standing with me.

The Tuesday morning when I was scheduled to be at NAF by 8:45am, I was at the same bus stop at the same time (8:25am) as I had been the day before. On this day, however, not only did the #21 bus not show up at the same time, it didn’t even stop. It drove right past me, even as I signaled to the driver. All I could think was that this is how our student felt when she, too, had been left at the bus stop while trying to get to school.

At this point, I knew I would be late getting to NAF, but I counted on the fact that another bus would come in 20-30 minutes. I felt confident that because it was peak hours, I would wait no more than 30 minutes for the next #21 to arrive. At 9:15am, there was no bus in sight. Even another 15 minutes of waiting didn’t help; after a total of forty-five minutes, I gave up. It was 9:30am and I knew that whenever the bus did come, I would not get to NAF in time to participate in the TCP.

Besides the embarrassment of this experience, I felt an overwhelming sense of helplessness: I relied so brazenly on the public transportation system. Just as our students do every single day. I was confident that based on the previous day’s experience, I would be fine to expect a similar result the very next day. Sadly, the public transportation system in Baltimore is not a reliable mode of transportation, especially when there is an expectation of arriving at a specified time. How can our students possibly be expected to arrive to school every day on time when their means of transportation is inconsistent and unreliable? What can we tell them when they have no other means of getting to school?

To make the task of getting to and from school such a difficult challenge is to send the wrong message to our Baltimore City students. If public transportation isn’t a reliable, predictable means for them to get to elementary/middle/high school, then it won’t be a reliable means when they need it for post-secondary school, training courses, or employment opportunities. Our message through the work of the Truancy Court Program is that education is important, that it will lead to greater opportunities in life. We strive to enforce this message through our work, yet the issues with the public transportation system implicitly reinforce those insurmountable challenges that are part of the student’s macrosystem environment. Transportation is an unnecessary barrier to their success; making it better for all of Baltimore city’s citizens will mean a better future for our students, schools, and the city itself.

1 “MTA Facts and Figures.” Maryland Transit Administration. Retrieved from Last visited October 23, 2013.


  1. This post is very interesting. I went to school in Baltimore County where there is private (yellow bus) transportation. One thing that also should be considered is the temptation for students to skip school. On a private bus, the bus take the student from the pickup location straight to school with no stops. With public buses there are multiple stops and the bus doesn't always stop in front of the school, so the temptation is high for student to just get off at any stop and not go to school. Also, the students ride the bus with the general public which can also be distracting and lead to a student not making it to school.

  2. I know we talked about this in class and I couldn't believe that the drove drove right past you! I think we have a tendency to believe the students in TCP are just making up excuses for why they cannot get to school on time, but after a similar personal experience I'm sure it's much easier to believe them. There are even some students in my TCP section who travel over an hour each morning just to get to school, which I find ridiculous for elementary school kids. I was not aware that Baltimore City didn't provide school buses for its students, but I believe that would solve many of the truancy problems that students have. Additionally, I feel as though public transportation can also be a safety issue because you may have 7 year olds wandering around the city unsupervised, which I don't think is safe in any city, but especially in Baltimore City.

  3. I think that Baltimore City really needs to work on this issue for public schools. This is such a huge problem that I think almost all of us have seen in our TCP schools. After hearing about your experience, I know that I was definitely nervous to take the circulator to our field trip at the Juvenile Justice Center. Although our bus generally came on time, it dropped us off pretty far away from the building and we had to walk a ways, through some areas that were not the safest. I cannot imagine what this would be like for a child EVERY DAY trying to get to school. This is the only options for most kids, and if the bus doesn't come or it is extremely late, most don't have an alternative. A lot of parents are already off to work at this point in the morning, and some parents may not even have a vehicle to take the child to school anyways. Transportation is very important, and I hope that the city can make some changes to the system because it makes it that much more difficult to get the students in the classroom.

  4. Transportation was a huge issue at my TCP school. Our team handed out several bus schedules to students to make sure they had the necessary information. It was shocking how early some students needed to wake up in order to make the bus. Also, some students needed to take several buses in order to arrive at school and the commute would take over an hour.

    There needs to be a new system implemented or we need to find a way to solve the problems we are having with transportation to schools. This is a problem that can easily be fixed and the benefits to our students will be tremendous. If the problem is funding, which most officials may claim, I do not see why this is not something that they see would be a very beneficial project to contribute to. Most lateness’ and absences are contributed by the transportation system. If this problem is addressed the public schools will see a significant increase in attendance, which in turn helps the school systems. In my opinion, funding should not be a worry and this is a project that should be a top priority. It is unfair to the students.

  5. Great post Lauren! One of the things I enjoy most about being in a city is the ease of getting around and the access to public transportation. So this semester I committed to commuting to my internship via the City public transportation system and like you, I've waited, too often, over 20-30 mins for a bus that is supposed to run every 10 minutes. While I saw children on the buses and light rail, it didn't dawn on me until our class discussions that this was the primarily and only form of transportation to and from school. I was often surprised to see children as young as 7-8 riding the bus alone. I have a 9-year-old niece that I cannot imagine riding public transportation by herself! In addition to the unreliability of the transportation system, the safety of children is also a concern. Traveling and walking around the streets of Baltimore by themselves is bound to expose them to situations beyond their years. I agree with all of you, that change is needed to help ensure the safety of students and that they get to school timely, but is this just the "cost' of city living?

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