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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on October 15th, 2019, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 20, Issue 33 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 20, Issue 33

County agency weighs future of commuter bus service

By Zac Ezzone

Amid ridership declines and funding challenges, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments (SBCAG) released a plan recommending potential changes to its Clean Air Express commuter bus service. 

The Santa Barbara County Association of Governments released a plan of potential changes to its Clean Air Express bus service.

SBCAG has operated the service since 2001—although it was briefly operated by Santa Maria and Lompoc—which provides North County residents who work in South County with a transportation alternative to driving. Through this bus service, SBCAG runs 13 round trips that serve Santa Maria, Lompoc, Buellton, Solvang, Goleta, and Santa Barbara.

SBCAG Director of Rail and Transit Programs Scott Spaulding said that last year the agency began working on a short-range transit plan. This is a fairly standard planning tool that transit agencies use to identify ways to improve their service, he said.

According to the plan, one of the primary challenges that SBCAG needs to address is how the commuter service is funded. Currently, it’s funded completely through Measure A, a sales tax increase approved by county voters in 2008. Without changes to this funding model, the service would have to be reduced drastically over the next decade.

“Without action, due to rising operating expenses and capital replacement needs, Clean Air Express service will face a series of service reductions beginning in approximately 2026 with a reduction of the current 13 round trips to 10, further reductions in 2029 from 10 to seven, following by elimination of the remaining service in 2033,” the plan states.

Spaulding said Measure A was never intended to serve as the sole funding source for any of SBCAG’s programs. Instead, the additional revenue was supposed to be used as a local match that’s often required to obtain state and federal funds. He said SBCAG is now pushing for external funding sources to make up this shortage. 

So far, SBCAG has identified a program through the Federal Transit Administration that the county agency could use to secure $500,000 annually. Spaulding said SBCAG is also looking at opportunities through the state that could bring in an additional $50,000 annually. 

In addition to external funding, the plan discusses potential fare increases as another way to keep up with operating costs. Spaulding said the service’s fares last increased 10 years ago, which means they haven’t kept pace with inflation and increased operating costs since then. The plan also includes ways to raise awareness of the service to attract new riders after declines over the last few years.

The SBCAG board will review the plan at its Oct. 17 meeting and discuss next steps. Spaulding said staff is looking for direction from the board to move forward with developing a strategy to implement the recommendations outlined in the plan. 

Weekly Poll
What do you think about Aera Energy canceling its project in Cat Canyon?

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It's a loss of a lot of potential jobs that are needed in North County.
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