[Marin County] Ross Valley considers partnership to oversee school bus program

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report. More and more reporters are citing grand jury reports. Have you noticed? 

After years of success, Ross Valley officials are strengthening a yellow bus program aimed at relieving school-related gridlock.

The San Anselmo Town Council on Tuesday voted unanimously to act as the lead agency in what’s called a joint exercise of powers agreement between the Ross Valley School District, the county and the town of Fairfax.

The agreement allows officials to form a governing committee to oversee and provide feedback to Marin Transit, which manages the yellow bus program. Each jurisdiction is expected to take a vote on the agreement in the coming months.

San Anselmo Town Manager David Donery is a parent of a White Hill Middle School student who rides the bus.

“Not only does the program help relieve traffic congestion along the (Sir Francis Drake Boulevard) corridor in the morning hours,” Donery said, “but it also greatly helps families with the occasionally frantic early morning dance of getting everyone up and out and to where they need to be.”

So far, the yellow bus program in the Ross Valley runs six buses to and from White Hill middle and Hidden Valley elementary schools with the county, San Anselmo and Fairfax contributing funds to reduce the cost of bus passes. The program was designed to free up Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, the major thoroughfare connecting Highway 101 traffic in Central Marin to West Marin.

This year, 930 one-way bus passes have been sold at $395 each, according to Marin Transit.

In an email, Rick Bagley, the Ross Valley superintendent of schools said, “we are grateful our county provides this long-standing service to the community … and in doing so, they are undoubtedly helping mitigate some of the congestion both residents and visitors would otherwise experience on Sir Frances Drake Boulevard.”

Mill Valley and Tiburon/Belvedere also provide the yellow bus program for K-8 students, with Marin County and those municipalities contributing funds to reduce the cost of passes.

The Reed Union School District, serving families on the Tiburon Peninsula, was the first district to work with Marin Transit to develop a yellow bus program designed to get cars off Tiburon Boulevard during the morning and afternoon commute, said Robert Betts, Marin Transit’s director of operations who helped develop the program.

In 2016, officials with the school district, Belvedere and Tiburon formed the Tiburon Peninsula Traffic Relief Joint Powers Agency. After several years in operation, it has been pointed to as the example of a successful bus program, unclogging the roadway leading to Highway 101, Betts said.

This year Reed Union has sold 1,328 one-way passes for $315 each. The program operates seven buses to and from its three campuses.

Building off the model set by Reed Union, the Mill Valley School District began its own bus program with two buses serving two schools. At $360 each, 172 one-way annual passes have been sold this year.

“Clearly, the three yellow bus programs have been valuable in not only getting kids to school safely, but getting cars off the road,” Betts said.

For years Marin Transit has had a deal with school districts across the county, offering a youth pass to students in an effort to get cars off the road. A six-month pass costs $175 and a year pass is $325. It allows pass holders to board local routes to schools without paying the additional fare. But that program caters to older students, specifically high-schoolers, Betts said.

Earlier this year, the Marin County Civil Grand Jury released a report saying that Marin Transit should take the lead in creating a countywide school bus program that would be funded by the county and its cities and towns.

Betts said Marin Transit has formed an ad hoc committee that is studying where they can expand. But the agency is limited in what it can do because there is no existing facility suitable to house the yellow buses in Marin. What they’re left with is contracting bus companies from out of county, Betts said.

Marin voters earlier this month passed a renewal of a half-cent sales tax that funds transportation projects, and money from that tax could be used to bolster plans.

Measure AA replaces Measure A and comes with a new spending plan that includes about $1.35 million annually to support school bus programs. The original spending scheme that came with Measure A earmarked about $1 million annually for such programs.

“This is more money; it’s not a lot more, but it will help,” said Dianne Steinhauser, executive director of the Transportation Authority of Marin, which manages and distributes Measure AA funds.

“We know from the examples already in Marin that removing school trips from congested roadways is a great way to reduce traffic,” she said. “It’s an important investment for traffic reduction and it’s good for greenhouse gas emissions reduction.”

November 28, 2018

Marin Independent Journal

By Adrian Rodriguez

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