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Bus service for kids or patch potholes?

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POSTED September 23, 2009 1:37 a.m.
LATHROP – Will the Regional Transportation District be able to come to the rescue of Lathrop High School students so they won’t have to walk the 2.5-mile to school especially in the coming winter months?

But after city staff crunched the numbers as requested by the City Council, the question might very well be: Can the city afford the approximately quarter-million-dollar annual price tag estimated to provide this extra transportation service?

And since that money would come from the Transportation Development Act federal funds that the city receives every year to use for roadway projects and street repairs if there are no unmet traffic needs identified, the other question would be: Which city need should be given priority – street repairs or enhanced bus services for students and other residents?

Those were some of the preliminary figures and scenarios brought up during the council’s study session Tuesday night at City Hall. That’s the second of three potential options presented by city staff for council consideration and discussion at a future meeting.

Concern over the cancellation of bus service for Lathrop High School students as part of Manteca Unified’s continuing efforts this fiscal year to cope with severe budget deficits prompted the above action by the council and city staff.

The second option described above comes with a steep price tag because it would mean creating a new bus route other than what is currently being provided by RTD and having two buses instead of just one bus plying up to two routes to make it easier for students to get a ride. Lathrop currently has only one RTD bus plying one intercity route, enhanced by a Hopper Route.  Under the Intercity Route 26, Lathrop residents can catch a bus ride to the San Joaquin County Hospital and get connection rides, via Harlan Road, to Stockton and Tracy. The Hopper enhances this route by providing nearly hourly bus services up to Fifth Street in the Historic Lathrop downtown district, plus connections to Stockton and Tracy and weeknight bus rides after 8 p.m.

Public Works Director Steve Salvatore said Lathrop receives $450,000 more or less in TDA funding each year with that money earmarked for unmet transit services. However, if there are no unmet transportation needs identified, those funds could be used for street repairs and other road projects.

Staff’s recommendation to stay with the current bus service is for two reasons, Salvatore said.

For one thing, he said, “Any other options would use a substantial amount of our TDA funds.”

And, for the past several years, no unmet transit needs were found, he said.

Staff has also concluded that only 10 percent of the total costs for expanded bus services would be recovered revenue. For which Councilman Sonny Dhaliwal disagreed.

“I think there’s more than 10 percent of students that will use the bus service,” he said.

The traffic is “a mess in the morning and in the afternoon” at Lathrop High School, Dhaliwal said. “We have to do something.”

Vice Mayor Martha Salcedo, who presided over the meeting for Mayor Kristy Sayles who was absent, suggested that the city should also consult with school district officials about funding for the proposed expanded bus services for Lathrop High students.
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