The county’s regional transportation agency held a series of meetings earlier this month to take public comment on unmet needs in the public transportation system.
There are two main transit programs that the government council oversees: County Express, a local bus service with a route that travels around Hollister and the surrounding area, and Specialized Transit Services, which offers options like dial-a-ride or bus service to Gavilan College and the CalTrain station in Gilroy. There are additional paratransit services for seniors and those with disabilities.
“It is a small system, but it is serving a lot of people who have a real need for transit,” said agency Executive Director Mary Gilbert. “For the most part, our transit users may not have another option for a ride.”
According to Transportation Planner Veronica Lezama, 129,695 passengers used County Express and Specialized Transportation Services in 2017.
Service is not perfect, however. During the public meetings, typical comments included requesting extended hours and asking for more seating at popular bus stops. In addition to that, County Express currently has a gap in service from 11am to 2pm. due to a funding cut several years ago, Lezama said.
“Over the last few years we’ve seen a steady stream of funding,” she said. “During the Great Recession of 2008, we did see some funding cut and had to make some changes during that time. The good thing with Senate Bill 1 is we are looking at receiving some additional funding for public transit.”
In 2017, the California legislature passed SB 1 to increase state gas taxes and vehicle license fees in order to raise funds for the state highway system and local roads. San Benito County received over $650,000 from the state bill this fiscal year, and it is projected that revenues will increase over the years to $2.68 million by fiscal year 2020/2021.
Gilbert said some services could possibly be extended with money from SB 1 and the California Cap and Trade Program, an effort by the state to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
“Cap and trade dollars right now are funding services going to Gilroy,” Gilbert said.
Other potential improvements to the system include working on enhancements to the fleet, purchasing new buses to replace high-mileage vehicles, and looking at a systemwide round of improvements to bus stops.
“Once we receive all public comment for these public transit meetings, we bring recommendations to the transportation and social services advisory council that is composed of public transit riders, people with disabilities, of a lower income, minorities, and providers of health and human services,” Lezama said. “We bring the recommendations to them, evaluate the comments received and provide a recommendation to the board.”
A draft will be presented to the board in April, where they can make changes and include their input. Potential adoption of changes could come as soon as May.
To provide input on unmet services relating to regional public transportation, send comments to the Council of Governments office at 330 Tres Pinos Road, C7 Hollister, CA 95023 with attention listed as Transit Needs, or email [email protected].