An MTD bus in Santa Barbara
A Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District bus rolls through downtown Santa Barbara. The agency plans to launch a microtransit pilot program with shuttle vans in the middle of 2020. (Joshua Molina / Noozhawk photo)

The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District is looking to launch a microtransit pilot program that will shuttle passengers in vans.

MTD received a $492,678 grant to run the program for one year.

“This is something that is fairly new thanks to the technology that wasn’t here even five years ago,” said Hillary Blackerby, MTD’s marketing manager. “This could get eight cars off the road.”

The Ford vehicles are under production. They will accommodate up to eight passengers, including one space for people who use wheelchairs.

MTD says the service will be flexible, on-demand and curb-to-curb.

The pilot program, expected to launch in the middle of 2020, will cover portions of Goleta.

Riders will be able to order a ride from their smartphone app or by calling the Transit Center directly. The drivers will have a real-time digital map in the vehicle and will pick up customers as needed.

“​It will end up being a shared ride, we hope, if it is successful,” Blackerby said.

She said the proposed fare will be $3 for a one-way ride and $1.50 for seniors and people with disabilities, but the prices have not been finalized. 

The transit service might seem a bit like the public transit equivalent of Uber or Lyft, but Blackerby said that “the thing we see as the value added is that our drivers our extensively trained, have background checks, and follow very strict drug and testing protocols.”

“There’s kind of a greater trust with public transit,” she said.

The main zone will be north of Highway 101, bounded by Cathedral Oaks Road to the north, Patterson Avenue to the east, Los Carneros Road to the west and Highway 101 to the south.

South of Highway 101, the zone is bounded by Highway 101 to the north, Willow Springs Court to the east and Cortona Drive to the west.

In addition to those main zones, rides could be requested at the Santa Barbara Airport, the Goleta Amtrak station, UCSB’s North Hall bus loop, and the outbound bus stop at El Colegio Road and Embarcadero del Mar, according to MTD.

MTD also said that someone who completes a microtransit ride will be able to transfer for free to MTD’s fixed-route service.

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Joshua Molina

Joshua Molina, Noozhawk Staff Writer

Noozhawk staff writer Joshua Molina can be reached at jmolina@noozhawk.com.