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     August 21, 2018      #41-232 PB1

Will Rochester middle- and high-schoolers ride

Rochester Middle School y High School secundaria montarán

By Randy Petersen

Early estimates show Rochester Public Transit could shuttle the city’s middle school and high school students with a break-even budget.

At least one Rochester City Council member, however, questions whether the cost is still too high.

“It’s not a realistic schedule, and that impacts all your financial projections,” Council Member Mark Hickey told Stuart Geltman, senior transit planner with Aecom, who is working with the city and school district on a potential plan.

The potential schedule presented Monday makes way for later start times to put most Rochester schools on similar schedules.

Currently, the district’s middle- and high-school students start classes between 7:40 a.m. and 8 a.m., while elementary classes start shortly after 9 a.m., due to a two-tier system used by the school district’s transportation contractor.

The proposed partnership with Rochester Public Works would allow the district to start most classes at the later time, which Geltman said works with efforts to plan student-oriented routes outside peak morning-commute hours.

Hickey noted the proposed later start times mean middle-school classes will end at 3:30 p.m., rather than 2:30 p.m. The end of the school day for high-schoolers would go from 3 p.m. to 4:25 under the current proposal. With departure from after-school activities slated to start at 5:45 p.m., he said it doesn’t allow time for effective practices.

Geltman said the times listed are based on the desired start times, but afternoon schedules could be tweaked by the district and city transit staff.

“At that point, capacity would not be a problem,” said Bryan Law, transit planner for Rochester Public Transit, who agreed flexibility exists in the afternoon schedule.

Expanded service

The plan will create 16 new routes for the city’s bus service, primarily aimed at moving an estimated 2,688 students, but Geltman noted the buses would be open to all users, expanding the city’s service with additional crosstown options.

Council Member Ed Hruska questioned whether that might deter some parents from putting their students on the buses, which could also affect the bottom line.

Geltman said it’s too early in the process to determine what potential ridership impacts exist. The existing estimates are based on ridership in the current system.

He said the goal is to determine whether the proposal is feasible before diving into specifics and engaging parents in discussions of the potential shift.

The Rochester School Board is slated to receive a similar report during its 5:30 p.m. meeting today at the district’s Edison Building, 615 Seventh St. SW.

Financial impact

Early estimates show the annual cost would be $2.3 million in the first year, if started in 2019. Inflation would likely increase costs to $2.5 million by 2028.

Geltman said much of the cost would likely be covered by using state and federal funds, leaving $635,877 in local costs.

“That’s not saying a tax levy or anything changing with taxes,” he said. “That’s just what needs to be paid from fares, from any kind of subsidy from (Rochester Public Schools).”

Under the proposal presented Monday, the school district could cover the local cost at a rate of $236 per student, which is less that $447 currently paid per student for busing under the existing contract.

The district would still maintain a contract to operate yellow buses for elementary schools, which would come with an estimated $4.6 million expense for 8,400 students.

Geltman said the school district will be largely responsible for the next steps in the process, which is studying potential routes and determining funding sources.

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Randy Petersen