Budget override could enable changes to South Brookline bus



Students crowd onto the MBTA bus to South Brookline at the end of the school day. A new plan could provide more buses and an increased number of routes for greater convenience.

Taeyeon Kim, Staff Writer

It is 3:04 p.m. on a school day. Students sprint out of the building toward the growing crowd in front of the Tappan Gym. Students who are already waiting peer anxiously at the quickly-filling MBTA bus, wondering if there’s enough room for them. Once the clock strikes 3:05 p.m., the bus leaves, filled almost to the point of explosion. And then there are always a few stragglers who did not get to the stop in time, ending up stranded until they can get a ride.

This is the reality of the South Brookline bus. The bus is overcrowded, leaves soon after school ends and only comes twice a day—once in the morning and once in the afternoon.

The issue of the South Brookline Bus has been an issue for many years, and finally has a chance to be resolved with a plan subsidized by money from the recent “yes” vote on the operating “budget” override.

According to the Brookline High School website and Swaine, in the morning, Brookline has school buses that take K-8 kids who attend a school other than their neighborhood school to those schools because they need programs that other schools offer. Once that bus is done transporting those students, it goes to South Brookline to pick up the high school students. There are two routes; the Baker/Runkle/BHS and Heath/Lincoln/BHS. These buses are the morning buses. However, the buses often arrive at the high school at 8:15 a.m. or later, making students late to class.

The Public Transportation Committee (PTAC), a board in Town Hall that deals with transportation issues in Brookline, has jurisdiction over these buses. According to the PTAC Chair Abigail Swaine, the town is not legally required to provide transportation for anyone past 6th grade. Therefore, in order to furnish new buses for high school students in South Brookline, a fee-based busing system would be required, in which families pay for their children to ride the school bus to school.

According to senior Neel Sharma, a member of Legislature involved with this issue, the PTAC sent out a survey in December to South Brookline families that asked people whether they would be willing to pay to get another bus. Most people answered yes to the survey, and the price for each person came out to be about $400 per year to ride the bus, which is about $2.20 per day per person.

The tentative plan for the new bus system would be to have two buses in the morning with two different routes, and two in the afternoon. In the morning, there would be one bus that would come at 7:15 a.m., in time for Z-block, and one that would arrive at 8:15 a.m.; in the afternoon, the times would be 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 p.m., to allow students to talk with their friends and meet with their teachers after school.

The money for this plan would come in part from the budget increase from the budget override, and in part from the bus riders’ families themselves.

Both Sharma and Swaine emphasized the importance of Deputy Superintendent for Administration and Finance Mary Ellen Dunn’s role in advising the PTAC throughout the past year in regard to the buses. According to Dunn, she has been working as a team with Director of Operations Matt Gillis. Both Dunn and Gillis have previous experience with fee-based busing systems in other towns.

Dunn said that initially, she was surprised that Brookline had not implemented a fee-based busing system earlier. She also warned that regardless of the passing of the override, the success of the busing system depends on the student body to get the program off the ground. Students have to register for the bus by the end of the year so that the school committee can get the busses by July 1 for next fall; however, if not enough students sign up, no busses will be ordered. Dunn highlighted the importance of education and marketing for the program as well

Swaine, Sharma and Town Meeting Member Isaac Silberberg think that the development of a busing program is important.

“As a community, we need to invest in both our schools and also the town services that everyone relies on,” said Silberberg. “So making sure we actually have not only enough space but quality enough space for the education we want to try to deliver, and also to make sure that we have a town that delivers on its promises to residents.”