By Emily Rancer
San Luis Obispo Transit may get the green light to make more route changes, which could result in increased efficiency for Cal Poly riders.
A subcommittee of the Mass Transit Committee (MTC) is proposing an extension of the current 6A and 6B routes, which link the downtown and Foothill Boulevard areas with Cal Poly. The extension would provide the most heavily-used bus stops with 20-minute headways, a 10-minute improvement over the current system, and could take effect next September.
“What we’re proposing is basically revenue neutral,” said Gregg Doyle, an assistant professor of city and regional planning and MTC technical member. “It’s basically shifting existing service and configuring it in a way that better serves where people are trying to go, which is downtown and Cal Poly.”
Currently, the route 6A and 6B loops only overlap at Cal Poly. The MTC subcommittee is proposing to include North Chorro Street, Mustang Village, California Boulevard, Mill Street and Grand Avenue in the overlap.
“Those are the areas that have the most intensive transit riderships,” Doyle said. “We’re trying to provide them with double service.”
The buses would run on 40-minute increments, but because of the extended overlap, they would hit the most rider-intensive areas every 20 minutes.
“I definitely think it will improve it,” ASI President Tylor Middlestadt said. “I hear students saying that if the bus would come more regularly or frequently, they would ride it. If we make alternative transportation more convenient, people will use it. If people have to go out of their way to take the bus, they’ll just hop in their car because it’s easier.”
Transit Manager Austin O’Dell, however, said that he is skeptical of the proposed changes, though he would support them if adopted.
“Right now, our service is doing great,” he said. “I’ve been in this business for 17 years now since I graduated from Cal Poly and my experience is we play it out. What my fear is . . . I think we’re trying to address something and we don’t have all the surveys that we’ve done before. I think we’re taking some big risks on things.”
Cal Poly riders account for 53 percent of San Luis Obispo Transit’s total ridership. The university currently pays the system $261,000 annually, which is about nine percent of the system’s total operating costs.
“The most crucial thing is to get the incentives right,” Doyle said. “To set it up so that every time the city picks up another rider, the campus pays them another increment of money. And then that sets it up so that the city actually wants to pick up Cal Poly riders.”
In addition to route changes, Doyle also recommends an increase in transit service hours by 90 minutes. However, he was unsure about how successful longer hours will be.
“The real problem with extended hours is that if you get on one of those night services, there’s like five people on the bus,” Doyle said. “From a transportation perspective, that’s sloppy. But for those five people, that’s crucial. And guess what? The fact that they can ride that bus home at 8 o’clock is what determined how they got to campus at 9 a.m.”
San Luis Obispo Transit is also looking at another option: a trolley extension to Cal Poly in the evening hours.
“We are looking at a trolley to circulate through the campus to pick up students to come into downtown,” said Tim Bochum, the deputy director of public works. “That would be a nice evening-time additional service out to the campus. I would think that the students would really like that.”
The trolley currently circulates between downtown and the intersection of Grand Avenue and Monterey Street on Thursday and Friday evenings and Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Doyle said this service would probably not be free for students, but would only cost as much as 50 cents per ride.
The other major change that the subcommittee is proposing is a revision of route 1.
“Instead of sending it up Santa Rosa where there’s no stops, we’re actually going to send it across Mill and up California so that it actually could drop people off at Mustang Village,” Doyle said. “It doesn’t go all the way to campus.”
He said that the bus would go up Foothill Boulevard and Ramona Drive to pick up riders from the Valencia Apartments, “which is a big chunk of ridership,” Doyle added.
“If you live in Valencia Apartments, you’re going to have three routes, and right now you have two,” he said.
Doyle and the rest of the subcommittee will submit their proposed changes to the entire MTC board on Nov. 9 at 2:30 p.m. If approved, the proposal will travel to the San Luis Obispo City Council for consideration.
San Luis Obispo Transit last made major route changes in January 2004 when it added the 6A and 6B routes among others. O’Dell said that those alterations have been very successful.
“Our ridership from fiscal year 2005 comparing it with 2004, has increased 29 percent,” O’Dell said. “As far as productivity, our ridership per hour has increased by 36 percent. I would say that looking at statewide statistics, nothing else compares to this in the state.”
However, because of the ridership increase at peak times, some buses have had to leave riders behind at the stops, particularly at the beginning of the school year.
“That could be easily mitigated by eliminating some seats in the front, which would probably be a very inexpensive way to allow more passengers on board and that would eliminate that problem all together,” O’Dell said.
In addition to the MTC meeting in November, San Luis Obispo Transit will face another heavy issue when its contract goes up for grabs in spring 2006.
“Right now we have a bid out for the contractor who operates the bus service for us,” Bochum said. “Every five years, we circulate that and get new bids so depending on the new cost, we could either see more service or less service.”
Bochum said that it is “too early to speculate” whether the new contract could absolutely result in less service due to “fairly volatile” market conditions.
O’Dell, however, said that the new contract will most likely be more expensive than the last because of the economy and fuel prices. He said that since 2003, bus fuel costs have increased 300 percent.
Depending on how much more the new contract is, O’Dell said that it could affect service.
As a long-term solution to many of the transit system’s inefficiencies, Doyle stressed that if the university massively subsidized mass transit instead of parking lots, students would be much better served.
“The thing that drives me nuts about this stuff is that the campus is penny-wise and pound-foolish,” Doyle said. “There’s a few of us who would like to see the parking garage that gets built at Student Housing North be the last parking garage at Cal Poly.”
Doyle said that there is another parking garage scheduled to be built after that, but added that “there’s a mountain of evidence that there is no need to build that parking garage. If you build it, they will drive.”
Doyle said people who want to voice their opinions on the proposal should attend the Nov. 9 MTC meeting.
Bochum also said that the MTC is looking for a student liaison to address concerns to San Luis Obispo Transit. More information is available at www.slocity.org or 781-7210.