Council: Speakers note Valley Express has miles to go to improve

March 29, 2017
Santa Paula News

Valley Express has miles to go to improve the City Council was told at the March 20 meeting, where riders said the public transit has not lived up to their expectations.

In an unusual move, the Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) held the Unmet Transit Needs meeting during the council session with Martin Erickson, the public transit director, representing VCTC.

Valley Express is the river valley’s first fixed bus route; it was introduced two years ago. The new system was meant to take stress off Dial a Ride service for those just wanting to get around town or meet the freeway flyer connection to travel to Ventura and beyond while conserving Dial a Ride for more specialized needs.

Erickson  presented an outline of the Unmet Transit Needs hearing process and its relation to funding issues.

The process also includes online surveys that are continuing by visiting

Reporting will be finalized in April and hearings before advisory committees held leading up to decision-making on releasing funding.

Valley Express users took to the microphone during public comment noting their dissatisfaction with the system, which operations under a Joint Powers Agency made up of Santa Paula, Fillmore and the County of Ventura representing Piru.

Rose Maria Garcia said her problems with Valley Express include inadequate bus stops and shelters, late shuttles or those that breeze by riders as well as mix-ups with passes. Dial a Ride, she noted, seems to be overwhelmed with long wait times.

Richard Rudman said a transit hub was not planned in East Area 1 a.k.a. the Harvest at Limoneira, a “serious oversight” in planning. 

VCTC Citizen Commissioner Jim White said it is vital to get information to those that are “transit dependent” so needs can be determined.

Other speakers said the shuttles are hard for the handicapped to use and that Valley Express drivers knew nothing about the Unmet Transit Needs meeting. 

Vice Mayor Ginger Gherardi, a VCTC Commissioner who was the executive director of VCTC for 17 years before she retired, read a letter from Santa Paula’s VCTC Citizens Advisory Committee Member Joseph Alexander, who was unable to make the meeting.

Alexander wrote that he was unable to secure Dial a Ride service in a timely manner on 77 different occasions.

“Recently, I needed rides to the urgent care and Emergency Room,” transportation, Alexander wrote, that he would have to wait hours for through Dial a Ride. 

“With no taxis in Santa Paula,” and believing in both cases “ambulances were unwarranted” Alexander wrote he did not want to bother his friends and take them from their work to provide transportation for him.

A Spanish-speaking rider told the council through volunteer translator Alfonso Gamino, the Santa Paula Unified School District Superintendent, that service has been cutback on weekends due to lack of ridership, creating the need to pay friends for rides.

Valley Transit was also criticized for unhelpful drivers, phone operators not knowing where stops are located and other issues.

The system requires more information gathering said Ben Turner, who worked in the transportation system in England.

Gherardi said citizen speakers were addressing “operational issues” rather than “unmet needs.” 

Gherardi said city staff will work with the operators to “make improvements…we need to look at the service we have in Santa Paula to see if we have the right mix,” of Dial a Ride and fixed route service.

In answer to an audience member who asked about costs and the possibility of fares being raised Gherardi said there are “provisions” for addressing same including subsidies.

“…at this point,” said Erickson, “there is no decision on fare increases.”

Councilman Martin Hernandez said that, with the lack of ridership, Valley Express “I don’t see the economic value of what we’re doing, buying buses and driving them around,” empty while sending emissions into the air.

He also questioned the value of surveys if the results are not revealed.

Gherardi countered there have been several surveys that have improved service and “I’m still working with VCTC staff to make the system better,” which could require shifting to more Dial a Ride.

When a speaker challenged her remark Gherardi said the speaker was referring to a countywide survey and not those conducted locally specifically for Valley Express, the latest of which has been completed.

And, she noted, “There will be bus service to East Area 1,” as houses are built and occupied by those seeking public transit.

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