Community steps up with CBCS school bus issue

Not a school bus but a way for students to get to school

[ by Mark Reaman ]

A number of potential solutions have come together in less than a week to address the lack of school bus routes in the North Valley. It was announced last week that the school district did not have enough bus drivers to run routes in the North Valley at the start of the school year so students would have to find another way to the Crested Butte Community School. A similar staff shortage in the school kitchen was limiting food service as well.

From parent volunteers to local transit agencies, area law enforcement and people expressing interest in getting the appropriate license to drive school buses, it appears plans are formulating to safely help local students get to the Crested Butte Community School.
“It has been great to see so many people come together and look for solutions,” said school district superintendent Leslie Nichols. “I am so appreciative of everyone here. We now have a plan on how to deal with this situation.”

Get on a bus
The two local public transit agencies in the valley, the RTA and the Mountain Express, are stepping up to directly help with the school bus crisis. While neither transit agency can act as a school bus, both can carry students as part of their regular passenger transportation.

RTA buses running from Gunnison to Mt. Crested Butte swing into CB South at 7:40 and 8:10 a.m. and ridership numbers indicate there are normally empty seats on those buses. RTA executive director Scott Truex said the RTA would add a second bus to the 7:40 CB South bus route to accommodate more passengers given the potential of a lot of students using the bus. Students would load at the bus stop in CB South and then those buses will stop at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts pull-off to allow students to have a quick walk to the CBCS campus on the Safe Route to School pathway.

“We anticipate that with the second bus at 7:40 we will have the capacity to pick up everyone who wants a ride from CB South and from the bus stops along the highway,” Truex explained. “The buses will drop off at the Center for the Arts which is on the safe route to schools. We will run the extra bus for the first two weeks of the school year and if it is being used, we will continue to run it until the school buses start running or until ski season starts.”

Truex said the bus leaving CB South at 8:10 a.m. does have some capacity, but it will likely arrive at the Four-way stop too late for students to arrive at school on time. Masks are required on all buses and people are not allowed to stand so once the seats are full, Truex said the bus will not be able to pick up additional passengers.

When school lets out the students heading back to Crested Butte South would have to pick up the RTA at the Alpineer bus stop at 4:23, 4:53, or 5:23. Those buses are normally somewhat busy, so capacity issues might come into play for the after school route.

Mountain Express managing director Jeremy Herzog said he too has offered to help the school as much as possible. “Just like the RTA, our 5311 grant precludes us from operating a school bus system or making a route special just for the school district,” he said. “We can carry kids and everyone agreed that our current stop at Sixth and Belleview is a better drop off option than going all the way to the school. Adding another bus to the congestion zone just didn’t seem to make sense, when we’re already so close. The school will look to have a chaperone escort the children from that stop.

“We felt our current routes could adequately address the issue,” Herzog continued. “With 100 kids in CB South compared to just 20 in Mt. CB, we think our existing route can adequately handle the possible additional volume on our routes between the two towns.”

Herzog said the Mountain Express received a job applicant this week and he referred them to the school district as a potential hire for them. He said they have also offered to publicize any openings the school has to Mountain Express drivers.

“The Mountain Express and RTA have been incredibly supportive and we are extremely grateful for all their help,” Nichols said.

Volunteerism is alive and well
She said the district has received some inquiries from people expressing interest in obtaining their CDL licenses so they could drive the school bus. That training takes four to six weeks so it might takes some time to get the routes back up and running in the North Valley but there is opportunity.

“The Crested Butte PTA has been working hard to rally parent volunteers for this situation,” added Nichols. “They will be bus stop chaperones between the Clark’s stop and school and between the Center for the Arts and school. They will accompany students to the Alpineer stop after school. They will also be there to help manage the parking lot during the busy hours.

Nichols said the morning timing appears to work pretty well while the afternoon might present more challenges. “We’ll just have to wait and see on that,” she said.

Similarly, volunteers are signing up to help in the school kitchen. The hope it to have volunteers help in the lunch room and for morning breakfast opportunities.

She said the district anticipates more participation in the Wednesday workshops that take place because of early release. The same might be true for the after school programs that take place Monday through Thursday. She said the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte have offered to help fund scholarships for those programs.

Traffic control
As for the anticipated traffic congestion, Nichols said both the Crested Butte marshals and Mt. Crested Butte police have volunteered to run traffic control in the area to ease the impacts. The school will also be encouraging car pooling for those outside of town and encouraging walking or riding bikes for students living in town.

“One important detail to remember is that vehicles will not be allowed to turn left on Red Lady Avenue out of the school parking lot,” Nichols said. “Cars will have to turn right with the expectation they go to Elk Avenue and reenter Sixth Street there. We don’t want vehicles trying to turn left off Red Lady onto the highway. That’s a big part of the traffic problem.”

Overall, Nichols is extremely appreciative of the people stepping up to help in a dire situation. “Our hope is to return to ‘normal’ later in the fall,” she said. “We want our regular bus routes in the North Valley. But until then the fact the community is rising to the occasion is really impressive.”

The first day of school is Monday, August 23.

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