Mayor tours Turlock by city bus for Try Transit Challenge

Turlock Issues Try Transit Challenge This week

Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth and city intern Josephine Hazelton take a ride around town on city buses as part of a Try Transit Challenge ahead of big upgrades proposed in services. (Nan Austin/naustin@modbee.com)
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Turlock Mayor Gary Soiseth and city intern Josephine Hazelton take a ride around town on city buses as part of a Try Transit Challenge ahead of big upgrades proposed in services. (Nan Austin/naustin@modbee.com)

This is the week to spot Turlock city leaders taking a spin on city buses. The Try Transit Challenge runs through Friday, a public prod to public officials ahead of a move to overhaul branding, paying, routing and customer service.

“We’re issuing this challenge strategically,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth as he stood waiting for the A Route on Monday morning with reporters. He dropped a dollar bill and two quarters through the slot for his ride, along with an extra 25 cents for a transfer.

Monday’s high-profile ride was not Soiseth’s usual mode of travel.

“Admittedly, I don’t ride city transit very often,” he said. But while living in Berkeley and Washington, D.C., he traveled via public transit regularly, and he would like to see more user-friendly travel here.

“I’d like it to get to where people from all walks of life are using it,” Soiseth said.

About 9,200 passengers ride the city’s fixed route buses each day, up 3 percent from last year, said Scott Medeiros, Turlock transit planner.

Turlock started fixed-route bus service in 1998, calling it the Bus Line Service of Turlock, better known as BLAST. On Aug. 1, it will get a new name, Turlock Transit, and a new logo of chevrons pointing right.

By May 2, the piggy-bank-style boxes now taking cash and paper tickets will be replaced by electronic fare boxes that read magnetic strips. Fares will stay the same, but BART-style cards will replace the tickets and transfers. The cards will be available at City Hall and at the fare box.

General fares are $1.50 a ride, with discounts for children, seniors and, under the new pay system, veterans. Paying with cash will no longer require exact change. The extra will be returned on a “change card” usable for future rides. Try them out April 26 at the Transit Center at Golden State Boulevard and Hawkeye Avenue.

110,000The number of passenger rides per year on the Turlock city fixed route buses

On Monday, schoolchildren traveling to Crowell Elementary, Dutcher Middle School and Turlock High made up the bulk of other passengers on the A and B routes that Soiseth traveled. Most said they lived too far to easily walk but too close to qualify for limited school busing.

Riders to and from school make up the largest number of riders, said Turlock city intern Josephine Hazelton. Hazelton, a senior at California State University, Stanislaus, spent her internship working on ways to improve Turlock’s system for students – especially those in college.

Turlock High, Dutcher and Pitman High are among the top five destinations of riders now, notes a report prepared for the city by Nelson Nygaard. Walmart and the Salvation Army are the other two.

Bus driver Diana Ross said the D Route, serving south Turlock and its most crowded elementary campuses, is by far the busiest. Mornings, with students heading to school and employees to work, is the peak time, she said. Drivers rotate between routes each week.

Stan State students are not heavy users of the bus system, which Hazelton blames on the long and circuitous routes to get from the campus to downtown and other shopping centers. Public meetings on transit held at Stan State showed high interest, but also a need to better target locations, she said.

“Especially with an increase in students living on campus, to have an easy way to get downtown is great for downtown and great for students,” Hazelton said.

Improved routes to the university and Turlock High are being proposed under major routing changes scheduled to be considered by the City Council in May.

The biggest change proposed is a shift from long loop routes to travel up and back on the route. The straight-line routes would come by every 30 minutes, compared to about 45 minutes to an hour now. Dial-a-ride, door-to-door service for those over 65 or with disabilities, would not change.

The 6:30 a.m. weekday start time would stay, under the proposal, but the end time would extend to 9 p.m. Buses stop running now at 6:30 p.m. Saturday service, which starts at 10:10 a.m., would end at 7 p.m. under the proposal. Saturday buses now end at 4:10 p.m., online schedules show.

Routes would run from the transit center, which is already slated to get a building with bathrooms. Money is already in place for the transit center improvements, but ongoing funding to expand the bus schedules has not been identified.

Soiseth declined to discuss what financing options might be discussed in May.

Whether you are a student, senior citizen or military veteran, there’s never been an easier and more convenient time to ride.

Gary Soiseth, mayor

If approved, it would be the first real overhaul since 2007, Hazelton said, and the transit challenge is meant to help get the council on board, so to speak.

“In sharing my (transportation) project, I was taken aback by how many city administrators and elected officials discussed that they have never taken BLaST before,” she wrote. “Even more surprisingly was when the (director of development services) Mike Pitcock – a vital person in the decision-making process of the Short Range Transit Plan – stated, ‘I’ve never been on BLaST, and to be honest, I wouldn’t even know how to go about riding it if I wanted to.’ I told him I will make myself readily available to ride BLaST with him sometime during the week of the challenge.”

That first step is the steepest, Hazelton said. “People are afraid to try it the first time,” she said, something she hopes more folks will get past this week.

How to get from here to there is easier with the trip planner on the city of Turlock transit page, upgraded on the new website available in beta now.

A number of other service improvements are being considered by the city, including commuter routes from Turlock to BART and ACE rail stations, a bilingual transit guide and an interactive map and customer feedback forms online.

Nan Austin: 209-578-2339, @NanAustin

At a glance

Turlock city buses will see major changes this year with plans in place and coming up for votes. Here is a rundown:

Passes: On May 2, electronic fare boxes will be in place. Buy them at City Hall or at the fare box when boarding. Fares will not change. Cash will no longer need to be exact change. Card options: unlimited use single-day pass or 21-day pass; single-trip pass; stored value card for $5 or $10. The paper tickets will work for two months or can be exchanged.

Questions? Try out the new cards and talk to staff members about the new technology from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on April 26 at the Turlock Regional Transit Center, 1418 N. Golden State Blvd., Turlock.

New name: A new logo and name change from the Bus Line Service of Turlock, or BLAST, to Turlock Transit will take effect Aug. 1.

Future plans: A plan for longer hours of service and shorter wait times will be discussed at the City Council meeting in May.