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Officials to Study Impact of Students on Bus Ridership : Transportation: Schools' policy changes prompt more youths to use the city system. Rowdiness and graffiti complaints follow.


SANTA CLARITA — Students in two local school districts had their own answer to a shift in school busing policies--one of which charged the students $200 a year to ride the school bus and the other of which altered the bus route.

Their answer was to take to public buses en masse .

Now, nine months later, Santa Clarita's top officials are riding the city buses to learn about the impact of the increased student ridership.

City Manager George Caravalho directed department heads and assistant department heads to ride buses five to 10 times this month at different times of the day to learn about the transit programs and "to see what transpires."

Santa Clarita's three bus services are managed by ATE Management and Service Co. and include city routes, commuter service to downtown Los Angeles and a door-to-door van service. About 4,200 residents use the three services each weekday, including 3,500 for the local routes, 500 for commuting and 200 for Dial-A-Ride.

"This is part of an effort to improve customer service, improve the transit system," said Ron Kilcoyne, city transit coordinator. "It's both an educational tool for the managers and provides us with good feedback."

The students started appearing on Santa Clarita buses since two local school districts altered their busing practices for the current school year. The Newhall School District now charges a $200 annual busing fee for its elementary school students and the William S. Hart Union School District has changed the bus routes for its junior high and high schools.

Teen-agers are being blamed for rowdiness and foul language on city buses and theft and graffiti both on the buses and at the Santa Clarita Transit Center in Saugus. The center also serves as the station for Metrolink commuter rail between Santa Clarita and Los Angeles' Union Station.

Santa Clarita Mayor Jan Heidt has already started riding city buses and plans to continue doing so through the summer.

"I'm concerned about what I see at the Metrolink station. There are a lot of kids hanging around there," said Heidt. "The security guards have been having problems with them loitering and shaking the vending machines. I've been seeing a lot of noise and, at the station in particular, a lot of bad language."

Nancy Hemmert, co-owner of Steve's Vending, which provides vending machines at the Santa Clarita Transit Center, said youths regularly vandalize the equipment.

Vandals caused more than $3,000 in damage to the machines and stole $600 in money and products between October and January, Hemmert said. She said she has spoken to teen-agers loitering around the transit center who said they were students at Santa Clarita junior high schools.

The city hired a security guard for the station in March and thefts have dropped, Hemmert said, although graffiti tagging still occurs infrequently.

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