BY GRANT WHITTINGTON — On November 3, the Hyattsville City Council again discussed a proposal that would give city residents access to the UMD shuttle. The sticking point for the council was the university’s proposed age restriction.
Director of Transportation Services at the University of Maryland David Allen voiced his concerns to the city council, advocating for an age restriction on the university shuttle bus for Hyattsville residents. He said this employees are not suited to driving middle schoolers who could utilize the bus daily to attend school at College Park Academy (CPA).
“That concern was on the front burner when it comes to us becoming a school bus service,” Allen said. “We aren’t a public service.”
CPA, a public charter middle school that launched in 2013, serves students in neighboring municipalities but it doesn’t have its own public school bus system. The route the Hyattsville shuttle currently encircles stops outside of the school. Allen said he is concerned there will be a large influx of middle schoolers needing chaperoning while riding the shuttle.
“We have 19-year-old bus drivers and we didn’t believe that we’re in the position to be able to supervise middle schoolers,” Allen said.
Allen suggested moving the age restriction to 16 would ease the concerns because CPA only consists of grades 6 and 7 at the present time. College Park and Greenbelt have similar agreements with the university to allow residents to ride the shuttle, but Allen said they have no age restrictions because there isn’t a school on the route that doesn’t offer a public bus service already.
There are 35 students that attend CPA from College Park and all of them have access to the bus system, according to Allen. Councilmember Tim Hunt (Ward 3), who has been the figurative “driver” behind the shuttle proposal, as described by Councilmember Patrick Paschall (Ward 3), said he was talking to a resident who estimated the number of CPA students from Hyattsville that would use the bus daily would only be around five.
“I hope we can come to a reasonable agreement to where you guys aren’t worried about transporting 8-year-olds and Hyattsville isn’t treated differently than other municipalities for reasons that I think can be overcome,” Hunt said in the meeting.
Allen said that if the number of CPA students who had access to the shuttlewas less than 50, then he would end discussion and lift the age restriction if other, minor concerns were addressed.
According to Allen, background checks was one of those concerns. Allen said none of the bus drivers the university employs have background checks before getting hired. After researching the price, Allen said it would cost somewhere around $65 per driver and the university isn’t interested in helping pay for the cost. He is also concerned about how Maryland students would feel about riding alongside middle schoolers.
“It’s [not] our desire to want to get into the school bus business. The students that ride our buses, pay for it. The students are the ones that allowed us to do it,” Allen said. “How comfortable our students would be with middle schoolers on the bus with them, that would be a consideration.”
Paschall agreed that there was risk involved in making the shuttle available to students who attend CPA but didn’t think the number of students would be high enough to cause a notable change.
“It makes sense to not want to be liable for large numbers of middle school students, disrupting your bus and potentially causing your driver to get into accidents,” Paschall said. “The number of residents isn’t enough to really cause large number of change in your system.”
Councilmember Shani Warner (Ward 2) said the meeting with Allen was a huge step in answering the question of why Hyattsville was being treated differently than the other municipalities with a similar system in place. Hunt said he hopes the talks can continue for the betterment of both communities.
“Things that this community does will affect the University of Maryland. I do always remember that we’re apart of the same community and we’re in it together,” Hunt said.
The council is expected to take further action on the proposal at the November 17 city council meeting.