San Gabriel High students required to use Zonar passes to ride the bus in January, but bus pass fee held off for now

The Source is partnering with The Matador, the student newspaper for San Gabriel High, to feature reporting on issues that affect the student population in Alhambra Unified. The Source has chosen two stories about the possibility of a bus pass fee and the implementation of a new scanning system, which was funded by a grant from Zonar, a GPS tracking company. San Gabriel High students received information about the application process for a required pass to board Alhambra Unified school buses, The Matador reported in their Dec. 8, 2016 print issue. Written by co editor-in-chief Sydney Trieu, The Source received permission to publish the story below, "Bus pass fees put on hold." 

With the Zonar tracking systems already in place on Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) buses, the required use of student bus passes will begin on Jan. 19, 2017. There will be no fee for this pass next semester.

The application process has already begun; until Friday, Dec. 9, students will receive informational letters at the bus waiting area asking them to fill out the “Race to the Bus Stop” form. The link can also be found on the school’s website. After submitting this information for a preliminary headcount of students who take the bus, students will receive an application for a bus pass from Jan. 4-10 next year.

“We want to make sure the kids who ride the bus are the ones who get the passes,” Amy Rush, principal on Special Assignment for the AUSD, said. “Right now there’s no list of kids who ride the bus and what particular bus, [which is] why the [pass implementation] is taking so long.”

Without a pass, students will not be able to board the bus. If a student loses a pass, they may request a replacement for $5. However, there is no initial fee for the first bus pass.

“No one will be charged because this is a pilot run to make sure everything is established,” Matthew Dultz, assistant principal of Business and Activities, said.

In regards to implementing the bus passes, Rush stated that “there was much to look into,” such as how many students use transport, appropriate training for bus drivers, and general logistics.

“[Because of this], seeing which students need and don’t need to pay [for the pass] wasn’t a priority,” Rush said. “More than anything else, we wanted to roll out the system and see how it works.”

According to Nico Richardson, director of Transportation Services for the AUSD, the possibility of a fee for these passes will be decided at a later date for the 2017-18 school year.

“We’re still collecting data about how many students would need to pay for a pass,” Richardson said. “The fee for a majority of students will be waived, but we’re going to see if the board policy [about charging for passes] will hold for the next school year.”

The bus passes will be distributed from Jan. 17-18.

In the Sept. 22, 2016 print issue, The Matador reported on Alhambra Unified's reasoning for implementing a bus fee, and how much it would cost for students not eligible for a waiver. The article, "New bus system implements student fee," can also be found here.

Next semester, the Alhambra Unified School District (AUSD) plans to implement a new system called Z Pass onto district school buses, funded by a grant from Zonar, a GPS tracking company. The usage of this system will require a bus pass separate from regular student IDs, and some students will be charged for these passes.

Students who receive free or reduced lunch will be eligible for free bus passes; however, students who do not qualify will be charged $100 a semester for a bus pass. If a family under full-priced lunch has more than three children taking buses after school, the cost for passes will top off at $300.                                  

“Students paying to ride the school buses has been a board policy for many years, but it hasn’t been enforced,” Nico Richardson, director of Transportation Services for the AUSD, said. “[Bus passes] will now go with applying for lunch passes; both are covered with just one application.”                               

Lunch applications do not need to be resubmitted in order to obtain a bus pass. In addition, Matthew Dultz, assistant principal of Business and Activities, explains how these bus passes may be distributed based on his previous experience at Mark Keppel High School.                                  

“What may happen, like what they do at Keppel, is that you pay for the bus pass at school, so you don’t have to walk all the way to the district office,” Dultz said. “For those that should be paying, it comes out to about $20 dollars for the whole month, which is 50 cents a ride.                                   

The district-wide implementation of Z Pass reflects the concern for student safety, as the bus passes will serve as ID cards to scan and identify students as they board the bus.                               

“That way, I can check and see what bus [a student] is on and whether they got off or not to make sure no one gets left behind,” Richardson said. “We will be able to keep track of the number of students who board the bus and to locate students if necessary. [We can also] track buses with GPS and see how fast they’re [driving].”    

The Z Pass system also comes in response to the passage of Senate Bill 1072 by the Calif. state legislature, mandating that all school buses be equipped with an alarm that sounds when the engine is turned off. The bus driver would then have to walk to the back of the bus and scan all the seats before disabling the alarm. The bill now awaits approval by Gov. Jerry Brown.

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