BERNARDS TOWNSHIP, NJ - Working at a Bridgewater IT firm a few years ago, Judy Ye was thrust into a bit of panic one day. Her boss had scheduled an unplanned afternoon meeting, putting her on the phone scrambling to find a friend to pick up her daughters after school.
She couldn’t get anyone to help, and had to tell her boss she couldn’t make the meeting. He wasn’t happy.
Ye didn’t know it then, but that work-home conflict was one of the incidents that may have stuck in the back of her mind when she and others hit upon their community transportation idea they are calling Bernards Ride.
Need to get your child from school to a karate or music class? How about to after-school programs at the YMCA, from sports practices to home, from school to parttime job, or any number of school-to-door destinations?
Bernards Ride offers its service, for $5 a ride per day (plus a mileage charge) during the general hours of 2:30 to 6:30 p.m., to Basking Ridge public and private school students in grades 3 to 12.
Parents only may register the ride online by 6 p.m. the day before and provide a signed note to the school principal. Payment is computerized. Bernards Ride will plan a route executed through a contract with a state-licensed bus company. The service operates only when school is open.
“I’m a working mom and I know how much of a challenge transportation is for a family,” said Ye, who worked for 10 years in IT before striking out with her own ideas. Last year she and two partners started A Sharp Learning Center, a K-12 after-school and summer learning facility, on Valley Road.
Bernards Ride is not a taxi company. It doesn’t own vehicles or hire drivers. By contracting only with professional bus companies serving local school districts, it ensures state-licensed and inspected vehicles, and trained and vetted drivers, Ye says.
Ye describes Bernards Ride as a booking service or a travel agent. It makes and organizes the arrangements with credible contractors.
“Obviously for any parent the safety of the child is most important,” she said.
The concept seems capable of filling a need in Bernards Township. The public school district of about 5,500 students hasn’t offered after-school buses for activities or sports for at least eight years, a service cut because of constrained budgets.
As a parent knows, a child’s schedule also affects a parent’s. If mom drives daughter to a music lesson, mom may have to decide whether to sit and wait for an hour or run some other errand and come back, Ye said. The time cost is huge.
As time goes on, perhaps high schoolers will be able to schedule rides, she said. Service might be extended to the mornings, particularly for private school pupils, she said.
Ye said she and co-organizers and volunteers are talking to all kinds of activity centers – language schools and art, music and theater programs – who see the value in making it easier for parents to use their business.
On Monday, Ye reported that Bernards Ride got off to a good start last week.
"We transported close to 30 students each day for the first couple of days, with warm receptions," said Ye. "We have to reject some requests due to limited resources. The demand is rising quickly. Once we streamline the operation, we see that we can move hundreds of kids around the neighborhood each day."
Ye, husband Chao Ku and their middle- and high-school-aged daughters have lived in the Hills since 2006.
Bernards Ride accepts orders through https://bernardsride.org.
School officials are reminding parents the program is unrelated to the school district. Ye met Thursday with the Mount Prospect and Ridge High school principals to talk about release forms and procedure, where the bus will park and supervision during the “handoff.”
In a letter to parents, Superintendent Nick Markarian didn’t address Bernards Ride specifically but said the district recognizes “a new and emerging market that has developed involving private for-profit third -party transportation providers.”
Releasing students, especially younger ones, to third-party entities at the end of school -sponsored functions “causes pause,” said the superintendent.
He reminded parents the district has no oversight or responsibility for the transportation or the driver, a point Ye says Bernards Ride covers by using established companies that have already performed background checks on drivers, verified insurance levels and have licensed and inspected vehicles.
Bernards Ride is looking for volunteers to lend the effort a hand, even just by placing a sign in a front yard. To reach them, contact firstname.lastname@example.org. Its website, where frequently asked questions are answered, is https://bernardsride.org.