CINCINNATI — With less than three weeks before classes start, Cincinnati Public Schools finished its student bus plan for the upcoming year.

What You Need To Know

  • Cincinnati Public Schools finished its student bus plan for the upcoming year

  • The biggest change is CPS plans to transport most bus-eligible seventh- and eighth-graders to school on yellow buses

  • Students in grades seven and eight can use Metro to get home from extracurriculars

  • The plan comes a year after the end of the longstanding school-centric routes used by Metro

On Monday, the CPS Board of Education approved the transportation contract for the 2022-2023 school year with the Southwest Ohio Regional Transportation Authority. SORTA operates Hamilton County’s bus system, Metro.

The board unanimously approved the one-year contract.

The biggest change to last year’s deal is CPS plans to transport eligible seventh- and eighth-graders to school on private yellow buses. The students involved in after-school programs, like playing sports or theater, can get a pass to take a Metro bus home.

The plan calls for CPS students, grades nine through 12, to continue to ride Metro buses to and from school without paying out of pocket. They can also use the bus if they’re involved in school-related extracurriculars. That’s a slight change from last year where they could also use Metro to get to jobs, per SORTA.

Students in kindergarten through sixth-grade still take yellow buses as well.

The first day of school for CPS students is Thursday, Aug. 18. CPS set up a virtual information session for parents on Sunday, Aug. 14 at 4 p.m. 

“Transportation is a key component of ensuring our students can get to school safely and on time,” said new CPS Superintendent Iranetta Wright. “I am very grateful the CPS and Metro teams came together to ensure our students will have the most direct transportation to and from school this year.”

Under the new plan, the eligible students riding Metro will have, at most, one transfer on their way to or from school, according to a joint statement from CPS and SORTA.

Cincinnati Public Schools serves about 36,000 students at 65 schools across a 91-square-mile district.

One of those students is Farrah Jacquez's eldest son, Cian, 12. He's getting ready to start at Clark Montessori in Hyde Park in a couple weeks as a seventh-grader.

Jacquez admitted to being nervous about him taking a Metro bus by himself. In the past, she’d drop off Cian and his younger brother, Elias, at North Avondale Montessori, where they both went to school. It's close to where they live.

“We weren’t sure how we were going to get Cian over to Hyde Park at the same time Elias had to be at North Avondale Montessori,” she said. “When they announced seventh-graders would have yellow bus service, it felt like a huge problem was solved.”

The road to this new deal wasn't always easy

Per the deal, SORTA gets $315 this year for every eligible CPS student who rides a Metro bus to school, according to SORTA spokesperson Brandy Jones. There’s an extra charge, per pass, to cover the cost of the after-school passes. In a statement, SORTA said it breaks down to $38.50 per quarter for every pass.

“We are proud of our long history of serving students and families and look forward to our continued partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools during this upcoming school year,” said Darryl Haley, Metro’s CEO and general manager. "We are committed, as always, to providing safe, on-time and reliable service that connects students to classes throughout the city.”

The news of the updated contract comes a little more than a year after SORTA eliminated XTRA Service, a longstanding program that provided direct routes to public and private secondary schools across the city.

The changes had to happen, Jones said last summer, in part because of driver shortages.

Xtra routes were for students in the seventh through 12th grades. Roughly, 6,000 students used those routes every day, the school district said last year.

But a few thousand other students, like those at downtown’s School of Creative and Performing Arts, already used standard Metro routes to get to school, Jones said.

SORTA called the decision to end the Xtra program “mutual” and part of a lengthy annual service review with the school district’s former transportation coordinator. CPS leadership claimed to be unaware of the change.

At the time, former interim CPS Superintendent Tianay Amat noted fears about the changes ranging from overcrowding to safety to ease of use by students, some of whom were not even teenagers yet.

She asked Haley to reconsider reinstating the Xtra routes before the start of the school. That didn’t happen, but CPS and SORTA came together to review the plan and make minor changes.

Metro added route realignments and more frequent stops at schools last year to keep the system “reliable” for students and families, SORTA said in a statement. They also offered longer running hours during the school week and new Saturday hours to make it easier for students to get to extracurriculars or after-school jobs. 

The window for the after-school or extracurricular passes is 6:30 to 10:30 p.m., Jones said.

Overall, Mike Moroski, a member of CPS’ Board of Education, called the new plan a “huge improvement” over last year. He went so far as to call it “as good, if not better than the Xtra” routes.

Data from CPS shows 58% of CPS students who rely on Metro service this year need to transfer buses once during their route to school. The rest of the students will have no transfers, Moroski said.

As of Tuesday afternoon, he had heard no complaints from parents or students.

“All students will be on the bus for less than an hour,” he added. “We are grateful for our partnership with metro and thrilled to be able to offer great services as we start school.”

Getting ready for the school year

SORTA doesn’t “anticipate any issues or logistical challenges,” Jones said. But she noted the transit agency plans to continue working with the CPS administration to address any issues or concerns. 

Metro plans to have representatives at upcoming school orientations and other CPS events, like the family cookout at Washington Park, to assist families who may need help with trip planning or have questions.

Students and their families will receive “route postcards” in the mail from the school district’s transportation department before the start of the school term, per CPS. The cards have specific busing information, but they’ll also serve as the students’ bus pass students will use on the first day of classes.

CPS’ plan is to hand out Metro passes and cards to students once students get to school.

Students who don’t receive a card by Aug. 15 can call CPS’ transportation hotline at 513-363-RIDE (7433). Dispatchers can also answer more general questions. It’s open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The district added a Frequently Asked Questions page to its website as well.

CPS advised students and their families to do their homework about route information and trip planning as well. They can find up-to-date route information on Metro’s student transportation website. Users should enter Aug. 18 or later in the search tool to ensure the information reflects routes for the school year.