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Riders: SamTrans service outdated
August 15, 2012, 05:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Bus riders have made it clear.

SamTrans operates too many buses where people do not need to go.

After an 18-month study, the transit agency is ready to embark on implementing a new Service Plan meant to reinvigorate the bus system.

With declining ridership, debt obligations and an unresolved structural deficit, SamTrans is looking to beef up some of its most popular routes, modify others to boost ridership and eliminate little-used routes.

It unveiled its draft Service Plan this week and intends to conduct extensive public outreach before the SamTrans board weighs in and adopts it later this year.

Riders made it clear that the public bus service had become outdated.

"We want to do more of what works, less of what doesn’t and try new things,” Aidan Hughes, who is directing the SamTrans Service Plan effort, wrote in a statement. "Those are the three basic directives that came out of the study process.”

The SamTrans board passed a $154 million operating budget in June that required the use of $10.6 million in reserves to balance the fiscal year 2012-13 budget.

The agency is hoping to develop a new service model that stays within its existing budget.

"What we want to do is get more bang for our buck. Reinventing a complicated network of buses with connections to other services takes careful consideration of the needs of our customers, now and in the future,” April Chan, executive officer of SamTrans’ planning and development, wrote in a statement. "We have to live within our existing means. Any service that we add has to be taken from some other area and that’s where the balancing act can be challenging.”

Nearly 50 percent of all SamTrans trips take place along the El Camino Real corridor. With the high demand for service in the area, the study demonstrates the need to streamline the amount of service SamTrans offers on the routes serving El Camino Real and increase the travel options for riders.

The study also identifies core markets where employment and population growth are driving greater demand for service.

Opportunities for ridership growth include Redwood City, San Mateo/Burlingame and the Daly City/South San Francisco region. Routes proposed for improvement include 120, 130, 292, 296, 390 and 391, according to the draft Service Plan.

Other parts of the system would be modified under the new proposal in an effort to better match the service with market demand. Limiting KX and Route 292 service into San Francisco to peak hours only and eliminating San Francisco service on the 391 is being proposed because commute habits have changed, according to the draft Service Plan.

Fewer people commute into San Francisco and eliminating the off-peak service would allow the San Mateo County Transit District to invest those dollars in providing better service in the county in an effort to attract more riders, according to the draft Service Plan.

Routing changes and schedule adjustments are also being proposed.

Some routes are also proposed for elimination based on low ridership and include routes 118, 123, 132, 280 and 359.

New routes are being proposed for the Burlingame/San Mateo area and Redwood City.

"There are some areas where traditional bus service just doesn’t work,” Hughes wrote in the statement. "But the demand for transit service still exists.”

The study proposes to launch pilot projects using an alternative "demand-response” style service. San Carlos and Pacifica are being proposed as testing grounds for this service model based on the limited amount of transit serving those communities and each city’s unique transit needs, according to the draft Service Plan.

SamTrans operates 48 bus routes in San Mateo County but just four them handle nearly half of the transit agency’s weekday ridership.

It has a weekday average ridership of about 45,000 a day but 45 percent of the riders travel on just four routes: the 120, 292, 390 and 391.

Those four routes are the least costly for SamTrans to run while some local routes, such as the 72 in Redwood City, cost the transit agency nearly $15 per rider.

SamTrans staff will be meeting with the public, riders, businesses and others affected by bus service, city councils and community organizations throughout the county over the next few months to seek feedback and recommendations based on the proposal.

The earliest the new Service Plan would be implemented is 2013.

To view the draft service plan visit For a comprehensive list of route modifications visit

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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