Santa Barbara MTD board members tackled a packed agenda Tuesday, wrestling with what to do about dwindling ridership on one of the city’s oldest routes, as well as adding capacity on others.
Discussion took place about eliminating Line 22, which runs from the transit center to the Santa Barbara Mission, the newly reopened El Encanto Hotel and the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden on the weekend, and has seen dwindling ridership.
MTD General Manager Sherrie Fisher said the route had been a streetcar line in 1913, and remained a route when MTD became a district in the 1960s.
Ridership on that line averages about 14 passengers an hour, she said, while more popular routes can reach 100 riders an hour.
Board members ultimately decided to keep the service another six months to see if ridership on that line can be encouraged.
“If anyone has ideas, we’re open to that,” she said.
Alternately, capacity has increased on Line 15x, which is heavily used and runs between Isla Vista and Santa Barbara City College, and more buses will be added to help transport riders.
“We’ve been very crowded on those buses,” she said.
Line 24x, which runs from the transit center to UCSB, also has been crowded on weekends, and more buses will be added for those routes as well.
Santa Barbara City College students also may see their fees for bus service increase in the future. Students currently pay $24.50 every semester, which allows them to ride any MTD bus at any time.
Almost 8 million passenger trips are taken annually, with about 1.2 million from SBCC, Fisher said. Because of the discount, students end up paying about 76 cents per ride, as opposed to $1.15 that other riders pay.
There have been concerns from students and staff that students already are being asked to pay increased fees in other areas.
The board voted Tuesday to increase that fee to $30 per semester for students, but that increase will have to be approved by SBCC’s Associated Students this fall. If approved, the $30 fee would go into effect in the summer of 2014.
Even with the increase, “it’s still going to be a great deal for a semester’s worth of service,” she said.
Another agenda item dealt with a budget shortfall the district could see because of union complaints to changes in state pension law.
As a result, the district may be short $2.3 million it was to have received from the Federal Transit Administration this year.
That funding has been denied, at least temporarily, because the MTD Teamsters Union has complained that the district isn’t negotiating on pensions because of changes in a state law known as PEPRA.
Fisher said that has been an issue up and down the state, and that the union is trying to support a bill that would exempt transit employees from PEPRA.
“If this issue isn’t resolved sometime this summer,” she said, “we’ll be talking about huge changes” to service.