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Thursday, December 13 , 2018, 6:08 pm | Fair 62º


Santa Maria Council OKs Rules Of Conduct for Transit Riders

Bad behavior could lead to a suspension from Santa Maria Area Transit buses

Bad behavior at the Santa Maria Transit Center and other transit facilities could lead to a suspension from Santa Maria Area Transit buses under new rules reviewed by the City Council this week.
Bad behavior at the Santa Maria Transit Center and other transit facilities could lead to a suspension from Santa Maria Area Transit buses under new rules reviewed by the City Council this week. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

Bad behavior could lead to a suspension from Santa Maria Area Transit buses under new rules reviewed by the Santa Maria City Council this week.

The new rules of conduct will be added to the Santa Maria Municipal Code under an ordinance introduced on Tuesday.

Final approval is expected at the June 7 meeting and the rules would take effect 30 days later.

Transit Services Manager Austin O’Dell said ongoing problems prompted the rules of conduct to halt bad behavior that creates an unpleasant environment discouraging use of public transit systems. 

“There’s a recent growing problem at the Transit Center and at certain bus stops,” O’Dell said. “There’s loitering, vagrancy, loud music, harassing of customers, smoking and vandalism.” 

He added that the Transit Center should be viewed as a place of business where customers come expecting a safe and secure location as they pay a fare and board the bus to reach their destination. 

“But when people are loitering, playing loud music, asking for money, asking for food and smoking, it’s intimidating for the bus rider,” O’Dell said.

“We actually have reports on people who are loitering who are making unwelcome comments that are inappropriate for males and females,” he said. “It’s a very intimidating environment.”

The new rules will give city rangers a tool for enforcing misconduct, O’Dell said, adding they are similar to those implemented at the Santa Maria Public Library. 

The rules received unanimous approval the council.

“I am very supportive of this because I think we put a lot of money into our public transportation, and it’s to be used for a purpose because people cannot drive,” Mayor Alice Patino said. “I am very supportive of this that people aren’t being intimidated or being harassed.”

She added she had received complaints about people sleeping at bus stops benches, intimidating SMAT customers. 

Councilwoman Terri Zuniga said complaints about people using Transit Center restrooms for laundry or bathing should serve as a springboard to talk to churches or organizations interested in providing portable showers or clothes washing. 

The rules of conduct will include two types of violations.

The first is a minor violation that could include verbal or written warnings advising of the misconduct. Punishment could include suspension or limited use of the transit system.

Serious violations would involve violent, confrontational or threatening behavior, O’Dell said. A person who received a serious violation would be suspended up to 12 months and be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The proposed ordinance would include an appeal process for minor and serious violations plus the penalties.

New rules will affect all city transit services, including SMAT buses, The Breeze Bus, the Clean Air Express, the Guadalupe Flyer and the Downtown Trolley.

“The benefits are: promote safety and security for bus passengers and staff, create a pleasant atmosphere for bus passengers and encourage transit use,” he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully 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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