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Chicago Students Brace for Bus Cuts

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Chicago Students Brace for Bus Cuts

Photo by Bernadette Aguilar

Thousands of students throughout Chicago are bracing for proposed cuts to CTA bus service. The transit agency says it will be forced to eliminate thirty-nine bus routes on Sunday, unless state lawmakers agree to a financial bailout. Chicago Public Radio’s Jay Field has this look at how service disruptions would effect kids at one northwest side high school.

The sprawling brick edifice that is Steinmetz Academic Center sits on seven and a half acres in Chicago’s Belmont Cragin neighborhood. Only one CTA bus provides direct service to the school, the 86 Narragansett.

COBOS: If they cut out the Narragansett bus, it means I’m gonna be late, a lot of times, to school.

That’s Juana Cobos. She says no one in her family owns a car. The Narragansett is the last of three buses the Steinmetz senior boards to get here from her home in the Logan Square neighborhood. Cobos says the trouble she’ll have making it to class on time everyday will be a minor problem compared to the situation she could face after school. Cobos works at a clothing store on North Avenue and says she would be forced to walk there through a bad neighborhood.

COBOS: Like a lot of people get shot at over there. It’s mostly seen on the news all the time. So that means its rough, especially for a young teenage girl to walk through there. It’s not really safe and like, since the time is changing, it gets real dark outside.

School officials worry many of the more than four-hundred students who ride the Narrgansett could face similar dangers. Gus Burda, who oversees security at Steinmetz, says many kids will be forced to cross different gang boundaries.

BURDA: And depending on the colors that they wear, when they’re coming to school, if they’re wearing Vice Lord colors—and let’s say they cross over into a gang that’s against the Vice Lords—they’re going to face a problem.

Steinmetz is in the Chicago Police Department’s 25th district, the second largest in the entire city. Burda, who worked as a beat cop for thirty-four years, worries the extra kids on the street will overwhelm the department’s resources.
Burda: There aren’t enough beat cars to really cover this area safely. And during the morning hours, when the kids come to school, you’re basically between a split shift. You’re between the first watch and the second watch. And both of those watches put the least number of cars on the street.

Chicago Public Schools officials say the proposed transit cuts would effect thousands of students in fifty-two elementary and high schools. The district’s security division says many of them will be on the streets for longer periods of time, as they look for new bus routes and wait for buses that aren’t already packed. Chicago police officials said this week they’re planning to put desk officers on street duty—to beef up patrols around vulnerable school like Steinmetz. And Anders Durbak, who runs safety and security at the school district, says schools officials are preparing to offer students transportation assistance.

DURBAK: Basically, the commitment is that, particularly in those schools that are isolated—like Steinmetz here, Kennedy, and Taft and Mather—that are isolated because they’ve lost service routes---that there will be assistance in some form of shuttle. It will be very difficult. But we will assist students in getting where they need to go.

Durbak says the district is scouring the city for buses it could use, as part of an emergency system that would shuttle kids from school to nearby CTA stops. He hopes they won’t actually need them.

I’m Jay Field, Chicago Public Radio.

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