2017-05-19 / Community

City seeks to improve public transit

By Melissa Simon

City officials are asking for the public’s help in creating a plan to improve Simi Valley’s transit system.

Sommer Barwick, Simi’s director of community services, said during Monday’s City Council meeting that the city has hired Mobility Planners, LLC to evaluate various areas of the local transit system, including fixed-route and Dial-A-Ride services, ridership, the bus fleet and the system’s financial sustainability. Mobility Planners is a transportation consulting company based in Grass Valley, Calif., about 60 miles north of Sacramento.

The evaluation is part of an effort to develop a “short-range” transit plan, which aims to make the city’s transit system more efficient.

“Community input is vital to this process and . . . we’ve already begun engaging the community, gathering data, and meeting with stakeholders and riders on the buses,” Barwick told the council Monday.

Next week, Mobility Planners will meet with local nonprofits, elected officials, and representatives from the Simi Valley Unified School District, the Simi Valley Chamber of Commerce and Simi Valley Hospital to determine their public transportation needs.

Jennifer Mellon, deputy director of community services, said the consultants will also hold four focus groups in the near future: one for fixed-route passengers, one for those who use Dial-A-Ride services, one for people who do not use the transit system but have expressed interest in doing so and one for commuters.

Fixed-route buses provide transportation for all, while Dial- A-Ride serves Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) cardholders and people 65 and older.

“As the council is aware, several challenges have been identified, including . . . rising transportation costs and decreased ridership. As such, there are some difficult decisions ahead to make for our community,” Barwick said Monday.

She added that staff is exploring several alternatives to improve fixed-route services, including “potentially drastic” changes to the routes, schedules and fleet.

Other options staff is considering include the use of smaller vehicles in specific neighborhoods to transport residents to medical facilities or grocery stores, as well as van pools and ride-sharing services like Lyft or Uber.

Councilmember Glen Becerra asked Barwick whether the city has considered electric buses, which might be expensive upfront but have relatively low maintenance costs.

“The difference is these things are super-reliable and very cost-effective to operate versus diesel-driven (buses),” the councilman told Barwick and Mellon. “Are you looking at that option as well and will there be a cost-based analysis on the electric buses?”

Mellon told Becerra the city’s fleet expert is looking at all types of buses, including electric ones.

“Right now, there is one jurisdiction that has electric buses in Southern California and they’ve been having some difficulties with them. It’s a new emerging technology, but we will look at it,” Mellon said.

With “serious budget times coming,” Councilmember Mike Judge said, he would like Mobility Planners to also look at the cost of the current city-owned transit system compared to the cost of contracting with an outside company to provide the service.

Barwick told Judge that staff is already looking into that and will present their findings to the council at a future meeting along with the rest of the analysis conducted by Mobility Planners.

IN A NUTSHELL

The city’s community services department is inviting residents to provide input on transit needs during two open houses on Tues., May 23. The events take place from 1 to 3 p.m. and from 5 to 7 p.m. in the community room of the Simi Valley Public Library, 2969 Tapo Canyon Road.

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