Principal Ed Cozzolino doesn't rely on the bus to get to his job at Green Street Academy in Baltimore, but nearly every afternoon he sympathizes with his nearly 100 middle and high school students who do.
Cozzolino has endured the hot, cold, rain and snow waiting for up to two hours at the No. 23 bus stop on Edmondson Avenue for a bus to make its first attempt to pick up students, or for another one to stop when a driver has opted to pass by the large group. And it doesn't help that the bus stops for Green Street Academy are several blocks from the school.
"Walking 90 kids to the corner takes my every effort to keep them out of the street, to keep them safe, and making every effort to make sure that neighbors' properties are being respected," Cozzolino said.
His story is echoed by school leaders in the district, prompting several city agencies to launch a new program Wednesday that will allow public transit riders, especially students, to give immediate feedback to transportation agencies.
City officials announced the launch of "Rate Your Ride," a program that will offer commuters unlimited use of a real-time survey of their public transit experience via text message or by logging onto a website.
The information will then be transmitted to the Central Maryland Transportation Alliance and forwarded to the Maryland Transit Administration, with the intent of addressing the issue within a week. The effort is being led by the transportation agencies, as well as by city leaders and the schools.
Michelle Whelley, president of the Transportation Alliance, told students the initiative was to "create transportation that all have confidence in, and that you don't see as a last resort."
About 30,000 students use the MTA for transportation to school, according to the school system. Officials and students described Wednesday how thousands of students report that buses are overcrowded or late — if they pick them up at all.
"The more riders we can get to provide real-time information, the better we can be at improving services," said Ralign Wells, administrator for the MTA.
The transportation issues, city school officials said, contribute to tardiness and truancy. Officials announced the program at Heritage High School, where students — many of whom had experienced transportation issues that morning — were among the first to take the survey.
Jonathan Brice, executive director for student support services for the school system, said that transportation is critical as the district moves to improve its high truancy rate.
"Attendance matters most," Brice said. "This effort gives a voice to young people — to say, 'I have a voice to make the situation better.'"
Robyn Moore, a junior at Heritage High School, said that she walked to the school in time for the news conference after waiting for the bus, which was 30 minutes behind schedule — a 30-minute trek she makes a few times a week because of unreliable bus service from Harford Road. City transportation officials said that the bus that was supposed to pick Moore up broke down, and another was deployed after her scheduled pickup time.
She rated her lack of a ride "terrible" on Wednesday, though she has hope for the program.
"It's a good program because they can hear it from real people who need this bus to come to school," Moore said. "It helps — because when the bus doesn't arrive, it makes us want to go back home rather than come to school."
Moore's brother, Robert, a ninth-grader at Heritage High, ran to school after waiting for the bus and said that negative experiences with bus drivers — such as being cursed at — have one of the largest impacts on his education. He said he looked forward to "standing up and telling them how we're being treated."
"In the morning, we're all irritated anyway, and to have that happen just makes you not want to deal with it," he said.
Cozzolino said that parents have also complained at his school about how their students were treated, reporting verbal abuse by bus drivers. He added that service had improved in the last week after meeting with Maryland transit officials, though challenges remain.
He has also lost five students because of transportation issues, which affects his budget. In a district that promotes competitiveness and school-choice programs, this could have a devastating impact if transportation doesn't improve, he said.
The survey, which allows you to rate everything from the comfort of your ride to the disposition of your bus driver, is available to anyone who takes public transportation in the city.
To participate in the "Rate Your Ride" survey, text "Ride" to 30802 or go to the website rateyourride.org.