Palm Beach County school district looks into using Palm Tran to help bus problems

PALM BEACH COUNTY - One idea that school board members have floated to ease the Palm Beach County School District's transportation woes is finding a way to move some students from the school district's big yellow buses to Palm Beach County's teal-and-white buses.

Board Chairman Frank Barbieri said he wants the district to explore ways to expand its partnership with Palm Tran, the public bus line operated by the county, to transport public school students. School board member Chuck Shaw also said he would like to see more use of Palm Tran, especially for children who are in choice programs or magnet schools far from their homes.

Transporting choice students across the county has been a factor in school buses running late this year, especially during afternoon drop-offs, said Pete DiDonato, the district's transportation general manager.

DiDonato said drivers have to travel so far across the county for choice routes that they are often unable to do the same drop-off routes in the afternoon. The school district has had to hire more drivers and create more routes.

Shaw suggested that the district could create a partnership with Palm Tran and offer vouchers that students could use to ride Palm Tran routes.

DiDonato said the district has a partnership with Palm Tran that gives some high school students passes to ride county buses when they are assigned to a school other than their neighborhood school. Palm Tran Executive Director Chuck Cohen said some parents also buy passes for their children.

Palm Tran receives federal money, and Cohen said the rules attached to that money prohibit him from running routes specifically for schools. He can run a public route that passes a school, but buses cannot be exclusively for students and cannot enter school grounds.

DiDonato said he will explore the idea of expanding the partnership, but he can see serious concerns with using the public bus line for younger children.

"I'm not sure if we'll be able to mix adults with middle and elementary school kids," DiDonato said.

Cohen said he would prefer to have elementary school students riding the yellow buses because motorists tend to watch more closely for children when they are around school buses.

 

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