Ithaca, N.Y. — The Ithaca City School District (ICSD) covers a vast geographic area, most of it in rural areas outside the city of Ithaca. Although TCAT serves these areas, for most rural families, bus service is available on a very limited schedule if at all, and the nearest route may pass miles from the family’s home.


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In a low-income family with one or two wage earners working outside the home, there may not be anyone available to transport children to or from school for activities. When there is an at-home caregiver, he or she may not have access to a vehicle or money for gas.

Research shows that children who are involved in extracurricular activities are more likely to achieve academic success. That creates significant barriers to the education of some low-income students — barriers that we believe can be overcome.

File photo courtesy of Wikimedia

Here are a few facts that may surprise you about student barriers to transportation right here in Ithaca:

»» ICSD has the 8th highest percentage of residents living in poverty among all school districts in New York State (27%), even though Tompkins County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state.

»» Nearly 38% of ICSD students receive the free or reduced lunch rate.

»» Free and reduced lunch students from rural areas in the ICSD show the lowest rate of participation in extracurricular activities.

»» 45% of surveyed Ithaca High School students said they would be more involved at school if they could find transportation.

»» The average yearly cost of owning and operating a car in 2014 was close to $9,000, or 36% of poverty level income for a family of four.

What SSTC does to help

The School Success Transportation Coalition (SSTC) aims to alleviate these income-based opportunity inequities in our local schools. We advocate for an array of creative transportation solutions for students and families.

We provide or support:

»» Transportation Liaisons in every ICSD school to help solve transportation problems.
»» TCAT Bus Passes for secondary students to attend activities.
»» Individual rides for family members to attend school conferences, meetings, and events.
»» Ride-sharing among families to enhance community and sustainability.
»» Subsidized shared taxi rides for groups of families to attend school events.

The iconic yellow school bus

The iconic yellow school bus is a universal symbol of public education in the U.S.

We all know that students get to and from school every day on school buses, if they aren’t transported by parents or caregivers or don’t live close enough to walk. Sometimes there are “late” buses provided for students in extracurricular activities.

In our local districts many activities (sports practices and games, music and theater rehearsals and performances, academic clubs and homework help groups) are held outside of the district’s bus schedule. Students who don’t have their own transportation are simply left out.

Family involvement is also critical to children’s success in school. Students whose parents or caregivers are engaged in their education tend to have higher grades and test scores and more positive attitudes and behavior. But families without transportation miss out on teacher conferences, important meetings, open houses, athletic events, arts performances, and other school events.

If you would like to help, we are always looking for volunteers to give rides or to join the coalition. Contact Carrie Kerr at For more information, see

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.