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Need for public transit rising

By From page A1 | March 12, 2014

The need for public transportation for El Dorado County’s western slope residents will continue to rise, particularly for El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park where housing forecasts are up and the senior population is growing, county transit officials concluded at a public meeting held at the Moni Gilmore Senior Center last week.

El Dorado County Transportation Commission and El Dorado Transit staffed teamed up with LSC Transportation Consultants staff Gordon Shaw and Selena McKinney to present conclusions and offer recommendations based on the results of a transit needs survey done last year.

Most of the presentation focused on short-range transit plans.

“The short range term is a five-year period and looks at what sorts of things we can implement in the near future,” said Shaw.

Those plans include developing a detailed transit services plan, capital needs, management strategies and financing.

Long-range plans look at forecasts spanning planning, demographic and societal trends that will impact transit services in the next 25 years. In 2010, for instance, 13,000 of the western slope’s 182,000 residents are designated “young retirees” (65 to 74 years old). That number is expected to jump to 29,000 by 2030. Seventy-five to 84-year-olds will grow from 7,000 today to 20,000 by 2030 and seniors older than 84 will grow from 3,000 to 11,000.

“The needs for door to door transit will rise dramatically,” said Shaw. “This is good background information for us when we decide how many Dial-a-Ride vans we’ll need 20 years from now, for instance.”

Those who use public transit tend to be seniors, disabled and commuters, according to Shaw. Though he added, “More residents will be living and working in El Dorado Hills instead of commuting 20 years from now than they do today.”

The bulk of attendees were seniors, but younger folks were interested in gathering information about the future as well.

“I’m curious what it will be like for future seniors … or when I’m not as mobile someday,” said El Dorado Hills resident Theresa Reyes.

LSC Transportation Consultants set up a simple online survey about ridership and west slope transit needs last year, finding that the current transit system scored highest for driver courtesy, cleanliness, comfort and safety. Scores were lower, though still average, for Dial-A-Ride ease of registration, transit convenience and frequency of services. The greatest need for transit outside the county is for trips into Folsom, then Sacramento and Roseville. Expanded service was the No. 1 want.

“It wasn’t a scientific study, but it provided good info,” said Shaw. “This is our first public meeting to talk about it. All of this information and your recommendations today will be wrapped up into a draft plan by June.”

Dashing the hopes of some attendees, Shaw said a fixed route along El Dorado Hills Boulevard wouldn’t be feasible because the shoulders are not wide enough for a city bus to pull over. “It would be a huge Capital Improvement Project,” he explained.

El Dorado Hills senior Yvonne Dennis had her heart set on the route and later asked, “What about stops at our fire stations?” Shaw said that had been studied but ruled out because buses could impede emergency vehicles.

“We have no public transportation in El Dorado Hills,” Dennis said. “I’m hopeful we’ll see a change in that soon.”

El Dorado Transit operates on a $5.4 million budget and currently carries more than 450,000 passengers (rides) a year, covering local routes, commuter services, Dial-A-Ride, complimentary paratransit services for program trips like senior daycare and/or people with disabilities, Sac Med medical services (buses that take riders to UCD or local hospitals on Tuesdays and Thursdays) and the Iron Point connector, but with increased demand the focus was on how to expand services while still making a profit.

Of the services, Dial-A-Ride is “the gold mine,” said Shaw, providing 24,000 annual rides and operating on a $672,000 annual subsidy. “Subsidy is the public dollars that go into public transit every year,” Shaw explained. “Much of which comes from sales tax that goes back to the county where it came from. So thank you every time you spend $100 at the store. You’re paying a quarter into the transit system. We really appreciate when you buy a $25,000 car at Shingle Springs Subaru.”

Because the need for door-to-door service is on the rise, Shaw recommended a taxi voucher program as “a more cost-effective means of providing transit service in El Dorado Hills than is fixed route service.” Under the plan the county would subsidize a $12 voucher for zone specific taxi rides. Seniors and ADA eligible riders would pay only $2.50 for the voucher and the general public would pay approximately $5 per voucher.

Extending the frequency of the successful Highway 50 express service was discussed as was adding Wi-Fi to commuter buses and lowering fares in El Dorado Hills and Cameron Park/ Shingle Springs to match Placerville fares ($2 for seniors or disabled and $4 for general public).

Twice daily trips from Diamond Springs to South Lake Tahoe were another short-term transit recommendation. This service would serve visitors, including skiers and for intercity travelers.

Continuing to use clean diesel was also mentioned throughout the presentation. For more information visit edctc.org.

Julie Samrick


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