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How the new express bus stops will impact CMS students

The plan will make fewer stops and will help full and partial magnet high school students reduce their ride time.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The new express stops program is coming to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for the 2023-24 school year.

CMS express stop bus routes will reduce the number of stops from 5,000 to 185.

The stops will be available for full and partial magnet high school students and should reduce drive time for drivers.

One of the campuses impacted is the early colleges at UNC Charlotte. There are students who travel from Steele Creek who go to Charlotte Engineering Early College.

"They may be riding the bus for close to two hours, some of them getting on the bus as early as 5 o'clock in the morning," CMS' transportation service executive director Adam Johnson said. 

This trip would change with an express stop. 

"They wouldn't have to get on the bus till after 6 o'clock in the morning around 6 to 6:15, that bus would travel about 30 minutes from that express stop site," Johnson said. 

So how does it work? 

"We look at an express stop as really a point-A-to-point-B model," Johnson said. "So they're traveling from that express stop site directly to the school, where most of our magnet runs may take 10, 15, 20, 25 other stops on a bus run in order to get to school.” 

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This isn't the first time CMS implanted an express bus route option. It happened back in 2010. 

However, the express stop route changes could mean some extra work for parents with bus stops moving two to three miles away.

"For students who cannot be transported to an express stop, the only option is to walk the several miles on mornings and afternoons, often along busy roads and roads without sidewalks and in the dark in the mornings," a concerned parent said Krista Kane Smith said at a school board meeting regarding the express stops. 

CMS said students will be assigned to express stops closest to home and campus security associates would assist in keeping these sites safe. 

"We're trying to work with those individual families as best we can," Johnson said. "If there's a possibility we can get a stop closer to their home, we'll do that." 

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Officials say the new plan will also reduce costs. CMS saw a major budget cut to the funds used to operate its magnet school buses. 

"Our budget was reduced by about $3.2 million for this coming school year," Johnson said. 

Express buses give the district solutions to address this shortfall of dollars. 

"Reducing the number of miles that our buses are traveling and of course, that reduces all of those associated costs, the fuel the tires, oil parts on the buses and the driver that we need to operate those buses," Johnson said. 

Express bus stops would cut the number of buses at some schools by more than half. 

"At Northwest School of the Arts, if we are running maybe about 45 buses, currently, this school year, in the morning, in the afternoon, next year, we would be running about 20 buses," Johnson said. 

Right now, a bus driver could be driving a total of 200 miles a day to hit all the bus stops on a traditional route. 

"Some of our drivers have to get up as early as 3:30 in the morning, to be at work before for pre-trip and do their inspections on their bus and then pull off the lot," Johnson said. 

An express route reduces miles driven to 125 which knocks off about 90 minutes of drive time a day. 

Since express stops require students to be at a centralized stop this creates challenges that may cost money on the back end to address. 

"We're looking for other options for them there's carpool that some of the schools may be able to opt into, that's a possibility. We're also looking for, you know, hopefully, a partnership with CATS," Johnson said. 

In its legislative agenda, CMS is looking for a deal with the city of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The city of Charlotte controls the CATS budget and Mecklenburg County partially funds CMS. 

The district is asking for free passes on CATS for all CMS employees and high school students.

"We're having to have express bus stops for magnet schools just because our transportation system is taxed as CMS," Stephanie Sneed, a CMS school board member said at a school board meeting. "So we need these partnerships to help us move people and move families and move staff to support Mecklenburg County."

For right now CMS believes express routes are the most effective solution for the transportation department and students. 

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There is more information on the express stops program on CMS' website.

Contact Shamarria Morrison at smorrison@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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