Monday, April 23 , 2018, 7:09 pm | Partly Cloudy 58º


Local News

$1 Million Budget Deficit Driving Santa Barbara MTD Consideration of Service Cuts, Fare Hikes

Amid declining bus ridership and challenge of finding drivers, agency struggles to come up with answers to spending gap

Under proposed service cuts under consideration by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, students at Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara will have fewer options to and from their campus stops. Click to view larger
Under proposed service cuts under consideration by the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, students at Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara will have fewer options to and from their campus stops. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

Facing a projected budget deficit of nearly $1 million in the next fiscal year, the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District is considering service cuts and fare increases to make up the gap.

Further complicating the district’s future, the transit agency is also struggling to recruit and retain bus drivers.

In response, MTD is considering making changes to Lines 15x, 20 and 21x, with the overall goal of reducing service hours.

The changes would have an impact on Santa Barbara City College and UC Santa Barbara students.

Passengers on the Mesa who currently use Line 15x to travel to UCSB, Isla Vista or Goleta would need to board Line 4 or 5 and transfer to either Line 15x at SBCC or Line 24x at the Transit Center downtown. According to MTD, the revised route would no longer serve the bus stops on Cliff Drive at Oceano Avenue and Weldon Road, used by SBCC West Campus students.

“The walking distance from the center of West Campus to those stops is nearly identical to the distance to the SBCC main campus stop that will continue to be served,” wrote Steve Maas, manager of MTD’s Government Relations & Compliance.

MTD also wants to eliminate service on days when SBCC is not in session, but UCSB is in session. This includes two weeks during the summer and a week or two during winter and spring breaks, depending on how the calendars fall each year.

Staff also proposes to eliminate Line 15x service on Friday afternoons from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. during the SBCC fall and spring semesters, because “a very small number of SBCC students are in class during that time,” Maas wrote.

MTD also wants to “suspend” Line 21x, which travels from Santa Barbara to Carpinteria until the Highway 101 widening project is complete. Instead, those riders would use Line 20, which would take the place of Line 21x.

In total, 30 weekday trips would be provided in each direction, a reduction of five from the current combined total of Line 20 and 21x to Carpinteria and 36 toward Santa Barbara.

Beyond the service cuts, MTD general manager Jerry Estrada did not provide any specific answers to how to solve the budget deficit.

“The draft budget did not include the use of any new SB 1 funds that will likely be awarded to MTD later this year through SBCAG (Santa Barbara County Association of Governments) and may be significant enough to bring the budget into balance,” he said.

“I’d recommend checking in again with us in June when we present our final budget for next year.”

MTD has struggled with plunging ridership in recent years. In January, systemwide ridership decreased 4 percent, or more than 21,000 passengers, from January 2017. Some of that could be attributed to the impact from the Montecito flash flooding and debris flows, which closed Highway 101 for nearly three weeks, and the delay of the start of SBCC by one month.

Still, ridership throughout the transit system has been dropping dramatically in recent years.

According to MTD’s 2017 annual report, ridership dropped 6.7 percent in fiscal year 2017, compared to the year prior. Stretching back to 2013, ridership has fallen 17.3 percent. Total fare annual revenue is down 10.1 percent since 2013, to $7.26 million.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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