A worried expression appeared on bus driver Daniel Diaz’s face Wednesday afternoon as he peered through the open doors of his Mid-Day Shuttle stop at the Scolari’s grocery store on Paso Robles’ west side.
“The ladies with the walkers usually ride here to go shopping,” Diaz said, commenting on the city’s Tuesday night decision to nix the service.
The shuttle, using two buses in the Paso Robles Express fleet, drives low-income and senior housing riders to stops close to jobs, shops, medical services and recreation. It largely overlaps with the city’s regular bus route but mostly brings riders closer to store entrances.
On Wednesday, no riders were waiting for Diaz. There normally are, he said.
At Tuesday night’s City Council meeting, one woman who spoke for a large group said they depended on the service to get through daily routines.
But underperforming routes, especially in the economic downturn, pose a risk to all bus operations. The two Mid-Day Shuttle vehicles would be better used on the fixed route, officials said.
The Mid-Day Shuttle was meant to cater to 25,000 riders in fiscal year 2010-11. It has only seen 15,000 riders to date. It’s been operating since 2009 on a state grant that won’t be renewed.
The city’s current routing system needs an overhaul — including cuts, increased fares and expanded routes to attract more riders — in order to continue to receive state and federal funding.
The Paso Robles City Council unanimously approved such a plan Tuesday.
City transit operations have seen funding reductions of 27 percent — or $351,000 — since fiscal year 2008 due to declining sales tax revenue, according to the city. Ridership is also down.
Aside from the Paso Robles Express, city bus services haven’t attracted enough riders to meet a state and federal funding requirement in the past two years.
Rider fares must account for at least 20 percent of operations costs, according to the state. If they don’t, the state won’t help pay for transit.
With its current routing, the city would need an estimated $65,000 in additional fare revenue, or savings, to meet those requirements.
As a result, city staff proposed to trim services and raise fares. The city will also offer new stops, including the possibility of a much-requested stop at the medical complexes off Las Tablas Road in Templeton.
The changes are slated to begin in July. New route information and reminders of the changes will be available in May and posted on buses and at the downtown transit center.
Changes to Paso Robles transit
In July, Paso Robles will:
Increase Dial-A-Ride fares from $3 to $4 per ride and increase bus fares from $1.25 to $1.50 per ride.
Eliminate the Mid-Day Shuttle.
Cancel the North County Shuttle contract with Atascadero but expand its route within Paso Robles. The change discontinues the North County Shuttle name in Paso Robles and moves its stops into the existing Paso Robles Express bus route. Atascadero is slated to discuss its resulting route changes Feb. 24.
Close the one-employee Greyhound Bus ticketing office, a Paso Robles franchise operation at 800 Pine St. Greyhound buses will continue to stop near there.
Reduce Dial-A-Ride service from six days per week to five days per week and from 13 hours per day to six hours per day.
Reach Tonya Strickland at 781-7858. Stay updated by following @tstrickland on Twitter.