Solana Beach district unable to find reliable bus service to Solana Santa Fe

The Solana Beach School District offices.
(Karen Billing)

The Solana Beach School District will not move forward with providing temporary school bus transportation for Pacific Highlands Ranch residents assigned to schools outside of their neighborhood.

The district had been hoping to to ease the commute for Pacific Highlands Ranch residents with two bus routes in the 2023-24 school year, going from Pacific Highlands Ranch to Carmel Creek and Solana Pacific Schools and to Rancho Santa Fe’s Solana Santa Fe.

According to Superintendent Jodee Brentlinger, the district explored vendor options but found significant challenges due to staffing shortages, unreliable continuity of service and an almost 50% increase in costs for about 175 students or 4% of the district’s student population.

Of the four transportation services contacted, only one could provide service at $1,150 per day per bus, a total cost of $414,000 for two buses for the year. The vendor could offer no guarantee that they could consistently provide drivers, which would require the district to have contingency plans in the event the company could not provide rides.

As the district looked for vendors, they reached out to five neighboring districts—of the five, four could not help provide service and one did not respond. In speaking with other districts, service reliability due to driver shortages was a problem—in one case a single driver was covering two routes, resulting in issues with students being late to school.

The Del Mar Union School District has faced similar challenges as they provide temporary transportation due to the Del Mar Heights rebuild project. The transportation service they were using was unable to provide the number of buses needed to serve the route due to an industry-wide shortage of buses and they had to find a new vendor that was more expensive about two months into the school year.

Solana Beach district staff also had concerns about equity as busing might be something they would have to offer in multiple areas of the district. As Brentlinger noted, future construction on the Lomas Santa Fe Drive corridor will greatly impact Skyline and Solana Vista commutes.

“It’s unfortunate because I think this would have been a great service to provide,” said SBSD President Debra Schade. “What I’m hearing from other districts is really pretty scary…That would be an extension of our liability as a district, not being able to provide reliable and safe transportation for these students.”

“I’m disappointed,” echoed Trustee Vicki King. “I understand the challenges and they’re real. I just know this is something we originally hoped to provide.”

Schade said she thinks this will be where the community is going to have to help find a solution, in terms of encouraging parents to coordinate and form carpools, and getting kids who live close to school to consider walking or biking, to help get cars off the road.

Brentlinger said the transportation option was always meant to be temporary as they made a commitment to revisit the school assignments when the Pacific Highlands Ranch community was built out. She said a recent demographer report has shown that by the 2025-26 school year, some residential areas may be able to be reassigned to Solana Ranch.