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Petition fights cut in bus routes, higher fares

Laura Brown
Staff Writer

A Grass Valley man has begun circulating a petition to halt changes that could reduce bus routes that people rely on to get to work and school.

Maxwell Van Acker, 22, has collected more than 200 signatures so far. He hopes to present 2,000 names on Aug. 20 when he appears before the Nevada County Board of Supervisors at a Transit Services Commission public hearing at the Eric Rood Center, 950 Maidu Ave. in Nevada City.

At the hearing, the commission will consider eliminating or reducing hours of certain bus routes to make the Gold Country Stage transit system work more cost-effective.

Discontinuing routes to Colfax, reducing trips to North San Juan and eliminating the runs from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. from Grass Valley to Nevada City are all options the commission is considering.

If evening bus routes are eliminated, it will create a hardship for Van Acker, who suffers from an injured knee and was planning to take night classes at Sierra College this fall.

“Cutting back the routes isn’t going to help anybody. If that bus route were enacted, I wouldn’t be able to go home right now,” Van Acker said.

Acker believes the bus system should move in the opposite direction, broadening its trips on the weekends for people who work or need to make a trip to the hospital.

Raising bus fares by 50 to 100 percent is also a consideration, said District 3 Supervisor John Spencer. Since 1990, fares have remained at $1; bus riders pay about 11 percent of the cost to run the bus system, said Susan Healy-Harmon, the county’s transit services manager, in a May interview with The Union.

In recent years, the bus system has faced challenges because local and state transportation funding sources have remained flat while fuel and operation costs continue to rise, according to a statement on the Gold Country Stage Web site.

“They need to look at routes and the whole system to make sure they’re not paying more than they should,” Spencer said.

A budget shortfall of $135,000 to $200,000 is expected in the upcoming fiscal year 2008-09.

Sadananda Haag of Grass Valley buys a monthly bus pass and uses public transit for his primary means of transportation after giving up owning a vehicle as a way to save money. He plans to attend the Aug. 20 hearing and voice concerns over proposed route changes.

“One of those buses goes to Colfax. I hope they don’t eliminate it completely because that’s where the Greyhound bus is,” Haag said, who uses the system to get out of town and visit family.

Haag uses Route 10 heading to North San Juan to go for a swim.

“It’s nice in the summertime because it’s the only way you can get to the river,” Haag said.

In recent months, Haag has noticed more people riding Route 4, a loop that takes riders to downtown Grass Valley, Glenbrook Basin, Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital and Sierra College, he said. He attributed the increase in riders to high gas prices.

During 2006-2007, the number of riders increased 10 percent and is on track to rise an additional 10 percent this year, Healy-Harmon has said.

“It’s important especially the way gas prices have been going up. We really need to try to protect it and make it work,” Spencer said.

If changes are approved on Aug. 20, they will be implemented by Oct. 6.

For the next few weeks, those who want to sign Acker’s petition can find him stationed at the bus stop on the corner of Church and Neal streets, where he plans to spend several hours each day.

To contact Staff Writer Laura Brown, e-mail lbrown@theunion.com or call 477-4231.

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