Montgomery County mulls dropping bus route used by JDS students

Ride On Bus 42 could be eliminated by January. Photo by Suzanne Pollak
Ride On Bus 42 could be eliminated by January.
Photo by Suzanne Pollak

Jules Polonetsky’s son, a ninth grade student, takes the Montgomery County Ride On bus, Route 42, from his classes at Charles E. Smith Jewish Day School to his Potomac home. As a student, he rides for free.

But starting in January 2016, that bus may skid to a halt, piling additional transportation headaches upon parents
already struggling to find ways to get their children to their Jewish day schools since May, when the county ended a pilot
program that had enabled some private school student to ride on public school buses.

“We are dismayed,” Polonestsky said. “I am not sure what we’ll do. Both my wife and I work, so we will have to come up with a plan.”

Thirty CESJDS families use the Route 42 during the school year, sending their children to and from the White Flint Metro station or their homes in Potomac. That bus goes from the White Flint Metro station to Montgomery Mall.

The elimination of this route is part of a $4 million cut in transportation services throughout the county. According to a county report, eliminating Route 42 will save the county $704,000 a year.

Bus 42 was targeted, because it is among the lowest-performing routes in the Ride On system, according to the county report. The average number of passengers is “well below the minimum standard of 10 riders per hour,” according to the report.

Also set to be discontinued is Route 98, which covers portions of Germantown. Route 83, which runs from the Germantown Transit Center to Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, is slated to lose its weekend service.

Esther Bowring, community relations manager for the Department of Transportation, called the proposed transportation cuts “likely.”

However, a decision will not be made until after two public forums are held. The first is set for Sept. 17 at the UpCounty Regional Services Center in Germantown. The second forum will be held Sept. 24 at the Executive Office Building in Rockville. Both public forums will begin at 6:30 p.m.

Councilman Roger Berliner, who chairs the county’s Transportation, Infrastructure, Energy and Environment Committee, called the Route 42 bus, “one of the worst performing, lowest ridership in the entire system. It’s in the bottom four [routes] in the county.”

However, after hearing from county residents about how much the route means to them, he is willing to reconsider its fate.

“My personal hope is that a function of the public outcry will be that the county executive will reconsider,” Berliner said, referring to Isiah Leggett, who sought the transportation cuts.

Berliner suggested that a compromise might be reached so that Bus 42 runs when the school day opens and ends.

Last Friday, Berliner was more optimistic about the fate of Route 42. In a Facebook post to parents hoping to preserve the route, Berliner wrote, “Folks, I am reasonably confident that we can turn this around.

I have shared with our DOT Director my staff’s analysis that could preserve peak service and urged him to reconsider. If the public hearing goes as I would expect, I am betting 42 will be saved.”

To Karen Barall, regional director at the Orthodox Union Advocacy Center, the possible elimination of the Route 42 bus is another blow to parents who send their children to private schools. “This is part of a larger problem,” she said.

She plans to speak at the public forum in favor of keeping the route, although Barall would rather that the county begin providing free transportation for all students who attend private schools.

“Ride On is not really the solution. Yellow buses are,” she said.

The county is not legally obligated to provide transportation to private school students.

However, both Polonetsky and Barall said placing private school students on public school buses would be beneficial both to families and area commuters because a lack of public transportation results in more traffic and more pollution.

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