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Metro may charge school district more to transport students
Move could cost MISD $55,000 more each year
By Megan Managan
Mercer Island Reporter
A possible increase in Metro bus fares may have a negative effect on student riders from the Mercer Island School District.
Due to a looming budget deficit, King County Executive Kurt Triplett has included a fare increase for Metro bus riders as part of his proposed 2010 budget.
If Triplett’s proposal is approved, beginning in January 2011, all Metro users will see a $.25 fare increase. For some areas, like Mercer Island, where the school district and Metro have created special routes and a monthly pass fare for students, the change could cause a ripple effect down the line.
“I’m disappointed that this increase would happen at a time when we’re already strained. It adds to our burden,” said Gary Plano, the Mercer Island School District superintendent.
Students in Mercer Island schools are able to request monthly passes from Metro that are paid for by the district. This gives them unlimited access to the buses, which many use rather than the traditional school bus, driving or getting picked up and dropped off at the school. According to Todd Kelsay, the district’s director of transportation, the agreement with Metro has been in place for just under a decade.
Currently, Metro’s monthly passes cost the district $27 per student. Should Triplett’s proposal pass, the monthly fare would increase to $36 per student.
Kelsay said the district issues the passes to students three times a year, and for this time period, the district has issued 650 passes for students, up about 100 from last fall. Kelsay said he thought part of the increase was related to the economy.
The district’s projection is that, if approved, the proposal would add an additional $55,000 that the district would need to pay Metro annually. Currently, according to Plano, the district pays Metro approximately $200,000 a year for passes for students. While Plano said the proposal is not expected to have any effect on the district’s February 2010 transportation levy, since those funds must only be used for purchase or maintenance of the transportation fleet, should the district choose at some point to eliminate the Metro service, the district would see a large increase in employment costs.
“We believe, under the current agreement, it is a good model and a good structure,” said Plano.
According to Kelsay, mostly high school students request the Metro passes, but if a middle school student is taking a class at the high school, he or she is offered a pass. But, Kelsay added, the number of middle school students who use them is “a handful.”
The district’s agreement with Metro gives Metro coverage on two specific routes, one which serves the First Hill neighborhood and the second which travels West Mercer Way to the southern tip of the Island, along with part of another route. The idea is that the routes broaden the bus services on the Island at times that are appropriate to help kids get to and from school, according to Kelsay. Of course, he said, the routes are open to all riders, but primarily students are using Metro buses.
“The coverage fills the gaps in the Metro schedule,” said Kelsay. “We do still have one yellow bus that runs on East Mercer Way that Metro refuses to travel, so we have a most seasoned driver on that.”
If the district has to face a choice between higher Metro fees and figuring out how to pay for additional buses and drivers to replace the Metro routes, Kelsay said it is hard to say right now what that kind of change might cost the district.
“It would depend on decisions that would have to be made,” he said. He added that if the Metro service was eliminated from the district and the current bell times were kept, it would be an expensive change for the district. However, if the district were to entertain the idea of bell schedule changes, it might be possible to fit a student’s bus ride into current Metro bus times.
“If we went back to the format from years ago to link the routes between high school and middle school, then — from a transportation perspective — it would be streamlined,” said Kelsay.
Once ORCA cards — which are good for bus, train or ferry — become available, Kelsay said, those passes would be available to students under the current set-up as well.
“It’s been fantastic. As long as it pencils out, we would like to keep the program in place,” said Kelsay. “It’s a great thing.”
The King County Council is currently holding public hearings to discuss the proposed 2010 budget. The county is scheduled to adopt the final budget on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Visit www.kingcounty.gov for more information.