SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - It was a smooth ride while it lasted. The Metropolitan Transit District's electric shuttle system was launched in the early 90's, used by millions and had routes on the waterfront, Carpinteria and the main run was up and down State Street.
It served visitors, the local population, anyone on a limited budget and sometimes served as a quick touring ride.
The COVID pandemic forced it to be discontinued due to cost issues and a drop in ridership.
One frequent passenger stopped us recently and said for her it was essential to get around and she badly needs it.
Mila Marlow was a rider who used the Shuttle and did not pay the 50-cent fare, because she enjoyed the 25-cent-a-ride senior fare. She talked about the service cut with a bag in each hand and a small portable chair. She was on her walk from the mid-portion of downtown towards the beach. It was going to be possibly ten blocks to get home. She was already tired. He arms hurt.
"Today my neighbor dropped me off at the post office on Anacapa. Now I have to walk home. I came with my little bench in case I get tired because I have heart problems," she said.
Basically, she's often asking other for rides because the walk from West Beach to downtown wears her out.
"I have very good friends but I can not depend on them all the time," she said.
Recently as the MTD was hearing of new funding from the government we asked about the shuttle's future.
MTD General Manager Jerry Estrada was well aware of the loyal shuttle riders out there.
"Unfortunately at the start of the pandemic we had to suspend quite a bit of service. We restored most of it. Our focus was on the essential worker. The State St.- Hollister corridor and now the schools."
It's still to be determined if we are ever going to see another electric shuttle bus again on State Street downtown but the MTD says it's open to the discussion of integrating more transportation solutions into the future of the promenade.
A special committee with a variety of interests is making recommendations about the promenade. Transportation is a component.
Estrada said, "we are really hopeful that working together with the city and the committee they put together, that the transportation needs of the folks downtown will be met and that we will be there to serve them again."
That is likely to take months. Essential trips along with church visits are weekly on a route the shuttle traveled perfectly for Marlow who went to Our Lady of Sorrows Church. "I took it there and then I get off at Sola and I take if back on Sola to go back to the dolphin fountain. Then I walk home."
As for an alternate route, Marlow says, she hopes they will loop around the promenade using Chapala St. to help passengers like her, and their wearing feet.
"Yes because you can walk one block over there and take the shuttle bus and go wherever you need to go on its route and you can make it from the post office. I have to walk all the way," she said looking down a long stretch of the street towards the waterfront neighborhood where she lives.