Bus system overhaul? | TheUnion.com

Bus system overhaul?

Although it won’t save money immediately – in fact, it will even cost “tens of thousands of dollars” – reorganizing western Nevada County’s bus service could be the way to go, the Transit Services Commission agreed Wednesday morning.

“When you find yourself in a hole, it’s time to stop digging,” said Commissioner Josh Susman, a Truckee town councilman. He said he thought a switch would help the public transportation system stabilize its shaky financial situation.

In the past few years, the service has raised fares and cut routes, including the evening service between Grass Valley and Nevada City. Most routes now end around 6:30 p.m., and buses run to North San Juan and Colfax only one day a week. It is unknown whether the proposed reorganization would help restore lost routes.

Currently, the Gold Country Stage bus service is operated through a complex tangle involving Grass Valley, Nevada City and Nevada County, although it is technically a part of the county government. Gold Country Telecare, a nonprofit that provides rides for disabled residents, has a contract with the county but also receives direction from the cities.

This complicated system is unusual, consultants wrote in the recently released report.

To improve efficiency, the consultants recommended creating an “authority” to govern the bus service and Telecare.

The authority would split off from the county and be overseen by a board comprised of members appointed by the county, Grass Valley, and Nevada City. Bus drivers and other staffers would be employees of the authority.

The proposed board would have the ability to control its own budget, respond to changes with flexibility, and improve the balance of county and city interests, consultant firm NelsonNygaard wrote in the report.

The consultants project a year-and-a-half long transition period that would cost “tens of thousands of dollars” to hire staffers and formalize the change.

Several commissioners said the transition costs, which were expected to be recouped later, posed a significant obstacle.

“I think right now it would be (unwise) to pursue this avenue without having tangible evidence of a cost savings,” said Commissioner Robin Sutherland, a Nevada County supervisor.

Susman said the temporary cuts would be worthwhile if a business plan was developed to improve the financial condition of the public transportation system, which has been struggling for several years.

The reorganization is not a preliminary step toward privatizing the bus system, Commissioner Ann Guerra said.

The commissioners directed Transit Services Manager Bill Derrick to return before the commission with the expected costs of the reorganization.

In other business:

• Gold Country Stage reported it provided 18,114 rides in January, down 5 percent from December and down 14 percent from a year prior. Derrick attributed the decrease to weather, the holidays, and route cutbacks.

Gold Country Telecare, which provides subsidized rides to disabled county residents, gave 3,861 rides in January, up from December’s total of 3,638.

• Gold Country Stage is faced with costly changes needed to meet state regulations that require reduced emissions by 2007, Derrick said. The bus service has three diesel vehicles that would be affected. Derrick said he is planning to attend a Feb. 24 state meeting to request an exemption or extension for small districts who have made efforts to improve air quality.

• The commission approved plans to install advertisements on buses for the county’s Elder Abuse Advocacy program and the Domestic Violence Commission. A discussion of a formal advertising policy will be held at a future meeting.

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