City Councilman Zeke Cohen is hosting a “bake sale for buses” at 4 p.m. at Frederick Douglass High School in West Baltimore to raise money to give students free rides home from after-school activities.
Cohen, chairman of the council’s Education and Youth Committee, wants to raise $102,000. The fundraiser comes after the Maryland Transit Administration and the Baltimore school system reached an agreement that limits the nighttime hours students can ride MTA buses for free.
Cohen and others argue that limiting the free rides after 6 p.m., instead of the previous 8 p.m., leaves kids without transportation from valuable programs, such as sports and academic clubs.
He called the decision “unacceptable,” especially after the rioting and looting that followed Freddie Gray’s death in police custody in April 2015.
“All children deserve the opportunity to succeed,” Cohen said in a statement. “This credo is shared by educators, parents, citizens, and elected officials across party and ideology. But without a meaningful commitment of resources, it becomes a lie.
“Less than two years out from the unrest, the MTA reduced student bus ridership by two critical hours. This decision is unacceptable.”
The old contract between the MTA and school system allowed students to ride the buses for free from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m. with the student access card, S-Pass. A new agreement between the two cuts the free rides off at 6 p.m.
The MTA has said “any suggestion that the MTA has changed its S-Pass policy to save money at the expense of Baltimore City's school children is simply inaccurate.”
The state has given the school system a process for providing bus fare for after-school programs, according to the MTA.
School officials said students in school-based after-school programs that run later than 6 p.m. receive MTA tickets for evening travel, provided by the system. The district is phasing out the S-Pass, in favor of the One Card.
“The district is currently exploring options to meet the transportation needs of students who participate in after-school activities at locations other than their schools, but so far has been unable to identify a funding source,” a schools spokeswoman said recently.
Other members of the council’s Education and Youth Committee are expected to join Cohen today, including Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke and Councilmen John Bullock, Kris Burnett and Ryan Dorsey. Students and parents also are expected to attend.
Cohen also created a Go Fund Me account to supplement the bake sale with online donations. The goal is set at $97,200.