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SCV moves toward high-tech transit

City officials aim to make system simple and easy to use for local residents, commuters

Posted: August 25, 2009 9:58 p.m.
Updated: August 26, 2009 4:55 a.m.

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“Seamless” is the name of the game when it comes to the future of Santa Clarita Transit.

City officials’ goal is to make the valley’s mass-transit system one that is easy to use for both commuters and local residents, said Adrian Aguilar, interim transit coordinator.

That includes new technology that lets riders know when their bus will arrive and getting people comfortable with using the bus system.

The city’s transit system saw a 10.5-percent spike in ridership over the past year, Aguilar said.

Ridership totalled 4.2 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year, up from 3.8 million in the previous fiscal year, he said.

Those numbers comprise local fixed routes, commuter service and Dial-A-Ride, Aguilar said.

Santa Clarita Transit is fairly unique, he said, in that its ridership demographics are varied.

About 30 percent to 40 percent of the transit system’s riders are school-age children. At the opposite end of the spectrum, senior-citizen ridership has also increased over the past 18 months, Aguilar said.

Filling things out are the ranks of commuters who take buses to San Fernando Valley and downtown Los Angeles, and riders who Aguilar described as “transit dependent” — including people with no vehicles or driver’s licenses.

The Santa Clarita Transit fleet includes nearly 100 vehicles — 80 fixed-route and commuter buses and 18 Dial-A-Ride vehicles, Aguilar said.

About 40 percent of the local buses run on compressed natural gas, while the commuter buses are all diesel-fueled, he said.

Santa Clarita’s bus system runs on a budget of roughly $16 million a year. In addition to fare revenue, Aguilar said, funding comes from federal grants, state money and local funding as part of propositions A and C, passed in the 1980s and 1990s, respectively.

Heading into the future, a big part of a smoothly running transit system is integration, which prompted the local introduction of the transit access pass, or TAP card.

Under the TAP program, residents can buy a pass card that they can then electronically load with credits for Santa Clarita Transit and other Los Angeles-area transit organizations, such as the Metropolitan Transit Authority.

Aguilar said that will make bus travel outside of the valley that much more of a simple process.

Over the next two months, the transit system will get an upgrade with the addition of the transit-information network.

Buses are being equipped with GPS technology that will allow riders to receive real-time updates on bus locations, via the Web, by phone or at a digital readout at a bus stop.

According to one local commuter, there’s room for even more improvement.

Newhall resident Jeff Wilson stopped using his car about 15 months ago, commuting to his job at the Newhall School District on bicycle. He said he rides the bus about two times per month on average.

Ideally, he said, he’d like to see more frequency to local bus routes, as well as more express routes and better saturation of specific neighborhoods.

“It’s always kind of a balancing act,” he said.

There’s a definite imbalance when it comes to one commuter route recently cancelled, said Bart Reed, executive director of the Sylmar-based Transit Coalition.

On Aug. 1, Santa Clarita Transit cut route 798 and several other routes servicing the San Fernando Valley. Routes 798, 793, 747, 504 and 503 were discontinued because of low ridership that ranges between 30-40 riders per day city officials have said.

Route 8 was discontinued because the money from federal grants that paid for the route expired, Deputy City Manager Darren Hernandez said last May. The route cost $490,000 annually to operate.

A new route that city officials are calling the North Hollywood express route replaced the routes that run from Santa Clarita to the San Fernando Valley.

“They just created a huge (unmet need),” said Reed, who said the route eliminations have made commuting even more difficult for people.

“This is basic mobility,” he said. “These are not people who make $80,000 a year.”

While Reed said Santa Clarita Transit does a good job with travel to the western San Fernando Valley and Westwood, he said, “When something’s broken, you fix it. Something was bleeding and they cut off the limb.”

Route 798 and route 793 cost the city a combined $435,000 to operate, Hernandez said. With the route ridership of between 30 daily riders, the route cost the city nearly $12,000 per rider to operate each year.

Reed suggested city officials could have made different route changes that still included more direct access to places like Olive View Medical Center.



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