Bus service restored to San Juan Ridge after a decade
Bus Route 7
Monday through Friday, the bus leaves Grass Valley at 6 a.m., with its final stop at North Columbia Cultural Center at 6:49 a.m. It leaves the cultural center at 7 a.m., arriving back in Grass Valley at 8 a.m. The afternoon routes leave Grass Valley at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.
Adult fares are $3 one way, $1.50 for seniors and children 5-17, children younger than 5 ride free. Monthly passes are available.
For years, San Juan Ridge residents without running vehicles have had to make do, often hitchhiking the 15 to 20 miles to “town.”
Regular bus service has been an elusive dream since the county eliminated their bus route in 2009. But after years of lobbying and persistent efforts by residents, a bus began its inaugural run Monday between downtown Grass Valley and the Ridge.
“It’s great,” said Jackie McCort, who made a point of being one of the first riders. “I was so excited, like Santa is coming. Three people had already gotten on before me. … We were all just absolutely thrilled. The driver was so nice.”
Route 7 runs from the Tinloy Transit Center past Nevada Union High School and the Rood Center before making stops that include the South Yuba River bridge, North San Juan, Sierra Family Medical Clinic and North Columbia Cultural Center. The new route runs three times a day and takes about two hours round trip — leaving Grass Valley at 6 a.m. and returning starting at 7 a.m., with two more runs starting at 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. The stops listed are “time points,” and the bus will pull over for riders elsewhere if it’s safe for the driver to stop.
“So many people don’t have cars up here,” said McCort. “They hitchhike.”
McCort does have a truck and when she drives, she makes a point of picking people who need rides, she said.
But, she said, the bus is a relaxing — and economical — alternative.
“I’m so grateful to have the bus, I don’t want to drive to town all the time,” McCort said, adding, “As a senior, it only cost me $1.50 to go to town. I can’t drive for that amount.”
On Wednesday, McCort rode the bus again into North San Juan, enjoying the opportunity to just sit and look out the window at the scenery.
Next up on her list is a trip into Nevada City.
“I’ve been dying to go to the (Searls) Historical Library,” she said. “Usually, I don’t have time.”
A decade without service
The Nevada County Transit Commission voted to eliminate service to the San Juan Ridge in early 2009 despite impassioned pleas from residents. The cut was part of a larger recommendation to address an $840,000 budget shortfall, caused by the loss of state transit money and declining sales tax revenues that fund the Gold Country Stage system.
Over the intervening years, efforts to advocate for the return of the bus went nowhere, said Roo Cantada, a Ridge resident who helped spearhead this latest, successful effort.
The Ridge, like most parts of the county, has a varied demographic that includes low-income residents, But, Cantada pointed out, it is very rural. And that makes the lack of transportation a pressing problem for its poorer citizens.
“We have a lot of people here with no choices,” she said, adding one can’t rely on hitchhiking every day to get to a job or to school.
“With gas at $4 a gallon, even … people (with vehicles) are cutting back,” Cantada said. “We go to town once a week now.”
Cantada was part of an effort back in 2017 to get Ridge residents together to address the community’s pressing issues. About 30 people showed up for that brainstorming session, she said — a group that became the genesis for the San Juan Ridge Action Community Team (SJR-ACT).
“I said we had to have ACT in the name,” Cantada laughed. “I get so sick of just talking.”
The group prioritized its top five issues and identified members who were willing to take the lead on each committee, with Cantada getting involved in the transportation fight with Coral Locatelli and Rhea Williamson.
They began showing up at transportation commission meetings on a consistent basis, and began getting some buy-in from county officials. After meeting with commission staff, the Ridge action group drafted a survey designed to provide some demographic information.
“We distributed 300 surveys,” Cantada said. “Then we provided the county with a detailed summary of the data we collected.”
Transit Services Manager Robin Van Valkenburgh has nothing but praise for Cantada, Williamson and Locatelli.
“They put their money where their mouth is,” he said. “They made a huge effort to get this in place. We put the onus on them to drive the route forward and they did it, they took the challenge and ran with it.”
Initially, Cantada said, the county proposed running a bus three or four days a week but realized that wasn’t practical after input from the community.
“We insisted on five days a week and they listened to us,” she said.
Getting the word out
The decision to run two late afternoon routes was to accommodate high school students who want to stay in town for jobs or after-school activities.
“It is designed for employment and school,” Van Valkenburgh said. “The route works for people coming in to town to work if they have an 8-to-5 job. … We will see how it does, see the feedback. If need be, we will do some adjustments to the schedule in the fall. That will give us a little bit of time after school starts to see if it’s actually working for the kids. It’s not fully set in stone.”
Less than a week in, Van Valkenburgh is “pretty stoked” about the response.
“It’s nice that it’s finally come about and that we have a couple of years to build it,” he said, adding that the first few days had more than 20 riders but dropped on Wednesday.
“That’s much better than I expected it to do initially,” Van Valkenburgh said. “We just need to market it, and make sure the service stays consistent. We’ll be trying to get more and more of the word out and get it underway.”
Cantada, who plans to distribute flyers and bus schedules all along the Ridge, concurs.
“This is a two-year pilot,” she said. I’m hoping everybody will ride the heck out of (the bus).”
Contact reporter Liz Kellar at 530-477-4236 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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