Study points to more riders on SamTrans

Following a decadelong downward ridership trend, San Mateo County Transit District officials believe a recent turnaround will lead to steady increases in the number of bus riders during the next 10 years, according to a new report.

The paramount aspect of the report is how the agency develops financial stability to help offset the structural deficit it expects in 2014, according to report author and Planning and Development Director Marian Lee-Skowronek. That deficit is expected to reach $20 million, according to separate reports.

One of the ways to prevent getting too far in the financial red is for SamTrans to develop new strategies for increasing ridership.

The agency expects to grow ridership by looking into increasing intercity shuttle service such as the Foster City and two Burlingame shuttles that take passengers to the Millbrae BART station.

SamTrans expects community-based shuttles to grow after it receives funds from the county’s transportation authority in 2009. Making intercity shuttles more convenient and frequent should increase overall ridership, board of directors member Jerry Hill said.

“That to me looks like the wave of the future,” Hill said.

The problem, Hill said, is that the agency is lacking direct connections from neighborhoods to transit hubs.

“It’s not convenient when you have to keep transferring,” he said. “People aren’t going to do it. We have to provide those connections.”

SamTrans’ short-range transit plan also includes forecasts on fare increases, transit-oriented development strategies and the agency’s eventual economic deficit.

The agency expects the number of riders on its fixed-route buses and community shuttles to grow 2 percent per year until 2017. The number of bus riders finally increased in 2007 to 15 million total riders after a decade of negative ridership trends, likely because of an economic rebound and the increased price of gas, the plan said.

Ridership had steadily declined nearly every year since it reached 19 million riders in 1998.

Neighborhoods next to transit centers — known as transit-oriented development — will also continue to rise, the plan said. SamTrans said it should continue to partner with cities to encourage mixed use, high-density development close to public transit to maximize its services.

Ten-year plan

» Three 25-cent fare increases every few years

» Paratransit fares: Double that of fixed route buses by 2015

» Ridership should grow 2 percent per year until 2017

» Expand to 12 Redi-Wheels vehicles in next 10 years

» Replace more than 300 fixed-route buses and 60 paratransit vehicles in 10 years

Source: San Mateo County Transit District

mrosenberg@examiner.com

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