Thursday, July 27 , 2017, 4:27 pm | Fair 73º

 
 
 
 

Local News

Upgrade On the Way for Santa Barbara MTD’s Electric Bus Fleet

New replacement vehicles to be longer, and will include tracking app, smart-card fare boxes and automated wheelchair ramps

With help from a $5.6 million federal grant, the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District plans to replace more than two dozen of its electric buses over the next several years. Click to view larger
With help from a $5.6 million federal grant, the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District plans to replace more than two dozen of its electric buses over the next several years. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District plans to roll out a real-time app for bus riders and replace 14 of its electric buses, moves that are all part of a grand rebranding effort to help increase ridership on the public transit system.

The first vehicles, which cost about $388,000 each, should arrive in August, and the rest will trickle in over the next few months. The new electric buses will be longer, 30 feet instead of 22 feet.

The buses were built in 1998. The new buses will be accompanied by a real-time app so riders can find out where their bus is and how long they have to wait.

The buses also have new fare boxes outfitted with smart card technology, which will allow MTD to phase in a wider network of fare-paying formats.

And the vehicles come with automated wheelchair ramps, which eliminate the need for the driver to stop the bus, get out and open the ramp by hand.

The new buses are the first wave of a larger MTD undertaking, when the agency will replace another 14 40-foot electric buses over the next couple of years, thanks to a $5.6 million grant.

“We do have a very robust system for our size,” said Hillary Blackerby, communications and marketing manager for MTD. “We want to make sure it’s easy to find and a pleasant, safe environment.”

The electric buses are all currently on the assembly line at their manufacturing plant in Lancaster. The first one or two buses, when delivered, will be used for training for drivers and mechanics, prior to going out into service, Blackerby said.

“As we accept the vehicles and more arrive, they will begin to integrate with the existing shuttle fleet,” she said. “Once all that is worked out, the old shuttles will phase out and be taken out of service.

“Folks should expect to see the old shuttles well into the fall in some capacity.”

MTD is also in the middle of a rebranding, which will include a new logo and color scheme.

The replacement effort comes at a time of major ridership declines. 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 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 drop to construction, which slows down travel times, a flattening of gas prices and an overall drop in ridership nationally. The agency has seen a ridership increase on routes from UC Santa Barbara to Santa Barbara City College and downtown Santa Barbara.

Blackerby said she expects ridership to increase as a whole.

“I hope so,” she said. “I hope it doesn’t take a recession to do it.”

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.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click here to get started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.



Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >