This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
If you squint just right, Roberta Bellamy looks like she’s living in a public school paradise.
On mornings when everything goes as planned, a taxi driver pulls up to her house in West Philadelphia at 7:20 a.m. and whisks her son, Kareem, to a private school in the suburbs. A special aide rides alongside him, ensuring the 45-minute ride goes smoothly.
This kind of personalized morning commute is typically reserved for the ultra-rich, but Bellamy doesn’t pay a penny.
The School District of Philadelphia covers the cab, which costs roughly $228 a day, or $41,040 over a 180-day school year. The District also pays Kareem’s aide $17,500 each year.
Add it all up, and the cost of merely getting Kareem Bellamy to and from school every day runs the taxpayer over $58,000 annually — more than the $53,000 price tag for a year of undergraduate tuition at Columbia University. The District’s cost for the average bus rider is about $4,500 a year.
Something that comes with a Cadillac price, one would assume, comes with Cadillac service. But when WHYY asked parents, advocates, and lawyers about taxicab transportation for students, we heard more grumbling than gratitude.
Roberta Bellamy’s experience explains why.