The Bus update rolling along in county

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comAugust 5, 2013 

— An overhaul of Merced County's bus system, including route updates and adding weekend and evening service, has garnered mostly positive feedback from the community, according to transit officials.

The transit team that implemented the route changes is looking ahead to future plans to upgrade the county's bus stops and shelters.

Transit Manager Rich Green said launching the new routes for The Bus on July 1 was successful, but officials made a few adjustments along the way. "We're always trying to listen to what people are telling us," he said.

For example, Green said many riders asked for more routes to take them to the county's Human Services Agency on Wardrobe Avenue. "That was a very popular location, and we didn't have enough serv-ice," Green said.

Green's team resolved the issue by implementing an extra stop by an adjacent bus.

Unforeseen construction projects in July caused delays to the new bus routes, but Green said the changes still accomplished what he set out to do — make the system more efficient and reliable.

"The priority of readjusting these routes was to get the buses on time," Green said. "And we seem to have done a pretty good job of doing that."

Although the new routes have been established, adjustments are still being made, and Green wants more feedback from the community.

"We went out and got a lot of feedback before we started and now that it's implemented, we'll go out and get more feedback," Green said. "If there's something out there that's not working, we need to know what that is. We can't address it if we don't know that it's not working."

Merced County District 2 Supervisor Hub Walsh said many constituents in his district expressed appreciation for the extended service on evenings and weekends, a request that has been voiced for many years.

"I've heard for a while that it would be nice to have weekend service or if the bus ran later than it normally has," Walsh said. "People have been asking for it, and hopefully the ridership reflects the need. I thought it was a step in the right direction."

Lori Flanders, Merced County Association of Governments spokeswoman, said the subject was continually discussed in transit meetings over the past five years.

"We conduct unmet needs meetings on an annual basis, and this is where they felt there was a gap in public transit," Flanders said. "Our ultimate goal is to make it a safe and efficient service."

The transformation of The Bus isn't complete yet, Green said. Officials are starting to install new bus stop signs, beginning in Atwater next week.

The process, which could take two to three months, includes installing poles with signs to eliminate riders flagging down the bus.

About 400 bus stops will be added or upgraded, costing close to $250,000, according to Flanders. A state grant paid for the improvements, she said.

After that process is complete, the next steps will be to install solar lighting to existing bus shelters and construct some new shelters, Green said.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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