In a year with a new schedule, increased traffic and bike accidents, a bus seems like a great way to get school. But many students and administrators have had issues with SamTrans, San Mateo county’s bus operator. SamTrans runs multiple routes that students use to take to school including 296, 81, and 86. SamTrans is in the process of implementing an operational “refresh” called “Reimagine SamTrans.”
At the start of the school year, notices were placed on bus stops informing riders of potential changes. SamTrans incorrectly claimed that there were no changes to the route except for adjusting to the M-A bell schedule and the name changing from 286 to 86. Assistant Vice Principal Nicholas Muys said, “SamTrans sent out communications to us about the system changes. Besides the name, they were very clear that there were no other changes to the route.”
However, there were changes: the Ladera portion of the 86 bus route was discontinued. Before school started, the AVP office noticed that the map they had, shows the route terminating at Sharon Heights, six miles from the previous end point. Muys said, “Without any warning, without any advertisement, no communication at all, that’s when the saga began.”
Ladera families quickly realized the issue and started contacting SamTrans and M-A administrators. Josh Richman, one of the parents who contacted SamTrans, said, “They were entirely unhelpful. They kept saying that it was a result of a multi-year study of the transit corridor.” Richman, along with 76 other Ladera parents, signed a letter to the SamTrans Board of Directors. The letter states, “we have between 14 and 16 students who have no transportation to our zoned public high school.”
Muys said, “SamTrans completely stonewalled and said that the route was gone, and they gave very little encouragement that the route would ever return. So a group of local parents working with myself and Mr. Losekoot started to look for a solution.”SamTrans decided to end service to the Ladera portion because of their 2018 ridership study that found only three people used the Ladera portion.
A spokesman for SamTrans said “The portion of Route 286 that served Portola Valley underperformed and this route does not serve residential areas designated as equity priority areas. With limited resources, this becomes a hard choice where SamTrans considers multiple factors.” Parents contest SamTrans claims about ridership, Richman said, “When they said that only three people would ride it, we gave them the names and addresses of many more people who would use it. SamTrans just ignored that information and gave us no hope they would reinstate service.”
The school looked at how it could provide busing service, Muys said, “We were able to work with Las Lomitas School District so in the morning students can now take their bus to Sharon Heights, where the SamTrans bus picks them up. And the District provides a bus in the afternoon directly from school to Ladera.” Richman said, “The school really stepped up and provided a solution when SamTrans didn’t leave us with much hope.”
Regarding the school-provided bus, Muys said, “This solution is temporary for this year. The next step is to develop a solution for transportation in this corridor that’s not just a piecemeal of different agencies. Part of the discussion going forward at the District level is going to be what role busing should play in our district-wide transportation. Unfortunately, I don’t think SamTrans will be a part of that.”
As for the communication issues, Muys said, “I made a statement to the [SamTrans] board because not only do we have an issue with the removal of the section of the route, but I have a real issue with how they handled the communication. I did eventually receive a letter of apology from SamTrans about the lack of communication, but I am afraid it’s not much comfort.”
Even when SamTrans routes are available to students, there have been some issues. Sophomore Emiko Edmunds, who takes the route 86 bus, said, “A couple of weeks ago, it was late everyday. It can be inconvenient, especially if there’s a test or assignment.” Sophomore Crystal Lopez, who rides the route 296 bus, said, “I’ve had a lot of interactions with homeless people on SamTrans. One time I was sitting next to this lady who was commenting about people around us and I was right next to her and extremely uncomfortable. I kept thinking she was going to say I was an illegal immigrant or something of that nature.” If the bus was run by the district, only M-A students would be allowed to ride it.
But that would not solve all complaints about riders, Sophomore Sam Goldman has had issues with M-A students’ behavior on the bus. “There’s sometimes this group of loud, horrible freshmen that make it not great to ride the bus. It seems like the bus drivers have given up on trying to defuse the situation.”
Scheduling has also been an issue. Sophomore Amanda Jennings “The bus has been unreliable when it comes, if it comes at all on most days. On Thursday mornings, the bus makes me late to school every week.” Muys said, “A couple of times the SamTrans bus hasn’t appeared. The bus also broke down once and students had to walk from the Caltrain station.”
Despite the efforts of parents and the school, only around five students use the school-provided buses to Ladera, but Muys believes it’s still worth it. He said “If it helps five families, then I think it’s well worth our time. We want to make sure all students have a safe way to get to school.” Students who would like information about how to ride the Ladera bus can go to www.mabears.org/About-M-A/About-Us/Transportation/.