By ERIN ROLL
For years, Montclair High School students who are dependent on public buses to get to and from school had about a 10-minute walk from the bus stop. Starting next week, the bus will now pull up right in front of the high school.
NJ Transit will now run a modified schedule for Bus #34, adding the stop at Park Street and Chestnut Street, in order to better accommodate students traveling to and from Montclair High School.
A petition was created by the students of the Civics and Government Institute (CGI), under the guidance of teacher Anne Baney, according to Kendra Johnson, the assistant superintendent for equity.
Kimoni DePass, Sam VanderMeulen and Sam Belsky are three of the CGI students who put forth the petition for the bus stop. They reached out to school and township officials and NJ Transit. This month marks the one-year mark that the project took off. “Literally around this time last year,” DePass said.
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DePass said the issue of busing wasn’t a new one, so they re-approached it as an issue of access.
Legally, the district is not allowed to open the doors of the high school until 7 a.m. That leaves students who bus with the option of arriving early and having to stand outside, or arriving late for their first class.
Also, if a student had to stay after school to participate in a club, a sport or to talk to a teacher or get some tutoring, they ran the risk of missing the last bus. And the walk from the high school to the South End can run as long as two and a half miles.
Currently, Bus #34 travels between Montclair and Market Street in Newark. In Montclair, the bus coming in from Newark travels up Orange Road, crosses Bloomfield Avenue and then loops around Park Street and Valley Road before returning to Bloomfield Avenue. The closest stop to the high school is Park Street and Bloomfield Avenue.
The NJ Transit bus route would sometimes make a “courtesy stop” near the high school.
NJ Transit has posted a modified schedule on its website, with a stop at Park Street and Chestnut Street, the intersection nearest to the high school. The first stop of the day at the school will be at 7:36 a.m.
Inbound buses from Newark will have their first stop at Park and Chestnut at 6:52 a.m., with later stops at 7:27, 7:37, 7:43 and 7:49 a.m.
During the afternoon, Newark-bound buses will stop at 2:45, 2:47, 2:51 and 3:49 p.m., while inbound buses from Newark will make a stop at 2:45 p.m.
The Park and Chestnut stop is a limited-service, weekdays-only stop and timed to coincide with the school’s opening and dismissal times.
“NJ TRANSIT has not yet received formal notification from Montclair authorizing the installation of a bus stop near Montclair High School. However, we will work with municipal officials to ensure this and other bus stops are situated safely and conveniently for the customers we serve. In the interim, NJ TRANSIT has taken steps to improve service in the area. Beginning on April 7, the schedule for Bus route #34 will be adjusted to better coincide with Montclair High School’s school day and the transportation needs of students,” NJ Transit spokesperson Lisa Torbic said on Monday.
The township passed an ordinance on March 20 authorizing the creation of a new bus stop at Park and Chestnut.
Lesson in civics
The process was not easy, the students said. A lot of times, they would repeatedly email township officials and other administrators, only to not hear back. And during meetings with town officials, they would be told to speak to one official, then fill out paperwork with another official, and so forth.
“It kind of gave me a new respect with bureaucracy,” VanderMeulen said.
The goal of the civics project was to effect some change in the community and the students were successful in that.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing that kids are petitioning and the mayor and council are asking NJ Transit to establish a bus stop for them,” Business Administrator Emidio D’Andrea.
“This is a demonstration of how powerful our students are,” Councilwoman Renee Baskerville said last week. “This has been going on for years.”
Her son, now 30, did a lot more walking during his time at MHS. “But it’s a different world now,” she said.
During a Fourth Ward community meeting in February, the students asked to have a designated bus stop at the high school.
Baskerville said that she hoped that the new NJ Transit stop would be a stopgap measure until the board of education and the district could arrange to provide its own transportation for students coming to MHS from the South End.