It's about riders. It's about service. It's about time.
It is the SamTrans Service Plan and the goal behind it is to reinvigorate the bus system for a new generation of riders.
Over the past decade, since SamTrans last re-evaluated its system, riders' transit needs and travel patterns have changed dramatically. The SSP is the result of in-depth research on the SamTrans service and the customers currently being served and who potentially could be served. Out of that research and an extensive public outreach process, the SSP is intended to generate new proposals designed to meet those changing needs.
"We want to do more of what works, less of what doesn't and try new things," said Aidan Hughes, who is directing the SSP effort. "Those are the three basic directives that came out of the study process."
The distinctive challenge facing the agency is to make meaningful and effective changes within the current budget by seeking better systems for serving current customers and reaching new customers.
SamTrans staff will be seeking public input through a months-long outreach process that will kick off in September with outreach to community groups and city councils throughout the county and will culminate with public meetings and a hearing before the SamTrans Board of Directors later this year. Outreach also will include meetings targeted specifically at current riders and the men and women who deliver the service on the county's roads and highways.
"What we want to do is get more bang for our buck. Reinventing a complicated network of buses with connections to other services takes careful consideration of the needs of our customers, now and in the future," said April Chan, executive officer of SamTrans' planning and development. "We have to live within our existing means. Any service that we add has to be taken from some other area and that's where the balancing act can be challenging."
The proposal came out of an 18-month study that included two previous rounds of outreach to riders and other community organizations. The outcome was clear: SamTrans' previous model for bus service had become outdated. The Transit District had too many buses operating to areas where people didn't need to go. By improving service in areas with larger populations and employment centers, SamTrans has an opportunity to grow its ridership while staying within its financial means.
Staying within the existing budget is particularly important due to the pressures of an ongoing structural deficit driven by the substantial cost of providing federally-mandated Paratransit service, contributions required to maintain Caltrain operations and ongoing debt obligations.
SamTrans' service proposal breaks the changes into four categories; routes that are performing well but can serve even more riders through improvements; routes that could perform better with some modifications; routes that should be eliminated; and areas where alternative service models should be tested.
More Of What Works
Nearly 50 percent of all SamTrans trips take place along the El Camino Real corridor. With the high demand for service in this area, the study demonstrates the need to streamline the amount of service we offer on the routes serving El Camino and increase the travel options for riders.
Similarly, the study identifies core markets where employment and population growth are driving greater demand for service. There's a real opportunity for ridership growth by providing more, better service in these areas. Those core markets include: Redwood City, San Mateo/Burlingame and the Daly City/South San Francisco region. Routes proposed for improvement include: 120, 130, 291, 296, 390 and 391.
Less Of What Doesn't
Other parts of the system would be modified under the new proposal in an effort to better match the service with market demand. Limiting KX and Route 291 service into San Francisco to peak hours only and eliminating San Francisco service on the 391 is being proposed because commute habits have changed.
Fewer people commute into San Francisco. Eliminating the off-peak service would allow the Transit District to invest those dollars in providing better service in San Mateo County in a manner that could attract more riders..
Routing changes and schedule adjustments are proposed to improve frequency and increase the schedule reliability in an effort to build ridership in these areas. For a comprehensive list of route modifications visit: www.samtrans.com/ssp.
A small number of routes would be proposed for elimination. The study identifies these routes based on extremely low ridership, opportunities elsewhere to better spend limited funds and the availability of alternative transit options in the areas in which these routes operate. They include routes: 118, 123, 132, 280 and 359.
Trying Something New
While most of the travel demand is for services operating north-south through San Mateo County, there are areas of significant population and employment growth that offer opportunities for connecting services that are outside the normal bus service. New routes are being proposed for the Burlingame/San Mateo area and Redwood City.
"There are some areas where traditional bus service just doesn't work," said Hughes. "But the demand for transit service still exists."
To meet this demand, the study proposes to launch pilot projects using an alternative "demand-response" style service. San Carlos and Pacifica are being proposed as testing grounds for this service model based on the limited amount of transit serving those communities and each city's unique transit needs.
The proposal is available for review online at www.samtrans.com/ssp. SamTrans staff will be meeting with the public, riders, businesses and other interests affected by bus service, city councils and community organizations throughout the county to seek feedback and recommendations based on the proposal.
As public outreach opportunities are scheduled, they will be posted to the SamTrans website. Any group interested in receiving a presentation should contact firstname.lastname@example.org to make arrangements. Comments on the draft proposal can be made in person at a public meeting, by e-mail or sent by letter to Planning and Development, ATTN: SSP, 1250 San Carlos Ave., San Carlos, CA 94070.
Once staff has completed the community outreach process, all of the comments will be considered and a final draft proposal will be submitted to the SamTrans Board of Directors for review in late 2012 or early 2013. Any service changes resulting from the SSP would be scheduled to take effect in mid-2013.