Study: Revamp county bus system

July 14, 2002 11:00 pm

By Fred Obee

Triplicate editor

A report on Crescent City's bus system has concluded what riders have known for some time: Dial-a-Ride is overburdened and the fixed-route bus is barely used.

To remedy those problems, transit planners now are proposing an overhaul of the system that limits Dial-a-Ride use while making the fixed-route system more convenient.

"Not only are the passengers unhappy, we have wasted resources," transportation planner Tom Brennen, of the Portland firm Nelson/Nygaard, told the Del Norte Local Transportation Commission this week.

The Nelson/Nygaard study recommends:

• Limiting Dial-a-Ride use to seniors, the disabled and people who live more than one-quarter mile from the fixed-route bus.

• Upgrading service on the fixed route by dividing Crescent City into two different routes and having buses travel both ways on those routes. That would cut wait times in half, making the bus "faster and more direct," Brennen said.

The Transportation Commission meets again at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 8 in the county Board of Supervisors chambers in the Flynn Center to formally accept the study and formulate recommendations. Redwood Coast Transit is run by a joint agreement between the Crescent City City Council and the Del Norte County Board of Supervisors. Those boards will have the final say on the recommendations.

Right now, public transportation in Del Norte County consists of two services, the fixed-route bus and Dial-a-Ride.

The fixed-route bus loops around Crescent City in a one-way circle that takes about an hour. That system is extremely inconvenient for riders, the study concluded.

Committee member Jack Burlake said he likens the current system to a clock.

A destination may be five minutes away going one direction, but 55 minutes away if the bus is traveling in the opposite direction. Riders who rely on the fixed-route system tell stories of having to leave their homes up to two hours before work begins to be assured they will arrive on time.

As a result, ridership on the fixed-route system is abysmal, Brennen said, with just 2.5 riders per hour. "That's extremely low," he said.

The inconvenience of the fixed-route bus has made people rely on Dial-a-Ride, a bus that provides doorstep-to-destination service.

Dial-a-Ride accounts for 75 percent of Del Norte County's public transportation riders, the study found.

The immense popularity of that service, however, has its own problems. Riders must call for a ride far in advance, and dispatchers and drivers are overburdened trying to provide the service.

To make matters worse, people often find alternate ways to get to their destinations before the Dial-a-Ride bus arrives and never show up for their requested ride, wasting the time and effort of Dial-a-Ride employees, Brennen said.

This dual system is extremely unusual, Brennen said. Transit planners rarely set up systems that compete so directly.

Making the fixed-route system more efficient will allow adding a bus to the Smith River area, and connecting that route with the existing bus to Klamath. Eventually, Brennen said, it should be possible to extend bus service to Brookings.

He also said enough time is included in the proposed fixed route to allow the bus to make occasional deviations to accommodate riders and still stay on schedule.

Brennen said the county also has the option of doing away with the fixed route and expanding Dial-a-Ride services. That option, however, isn't considered the most cost-effective or efficient.

If the recommendations are accepted by the county and the city, and if the transit system receives a hoped-for $700,000 grant in September, the study recommends hiring a half-time transit manager. That person would be charged with making the service changes, transportation officials say.