Anyone interested in why the bus services are so little used should begin by examining the maps and timetables carefully. Pretend that one of your normal trips will be taken by bus. Your first discovery may be that you can't understand the routes. They are very complex and are almost impossible to convey graphically. The routes meander. They have large one-way loops, and the routes often change throughout the day. If you are lucky enough to find a satisfactory route, you'll next find that the bus trips are infrequent, and for most of a 24 hour day, don't run at all. If your trip doesn't happen to coincide with a single piece of a route, you'll find yourself forced to transfer at one of the few transfer centers. Anywhere else, getting off one bus where you want to change direction, and onto another for the rest of your trip, will usually involve an intolerable wait. And it gets much worse on weekends.
Something needs to be done now to reverse the course of the last several decades. Rail transit isn't the sole answer. Rail transit is the centerpiece, but reconstructed and expanded bus service may well be the most important part of an adequate transit system.
Since current bus systems in Sonoma County are designed for minimum cost, they can't be made significantly better without additional money.
A specific example illustrates what needs to be done with the bus services.
Time and Money
Using a single line as an example doesn't give the complete story. Any major changes in such a line would require attention to other lines as well, to assure current passengers who use the sections to be eliminated that they can still get to their destinations. This expanded planning process takes time.
There are likely to be numerous operational issues. The bus driving assignments are normally put together in a batch and the drivers choose these assignments all at once, three times a year, so major changes can only be made at these times. When buses are scheduled to switch from one route to another throughout the day, this not only affects the convenience of the timetables for the passengers, it makes it harder to make any changes in a single line.
Paying for the improvements
The example merely alludes to sources of revenue that could fund the enhanced service. The sources are listed in the approximate order of how much time it could take to bring them about. Funds currently supporting SCT 26 Line service, as well as the Sonoma County funds that were being transferred to GGT, are there now. The assumption of additional fare revenue merely reflects the system average; it would grow along with the additional service.
While these accumulate to well over half the cost, they aren't sufficient for real improvements. The last four sources on the list or their equivalent are necessary. Although these sources will have to be developed, they don't require taxes.
The parking replacement contribution from SSU is a swap within the SSU budget. If SSU can increase the number of students and faculty accessing the campus via transit, it can turn the land to more productive uses. There are numerous examples of this at other campuses around the nation. The dollar figure is potentially much higher than $150,000.
Santa Rosa is the only city in the County collecting parking revenue. At one time Sebastopol did, but dropped it along with most other cities as they competed with each other to be auto friendly. There are numerous reasons why we can now regard that long term trend as a mistake, and begin to reverse it.
Making reasonable assumptions about land costs and parking inventory, the total annual parking subsidy given to automobile drivers in the County is between one and two billion dollars annually. The figure of $30,000 for Sebastopol parking fee revenue is just a small part of what would be possible, particularly if other cities followed suit. The other Sebastopol figure, $20,000 from development fees for vehicle trip offsets, is similar but involves tradeoffs within the development process that will take some time to produce the necessary revenue.
The remaining $20,000 Cotati municipal contribution is simply a placeholder for the assumption that Cotati would share with Sebastopol in the financial support of the service.
The foregoing discussion is intended to demonstrate the need and possibility of immediate action to improve the bus service of Sonoma County. It shouldn't be expected however, that the improvement itself will take place quickly. Redirecting even a small fraction of the largesse currently favoring automobile travel will take considerable time, and therefore we could only expect transit service improvements to come gradually. With the aim of getting this evolution underway, we make several generalizations based on this single example.
- For bus transit to be a useful alternative to driving, buses need to run more often, over more of the day, and over routes that are more direct.
- A lot of additional service can come from making good connections between transit services. This needn't mean that buses have to meet at the same point at the same time. That approach can sometimes do more harm than good.
- More money will be required for an adequate level of bus service: much more than transit gets now, but much less than the amount that we squander on automobiles.
- There are ways to tap into the automobile largesse, and avoid a lot of additional taxation.
- A good basic bus system will go a long way toward making a rail element effective. We ought to get started on that now. Reconstruct the bus lines to build a focus on the known locations of future rail stations