Thursday, September 6, 2012

Waiting for Change

By Dashiell Young-Saver

SLOW GOES IT—Headed home after a day of work at Marty’s Hobbies, Brad Denemark watches the northbound bus pull up outside the Thousand Oaks Teen Center as he waits for the southbound coach, which will connect him to another bus he’ll take to Camarillo. The 15-mile trip can take two hours. 
IRIS SMOOT/Acorn Newspapers SLOW GOES IT—Headed home after a day of work at Marty’s Hobbies, Brad Denemark watches the northbound bus pull up outside the Thousand Oaks Teen Center as he waits for the southbound coach, which will connect him to another bus he’ll take to Camarillo. The 15-mile trip can take two hours. IRIS SMOOT/Acorn NewspapersPart 1 of a two-part series
Brad Denemark is among the shrinking number of Ventura County residents who take the bus to work.
Four days a week, the 52-year-old model train enthusiast catches two rides—one on a VISTA bus and the other on a coach operated by Thousand Oaks Transit—to get from his home in Camarillo to his job at Marty’s Hobbies store in T.O.
What would be around a 20-minute car ride in light traffic takes him close to two hours.
But Denemark, who’s been taking the route for 10 years, says he doesn’t mind.

PICK A LINE—A map outlines the different fixed-route transit lines operating in East Ventura County. The cities are in discussions about a plan to better coordinate the systems to improve city-to-city travel. 
Courtesy of Ventura County Transportation Commission PICK A LINE—A map outlines the different fixed-route transit lines operating in East Ventura County. The cities are in discussions about a plan to better coordinate the systems to improve city-to-city travel. Courtesy of Ventura County Transportation Commission“They could add more buses, but it doesn’t bother me because I’m not in any hurry,” said Denemark, who owns a car but prefers to take the bus.
Other riders aren’t as patient—or diplomatic.
Amy Aguilera, transit organizer for Ventura County bus riders union ASSERT, said one of the most frequent complaints she hears from East County riders is the lack of connectivity between cities.
“They’re interested in getting from point A to B in a reasonable amount of time, and it can take up to three hours to get to Oxnard from East County cities,” Aguilera said.
Fortunately for riders like Aguilera and Denemark, the cities of Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, Simi Valley and Camarillo are in the middle of discussions about forming a cooperative transit agreement in order to reduce confusion, expand services and increase efficiency.
The suggestion was made three years ago in a report by the Ventura County Transportation Commission, which called on cities to create “better coordinated and linked transit services that largely ignore jurisdiction boundaries” and is just now coming to fruition.
‘Not enough coordination’
The problem, according to the 2009 report, is “too many operators and not enough coordination.”
In addition to the countywide VISTA system, each East County city operates its own bus system—and no two are exactly alike.
“All four cities have had different days of service, different hours of service and different fares for service,” said Darren Kettle, executive director of the county transportation commission. “What the (new agreement) is going to try to do is get all those jurisdictions working (together).”
The new cooperative plan stems from a regional transit study released by VCTC in the spring, which again urged local agencies to work together for the greater good of public transportation.
Since 2008, bus riders have submitted hundreds of requests for service expansion at VCTC annual hearings to determine unmet needs. But most of the needs could not be reasonably accommodated. The most frequent requests were for restoring service (157), more frequent service (101), later or earlier service (67), express service (33) and weekend service (32), according to a Ventura County Bus Riders Union report.
In what can be seen as the first major step forward in improving the system, Thousand Oaks began operating and maintaining the Moorpark’s city bus system on July 30.
After Coach America, Moorpark’s previous bus operator, filed for bankruptcy, the city received two bids to run its transit system—one from Roadrunner and one from the City of Thousand Oaks. It awarded T.O. a 23-month contract for $1.1 million.
“(Thousand Oaks) offered up a proposal that was well-received because (the city) thought that (it) could (provide services) that Roadrunner couldn’t and perform those in a way that would be more cost-effective,” said Mike Houser, the city’s transit program manager.
Thousand Oaks city staff now maintains and stores Moorpark’s five buses in its Municipal Service Center.
MV Transportation, which operates the T.O. Transit system, including Dial-A-Ride services, now does the same for Moorpark.
“So far it’s been a seamless transition, and we are pleased with the service to date,” said David Klotzle, Moorpark’s city engineer and public works director. “Talks and planning were already in place on how to move forward with providing better connected transit services between (the East County cities) . . . so it fits in very well with moving towards that goal.”
Houser said he felt the contract benefited riders by “having two cities now under one roof with very similar operating rules.”
Moorpark Mayor Janice Parvin said she’s proud of the partnership with Thousand Oaks.
“I know it’s our goal to have a more cooperative effort relative to transportation,” Parvin said. “In the current economy, we try to continue to be more resourceful, and I think this is a very positive thing for our community as long as we can continue to keep those costs reasonable.”
VCTC also supports the city affiliation as a step toward its plan to promote more coordination.
“Having this new relationship between the City of Thousand Oaks and Moorpark will help us to figure out where we might have bugs (in the East County agreement),” Kettle said.
Changes on horizon
Another major change that’s being discussed is allowing Gold Coast Transit to operate the VISTA county bus service lines connecting each city.
The hope is that Gold Coast, which currently provides fixedroute bus services in the cities of Ojai, Oxnard, Port Hueneme and Ventura, and in the unincorporated county areas, will be able to provide improved service and more consistent fares.
Roadrunner Shuttle of Camarillo is operating the VISTA bus lines on a temporary basis.
The East County cities also are considering a plan to consolidate their Dial-A-Ride services into one provider and discussing control over the VISTA 101 Freeway route, which is the main bus transit connector between the east and west portions of Ventura County.
Regardless of the outcome, Denemark, who on Saturdays must walk an additional mile because the T.O. Transit System doesn’t operate on weekends, said he’ll continue to use the bus system, onerous or not.
“For me, (the transit system) is very good because I know the schedule, and I know how to the system operates,” he said. “It takes a little while (six months) to learn. It’s not something that comes right away.”

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