An OCTA bus in Orange County. (Photo credit: unknown)

The typical Orange County bus rider is poor but employed, needs the bus to get to work or school and faces an average round-trip commute of at least three hours.

Even so, according to a bus rider survey released this week by the Orange County Transportation Authority, 80 percent of the county’s bus riders are happy with the service, primarily because the buses are clean and safe and bus stops are close to where they live or their destination.

The biggest complaints concerned frequency of service, on-time performance, overcrowding and information available at bus stops.

In addition, current riders wanted more bus service on weekends and evenings, the report states. They also wanted buses to improve their on-time performance and were concerned about the costs of riding, safety at bus stops and the length of time they had to wait for a bus.

The report concludes that the median travel time for a single trip was one hour and 30 minutes, “considerably longer” than the 55 minutes reported in 2007, the last time a survey was conducted. It attributed the increase to the fact that riders needed to make more transfers in 2011 to reach their destinations.

Overall, the report showed that 27 percent of trips in 2011 took less than an hour; 23 percent were one hour to one hour and 30 minutes; 19 percent took an hour and a half to two hours; and 12 percent of trips took three hours to complete.

OCTA staff members said they would contact police departments to see whether rider concerns about safety at bus stops are valid.

The $75,000 survey, conducted for OCTA by Rea & Parker Research, sampled heavily used bus stops in each of the five districts of the Orange County Board of Supervisors.

The purpose included measuring overall satisfaction among riders, determining who rides the bus and why and highlighting areas that need improvement.

The survey was conducted in late 2011, four years after the previous poll. In the future, OCTA staff said, surveys will be done every two years. Those who don’t ride the bus have never been surveyed to determine why they don’t.

The survey provided other indicators of how hard working poor people have been hit by the recession and its aftermath. Since the 2007 survey, 400,000 hours of bus service were eliminated because of budget cuts.

In 2010, the county’s grand jury criticized local, state and federal elected officials for committing millions of dollars to high-speed rail and other projects, including Anaheim’s proposed ARTIC transportation center, while cutting back bus service for poor or disabled people and students.

In the face of the state financial crisis, the Legislature eliminated funding for bus services, leaving counties to bear the costs. In addition, last year OCTA began a pilot program intended to “increase efficiency,” which includes eliminating or reducing many bus routes throughout the county, including several connections to Los Angeles County.

Who Rides the Bus?

“The most important reason respondents are riding OCTA buses instead of using alternative modes is that they cannot afford to purchase or maintain an automobile (42 percent) followed by the lack of a driver’s license or the inability to drive (23 percent),” stated the OCTA rider report.

Nearly three-fourths of bus riders are poor. The report concluded that 44 percent of riders earn less than $10,000 a year and another 29 percent have annual incomes between $10,000 and $20,000. Total household income for 86 percent of bus riders is $35,000 or less. According to the 2010 national census, the median Orange County household income was $74,344 and statewide it was $60,883.

Although more than half of the surveyed riders worked full or part time, many were underemployed and 30 percent simultaneously work and attend school, according to the report.

Jobs held by bus riders primarily were in the service, hospitality and retail industries. Eighty-two percent of riders said they used the bus four to seven days a week, and another 15 percent said they rode from one to three days a week.

A basic fare is $1.50, but that must be paid each time a rider transfers buses. A one-day pass with unlimited transfers is $4. Other types of passes are available, and the basic fare doesn’t apply to express routes. About 60 percent of riders use bus passes, and OCTA staff said they were seeking ways to increase that.

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