Monday, March 31, 2008

MTD releases upbeat annual report

BY ERIC LINDBERG
DAILY SOUND STAFF WRITER

In its recently released annual report, the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District lauded swelling ridership figures, an increase in bus service during peak commute hours, and the introduction of more environmentally friendly measures.
MTD officials said accomplishments in the past year have exemplified a transit system that ranks among the nation’s top 10 in per capita usage and strives to keep its carbon footprint as small as possible.

“Support for public transportation on the South Coast has reached unprecedented levels,” MTD General Manager Sherrie Fisher said in the report. “…This year, MTD has reasserted its claim on being among the most environmentally progressive transit agencies in the United States through its demonstrated commitment to improved fuel technologies and reductions in emissions and waste.”
Along with maintaining the continent’s largest fleet of battery electric vehicles, MTD put eight 40-foot diesel electric hybrids onto city streets last year and is now powering its entire fleet with electricity or a biodiesel fuel blend.
In addition to improved fuel economy (up to 20 to 54 percent over conventional buses) and reduced tailpipe emissions, the new diesel-electric buses are much quieter than traditional vehicles.
“It’s probably one of the greatest successes I’ve seen,” said David Damiano, MTD’s manager of transit development. “…What’s nice about them is they are not only quiet, but they are most suited for an urban environment.”
Due to the blend of two propulsion systems and regenerative braking, the buses work efficiently with the numerous starts and stops that occur along their city routes, he explained.
Damiano said environmental concerns, along with the high ridership rates among college students and rising fuel prices, have played into the MTD’s growing usage figures. System-wide, the agency provided 7.65 million trips last year — nearly 25,000 a week — which is up 4.8 percent from the year prior.
“We’re on track this year to have 8 million passenger trips,” Damiano said, “which would be a first for us.”
In order to relieve overcrowding, MTD officials launched the largest increase in service since 1974, creating a new line between downtown and the Mesa and increasing frequency of service on popular routes during commute hours.
Lines 1 and 2, connecting the Eastside and Westside to downtown, along with Lines 3, 6 and 11, serving Cottage Hospital, La Cumbre, Camino Real Marketplace and UC Santa Barbara, have all seen bus service at greater frequencies, according to the report. As a result, the agency has reduced overloads along those routes by 31 percent while increasing ridership by 6 percent over the prior year.
Other accomplishments included installing 13 new bus stop shelters at various locations, along with benches and trash cans.
An online trip planning system is in the works, as well as electronic signs at bus stops displaying bus locations and how soon they will arrive.
Overall, the transit agency is on a positive footing, said John Britton, chairman of the MTD board of directors.
“Our staff down at MTD does the best job possible,” he said. “We’re definitely on a good path right now financially, serving our customers and really serving the community.”
Contending with rising fuel prices is the largest challenge facing the agency, Britton said, forcing the board to examine potential rate increases.
“Fuel prices have just about run us out as far as planning,” he said. “We don’t know what is going to happen next. … It seems every time we make a move in the right direction, our fuel costs go up again.”
He said rates typically change every six years and riders could see higher prices in the next two years, although the changing fuel market and other factors will play a big role in exactly when that happens.
Major renovations to the MTD’s downtown transit center at Carrillo and Chapala streets are also looming on the horizon. Proposals to develop that site and a neighboring public parking lot into a mixed-use project combining commercial property, affordable housing, public parking and a new transit hub have already stirred up concerns from the community.
But with growing fuel prices and increasing popularity of public transportation, Britton said the MTD board is dedicated to finding ways to improve service and serve riders.
“We’re getting better,” he said. “The numbers show that.”

1 comment:

Johnathan J. Smith said...

Congratulations to MTD management, Drivers and Staff. Only comment I have is that the hybrids are only a bit quieter when compared to non-hybrids. The hybrids are still loud for neighboring residential uses. It is a shame that politics instilled from the car clubs killed the electric bus program.