Your Feb. 16 story entitled “What’s Happening This Year With Transportation in OC? How Should Dollars Be Invested?,” accurately points out that it’s a very active and exciting year ahead for transportation in Orange County, with OCTA leading more than $4 billion worth of investments to improve our transportation network throughout the county.
However, I disagree with the assertion that OCTA is emphasizing improving our freeways at the expense of public transit and active transportation such as biking and walking. In fact, this year OCTA is spending more than half of the $1.65 billion Board-approved budget – 52% – on transit capital improvements and operations.
The story quotes a transit advocate who says that the I-405 Improvement Project is moving forward “at a time the bus service was being cut back.” This leaves the impression that we care more about improving freeways than providing sufficient transit services, and nothing could be further from the truth.
OCTA, like transit agencies around the country, temporarily reduced service and adjusted schedules to reflect the massive drop in ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic. We shifted to a weekend service schedule when in the span of a few days, we saw more than 120,000 boardings a day drop to less than 30,000. We are proud that we have always continued providing bus service to meet demand, even during the worst of the pandemic, to get workers to essential jobs and riders to school and medical care, including vaccinations. Our OCTA drivers, maintenance workers and all of our operations staff should be applauded for showing up every day during the pandemic ready to serve the public.
As riders have returned to the system, we have gradually added back bus service and OCTA’s current budget has funding to fully return OC Bus service to pre-pandemic levels. We have also provided millions of free bus rides to youth and young adults by expanding the Youth Ride Free and College Pass programs this past year. OCTA is the first large public transit agency in Southern California to offer permanent free fares for those 18 and under and every community college student in Orange County has the ability to ride OC Bus for free.
We also continue to progress on the OC Streetcar, dedicating $38 million this year alone to that project, which will provide the heart of Orange County with another affordable, zero-emissions transit option and high-frequency connections to the busiest bus routes in the system and to Metrolink.
At the same time, we at OCTA continue to focus on providing additional options to safely move cyclists and pedestrians. As was the focus of another recent Voice of OC story, titled “Rails to Trails: Old Train Tracks May Be Key in Solving Central OC’s Green Space Shortage,” OCTA is in the early stages of a project that would convert approximately 3 miles of former train tracks to bicycle paths, providing a dedicated and safe route between densely populated neighborhoods in Santa Ana and Garden Grove. That project would provide another important connection in the 66 miles of pedestrian and bike paths known as OC Loop.
Our mission at OCTA is to keep Orange County moving safely with a balanced and sustainable transportation network. A closer look at the wide range of projects, programs and services we are advancing in 2023 shows that whether you walk, bike, take the bus, train, carpool or drive alone, we continue to fulfill that mission.
Darrell E. Johnson is CEO of the Orange County Transportation Authority, an agency of 1,400 employees responsible for projects, programs and services that keep Orange County moving. With a $1.6 billion budget, OCTA plans, funds and implements balanced and sustainable transit and capital projects reflecting the diverse travel needs of Orange County.
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