San Luis Obispo County's transit authority receives hefty grant

The funds will help the agency deal with a growing ridership

dsneed@thetribunenews.comJune 8, 2013 

After seven year of waiting, the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority has been awarded a grant of nearly $1 million to buy land for a new bus maintenance garage and other facilities.

Caltrans announced the grant for $998,296 this week. It also announced that Morro Bay will get $13,000 to purchase a new transit vehicle, bicycle rack and communications equipment.

The grant comes at an opportune time because SLORTA has been seeing hefty increases in ridership since 2008, said Geoff Straw, the agency’s executive director.

The money for these projects comes from Proposition 1B, a $3.6 billion transportation bond approved by voters in 2006. SLORTA applied for its grant when the bond measure was passed, but it has taken this long for the bonds to be sold and the money to become available.

“It’s exciting because we’ve been waiting for this for quite a few years,” Straw said.

The money will be used to acquire as many as six acres of land to accommodate a new maintenance garage as well as scheduling, dispatch and administrative offices. The agency could acquire its current location at 179 Cross St. in San Luis Obispo or a new location could be selected.

The transit agency has seen nearly double-digit annual increases in ridership for the past five years. The only exception was fiscal year 2009-10 when there was a small decline in ridership due likely to the recession.

But overall, the trend is upward with last year seeing an increase of 16 percent and an increase of 7 percent thus far this year. These increases are due to high gas prices and a new generation of young riders, Straw said.

“Today’s youth are not driving as much a previous generations,” he said. “People are not driving as much and are choosing to use other modes of transportation.”

This increase in ridership has strained the agency’s ability to handle it. Standing-room-only loads are common during peak morning and sometimes peak afternoon bus trips, particularly to Cuesta College.

“We are currently taking delivery of some new replacement buses, and we will likely hold onto a few of the buses being replaced to provide additional bus trips during the peak time to help spread out the load and provide additional capacity for new riders,” Straw said.

The $1 million grant is one of nearly 900 mass transit projects funded through Proposition 1B.

The projects include updating transit services, purchasing eco-friendly buses, modernizing transit stations and creating jobs.

“These projects give Californians a viable alternative to using their cars,” said Malcolm Dougherty, Caltrans director, “Public transit reduces traffic congestion and protects the environment by lowering greenhouse gas emissions.”



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