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Changes to Bus Service Proposed in Santa Maria

Public transportation is a popular way for many to travel around Santa Maria.

“I don’t have a car, so it helps me out, especially when I go grocery shopping, or just when I want to go shop or go out,” said Angelic Lopez.

However, the number of bus riders utilizing Santa Maria Area Transit (SMAT) is actually declining. During the 2012/13 fiscal year, more ridership totaled more than 1.1 million. Last year, ridership was just over 813,000.

The steep decline is a threat to the city’s “farebox ratio,” which is the total when revenue is divided by operating costs.

“That has to be over 20%, so in other words, a fifth of the cost has to be carried by the transit rider,” said Steven Kahn, Santa Maria Director of Public Works.

If the farebox ratio drops below the 20% threshold, Santa Maria faces fines imposed by the state and could lose valuable transportation funds.

“So we’re asking for 25 more cents on a $1.25 fare in order to keep up the farebox ratio at 20%,” said Kahn, who added there has not been an increase in fares in nearly 10 years.

The proposed fare increase is one of a trio of recommendations included in the Short Range Transit Plan update city council members will review and vote on Tuesday night.

The plan update has been completed after an exhaustive and thorough three-year process that included an outside consulting firm and active community involvement.

“We hired a consultant to do this,” said Kahn. “They did on-board studies and on-board surveys to collect the data and after all the data was collected, we did developed our plan and we had some alternatives. We went out to the public with six public workshops in order to get input on those alternatives. After that was completed, we came up with our recommendations, and we had six more workshops presenting our recommendations to the traveling public to make sure we have all the public an opportunity to give us their input.”

As a result of the process came up with three major recommendations, including a change to the current nighttime service.

“We currently have three routes that are long and circuitous, so what we’re doing is setting up new routes that mirror the daytime routes,” said Kahn.

Kahn emphasized the new proposed routes are not only similar to ones used during the day, they are shorter and more direct to destinations currently in operation at night.

“It will make things much simpler for the public because they already use these routes,” said Kahn. “They take them during the daytime, so I think it will be a big improvement.”

Lastly, another proposal will reduce service on various holidays. Under the proposal, no service will be offered on New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday, Independence Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, while limited service will be offered on Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day, Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veteran’s Day, Thanksgiving Wednesday, Thanksgiving Friday, Christmas Eve, Day After Christmas and New Year’s Eve.

“What we’re doing on those holidays is we’re switching to weekend service, so it’s not as intensive of a service, but still provides the life services for our traveling public,” said Kahn.

City council members will discuss the transit plan update on Tuesday, Aug. 2 at 6:30 p.m. Should the plan be approval, changes will go into effect in February 2017.

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