By Andrew Brieschke, Deputy CEO
Ask any K-12 official about the secret to student success, and they’re sure to mention attendance at the top of the list. Throughout the ages, school attendance has relied on various modes of transportation, particularly walking, riding a bicycle, carpooling, driving or riding a school bus.
Two weeks prior to the start of the 2021–’22 academic year, Ben Shuldiner had only just started his career as Lansing School District’s superintendent. One of his first tasks was to address the global driver shortage — brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic — that would potentially leave students without bus transportation to and from school.
Shuldiner, who hailed from New York City, wondered whether public transportation was the answer.
“The moment we realized that we were going to have a bus shortage, we reached out to our partners, and we are so lucky that we were able to partner with CATA,” said Shuldiner. “It’s how everyone gets around in New York City.”
Little did Shuldiner know at the time that community partnership and regional mobility solutions were among CATA’s strategic goals and, therefore, at the heart of the Authority’s decision-making. To that end, when Shuldiner approached CATA with a request for transportation assistance, CATA was eager to lend a hand.
The partnership included the provision of 200 first-and second-semester bus passes — paid for and distributed by the school district at no cost to students or their families.
Recognizing that riding a city bus might intimidate students who had never ridden before, CATA extended its CATAguides program at Michigan State University to include Lansing School District. Volunteer guides — all administrative employees from various departments at CATA — converged on campuses to provide resources, rules and general information to help students self-sufficiently and confidently navigate the system. CATA’s Customer Experience Representatives were also available by phone to assist with trip planning throughout the school year. For non-English-speaking riders, translations were provided in predominantly used languages, including Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Korean and, to accommodate a large population of Afghani refugees who would resettle in the area, Farsi.
Additionally, CATA and school district personnel worked together to notate and distribute frequently asked questions and a customized system map with routing details and school locations. These tools allowed both students and parents to easily navigate CATA’s service.
For Shuldiner, not only is the partnership between CATA and Lansing School District a much-needed solution for Lansing students, but it also promises greater things to come for student riders.
“It’s more than just getting to and from school. What about getting to a job? What about getting to a place to do an internship? Or just going to a park to enjoy the city?” Shuldiner asked.
Providing public transportation services to students and families allow them the freedom to explore everything Lansing has to offer. It encourages participation in athletic programming and after-school activities, and connects them to jobs, local venues and destinations that they might otherwise not have the opportunity to experience.
CATA looks forward to serving new generations of riders during the 2022– ’23 academic year and beyond, thanks to its ongoing partnership with the Lansing School District.
For details about high school service, visit cata.org/lansingschooldistrict. Volunteer to be an AmBUSsador to help guide Lansing School District students on riding the bus to and from school at cata.org/ambussador.
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