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As Transit Strike Continues, Enterprising Students Make Connections

Late Wednesday morning in the quiet hallways of Burlington High School, four students stand in a cluster near the cafeteria while their peers are in class. They’re discussing the merits of binding arbitration.

The BHS seniors, Abby Massell, Sabine Rogers, Maddie Cook and Henry Prine aren’t discussing abstract legal theories for class – they’re talking about rides to school. In the middle of the second week of the Chittenden County Transportation Authority drivers’ strike, the group launched a school-wide ride-share system that connects students with empty seats in their cars to students who need rides.

Despite extra efforts by parents, peers and community volunteers, many Burlington students are still arriving late to school. Whether they walk across town or get snarled in the morning traffic on North Avenue, many Burlington High School’s students are dealing with a tougher commute as a result of the strike.

“It’s been interesting that we’ve had less of an impact on our overall attendance rate, so more or less students are actually getting to school each day,” said BHS Principal Amy Mellencamp. "Where we've seen the bigger impact, I would say, is lateness to school, but students are getting here more or less."

Well into week two of the strike, and with the negotiations between CCTA management and the drivers at a standstill, Massell, Rogers, Cook and Prine decided to take matters into their own hands.

“It was a teacher at the school who actually was the first person to think of it,” said Prine. “She said that she had something similar during a mass transit strike when she was in high school, and so she passed along the idea.”

The students took it from there.

"What's kind of cool about just having one giant map is that it just creates a picture - for everyone who signs up - a picture of BHS." - Sabine Rogers, BHS Senior

  A map of Burlington is posted on the wall in the BHS cafeteria. Next to it, a numbered sign-up list with columns for name, phone number and whether seeking or offering rides. As of Wednesday morning, about 24 hours after the ride-share launched, there were 25 names on the list.

On the map, the students who signed up have pinned numbered slips of paper (matching their number on the sign-up list) over where they live. Anyone hoping to get involved can see who lives along their route to school and check the list for their phone number.

“I think what’s kind of cool about just having one giant map is that it just creates a picture – for everyone who signs up – a picture of BHS,” said Rogers. “It’s really sort of grown into a pretty interesting picture and a kind of cool picture of where kids live around Burlington and how interconnected we are.”

The students said they put together the entire project over the weekend, and most of them have cars. Their intent was to create a sustainable system that take pressure off the bus drivers, who they all say they support.

“They’re asking for really important safety issues, really important dignity and respect issues,” said Prine. “I mean these drivers really care about the people they transport. I’ve had requests from drivers who want to come to the school and talk to the students, explain to them why they’re unable to drive the students to school. They feel really bad about it.”

The students said that beyond the communal benefit of getting rides to and from school, the ride-share has given them a feeling of community that goes beyond transportation or school.

“You’re in high school, but getting outside into the community and somehow connecting the two and realizing that you’re not just going to high school for four years through classes, and then on to graduate to college,” said Abby Massell, one of the student organizers. “You’re being a part of something so much bigger.”

Taylor was VPR's digital reporter from 2013 until 2017. After growing up in Vermont, he graduated with at BA in Journalism from Northeastern University in 2013.
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