Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza says he hasn’t broken a campaign promise to provide bus passes for local students who live more than two miles from school. He just hasn’t made good on it yet.
“I remain committed to reducing the walk-to-school radius and fixing the school assignment process so fewer students are facing long commutes,” Elorza said in a statement. “I have walked with these kids, I understand the difficulty they face, and I look forward to working together to address this issue.”
The Providence Student Union and other local high school students held a rally at City Hall Tuesday to hold Mayor Elorza accountable for a campaign pledge he made to provide bus passes for students who live more than 2 miles from school.
“This is a matter of priorities, not cash,” Elorza said in February, according to to RI Future, when he was first running for office.
But now that he is mayor, it seems to have become a matter of cash. The roughly $1 million expenditure to expand the number of students who get bus passes for their school commute was not included in his budget. As a candidate, Elorza said, “With a total city budget of $662 million, we must make it a priority to find the $1.35 million to fund passes for the 2,100 students who live between 2 and 3 miles from school.”
Elorza spokesman Evan England said today, “It’s not something we don’t want to do. There are a lot of difficult decisions right now.”
England added, “It’s not necessarily off the table for next school year,” noting the mayor may approach RIPTA about partnering on the costs, and looks forward to meeting with PSU members to talk about other potential solutions.
But when asked if the issue was an imperative to solve before next school year, England said, “I don’t know. I know it’s something the mayor feels very strongly about and something he wants to see get done.”
Most Rhode Island and many regional urban school districts provide public transportation to school when students live greater than two miles from school, according to this RI Future post. Providence provides public transportation when students live greater than 2.5 miles from school, reduced from 3 miles in September.
“Last year, a clear and simple promise was made by the City, the School Department and most of all by then-candidate for mayor Jorge Elorza to set this issue right,” said PSU member Roselin Trinidad, a senior at Central High School, in a statement about the group’s rally yesterday at City Hall. “Mayor Elorza pledged that the City would put money in next year’s budget to lower the walking distance for Providence high school students down to 2 miles. Yet his proposed budget does not direct a single dollar toward keeping this promise. It is unacceptable for Mayor Elorza to value our ability to access education before an election, but not after, and we will not quiet down until this wrong has been righted.”
Said PSU member Diane Gonzalez, a junior at Central High, “I am here today because I live 2.4 miles away from my school. That means I don’t qualify for a free monthly bus pass. My family cannot afford to spare $60 each month for a pass, so I have to walk halfway across the city every single day just to get to school, and then back again to get home. While that walk can be a pain in any weather, it can be downright dangerous when the poorly plowed streets are covered in ice or when the temperature hits 95 degrees. That’s why I hope Mayor Elorza is listening, and why I plan to come back here every day until he does.”
PSU created this video (which utilizes RI Future footage of Elorza pledging to address the situation) to draw attention to the matter.
Update: the original version of this post said Providence provides school busing at 3 miles. Last year, the city reduced that to 2.5 miles. The post was corrected.