More buses, more hours in the works for Los Banos

Transit proposal needs city's OK; would be implemented for 3 years

By Thaddeus Miller / tmiller@losbanosenterprise.comApril 1, 2013 

Los Banos will see a number of changes to its mass transit system this summer, according to The Bus' top official.

Rich Green, transit manager for the Transit Joint Powers Authority for Merced County, said the changes could take effect July 1. They are the result of a short-range transit plan adopted last year. Green said a grant worth about $3 million over three years will cover the changes while the system's viability is tested.

Green is proposing new routes across Merced County. In Los Banos, three routes would replace what is essentially one big loop around town, he said.

"To me, that didn't make a whole lot of sense -- one giant loop that snakes through town," he said.

The changes would add more buses to the routes to shorten trips, install designated stops and end flag stops, Green said. Under the current system, drivers stop for anyone who flags them down, which, Green said, is unsafe and make the buses late.

Under the new plan, Green said, there would be a larger focus on timely stops. The buses would also run as late as 10 p.m. and offer a Sunday service similar to Saturday's. The Los Banos Community Center would serve as the main hub for transfers.

All of the route changes will need approval from the city.

According to a survey taken before the short-range plan was drawn up, 56 percent of bus riders in the county are younger than 24, and more than 50 percent are students. Seventy-four percent of riders make less than $20,000 a year and 54 percent make less than $10,000.

Paratransit changes

During an educational workshop Tuesday in Los Banos, some riders expressed concerns about the recertification

Last year, a Federal Transit Authority review identified changes to be made in the dial-a-ride system, which Green also called "paratransit."

"Our dial-a-ride service is changing drastically," Green said. "(The federal government) said, 'You're not doing this right. The service you're providing is way above and beyond what we're giving you money for.' "

Green said his office will draw up tighter restrictions on who can use paratransit. He said the transit system will get the final decision on who qualifies.

Currently, anyone over 60 is allowed to use it. "Age is not a disability," Green said. "On the other side of that, getting (Social Security) Disability (benefits) does not mean you get dial-a-ride."

Green said a dial-a-ride trip costs between $15 and $30, whereas the average fixed-route trip costs a few dollars. In the last six months, 106 Los Banos residents have used dial-a-ride. Green said about half of the locals are in a wheelchair or other device that could be accommodated by the fixed routes.

Joe Flores, 67, of Los Banos said he's regularly ridden The Bus for more than seven years. The Army veteran, who uses a cane, said he can't walk long distances to the fixed stops. He was injured when he fell 20 feet from atop scaffolding, and he's not sure what the changes will have in store for him.

"We have to wait and see," Flores said. "It's not even working, the way it is now."

Jacqueline Lawrence of Los Banos said she had some reservations about the recertification process. The 50-year-old, who rides a motorized wheelchair, said her disability is related to a stroke, a heart attack and lupus.

"I got a feeling they're going to exclude me, because of the powerchair," Lawrence said, adding her doctor should get the final say over transit authorities.

"They're not doctors," she said.

The Bus technology

Each of the fixed-route buses is fitted with a global positioning system, so riders with a smartphone or computer can get real-time information on a particular bus' whereabouts at www.thebuslive.com.

The website also offers an estimated arrival time in relation to a stop.

The same information is also available, assuming you know your stop number, at (209) 626-1414. Riders who know their stop numbers can text "merced " to 41411 to get estimated arrival times via text message.

Anyone can register on www.thebuslive.com for an alert, which is sent via text message, minutes before the bus arrives.

If you missed the meeting, you can voice your opinion to Green at (209) 723-3153, ext. 305.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos

enterprise.com.

Enterprise reporter Thaddeus Miller can be reached at (209) 388-6562 or by email at tmiller@losbanos enterprise.com.

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