On Thursday night, the Indianapolis Public Schools (IPS) Board of School Commissioners approved (6-1) a recommendation to move some high school students to IndyGo as their primary mode of transportation to and from school. The vote is part of a larger effort to shift student transportation for the 2021–22 school year.
“With the Board’s approval of today’s transportation recommendations, we know our work does not end. It’s just moving into the next phase,” said IPS Superintendent Aleesia Johnson. “We are committed to the continued engagement and support of our families to ensure a transition that is smooth as we’re able to make it at the start of the next school year.”
“This decision didn’t happen overnight. There has been a tremendous amount of research, conversation and many options generated,” said Evan Hawkins, Board president. “I appreciate the thought that’s gone into scaling the IndyGo partnership. While change isn’t always easy, this will be good for the district and our students.”
In addition to the shifts to IndyGo that will move approximately 600 selected students off of IPS yellow buses, the district will also implement walk zones at all schools — moving an additional 2,000 students off of district transportation.
A closer look at the approved IndyGo plan shows the approximate 600 selected students will transition to IndyGo using the following criteria:
- Less than 50 minutes total journey time (walk + wait + ride).
- Less than .7-mile total walk distance from home to bus stop and from bus stop to school.
- No transfers.
Nearly 90% of these students would have a shorter journey time on IndyGo than their current yellow bus service.
IPS is also offering the opportunity for additional high school students to opt-in to IndyGo for the new school year. Students who opt-in would share the benefits of IndyGo and no longer receive IPS yellow bus service. The following criteria was used to determine those students:
- 60-minute journey time.
- Less than 1-mile walk.
- One transfer.
The partnership between IPS and IndyGo is not new. The district initiated a pilot partnership program starting with the 2018-19 school year. Currently, all high school students receive an annual IndyGo pass connected to their student ID that provides them universal access, including evenings, weekends, holidays and during the summer, to IndyGo’s network at no cost to the student. Ridership data shows students have made more than 150,000 total unique rides on IndyGo since the pilot started.
Students who make the transition to IndyGo for the 2021–22 school year will no longer receive yellow bus service.
IPS walk zones were implemented at schools in 1998 and include the following:
- Elementary students who live within 1 mile of their assigned school.
- Middle school students who live within 1.25 miles of their assigned school.
- High school students who live within 1.5 miles of their assigned school.
Note: Students who have transportation services included in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 plan will continue to receive yellow bus services as required. Students with special needs and those receiving McKinney-Vento services will continue to receive transportation services per their IEP or their McKinney-Vento status, respectively.
Last year, in an effort to move more than 2,000 students off yellow buses given COVID concerns, IPS implemented the policy as written at 13 schools at the start of the 2020–21 school year and leveraged crossing guards at those schools where necessary for the safe passage of students.
Moving toward the 2021–22 school year, IPS will execute the walk boundaries across the district’s remaining schools. Additional crossing guards will be strategically deployed to support safe student passage.
IPS currently spends double the amount per pupil in transportation costs than similarly situated urban school districts around the country. Key drivers for the high costs include the district’s school choice model providing free transportation to students regardless of the school they choose, providing transportation to students who live in walk zones and a commitment to a high degree of service.
For a number of years, the district has been evaluating and implementing ways to be more efficient with transportation, maximize efficiencies and still have high-quality service for students.
- In 2016, IPS leased more than 100 new fuel-efficient propane buses.
- In the 2017–18 school year, the district modified the bell structure to reduce daily routes and buses.
- In 2018–19, the district consolidated and reduced afterschool and extra-curricular busing.
- In July 2020, IPS outsourced all transportation services to First Student.
“As the district works to eliminate a projected $18 million deficit for the next school year, transportation is one area we can generate significant savings,” said Johnson.
Throughout the lead up to the changes to transportation for the 2021–22 school year, IPS has worked to communicate with families who will be affected.
“The district has been very intentional in sharing information with families, gathering feedback, answering questions and listening to concerns as we developed and finalized this plan,” said Zach Mulholland, IPS executive director of operations.
IPS has implemented a number of family and community engagement activities surrounding these changes, including three town halls. In the series of live virtual meetings, Supt. Johnson and other members of the administration shared details of the plan with families and answered questions. Those meetings were also simulcast in Spanish.
The district has captured additional questions and concerns through feedback forms posted on the IPS website in English and Spanish. Hundreds of calls have been made to families impacted by the walk zones and IndyGo transition to ensure they understand the changes and capture feedback. All of this information has been shared with the transportation team to ensure their concerns are addressed.
The district is currently working to implement a number of programs to help ease the transition, including but not limited to the following:
- Student Ambassador Program – Will invite IndyGo frequent student riders to become ambassadors. These student leaders will be trained on safety procedures so they can serve as guides to other students.
- Free IndyGo trial rides for families – To ensure families have access to free trial rides to experience the service and learn how to use IndyGo before the start of the new school year.
- Walking School Bus Program – Setting predetermined routes for families to meet up with other students and chaperones to walk to school together. Schools will receive training on how to properly implement this program.
Engagement will be ongoing through the new school year.
For more information on the transportation changes, please visit the Transportation page at www.myips.org.