Wednesday, September 2, 2009

SamTrans releases probable final list of cuts

I had planned on posting this after the Citizen's Advisory Committee meeting tonight, but SamTrans e-mailed out a press release at 4:20 p.m. today. CAC members got an e-mail late Monday listing what will likely be the final proposal given to the Board of Directors next week.

The short of it? Not nearly as bad as could've been predicted -- unless you're a rider of express service, in which case it's worse than you might have thought.

In addition, the 25-cent fare increase first proposed by CEO Mike Scanlon in July, will be put into effect. SamTrans' base fare for local service will now be $2.

I'm as pleased as I can be, considering the somewhat dire news. My two pet areas, preserving late-night service and Line 17 out on the south San Mateo County Coast, were served. Also the KX, which I recently began taking to downtown San Francisco on nights I both work and have class, has been retained. Not so lucky are all other express routes, which -- save for Pacifica's DX line -- will be eliminated.

The relevant cuts, as presented by Chester Patton, Director of Bus Services:
Our proposal advocates preserving service for transit-dependent and low-income groups, and consists of the following elements:

Rather than shrink the daily service hour span, the new proposal retains the late night service for hourly workers at SFO and other locations served by routes 292, 297 and 397. This also avoids a commensurate reduction of paratransit service.
Express service to SF is eliminated (except for the KX). The high fares and exclusive nature of the express services generally do not serve our core transit-dependent ridership. Research indicates express riders have much higher incomes than local route patrons, and have alternative options such as shuttles, local routes, Caltrain and BART, or the personal automobile.
The eliminated express service would include: MX, NX, PX, RX, DX, and FX.
Retained would be the CX, which does not serve SF but already terminates at Colma BART; the CX has a local fare.
A new local fare feeder service, with 6 daily roundtrips, would provide an alternative for the higher ridership FX service, circulating in Foster City and terminating at Millbrae Intermodal Station, connecting with BART and Caltrain.
The KX is retained as a hybrid local-express, but is reduced to 60 minute service, and eliminates the Page Mill segment.
The only impact to EPA is changing the 280 from 30 minutes to 60 minutes.
The bi-directional 14 would change to one direction before 7am and after 4pm.
The poor-performing 342 in Millbrae would be eliminated.
The 390 and 391 would change from 30 minute to 40 minute service on weekends.
Route 141 would change from 30 minute to 60 minute service, but remain at 30 minutes during school hours.

These changes save approximately $6.3m annually; when coupled with the fare increase, the total becomes $7.5m. The savings for FY2010, however, would be approximately $3.1m for the service reductions and $3.8m if the fares were increased February 1, 2010.

After last month's public hearing, a director or two made the point that it would be difficult for the board to pick and choose which lines would go or stay. So it seems that SamTrans left it to the professionals, who came up with these cuts.

"We believe that this proposal best balances the need to lower costs with our priority of protecting our most transit-dependent riders," Patton wrote. "This proposal is only a partial solution to our financial imbalance, and it should be noted that this is only the first step. These cuts could have been much deeper, but we were reluctant to inflict additional hardship on our dependent patrons."

SamTrans still faces a structural deficit of nearly $30 million, and more cuts may be necessary. And it behooves us to consider that a lot of people involved with the district will be losing their jobs -- as many as 30 operators, according to one of my sources in the operators' union.

If the economy turns around and people begin flocking to mass transit in the interests of being green (both optimistic predictions, I know) we may lament a lack of foresight. But in the meantime, this proposal was about as good as we could hope to get.

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