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Student Riders Boost ROTA Hopes
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While the local public bus system has been facing declining ridership and budget problems, there were some encouraging statistics for September, according to figures released at the Riverbank Oakdale Transit Authority meeting this month.

Senior riders declined but student ridership increased by 12 percent to over 600 passengers and the fare box collected a record 9.6 percent of expenses.

Most of the increase in riders was in Oakdale, few of its residents wanted to come to Riverbank and Mesa Verde students seemed to ignore the bus as a method of reaching school.

The minimum age for student passengers traveling alone is nine. But students of six, seven and eight may use the bus if they are traveling with a brother or sister of at least nine and a parent has provided ROTA with a signed waiver.

ROTA members heard a presentation by Jean Foletta of Innovative Paradigms, a consolidated transportation services agency awarded a $100,000 grant by Stanislaus Council of Governments to assist public transportation here.

There are some 5,800 senior citizens in the county who need help in using the public transportation system, said ROTA Transit Coordinator Donna Bridges. ROTA Dial A Ride transports curb to curb. Some of these seniors need help getting out of their door onto the bus and back again, and Innovative Paradigms can assist in ways like training volunteers to help them, said Foletta.

The county transportation system’s aim is to coordinate transportation services, work with local social service agencies and provide technical support and resource management to about 24 agencies. These include Modesto Area Express, Ceres Area Transit, ROTA, City of Turlock, Area Agency on Aging, Howard Training Center, Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Valley CAPS and Alliance Network.

The board adopted minutes for August that indicated there has been no interest in renting or buying the remaining two trolleys. They are valued at around $95,000 each. While advertised for local events, the trolleys can only travel 45 to 50 miles without refueling and CNG fueling sites are limited.

The security cameras purchased with a Homeland Security Grant will be installed near bus stops to protect waiting passengers, prevent vandalism and even give police a glimpse of the street.

ROTA distributed 1,000 survey cards seeking interest in a senior shopping day but received less than 120 responses. In any case, officials noted, it has no funds available at the moment to provide the service; Senate Bill 357 if it passes will amend fare box ratio requirements. Currently Ceres, Turlock and Modesto besides Riverbank do not meet fare box ratios.

Bridges reported she had met with representatives of the Community Auxiliary Police Services (CAPS) of Oakdale and felt they may be providing a service overlapping that of ROTA in distributing taxi vouchers to seniors needing transportation. Riverbank and Oakdale Rotary Clubs, Oakdale Lions Club and Riverbank Women In Action have all at times donated funds for ROTA staff to purchase bus tickets for seniors and sometimes individuals in financial difficulty. But the taxi voucher distribution, depending on the number issued, could impair ROTA ridership and its ability to meet the state mandated 10 percent fare box ratio.

In a closed-door personnel session near the meeting’s end, board members evaluated the possibility of maintaining Bridge’s work at four days a week rather than cutting it to three days. They decided to keep her contract at four days for the time being.