County supervisors have sent a plan for providing Loudoun County Public Schools students with free local bus passes to the school system for consideration.
Under the proposal, first suggested by Supervisor Juli E. Briskman (D-Algonkian), middle and high school students would be able to ride local fixed-route Loudoun County Transit buses, with their student IDs printed on free SmarTrip cards. According to county staff research, seven high schools and seven middle schools are within a quarter mile of a bus stop.
Briskman suggested that families of middle schoolers should be able to opt in, while families of high schoolers would have the choice to opt out but get the bus pass by default. Some supervisors expressed concern over students hopping buses without their parents’ knowledge.
“I do have concerns about carte blanche, just giving every student access to the transit system regardless of whether their parents know about it or not, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the schools have some concern about this as well,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles).
“I wouldn’t want a kid to end up Leesburg who belonged home in Sterling and their mom doesn’t know where they are,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large).
Department of Transportation and Capital Infrastructure Director Joe Kroboth said the recommendation came after studying two other school districts that have similar programs, Fairfax County and Alexandria.
“The logic behind the staff recommendation was [currently] that any student, or high school student, that walked up to a bus stop with $1 could walk onto the bus, pay that dollar, and the bus operator would have no knowledge of whether there’s authorization form the parent or not,” Kroboth said.
Supervisors also saw the benefits.
“I can see it where we have students that miss the bus and actually will have a way to get to school,” said Supervisor Sylvia R. Glass (D-Broad Run). “I remember my sons missing school and I would be at work, and later on I would find out that they had to walk to school, and they had to cut through the woods to get to school.”
The proposal has the support of the county Transit Advisory Board, which discussed the unused capacity on local bus routes and providing better service to residents who are too young to drive or don’t have access to a car.
According to the county staff, issuing SmarTrip student IDs to students of all 17 middle schools and 18 high schools would cost an estimated $93,094, beginning with the fall 2022 semester.
Supervisors on Feb. 1 voted to send the proposal to the school district 5-2-2, with Letourneau and Supervisor Caleb E. Kershner (R-Catoctin) opposed and Supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Michael R. Turner (D-Ashburn) absent.