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Bus pilot shows few riders, high costs for schools
August 13, 2012, 05:00 AM By Heather Murtagh Daily Journal Staff
With low ridership and high cost, the San Carlos Elementary School District decided not to continue a bus serving Tierra Linda Middle School and San Carlos Charter Learning Center.

Earlier this year, the district received a Safe Routes to School grant from the San Mateo County Office of Education for a bus service test. Traffic often backs up on San Carlos Avenue before and after school. A bus, the district thought, might offer a solution to that problem. While 98 students were signed up for the bus by the end of the pilot, daily ridership never reached over 38 — making the cost too high.  

"The pilot project demonstrated that although interest in this project was high, it did not translate into actual usage of the bus by the families who signed up,” according to a release posted on the district website Thursday. "Between the low participation rate and the high cost of running the bus, the board determined that a transportation project of this nature is not financially feasible for the district at this time.”

As a result, there will not be a shuttle offered for the upcoming school year.

The 17-day pilot — May 18 through June 8 — was also made possible through a partnership with the Sequoia Union High School District, which loaned San Carlos a 72-passenger bus and driver to the district. Students were picked up from three locations — Heather School, Arundel School and Devonshire Boulevard and Windsor Drive. On average, the daily cost for the bus was $405, according to an evaluation completed after the pilot.

Of the 40 parents who gave feedback that they felt their child was transported safely and that the bus resulted in fewer car trips to school. Students often didn’t ride the bus because he or she needed to be transported to another activity, according to 55 percent of responders. Over 20 percent said the bus schedule didn’t meet the family needs.

Parents were likely to use the service again if more stops were added and if it was offered for free, according to the respondents.

Bus services have a long history in San Carlos. The city previously tried to offer a free shuttle service called SCOOT — San Carlos Optimal Operational Transit.

SCOOT provided door-to-door service. A user called a city number, requested a ride and got one without a set schedule or bus stop. In 2002, the $1 million pilot program was funded from a transportation sales tax, gas tax and money typically used for street repair. At its peak, ridership on the 20-person shuttles included 19,387 trips. Primary users include school children and the elderly although more than 500 commuters also benefit by taking routes to the Caltrain station. In 2005, the council sought a $59 parcel tax in hopes of funding the service. Without the funding, SCOOT ceased service June 17, 2005.

Heather Murtagh can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 105.

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