About 70 Wyandotte students have less than a month to find a new way to get to school.
The SMART bus system is eliminating 20 routes on Dec. 12, including the 112 line, which runs between Wilson Middle School and Roosevelt High School.
Because the school district does not provide busing, many students who live far from school have relied on public transportation for years.
Wyandotte parent Patricia Clarkson said she’s concerned that absenteeism will increase if students have no way of getting to school.
“This is the only transportation our students have to get to school,” she wrote in a letter to city officials asking for their help. “Many of our students will have to walk from the furthest north end of Wyandotte to get to the southernmost end to attend school.
"Those parents that are still lucky enough to have a job need that bus to get their children to school so they can get to work. Many families no longer have cars. … Wyandotte students need and deserve bus service to get to school and to get there on time.”
Mayor Joseph Peterson said he’s heard similar concerns from other parents. He, along with several representatives of Wyandotte Public Schools, attended a SMART public hearing in Dearborn on Nov. 3 to voice their opposition to the cuts.
“This route is an artery for the kids getting to school,” Peterson said. “It’s the safety of our kids. … The kids are suffering.”
School Superintendent Carla Harting said the busing cut will be “a detriment to our students.”
“We’re talking about students who live farther away from school and need a way to get to school, especially when winter weather arrives,” she said. “Because of parents’ work schedules, they are not always able to get their students to school.”
After holding three public hearings earlier this month, the SMART Board of Directors voted Monday afternoon to eliminate 20 routes, including the 112 line.
The decision was made to address a $6.5 million shortfall in this year's budget, SMART spokeswoman Beth Gibbons said. Over the past three years, she said, the bus system has lost $12 million.
The deficits are due to increased fuel prices, a decrease in millage revenue due to faltering property values, cuts in state and federal funding, and an inability to settle a contract dispute with employees, Gibbons said.
“We’re in a budget deficit and needed to find a way to address it,” she said.
The routes that were cut were those deemed to be the lowest in productivity, had the fewest number of riders and existed in places where alternative transportation options existed, Gibbons said.
This is the first time SMART has ever cut services since it began operating under the SMART name in 1989, Gibbons said.
The Wyandotte City Council unanimously adopted a resolution Monday night calling on SMART to reconsider its decision.
“The elimination of Route 112 would be devastating to our students and their families, causing a hardship for those that rely on this transportation to get to school in a safe and timely manner,” the resolution says.
Peterson publicly encouraged residents to start a petition drive and also to email their comments to SMART at email@example.com.
Gibbons said customer feedback is always important, but she doesn’t foresee any changes being made.
“Unless there are some other funds that become available, I don’t believe there is any availability for SMART to add service back in,” she said. “No matter what, we are at a point where we have a balanced budget at this point in time and we have to operate at a balanced budget.”