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Free student rides on Waco transit in question

The program to give students free rides on Waco Transit buses is in limbo as costs triple its first year.

The Waco School board had a $5,000 grant to start the program for the 2013-14 school year. That grant will not continue, though, and more students are riding, meaning costs are rising. At an estimated $1 a student and nearly 18,000 students taking a ride, costs may be a little too high.

The district is working with the Waco Transit to figure out a solution.

 "We feel like it's been a success from stories from students we talked to, parents, I think they feel like it's been a success and so we want that to continue," Waco ISD attendance supervisor David Ellis said.

"We're willing to sit down and negotiate with them and potentially work on a deal that extends much longer than one year, two, three years out," Waco Transit assistant general manager Allen Hunter said.

Hunter says there could be as many as 30,000 students taking these free rides by the end of the 2014-15 school year. That's an issue the school board brought up in its Thursday night meeting. However, Hunter says it probably won't increase too much after that year. He says one way to work with the board is to make a three year plan so the board can budget that money. However, he says they do need some compensation.

"There's a cost to the service so we can't lose money," Hunter said.

Neither Hunter or Ellis were confident the program would continue, but they say they're working on it and are hopeful. Hunter says it benefits the Transit by training a group of people that could be riders in the future. Ellis says it helps the district because it gets kids to school.

"I'm willing to do or want to do as much as we can do to get the kids to school. If they're in the seats we can educate them, if they're not in the seats then they're going to struggle," Ellis said.

Another benefit Ellis said is giving students flexibility. If they have band, sports or other extra-curricular activities they need to go to before or after school the students can use the Transit buses.

Another issue the School Board had on Thursday was parents and students taking advantage of the buses. Larry Perez says it's parents' responsibility to take their children to school. He also pointed out some students might think it's okay to wake up late because they can take the transit.

Ellis, though, says most students don't do that and it's worth it to have the program anyways. He also says teachers talk to parents if problems like those exist.

Hunter says as long as you have a student ID for a Waco ISD school you can get on the bus. He says it's mostly high schoolers, but there are some middle school children taking the bus as well. The buses run from 6:15 a.m. to 7:15 p.m.

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