Having the city’s high school students ride Metro buses to school instead of yellow school buses is a great way to encourage public transportation while increasing flexibility and convenience for students and their families according to supporters of the idea.

“I don’t see any down side,” said Portland High School Principal Deborah Migneault, adding that all three high school principals have discussed the proposal. “It’s kind of win-win.”

Portland School board members on Tuesday night said they supported the idea, agreed to form a citizen task force and gave Superintendent Emmanuel Caulk the go-ahead to develop a cost-sharing agreement with Portland Metro that would allow the bus service, which serves riders in Portland, Falmouth and Westbrook, to transport high school students to and from classes.

“I do feel like my child is old enough to handle it and it sends a really good message that we can be a community and all be on the bus together,” said Gina Kenney, whose 15-year-old daughter Alice takes a school bus to Casco Bay High School.

“Walking the walk on doing right by our environment is important,” said Kenney. “I think it’s a progressive decision.”

She thinks her freshman daughter would welcome the change. “She’ll have to walk a little further, but I think she’s ready for a sense of independence,” Kenney said.

Officials like the plan because it allows flexibility on school start times, providing options for adding 20 minutes to the school day starting this fall.

For students, one of the biggest advantages is that they all can use the Metro system. Under the district’s current program, students who live within two miles of their school are ineligible to ride the yellow school buses.

Migneault said that until about five years ago, the school had “late buses” that ran about an hour after the regular buses left in the afternoons, providing a transportation option for students who participate in after-school activities, but the late buses were eliminated in budget cuts, she said.

“This way, kids have a choice. It’s much more equitable,” she said. “They can come in earlier and be able to stay later.”

The idea of a free bus pass appealed to Portland High School junior Layla Gayle, who lives on Munjoy Hill.

“I already use the Metro every day,” said Gayle, 18. This program means she’ll save $10 a week in bus fare.

Freshman Joliet Morrill said she also rides Metro regularly.

“That would be really convenient. I pay for Metro every day,” said Morrill, 15.

Under the agreement, Metro would offer students a reduced boarding fare of 75 cents. The current boarding fare is $1.50. Portland schools would cover the cost, estimated to be about $160,000 in the first year. The bus pass could be used only during the school year and would allow any student to ride the Metro.

Metro and the school district have had ride agreements before.

In the 1980s, the district contracted with Metro for routes that served only students, but stopped because federal rules forbid using federally subsidized buses that way. Several years ago, Metro offered free rides to students with valid school IDs, but ended it after a year, in part because students were loud and rowdy, City Councilor Ed Suslovic said.

“We got a lot of kids on the bus, but it was not very orderly,” said Suslovic, president of the Metro board. He said the behavior did not involve serious problems like fighting.

“We’ve learned from the past,” he said. In addition to working with schools to teach students how to behave on a public bus, bus monitors may ride student-heavy routes. All buses have video cameras, and Metro and school officials are creating a policy to address behavior problems.

The 32 Metro buses all have an auto-locater system allowing riders to track a bus’s location on their smartphones so they can time their ride. Any bus that goes off its assigned route sets off an alarm in the dispatch office. If a bus is full, other buses located around the city can move onto the route and pick up any stranded passengers.

Parent Elizabeth Szatkowski said she likes the idea, but wants more information about how long a ride might take, particularly if the student has to transfer buses.

“If the Metro was responsive enough to the neighborhoods so kids could get to school without using a lot of time in transit, it would be fantastic,” said Szatkowski, who has two daughters at Casco Bay High School. She usually drives them to school, and sometimes to the school bus stop, she said.

“If (Metro) took longer than the school bus route, parents might just drive their kids,” she said.

The latest conversation about using Metro for students got started last year after students at Deering High made a video pointing out how difficult it was to get to school because of the two-mile rule. Some said their parents couldn’t drive them, or that Metro was too expensive. The video is available on pressherald.com.

Migneault said the two-mile rule is unrealistic for students who have to walk to school.

“This winter has proved that to us – the sidewalks are not shoveled, the students are walking in the streets,” she said. “It’s been a harsh winter.”

Students would have to get on the buses at an existing Metro stop, but a study found that about 80 percent of Portland high school students live within a quarter mile of a bus stop already, according to Metro General Manager Greg Jordan.

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