School transportation officials in Boston want to give 4,500 middle-school students a taste of independence and recoup millions of dollars at the same time by replacing yellow school buses with MBTA passes. It’s the kind of bold proposal that springs up during tough budget debates. And it’s a good idea on both counts.
By age 12 or 13, the average student in Boston is more than capable of riding a bus or subway without adult supervision. Even a savvy 11-year-old should have no trouble navigating the T. Middle-school students may suffer a reputation for moodiness and surliness. But neither personality trait is a barrier to getting on a subway car. If a sunny attitude were required, then the trains would be empty during rush hour.
It’s tempting to see this plan as part of the growing “Free-Range Kids’’ movement that encourages overbearing parents to lighten up and allow children to rely more on their own wits to get through the day. Perhaps this plan will launch some kids on the path to independence. But Boston’s public schoolchildren aren’t exactly coddled now. Almost 80 percent of them qualify for free or discounted lunch based on family income. And many of them already face more complex daily challenges than jumping on the T.