Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Sonoma County should help commuters ride the bus

Commuting north on Highway 29 from Middletown to Lakeport each morning, I am greeted by a steady stream of motorists headed in the southbound direction. By 7 p.m. a stream of northbound cars bring people home from work. During peak commute times I am all the more grateful for signal lights at Wardlaw and at Highway 175 allowing motorists to turn across traffic on Highway 29.

According to data from the U.S. Census 2000, there are 4,320 Lake County residents who commute out-of-county. Among these, 1,415 Lake County residents commute to Sonoma County. I wonder why Sonoma County Transit isn't attempting to capture these potential fares.

When Napa County debuted its VINE Route 11 between St. Helena and Santa Rosa, Lake County Transit was able to add additional round trips between Middletown and St. Helena because it no longer needed to take riders to Santa Rosa during its Thursday run. Route 3's trips were timed so that riders could make connections in Calistoga with VINE Route 11.

Lake County lost its bus connection between Calistoga and Santa Rosa this year when the Napa County Transportation Planning Agency voted to discontinue Route 11. According to minutes archived online at www.nctpa.net, Route 11 had low ridership numbers and due to budget cutbacks in the City of Calistoga, Calistoga was unable to subsidize Route 11 for 2010-2011.

When VINE Route 11 was in place, it offered three round-trip connections four days a week between Calistoga and Santa Rosa.

An article by Ann Prehn in the Winter 2009-2010 Harbin Hot Springs quarterly detailed Prehn's attempt to travel by bus between San Francisco and Middletown. Because connections via Route 11 were "few and far between," Prehn ended up taking VINE Route 10 from Vallejo up Napa Valley. From Calistoga, she rode Lake Transit's Route 3 to Middletown.

Incidentally, Prehn is highly complimentary of the customer service demonstrated by her Lake Transit driver.

It seems to me that Sonoma County Transit, unlike Napa County VINE, has an incentive to offer service to Lake County commuters. When and where are people likely to shop and run errands, if not before or after work or during their lunchtime break? Lake County residents contribute financially to Sonoma County's economy and it seems only fair that Sonoma County Transit should give something back.

Think about it: a commuter bus from Calistoga each morning to the Santa Rosa transit hub and key industrial and business areas with a return trip in the evening. The route would be timed so that riders could connect via Lake Transit's Route 3, which operates Monday through Saturday. Route 3's latest northbound run leaves Calistoga at 5:50 p.m. It arrives in the City of Clearlake by 7:21 p.m.

When I see an endless stream of cars traveling through Middletown, I find it hard to believe that none of those motorists would not prefer to commute by bus if it was a viable option.

To view commuter statistics to and from Lake County arranged into a map, visit www.calmis.ca.gov/file/commute-maps/lakecommute.pdf. A detailed schedule for Lake Transit's Route 3 is at http://laketransit.org/route3.asp. To read Prehn's article about traveling by bus between San Francisco and Middletown, go to www.harbin.org/quarterly/quarterlyWN10.pdf.

To contact the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, write to 490 Mendocino Avenue, Suite 206, Santa Rosa, CA 95401; call 565-5373 or submit comments online at www.sctainfo.org/feedback.asp?ID=48.

Published Sept. 14, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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