“They’re gonna go on a brand new service called Super Loop, which is about 10 miles north of here up in an area called Sarento Valley. It’s where [the University of California San Diego] is,” says Jablonski.
Other than the university, Jablonski says the area also is the location of a large hospital and a commercial office park. He says it is growing so much it is almost becoming a second central business district for the region.
“And so SANDAG, the MPO, as part of our local sales tax, which is TransNet, the half cent, one of the projects in it is a Super Loop,” Jablonski says.
“I’d like to characterize it as a BRT-type of Super Loop. It’s going to have fixed stations, limited stop, hopefully intersection improvements with preemptions or at least queue-jumping and things like that to keep things better on time. So that will go into place hopefully in March of next year.”
Jablonski says it’s a big step to switch a fleet over to hybrids due to the costs involved, as there is when switching from diesel to CNG. Of course, the agency’s decision doesn’t just have to do with fuel costs. The California Air Resources Board regulates just what emissions a transit authority fleet is allowed to be at.
“CARB is always pushing the envelope. They always loom at 5 percent of our fleet being zero emissions,” Jablonski says.
“So [while] we talk about gasoline hybrids costing five, six hundred thousand dollars, I don’t want to [find out] that 5 percent of my fleet has got to be hydrogen buses at $2.5 million a pop.”
The costs to switch to hybrids might be necessitated by a sea change in the way people use transit. With gas prices steadily rising, will people make that change? Jablonski hopes so, but is still skeptical.
“Certainly I, as well as my colleagues around the country, am very hopeful that we’re entering an era where transit is going to be more widely used because of fuel prices, because of global warming, green house gases and the whole ball of wax,” Jablonski says.
“Also, I say that knowing that we’ve got a free market out there with a lot of heavy hitters that are building cars and in the industries surrounding that. And we’re still building freeways, so you know I think as time goes on we’re going to see [the] market kind of react to this to make things more favorable again. Whether that is dramatically more fuel-efficient cars, or we’re going to see propulsion or fuels that are going to get us away from the reliance on oil, or something like that.
“I think that we’re all naïve if we think that Ford and GM and Chrysler and Mercedes and BMW and Toyota and Nissan are just going to go away and everybody is just going to start riding transit.”
With the market in such an odd state of flux, how does Jablonski plan to balance a booming ridership against the possibility of more future budget cuts?
“I’ve been starting to prep our board in saying you know we’re experiencing these great ridership gains and this is great, but eventually we’re going to fill things up and it’s going to start to turn negative,” Jablonski says.
“It’s not quite at that point, but I think if gas prices stay up and we continue to see the ridership gains we are, it’s right around the corner.”