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Popular shuttle rides into the sunset

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Beth Winegarner
Daily News Staff Writer
June 12, 2005

San Carlos’ city-run shuttle, SCOOT, will ride off into the sunset this week, leaving city residents and officials scrambling to come up with transportation alternatives.

SCOOT, short for San Carlos Optimum Operational Transit, was founded three years ago to relieve gridlock at busy intersections around the city. The City Council has voted to drop the program, however, because feels it can no longer support SCOOT’s budget — which runs $700,000 to $900,000 a year, according to Brian Moura, assisstant city manager.

A $59 parcel tax, intended to pay for the free shuttle, failed at the polls in March.

SCOOT operates nine regular routes that run between 6 a.m. and 6:45 p.m., and offers door-to-door service by request. By the end of last year, SCOOT was supporting between 15,000 and 17,000 riders per month, according to city surveys.

Because so many congested intersections were near schools, SCOOT has become a resource for San Carlos students. Traffic at the San Carlos Charter Learning Center went from service level F, the worst possible, to service level C after shuttle service began, Moura said.

SCOOT is also used by seniors, many of whom have flooded the city’s phone lines in recent weeks, asking officials to replace it with another service.

“It has provided a tremendous amount of independence to our seniors and youth, and brought back a sense of neighborhood,” Mayor Inge Tiegel Doherty said. Many friendships have been made on the shuttle, she added.

Charlie Raisor, a 9-year-old Brittan Acres student, rides SCOOT every day. “It’s fun,” he said, adding that he hasn’t yet figured out how he will get to school next fall.

Riding SCOOT is clearly a bonding experience between Raisor and 10-year-old Jacob Toms; they talk and play all the way home from school. Toms doesn’t like the older students who ride with them in the afternoons. “There are a lot of mean kids,” he said.

The students greet driver Bill Wood like an old friend as they board SCOOT each afternoon. Wood, a former limousine driver, said he loves driving — and will have to find another source of income when SCOOT shuts down next week.

SCOOT has enabled many parents to send their children to schools outside their immediate area, according to San Carlos School District Board President Mark Olbert.

“It’s too bad, but I can certainly understand the community not wanting to pay for something that is not used by a lot of people,” Olbert said.

The district held its first community roundtable last week to discuss other methods for transporting students without returning to gridlock. If they can’t find alternatives, “the intersection Alameda and Dartmouth will revert to being a disaster at 8 in the morning,” Olbert said.

Police suggested increasing traffic patrols to make parents feel safer letting kids walk or bike to school, said school board member Norm Whiteley. However, a recent survey performed by the district showed that most parents preferred to drive kids to school.

Doherty is forming an ad-hoc task force to study shuttle options that will meet over the next three months to discuss ways to maintain limited shuttle service in San Carlos. One option is to find a donated van and a volunteer driver, Moura said.

The task force may also study whether another parcel tax vote makes sense. Consultants found strong support for a $39 tax to cover part of the cost of SCOOT; asking for $59 was “one of the worst decisions that we, as a council, made,” Doherty said.

If that happens, they will need to overcome naysayers like former City Council Member John Hoffman, who doesn’t support SCOOT’s current structure or the parcel tax.

“I think providing a free lunch for everybody and doing it in a Rolls Royce way is simply too wasteful,” Hoffman said. He cited Palo Alto’s shuttle, which serves a larger city with a single route at half the cost of SCOOT, as an alternative model.

But Doherty and others are reluctant to cut back on the service that won the city a Helen Putnam award in 2004.

“We’re supporting a tremendous number of riders,” she said. “If we were able to do something for less, it wouldn’t be the same.”

SCOOT’s last day is June 17.

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily News.

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Written by Beth Winegarner

June 12, 2005 at 9:19 PM

Posted in San Carlos, Transit

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