LEWISTON – Minutes after the bell rang Tuesday and students poured out of Lewiston High, 300-plus walked to a convoy of yellow buses.

Some 40 students climbed on Bus No. 15. Driver Ralph Nelson was behind the wheel. Students on that bus praised a new Lewiston School Department policy that provides free rides this year for the first time.

Last year students had to pay for a bus ride, 60 cents each way. Four buses transported high-schoolers.

This year there are 14 of the buses.

Some students said the free bus rides make all the difference on whether they get to school at all on some days.

Brett Lagasse, 18, takes the bus “because I have no car.” Without busing, “I’d be walking. I live at Hillview. It’s pretty far,” he said. Last year, Lagasse had to pay. “It kind of sucks.” At least once he didn’t get to school because he didn’t have the fare. On that day, “I missed a lot of work,” he said

Mohamed Sheikh, 16, said he takes the bus every day and needs the rides “because my dad goes to work.” Not paying makes a big difference, he said. “Sometimes when you don’t have money, you can’t ride the bus, so you stay home. Now you don’t have to have money.”

Janay Bennett, 17, a junior, said busing allows her to sleep at home. “I stayed at a friend’s house a lot last year so I didn’t have to pay.”

Logan Lessard, 18, cited three reasons for taking the bus: saving money with rising gas prices, not relying on his parents, “and it’s good for the environment. It’s like car pooling.”

Cameron Marcotte, 15, a freshman, said his bus works well with his family’s schedule. Without it, “I’d probably be getting a ride from my parents, but they don’t go to work until later.” With most other Maine high schools offering transportation, Marcotte said he doesn’t think students should have to pay.

Of the 1,446 Lewiston High School students, about 900 qualify for bus rides. Students have to live a mile-and-a-quarter from the school, or would have to cross a high-traffic street.

So far about 305 to 375 students are taking the bus, Director of Transportation Butch Pratt said. Last year, 120 students took the bus. “It roughly tripled the number of kids on the bus. We’re pleased with the turnout so far.” With many students already driving to school, “we knew it would take a year or two to cycle in,” Pratt said.

On some days, 500 students ride the bus, said Principal Gus LeBlanc. The increasing use of buses has reduced congestion during mornings when parents drop students off. On many days, traffic became backed up, not only on the school’s driveways, but also out on East Avenue, LeBlanc said.

Providing transportation promotes a positive cultural change that the school department values students attending school “so much we’re offering bus service to get them there,” LeBlanc said.

Another plus is fewer students being late or missing school, especially in bad weather, the principal said. Providing transportation “removes a barrier for students. The ability to ride a bus makes a big difference.”


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