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Saturday, January 19 , 2019, 10:14 pm | Fair 53º


Ridership Continues Decade-Long Drop on Santa Barbara MTD Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle

Agency points to waterfront construction, increased traffic congestion as factors in making rides longer and less convenient

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District has experienced a dramatic drop in ridership on the Downtown-Waterfront Electric Shuttle. The electric bus on State Street was mostly empty on Thursday afternoon. Click to view larger
The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District has experienced a dramatic drop in ridership on the Downtown-Waterfront Electric Shuttle. The electric bus on State Street was mostly empty on Thursday afternoon. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Ridership on Santa Barbara’s Downtown-Waterfront Electric Shuttle has dropped significantly in the last year, and is nearly 10,000 passengers lower than a decade ago.

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, which operates bus service between Carpinteria and Winchester Canyon in western Goleta, saw monthly ridership peak in June 2007, with 63,083 passengers, and it has been steadily declining since 2013.

Shuttle ridership was at 27,752 passengers in March 2016, which fell to 24,179 passengers in March of this year.

MTD attributes the most recent drop to a variety of factors, including waterfront construction, which slows down travel times, a flattening of gas prices and an overall drop in ridership nationally.

“Transit ridership is declining nationwide, and MTD is no exception,” said Hillary Blackerby, marketing and community relations manager for MTD.

“While there are many variables, ridership has historically tracked closely with gas prices, and the sustained low gas prices we’ve had for the past few years have followed that precedent.”

She said there has been a decline in ridership across all lines except for some of the UC Santa Barbara- and Goleta-focused ones, which have increased as of late.

Blackerby also attributed the shuttle passenger drop to community members having more options on how to get around, including expanded driver license access and popularity of ridesharing apps.

MTD runs three Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle lines and they primarily serve tourists and local residents who may have their own transportation, but choose to take the bus to shop and eat downtown because it is quick and convenient.

The one-way fare is 50 cents, with a 25-cent fare for seniors, Medicare cardholders and persons with disabilities. The fare used to be a quarter, before MTD and the City of Santa Barbara, a transit partner, doubled it.

The service has slowed down recently, a product of increased traffic congestion in the city, according to officials. A round trip from the Dolphin Fountain on Cabrillo Boulevard at the base of Stearns Wharf to Sola Street used to take about 30-35 minutes, but now a round trip can take up to 45 minutes during peak traffic times.

Blackerby said MTD has several features planned to help boost ridership. In August, the agency will roll out real-time arrival features with a smartphone app, SMS texting feature and website where riders can get real-time information based on their bus’ location instead of just the scheduled time.

“MTD is committed to making our service as convenient as possible so that more people add transit into the mix of how they get around,” she said.

Total Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle ridership was 525,278 at the end of fiscal year 2007, and at the end of fiscal year 2016, shuttle ridership was 371,182.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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