San Mateo County Transit District is moving tens of millions annually

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Forty-seven million.

Whether by bus or train, shuttle or paratransit, there were 47 million trips taken last year on the services provided by the San Mateo County Transit District. Those trips were taken by people — which mean they left their cars at home — resulting in less traffic congestion on our highways and roads and better air quality. If the people taking those trips were to drive, it would create a line of cars that would wrap around the planet nearly five times.

Even more importantly, if those trips were taken by car, the impact to regional highways and roads would be disastrous.

A number this large comes as no surprise to us at the Transit District, but we know some people still wonder what impact public transportation has and whether it is a good investment.

To understand the value of that investment, we'd like to invite you to virtually climb aboard our systems as we share some of our growing successes and future challenges.

The Transit District is in the business of getting people out of their cars. We do that by offering a wide variety of alternatives to get around San Mateo County and the Bay Area such as SamTrans, Caltrain, the BART extension to the San Francisco Airport, the paratransit shuttle system that provides independence for our senior residents, and the shuttle system, making up the last mile connection between public transit and the office.

We are carrying more riders than ever before. In June, the Transit District's transit services recorded an increase in ridership of more than 11 percent over the year before. Everywhere we go and on every system we run, the district is seeing ridership climb. Some of this can be explained by an improving economy — more people are working and many of them depend on us to get them there. But a stronger economy also means more congestion and more people seeking a way out of the traffic.

But there's something else going on — more and more people want to get out of their cars. An American Public Transportation Association report, “Millenials & Mobility,” cites the growing trend toward public transit, walking and biking among the generation born between 1982 and 2003.

For the first time since the introduction of the automobile, driving rates are on the decline.

Caltrain, with its young tech-savvy customers, already is experiencing the crush brought on by growing demand for an urban lifestyle, constant connectivity and a desire to avoid rush-hour congestion. The rail agency has experienced four years of nonstop, record-breaking ridership gains, pushing many of its peak-hour trains to 100 percent capacity and standing-room only.

Following years of ridership declines, SamTrans undertook the SamTrans Strategic Plan in an effort to do more of what works, less of what doesn't and to try new things on our bus routes.

The overhaul is proving effective: Since August 2013, when SamTrans launched its new ECR service, improving and increasing service on El Camino Real between Daly City and Palo Alto, total annual ridership is up more than 8 percent.

The August changes were followed in January with a complete overhaul of the entire SamTrans system, making changes that touched every route and increasing frequency and reliability throughout San Mateo County.

So far it looks like the SamTrans Strategic Plan could also be known as SamTrans Success Plan.

With overall ridership up for the year, some of SamTrans' core bus routes are also seeing exceptional increases. Nine SamTrans routes are up more than 20 percent, with many others seeing increases between 5 and 15 percent.

We're off to a good start, but we're not done. We're going to keep moving forward and moving people from where they are to where they need to go.

And with more than 47 million trips under our belt last year, we're feeling pretty good about the direction we're headed.

Jeff Gee is mayor of Redwood City and chairman of the SamTrans board of directors.

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