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The free, fun bus that gets Detroit kids to after-school activities

Mar 21, 2015

A bus company in Detroit sees a future for the city where every kid can get a ride to their after-school programs, and then back to their door for free. 

The Detroit Bus Company is trying to make that dream a reality with the Youth Transit Alliance, which currently runs during the week in Southwest Detroit. 

The bus takes 20-50 kids from 10 different schools to their after-school programs, and makes sure they get home safely afterwards. 

The YTA began last year, and in its pilot year they gave rides to more than 5,000 kids. 

"The goal is increased engagement," says Andy Didorosi, president of the Detroit Bus company. "It’s to show kids that there’s a world outside of their ... neighborhood that they can go and learn and do lots of amazing things that they otherwise wouldn’t think possible, and have opportunities available to them now that weren’t available, and it’s just via a simple bus ride."

Salvador Villagrana is a senior at Detroit Cristo Ray high school. He takes the bus to get back and forth from robotics.

"What we’re doing now could help us out on our transcript, and going to college. And it opened my eyes as in wanting to go into engineering. I wanted to start off with being a pre-occupational therapist, and it kinda changed my mind." 

Didorosi has seen the benefits these after-school programs have had on former riders of the YTA. Two kids last year got scholarships to college that they may not have been able to get otherwise. 

"To see a teacher tell you, my kids are now successful and they wouldn't have been otherwise without this bus, is moving, and it's powerful." – Andy Didorosi, President of the DBC

"To see a teacher tell you, my kids are now successful and they wouldn’t have been otherwise without this bus is moving, and it’s powerful," Didorosi said. 

But some of the kids that take the bus aren't thinking about college – they're elementary schoolers who like riding this big, colorful bus with their friends. 

"I would say this bus looks like it came from outer space and came to earth, that it chose us," says eight-year-old Daniel Estrella. 

There’s a supervisor, or “conductor” who is especially important for the little ones that ride the bus. The conductor helps them with homework, and walks them to their door at the end of the day.

"I had a few moments last week where it was really kind of emotional, to walk them to their door and to make sure they get them home safely, and to be the one responsible for that," says conductor Mary Mares.

Some kids ride the bus every day. Others ride just once a week. Participation in the program has been growing as more parents hear about the service. Because participation fluctuates, the bus route changes every day. It’s kind of a logistical nightmare for the people running the operation. But for the kids, it's free, safe, and reliable. 

"The kids have something that they can rely on every day, day in and day out," says Didorosi. "They see the same adult on the bus, the same driver, they’re expecting them. That bus is there on time, it will wait for them if they don’t show up. This is a level of customer service that these kids don’t have in their daily life."

But if the company doesn't find money, and fast, the buses could stop running. 

The Skillman Foundation funded the first year of the YTA, but this year the Detroit Bus Company has had to come up with money to keep the YTA moving. If it doesn't make its fundraising goal, the bus will stop running in April.

– Paige Pfleger, Michigan Radio