Jeff Ackerman: Combining local bus systems: Just a pipe dream? |

Jeff Ackerman: Combining local bus systems: Just a pipe dream?

Call me crazy, but I dreamed about buses last night. I know … what happened to flying chickens and monsters under my desk.

This dream was so real I could almost smell the fumes from the back of the bus.

Gasoline prices were $10 a gallon and little children were walking to school because the big, yellow, gas-guzzling buses were unable to leave the bus yards because the schools spent all their money on books and food and teachers and silly stuff like that and didn’t have any left to give the kids rides to school.

It was awful watching those little bodies lugging those 60-pound backpacks up the road after staying up until midnight with homework.

Meanwhile, the mostly empty Gold Country Stage buses were driving right past the kids because they didn’t have to worry about the price of gas because the government gave them $4 million a year to provide rides for 1,000 people in a population of 100,000 or so (that’s 1 percent). I know … my dreams always seem to include math, which is why I wake up with a headache.

“Can’t we stop for them?” one fellow in the air-conditioned Gold Country Stage bus asked the driver.

“Nope, we have a schedule to meet and I don’t want to wait for them to dig out 50 cents from those stupid backpacks.”

One day an astute government official recognized that there just might be efficiencies to be had by encouraging Gold Country Stage to offer transportation to the 4,000 or so students who were left to fend for themselves.

“I mean, it’s costing Gold Country Stage $10 for every ride and we’re only getting a dollar from each rider,” he said. “It seems to me we could generate more money if we put together a proposal to the school districts.”

“Are you out of your mind?” one of his government colleagues shouted. “This is government. If you want to think outside your little box, go someplace else.”

“I know,” the innovative official whispered. “But it seems to me it doesn’t make much sense to operate two large transportation systems at a time when gasoline costs so much and we’re trying to reduce emissions and all that stuff.”

My dreams are not only filled with lots of boring dialogue, but they’re also environmentally friendly.

There were several murmurs from among the fellow’s fellow board members and one suggested they form a committee to study the proposal for as long as it took for everyone to forget about it.

Then someone pounded the gavel and they all went home, where they dreamed about little bunnies and re-election.

Fortunately, the man didn’t give up. He drove to Sacra-mento, where the $4 million in Gold Country Stage money comes from, and met with some very important government officials who told him his idea just wouldn’t work because the money for Gold Country Stage came from AB-11987 Funds and not from AB-78653 Funds and therefore could not be mingled.

“As you can see from this chart, this arrow goes up and this one goes down,” explained one of the high-ranking state officials. “So if we did what you are asking, we’d be left with only one arrow and that just wouldn’t work.”

By the time he got home that evening the man had stopped at three bars and was completely drunk, vowing never to think outside the box again.

When I woke up the next morning I drove my two kids to the high school because they just don’t like riding the bus. Some kids don’t have very good manners and all kinds of things happen in the back of a school bus.

I remember the time my friends tied me to a seat and I missed first period. My friends were pretty funny in the morning.

I passed several school bus stops that had 15 or so kids waiting with their backpacks. I also passed several empty Gold Country Stage bus stops and wondered if there wasn’t something very real about my dream.

For starters, it just makes no sense to me that we’re spending so much money on Gold Country Stage to serve so few riders at such low fares. I understand the need to provide public transportation, but at what cost? And if it’s designed to encourage fewer cars on the road, doesn’t it make sense to see if we can somehow figure a way to get those big, yellow buses off the road? Why not consider consolidating bus systems? Why not figure a way to at least break even with Gold Country Stage by going to the school districts with a proposal to transport our students?

What’s stopping it is leadership and the notion that status-quo is so much easier on the brain.

Unfortunately, our problems today will require a new way of thinking. Status quo isn’t working. If we were building this transportation system from scratch, I suspect it would look much different.

To that end, we need to encourage innovation and empower our leaders to dream big and to step outside the box. The alarm is sounding and it’s time to wake up.

Jeff Ackerman is the publisher of The Union. His column appears on Tuesdays. Contact him at 477-4299,, or 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley 95945.

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