Backpack, check. Breakfast, check. Out the door you go and you’re thinking, “Today will be a good day.” But just as you walk to the bus stop, you see the bus fly by. Why didn’t it stop? It was too full. So you wait. The next bus comes and it’s full too, from the front door to the back. So what do you do? You beg the bus driver to let you on. As you enter the bus people are yelling, coughing and laughing in your ear. Every time the bus stops, 25 people nearly knock you over from the force of stopping.
By the time you do manage to get to school, you’re in a bad mood. On top of that, you’re forced to go to detention because you’re late. These are just some of the things that come with the territory when you’re a young person who relies on public transit in Long Beach.
Taking the city bus has become practically mandatory for many students in Long Beach, even while the number of bus lines serving Long Beach residents has shrunk, due to state and local budget cuts. Over the last four years, the city’s municipal transit agency, LB Transit, has undergone a series of service reductions, route eliminations and fare hikes. And it’s about to get worse, especially for the city’s youth.
Beginning this fall, all school buses – the exception being shuttles for special needs students — will be cut, forcing more students than ever before to switch over to public transit buses and pay bus fees. The elimination of regular school bus service comes after two years of gradual reductions in “yellow bus” services.
“I live far from my school, so getting there on time is a hassle in the mornings,” said Nia Gastlem, a senior at Millikan High School. “Every now and then I have to take the bus, which never fails to get me to school late. That then causes me to spend my mornings in on-campus suspension, which forces me to miss out on a whole class period.”
Long Beach has a reputation for being bike-friendly and public transit-friendly, with a heavily used bus system and the Metro Blue line. Many people – from students, to elderly, to disabled folks – rely on public transportation on a daily basis to get from one destination to another.
“Every week I’m forced to fight for a seat with roughly 50 other students trying to claim their spot on the bus,” said Osayama Omoruyi, a junior at Millikan High School.
Kevin Lee, customer and relations manager at LB Transit, said the agency is already working to accommodate the influx of new riders, by coordinating its pick-up and drop-off times in accordance with a school’s bell schedule.
“Since they’ve been eliminating the yellow school buses, we’ve seen a lot of students come on board our buses and it’s not easy to manage,” Lee said. “We know it’s coming this fall, so within our means, we’re going to do the best we can.”
Lee said LB Transit’s budget does not currently allow them to add extra bus routes but it is constantly looking at its service areas for “creative planning.”
The squeeze on the city bus system has been intensifying ever since Long Beach Unified District (LBUSD) ended bus service to one-third of its riders in the fall of 2011, a response to California state budget cuts that did away with home-to-school bus services. At that time, state cutbacks left districts to foot the entire bill for their school transportation services.
A number of other districts in the state, including larger districts like San Francisco and San Diego, have also chosen to reduce school bus services in recent years due to budget restraints.
Despite the impending cuts, there may soon be relief for local school districts. The new funding formula for schools devised by California Gov. Jerry Brown in his revised state budget for fiscal years 2013-14 does include direct funding for home-to-school transportation for two years, according to the Association of California School Administrators.
But if district plans to eliminate the school buses move forward as suggested, Long Beach students won’t be the only ones affected by the overcrowding on city buses. As the buses become more packed, elderly riders risk being crowded out of their priority seating.
“My backpack weighs a thousand pounds and after carrying my backpack and my gym bag for track practice, standing on the bus really isn’t an option. I need a seat,” said Corrina Leblanc, a senior at Millikan.
In some instances, when the bus is too crowded, elderly passengers with walkers or wheelchairs aren’t able to board the bus at all.
With the elimination of school buses now looming, next year might get even tougher for city bus riders.