Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Using Transit for More than Work and Shopping

Using transit for work and shopping is great.  But the world really opens up when transit can be used for the full range of life.

For my first post-college job, I lived in the East Bay and commuted by BART into San Francisco, walking a few blocks from the Montgomery Street station into the South of Market neighborhood, before SOMA was cool.

I loved beginning my day on a BART train.  (Okay, weekends were even better, but if one must work, a rail commute beats the heck out of a car commute.)  I enjoyed reading Herb Caen and the Sporting Green on my way into the City in the morning.  And on the way home, I’d often ride with a coworker, talking about ongoing projects and new marketing prospects.  I deplored the occasional day when I had to drive my car to work.  It was a lousy way to begin a day.

But even better than the daily BART commute was when I could use BART in the evening hours.  It seemed almost magical how I could find ways to organize my social and recreational life around BART.

Many evenings, my coworkers and I would play city league volleyball or softball.  Perhaps we’d unwind afterwards with beer and pizza and I’d then catch BART home.  Other times, I met friends for the symphony or theatre before ending my day on a BART train.

But perhaps my favorite BART outing was a Chinese New Year when a friend invited several of us to watch the parade from the balcony of his North Beach apartment while sipping wine.  Afterwards, we walked through the deserted financial district to catch one of the last BART trains home.  It was a fine evening that would have been much less fun if we’d had to worry about traffic, parking, and designating a driver.

These days, my use of transit is more limited.  The North Bay doesn’t offer the rich transit opportunities of elsewhere in the Bay Area.  But I still fondly remember the time in my life when transit was an integral part of my world.

These days, I also sit on the Transit Advisory Committee for the City of Petaluma.  In that role, I’ve often pushed to expand service beyond the current 6am to 7pm schedule.  However, I understood that the funding realities of transit limited our opportunities.

But a grant has come to Petaluma Transit that may allow us to dip our toes into evening service.  Perhaps not “ride home after Chinese New Year parade” service, but at least “ride home after an early evening movie” service.

Nor is the grant big enough to ensure that the service extension will be permanent.  Funding may only stretch for a couple of years.  It’ll be up the community to embrace the service, with sufficient ridership that fares plus possible future grants will allow the evening service to continue past 2016.

And that’s the question Petaluma Transit staff and the Transit Advisory Committee is now pondering.  How do we attract enough riders to make evening service successful?

Personally, I’m intrigued by the thought of high school students heading downtown for 6pm movies, exploring the limits of their world without adult oversight.  It’s an opportunity that I wish I’d had when I was their age.

But perhaps there are other demographic segments that can make even better use of evening bus service.

If you have thoughts to share, or are interested in getting more information, Petaluma Transit will host several meetings about evening service.  On Wednesday, April 23, transit staff will host community outreach sessions at two locations.  From 10am to noon, they’ll be at the Senior Center.  Then they’ll move across the lake and host outreach at the Petaluma Community Center from 1pm to 7pm.  If April 23 isn’t convenient for some, both sessions will be repeated, same times and places, on Tuesday, May 6.

Evening services won’t be the only topic to be discussed at the outreach meetings.  A fare increase will also be offered for public input.

Under state law, a test is applied to the ratio of fare box revenue to operating revenue.   If the standard isn’t met, some state funds may be redirected away from the transit agency.

Petaluma Transit is complies with the fare box recovery standard.  The recent boost from 150,000 riders per year to over 350,000 per year has assisted.  But operating costs have risen to support the higher ridership and will continue to rise due to inflation. 

A fare increase would position Petaluma Transit relative to the fare box standard such that another fare increase wouldn’t be needed for years.

Also, other North Bay communities have increased transit fares in recent years, leaving Petaluma among the lowest fares.  Even with the modest fare increase under discussion, Petaluma Transit fares would remain among the lowest fares in the North Bay and the greater Bay Area.

Petaluma Transit has been doing well.  Evening services and a fare increase would set it up to do even better in the future.  Please come on April 23 or May 6 and be part of the conversation.  I’ll attend portions of several of the sessions and would be pleased to chat.

As always, your questions or comments will be appreciated.  Please comment below or email me.  And thanks for reading. - Dave Alden (

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