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MTD says acclaimed electric shuttle bus service in Santa Barbara remains on ‘pause’ not officially discontinued

Electric shuttle bus service suspended in Santa Barbara by the MTD and city funding issues.
Electric shuttle
John Palminteri/KEYT
Electric shuttle bus service suspended in Santa Barbara by the MTD and city funding issues. (Photo: John Palminteri)

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - With ridership dropping by the thousands in recent years, the Metropolitan Transit District electric shuttle bus in Santa Barbara is going through changes.

In a budget presentation to city leaders Wednesday, Santa Barbara Transportation Manager Rob Dayton says the analysis of budget savings due to the COVID-19 financial losses mean some cuts will take place immediately.

He indicated the electric shuttle would be discontinued as a savings cut.

The city council did not oppose the plan.

The MTD Wednesday afternoon came out with a "never say never" position, with a promise to look at options that may integrate some type of service into the ever-changing downtown and waterfront redesigns.

The city's comments came days before the MTD Board meeting on its budget, set for Tuesday morning.

The MTD is saying the service, in its view , is suspended, and operations have paused.

The Seaside shuttle in Carpinteria is a separate service with MTD and it remains on hold at this time as well. Riders there say that shuttle goes where no other transit takes them.

The electric bus service was showcased in the 1990s as a way to steer away from polluting transportation options often seen in cities across America. Many other cities looked at Santa Barbara as an example of what they wanted to incorporate into their transportation plans.

The Santa Barbara system was the first of its kind in America.

These days the cost of a ride at $.50 is subsidized by city funds of $4.65. A day pass was $1.00

"We have been working with MTD over the years on this. It is not a mystery," said Rob Dayton.

He said it was "not a good thing, but a good time to deal with it."

MTD and the city did not want to see this happen. The combination of all factors have hit at once, with no solid back up plan put forth from either side at this time.

Riders who are loyal to the service are disappointed to say the least. Their sentiments have poured out to social media posts. Many are concerned about workers, the elderly and those without cars getting around town.

It was also a service used by tourists who were looking for help getting up State Street or to get a mini-tour of downtown.

The MTD will have a board meeting at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday to discuss its budget.

The shuttle service with the city is through a Memorandum of Understanding.

"Santa Barbara MTD is committed to being a long-term partner in the revitalization of State Street and Santa Barbara’s Downtown," said MTD  Planning and Marketing Manager Hilary Blackerby.  "Since the early 90s, The City of Santa Barbara and MTD have had a deep partnership on the Shuttle program—providing reliable, affordable, and fully-electric public transportation for residents and visitors to the Downtown and Waterfront areas. " 

The City of Santa Barbara will have a confirmed budget in place on July 1.

"MTD’s proposed budget reflects a year-long suspension of the Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle service," said Blackerby.


The city's transportation presentation also included adding cash-less parking services, and a reduction of staff to deal with cost saving options.

The current ticket machines are designed to be modified for credit, debit and prepaid cards.

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John Palminteri

John Palminteri is senior reporter for KEYT News Channel 3-12. To learn more about John, click here.


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