Head of SLO County's RTA listens to bus riders' concerns

jhickey@thetribunenews.comMay 15, 2013 

As a San Luis Obispo County regional transit bus rolled south on Higuera Street on Tuesday afternoon, a group of riders spoke their mind: One said he wished drivers would announce more stops; another said he would like earlier buses from Santa Maria to San Luis Obispo on Saturdays; yet another suggested installing more comfortable seats for the elderly — perhaps memory foam.

Geoff Straw, executive director of Regional Transit Authority, spent two days this week riding buses across the county specifically to hear and address riders’ concerns. These “mobile office hours” are designed to give a voice to busy riders who may not otherwise have a chance to share their concerns.

Straw has some good news for riders: This fall, seven new buses are expected to enter service.

But he cannot appease all complaints.

To a rider who requests more stops in the South County, Straw explained, “A route is a rubber band. If you try to go so far, it will break.” Some routes need to remain limited in order to complete the route in time and to maintain hourly service.

RTA provides transportation between communities in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties, and therefore has limited stops within cities, where local transit organizations provide more extensive connections.

However, there is more latitude to shift funding to address overcrowding, Straw told The Tribune. Many riders have to stand for the long journey that brings people to San Luis Obispo from the North County over the Cuesta Grade, and that is a priority to address, he said.

Determining where to add more express routes is also a priority.

“We want to go where there’s demand density,” Straw said.

RTA’s operating budget for fiscal year 2013-14 is projected at $7.5 million. The department runs with mostly federal and state funding, as well as bus fares projected to total $1.1 million for the fiscal year, according to minutes from an April RTA meeting.

RTA fixed-route ridership for the first two months of 2013 totaled 483,435 one-way passenger boardings.

Brandon Reid of Santa Maria takes the bus to work in San Luis Obispo every weekday, and sometimes on weekends. During the week, he takes a 6:20 a.m. bus, which allows him to arrive at work before 8 a.m. But on Saturday, the earliest bus gets him to work around 9:30 a.m. — and that’s something Reid wishes would change.

However, he is grateful for the service. Because his 31-day bus pass costs $44, his transportation costs are low.

“It’s a lot cheaper than spending tons of gas money,” he said.

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