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
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.
“MTA Facts and Figures.” Maryland Transit
Administration. Retrieved from http://mta.maryland.gov/about-mta. Last
visited October 23, 2013.