CA: Plan to Cut Slow Bus to SF, Add Express Trips

July 28--Would you sit on a public bus for three hours between Santa Rosa and San Francisco? Golden Gate Transit bus riders are increasingly saying "no."

The agency, which has two buses that ply the Sonoma County-San Francisco route -- a local line that makes frequent stops, and a much faster express bus -- is looking to cut the slower bus due to lagging ridership.

The move comes at a time when Sonoma County commuters are in line for more options to move up and down the busy Highway 101 corridor, including ride-sharing programs and future commuter rail service.

Transit officials plan to use the savings from eliminating the local route to add service on the more popular express bus and explore serving new areas of Sonoma County.

"Basically, the reason we are making changes is to address long travel times," said Dana Fehler, marketing and communications director of the agency that controls the Golden Gate Bridge as well as a fleet of North Bay buses and ferries. "We're doing a lot of outreach. We want to know what routes people do ride."

The express bus on Route 101 serves about 20 percent more passengers than the local Route 80, according to ridership numbers. Route 101 had 442,000 passengers in the year that ended June 30 compared with 352,000 on Route 80, and ridership is growing on the fast bus as it declines on the slower one, according to the agency.

Route 80 buses make 17 stops at every Golden Gate bus station in Sonoma and Marin counties on its three-hour journey to San Francisco. Route 101 buses, by contrast, stop in Santa Rosa, Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma and then make just three Marin County stops before arriving in San Francisco in half the time.

As new carpool lanes are added in Sonoma and Marin counties, commuters are increasingly using online tools to link up with ride-sharing and van-pooling programs. And, with the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit train service expected to launch in two years, offering yet another commuting option, Golden Gate Transit officials realized they needed to make regional bus service more efficient.

"It is definitely part of our strategic vision," Fehler said.

The agency's proposal would eliminate Route 80 while increasing service on Route 101 and the Marin-San Francisco Route 70. It would add 12 weekday trips on Route 101 and change Route 80 buses in Marin County to Route 70. There would be 46 Route 101 trips on the weekend compared with the current 20.

The changes could take effect in December, the agency said. In the long-term, agency planners continue to explore commuter buses in areas not currently served by Golden Gate Transit, including Windsor and Rincon Valley.

The agency will host a series of open house meetings in Sonoma and Marin counties to gauge public opinion on the proposed changes. Upcoming meetings are set for July 30, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m., at the Petaluma Arts Center and July 31, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., at Santa Rosa City Hall. A public hearing is set for 9:30 a.m. August 1 at the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors chambers.

The San Rafael-based Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1575 is supporting the proposal. Union president Ray Messier said it will make better use of transit resources while resulting in a net increase in service.

"We hate to see service get cut, but if you cut service, you have to replace it with something," he said. "They are replacing it with something better. It makes a lot of sense."

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Brown at 521-5206 or matt.brown@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @PDRoadWarrior

Copyright 2014 - The Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, Calif.

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