Protect and enhance public transportation

November 28, 2012

By Jaime M. Fontes City Manager

What do the single moms with no cars, the elderly citizens who no longer drive, the college students, the physically challenged and employees who want to minimize commute costs have in common?  In Fillmore, Santa Paula, Piru and the many other areas of what is known as the Heritage Valley they all depend on public transportation. We need to protect and if possible enhance the level of service the Heritage Valley currently has.

Santa Paula is currently involved in discussions with its regional partners in the Heritage Valley and beyond about the future of our transit services.  Santa Paula remains committed to exercising its local control of these services to the extent possible while maximizing the benefits of regional transit coordination.  This review will summarize the existing condition and future challenges of providing transit services to our local residents.  

VISTA provides curb-to-curb Dial-A-Ride service for the general public in Santa Paula, Fillmore and Piru seven days per week. This local service enables senior citizens and other residents to access in-town medical and social appointments in a timely manner at a reasonable cost. We are working to make this service even better so that in addition to the dial-a-ride vans a circulator bus will travel on around the main streets on a schedule in the future.  Currently the cities of Santa Paula and Fillmore, the County, and the Ventura County Transportation Commission, (VCTC) cooperatively finance this transit to serve our existing residents. 

Santa Paula also partners with Fillmore, the unincorporated County of Ventura, and VCTC in providing regional transit services along the Highway 126 corridor.  The Ventura County Regional Transportation Commission (VCTC), as part of a broader county wide regional transit program, administers this service. However, recently VCTC decided to divest itself of this responsibility.  This will result in changes to how regional, and perhaps local, services are provided over time.  To further complicate this transition, this past year, the long-term provider of the service, Coach America declared bankruptcy and left VCTC with little time to find a replacement operator.  Fortunately, an operator, Road Runner Shuttle of Camarillo, stepped forward and our VISTA regional transit services were maintained with limited disruption. However, how and by whom these regional transit services are to be delivered in the future remain in flux.  

In Ventura County, cities and transit operators are responding to the decision by VCTC to forego administration of all VISTA regional transit services in a variety of ways.  Some east county cities are electing to provide service on their own; some established providers are considering broadening their service areas and responsibilities.  For example, Gold Coast Transit, currently the transit provider for Oxnard, Ventura, Port Hueneme, and the surrounding unincorporated County, is pursuing state legislation to establish itself as a transit district for all or part of the County.  In Santa Paula we are concerned that some of these actions by others will impact the ability of Santa Paula to retain local control over transit services.  Ridership on the 126 VISTA bus is very successful and provides more than 3 times the amount of fare revenue than most other bus systems in Ventura County. While it may be appropriate in the future for Gold Coast to operate selected transit services in the Heritage Valley, Santa Paula objects to this arrangement being codified in state law.  Santa Paula needs to retain the flexibility to contract for service with Gold Coast, or another provider, who will give us the most service at the best cost for our residents. We do not want to see our limited dollars go to subsidize transit services in other areas.

At this time, concern is evident about the formation of a broad Gold Coast transit district established by state legislation, which directly or indirectly includes the Heritage Valley communities.  Santa Paula does not oppose the formation of a district that is based upon the current boundary of Gold Coast service area.  However, any broader proposal must be given an opportunity to develop organically, based on mutual agreement.  In conclusion, changes in the future administration and delivery of our transit services are likely.  To ensure any change retains and even improves upon the high level of transit service to our residents of Santa Paula, we remain committed to preserving local control while working collaboratively with all our partner agencies to maximize the use of precious public funds.

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