Plans for Faster Bus Lines Delayed

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Orange County’s first rapid transit bus line is getting rave reviews from riders, who say they’re saving about 15 minutes each time they travel on Harbor Boulevard, according to officials.

Customer feedback “has been very positive, and the overall service is a success from the customer perspective,” declares an Orange County Transportation Authority staff report this week.

The route, known as Bravo!, “also received very high scores for reliability, cleanliness, and value.”

Meanwhile, plans to add similar lines in other areas were just put on hold.

On a unanimous vote Monday, OCTA directors chose to indefinitely delay creating two new routes. Director Janet Nguyen was absent.

Officials say the projects face a money problem.

“A potential reduction in transit funding” and “lack of future revenues” are cited in the staff’s recommendation to hold off. The new routes are expected to cost a total of $800,000 per year.

OCTA spokesman Joel Zlotnik said the agency foresees a possible dip in state transit assistance funding as the volume of gas and diesel sales decline statewide.

The agency continues to ask the state for more transportation funding, he added.

“OCTA would like to expand transit operation in all areas,” said Zlotnik.

The rapid transit routes stem from the economic recession, when OCTA slashed about 20 percent of bus service countywide.

In 2010, the county grand jury criticized the agency for committing millions of dollars to Anaheim’s ARTIC transportation hub while cutting back on bus service for poor and disabled people. A later grand jury supported the project.

In reaction to the service cuts, OCTA planned to create the three rapid transit routes, an outgrowth of its Transit System Study.

The first line along Harbor Boulevard, one of the busiest streets in Orange County, was launched in June.

The second would connect the Laguna Niguel-Mission Viejo train station with the Irvine Business Complex and South Coast Metro employment centers, with stops at UC Irvine and Aliso Viejo Town Center.

The third route would connect the Santa Ana train station with Long Beach, with stops at the Santa Ana Civic Center, Harbor Boulevard and Beach Boulevard.

In the same action on Monday, OCTA directors also reduced the frequency of stops along the existing Harbor Boulevard rapid transit route.

Starting in June, the buses will run every 12 minutes instead of 10 during peak hours and 18 minutes instead of 15 during off-peak hours.

The savings from the change would likely be reinvested in extended night and weekend service, staff say.

Nguyen opposed that change when the issue was brought to the transit committee.

As a large suburban area, Orange County faces particular challenges when it comes to public transportation.

With homes and offices often spread out in lower-density patterns than many big cities, building new, high-cost systems like subways or rail can prove expensive.

At the same time, county residents are also dealing with ever increasing traffic congestion on roads and freeways. Transportation agencies are being forced by the federal government to get cars flowing again in carpool lanes.

Adding toll lanes to major freeways is one proposal to meet that mandate.

Bus rapid transit, meanwhile, is seen by many transportation planners, including at OCTA, as a flexible and cost-effective mass transit option for suburban areas.

Surrounding areas are also considering a similar approach.

San Bernardino County’s transportation agency, for example, is building a bus rapid transit system connecting major destinations along a 16-mile route between San Bernardino and Loma Linda.

The system, known as San Bernardino Express, or sbX, is set to launch in April.

About 1 million people ride OCTA’s buses each week, according to the agency.

In response to a question from Director John Moorlach, OCTA staff confirmed that a “freeway express” form of bus rapid transit could meet the federal requirements for lessening congestion in carpool lanes.

You can reach Nick Gerda at ngerda@gmail.com, and follow him on Twitter: @nicholasgerda.

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