Orange County Transportation Authority officials are recommending a number of modifications to their 2016 proposal for bus service changes, after protests against route cuts last month by dozens of bus riders, many who are dependent on public buses as their only mode of transportation.
Bus ridership in Orange County has plummeted over the last decade by nearly 30 percent, the worst decline in Southern California. Officials say their latest plans for the bus system will help raise ridership by eliminating routes with low ridership in favor of increasing service in areas of the county where buses have been more successful.
The 2016 Bus Service Plan would eliminate or cut a number of routes concentrated in South Orange County, as well as some in the north and central parts of the county, where ridership is low. Several routes would see increases in bus frequency and two new Bravo! Express routes will be added.
After dozens of riders — many who have disabilities or depend on the bus to get to work or school — turned out at a board meeting last month, transportation officials have altered some of their plans to preserve some of routes that were slated for elimination, create of a new circulator bus in Santa Ana, and eliminate transfer fees for disabled riders who need to use a separate taxi service.
At a Transit Committee meeting last week, Transportation Authority CEO Darrell Johnson told board members that they would “not ignore the needs of the public” and that the modifications would balance public input with the agency’s financial constraints.
“I believe that we have done that and what we’re presenting to you today is fair and balanced,” Johnson said. The modifications and the final bus service plan still need to be approved by the full board at their Feb. 22 meeting.
Among the modifications presented to the Transit Committee last Thursday was the addition of the Route 150 circulator bus, which would cover most of the service area for routes 51 and 145, which will be cut entirely.
(Click here to view a proposed map for the new Route 150 circulator bus.)
Although routes 51 and 145 have relatively low ridership, they serve several middle schools and high schools, as well as Santa Ana College. The circulator would run in a loop along Flower Street between 17th and Sunflower, and operate on weekdays with peak hours between 6 and 9 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. to accommodate those students, according to Transportation Authority staff.
According to Johnson, the Transportation Authority is also encouraging Santa Ana College to implement a bus pass program for its students. Under state law, community college districts can establish a transportation fee as part of tuition to pay for a local bus pass, if the majority of the student body votes to approve the fee.
Johnson pointed to the success of that strategy for the Riverside Transit Agency, which has attributed its ridership increase to the number of local colleges participating in that program.
Currently, no Orange County community colleges offer their students a compulsory bus pass, Johnson said.
The changes also address concerns among certain disabled riders who would see the elimination of their nearest fixed bus route.
In order to use OCTA’s ACCESS service, which picks up registered disabled riders from their homes by reservation, riders must live within three quarters of a mile of an existing OCTA route. For those whose closest route will be eliminated under the plan, officials had recommended they use a taxi service to get dropped off at a location where the ACCESS service can pick them up.
Many disabled riders who live on a fixed income from their disability benefits said the extra cost of a taxi ride, $3.60 per ride for up to five miles, would not be feasible.
The Transportation Authority has instead proposed an 18-month pilot program that would eliminate the transfer costs for disabled riders whose regular route will be eliminated. They are also proposing extending the hours the taxi service is available beyond the current daily schedule of 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.
(Click here to see a complete list of the modifications to the bus service plan.)
Two riders with disabilities, the only public speakers during the meeting, thanked Transportation Authority officials for making the changes, with Theresa Salisbury of Huntington Beach specifically mentioning route 178, which she takes to get to physical therapy twice a week.
“The 178 gets me to my appointment on time…it’s my only way,” Salisbury said. “That’s a wonderful change that I am thankful for.”
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