Fundraising Extends Free Bus Rides for Baltimore City Students

Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen announces that city students will be able to ride MTA buses for free until 8 p.m. (Photo by Justin Silberman)

As a student with a 4.0 grade point average at City Neighbors High School who also happens to be a star on the school’s basketball team, Raekwon Redding has enough on his mind.

Finding a ride home proved to be as big an obstacle as Redding faced in the classroom or on the court after the Maryland Transit Administration and Baltimore City Public Schools reached an agreement that limited free rides for students from 5 a.m. to 6 p.m.

But thanks to more than $100,000 in combined donations from the Baltimore Ravens, Under Armour and individuals, students will now be able to ride MTA buses for free until 8 p.m.

“Honestly, this is a big win for me,” Redding, an 11th-grader, told the JT. “I’ll put it this way: it’s like taking a shoe off your foot after it’s been on real tight, so you finally feel that relief. It’s not like something that you can’t really deal with, but it’s, like, ‘Wow, this feels really good.’”

Until the new deal between city schools and the MTA went into effect late last year, students were permitted to ride the bus for free from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. using a card known as the S-Pass.

City Councilman Zeke Cohen, a Democrat who represents the 1st District, said Tuesday at a news conference that the extended hours will start Monday and continue through the remainder of this school year.

“I am grateful to my committee members who remained committed in finding a resolution despite the many other pressures we face,” said Cohen, chairman of the City Council’s Education and Youth Committee. “But the real heroes in this story are the everyday citizens who kept up the pressure and refused to let the issue die.”

Under Armour and the Baltimore Ravens contributed $50,000 and $25,000, respectively, according to a spokesman for City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.

Young joined Cohen and Education and Youth Committee vice president Mary Pat Clarke and council members John Bullock, Kristerfer Burnett, Ryan Dorsey and Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer in making the announcement.

“We are going to continue to fight for our young people to make sure that they are able to get to all the after-school programs that they want to attend,” Young said. “So this is just the beginning.”

A little more than two weeks ago, members of the Education and Youth Committee held a “bake sale for buses” at Frederick Douglass High School to raise funds to help restore the service.

Between the bake sale and a GoFundMe page started by Roger Schulman, CEO of the Baltimore-based nonprofit Fund for Educational Excellence, more than 400 people helped raise $26,000 for the campaign.

Since the free ride time was reduced, City Neighbors teacher Christina Ross said the change has often left students without suitable transportation after sporting events and educational after-school programs. She has expressed her frustration with the MTA to Cohen and other members of the City Council.

“This is really an issue of fairness and equity,” Ross said. “The kids should not have to rely on their teachers to get home. That’s not telling kids they’re a priority, and that’s not OK with me.”

Ross, who sponsors a mock trial club that regularly meets after the conclusion of the school day at 4 p.m., said there was a night she had to give four students rides home.

“It was really a challenge to get kids to come to our program, because it was hard for them to get a ride home,” Ross said.

The $100,000-plus cash influx reinstates service for the remainder of the school year, but it is not enough to sustain rides beyond that, Cohen said. He said members of the City Council and his committee will work with city schools and MTA officials to continue brokering a viable long-term solution.

“We do not want to be back here next year having another ‘bake sale for buses,’” Cohen said. “We’re very fortunate in that the business, philanthropic, nonprofit and government communities all came together and stepped up, but that’s not sustainable. Ultimately, this is a conversation between the MTA and school system that needs to be worked out.”

As nonprofit organizations come up with their budget plans moving forward, Young called on them to carve out a place for transportation assistance.

“We’re looking for money to come from nonprofits,” Young said. “We’re going to have more nonprofits stepping up to the plate, and we’ll have more philanthropic organizations stepping up to the plate to give us more money.”

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