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Jeffco Public Schools conducting transportation survey

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By Deborah Swearingen

Jeffco Public Schools is exploring district transportation, and in doing so, plans to examine ways to increase bus ridership in the district and to decrease the number of bus accidents and breakdowns.

The district transportation department is conducting a survey among parents regarding bus ridership fees and more. The goal is to gauge interest and insight, and from there, the district will likely form focus groups to further delve into the issue. Depending on results, it may devise a plan to meet one or both of the transportation goals.

The school board convened for a study session on Dec. 19 in which board members heard a transportation report from several staff members.

About six years ago, the district added a bus rider fee of $150 per eligible student and $200 per choice student riders. Upon doing so, bus ridership in Jeffco dipped. Now, it is significantly lower than other large, metro-area school districts. For example, Denver Public Schools has 36 percent ridership; Boulder Valley School District has 34 percent; and Aurora Public Schools has 33 percent. While Jeffco used to have approximately 31 percent ridership, that’s dropped to 23 percent since the district instated bus rider fees.

In addition to ridership, the district also faces a number of other challenges, including a driver shortage, a low bus-to-mechanic ratio and challenging standards and regulations on the state and federal level.

“Our buses travel so many miles. We have one of the highest levels of buses to mechanics,” said Greg Jones, executive director of Jeffco’s transportation office.

The district currently has about 32 buses per mechanic. On average, the buses travel 25,000 miles a day, and the geography of the district presents challenges as well. Each articulation area has a different dynamic. For example, in the mountain areas of Evergreen and Conifer bus drivers need at least a 40-minute turnaround time, whereas the more suburban parts of the district need 20 to 30 minutes.

“Each area has a different need, and each area has a different ridership demand structure, too,” Jones said.

Most of the problems revolve around resources, and it’s something the school board recognized.

“We could probably solve most of your problems with resources,” said board president Ron Mitchell. “We could paint a different picture if we could lower the age of our bus fleet. We could paint a different picture if we could eliminate all fees. Don’t know about the logic or our ability to do that. But we understand many of the challenges that you face.”

The board made no decisions at its Dec. 19 study session. It will hear more on the issue after survey results have been tabulated.