Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The North Bay’s commuter rail service will consider a plan to reduce fares for low-income riders as part of a larger proposal from SMART staff to next year seek voter renewal of the 20-year sales tax measure that’s funded the system since 2009.
The moves come as Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit, which launched service in August 2017, assesses its long-term financial picture with an eye on restructuring debt and accelerating its delayed full build-out.
It expects to complete the southern-most station in Larkspur by year’s end, expanding its operating line to 45 miles of the planned 70-mile corridor. But guaranteed future funding in the form of an earlier tax renewal could help the agency speed up its extension of service north to Healdsburg and Cloverdale, according to SMART staff.
“The reality is we’re a transit operation, and we need to plan ongoing operations, we need to plan expansions,” Erin McGrath, SMART’s chief financial officer told SMART’s 12-member board at its Wednesday meeting. “We can’t have ballot box uncertainty in our future. We can’t have our revenues stopping in 10 years.”
Voters in Marin and Sonoma counties together in 2008 passed the quarter-cent sales that represents SMART’s primary funding stream. Measure Q will sunset in 2029, and the agency’s staff is recommending pursuing its renewal as early as the 2020 general election, ensuring, if passed by a two-thirds majority, funding for another 20 years through 2049.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9464429-181/smart-mulls-early-renewal-of
Will Schmitt, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Plagued by low ridership, a free Santa Rosa bus service will shuttle passengers to and from the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit station in Railroad Square for the last time Friday as the city moves to replace it with a discounted parking permit.
The City Council in late November decided to end the ParkSMART shuttle on March 1, a little more than a year after it began in December 2017.
Low ridership and relatively high trip cost were consistent problems for the shuttle. City staff previously determined that at its peak in September about 20 people rode the shuttle on a given day.
To partially offset the loss of the shuttle, the City Council in January approved a new permit allowing commuters who regularly use public transportation to park in the First Street garage for $31 a month. That’s half the cost of the regular monthly permit for the garage.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9327651-181/santa-rosa-to-replace-free
Alexandria Bordas, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Sebastopol leaders are celebrating an environmental victory after becoming the first city in Sonoma County to receive an electric bus.
The county bus officially will be rolled out at the Sebastopol Transit Hub at 10:30 a.m. Monday. The launch comes at the heels of an announcement by Santa Rosa city officials that they plan to buy four zero-emission buses after securing nearly $3 million in federal funding.
Part of the county transit system, the Sebastopol electric shuttle will serve riders along the downtown corridor for free. Built in Lancaster in Southern California, the 30-foot coach has a range of 137 miles per battery charge and a 22-passenger capacity. It’ll offer riders wireless internet and USB charging ports.
“Sebastopol is the environmental leader of Sonoma County,” said Sarah Gurney, Sebastopol city councilwoman. “That’s why and how we got the first electric bus.”
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/9029368-181/sebastopol-to-roll-out-countys?sba=AAS
Today’s report on those plans finds that regions have made progress in some areas, but not nearly enough to meet their goals:
1. Regions are not on track to meet their climate goals, not for 2020 or even for 2035.
2. Statewide, driving is increasing. The trend is going in the wrong direction — each of us is driving more, not less.
3. Not enough investment is going toward climate-friendly transportation — including walking, bicycling, and public transit — or affordable housing near jobs and transit.
4. Action is needed at every level of government — cities, counties, regions, and the state — to get on track.
“To reduce emissions, the most sustainable options need to be the most convenient,” said Ella Wise, State Policy Associate at ClimatePlan.
Today the California Air Resources Board (ARB) released a new report finding that California regions are not on track to meet either their 2020 or 2035 climate targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Additional action from every level of government is required, including more investment in sustainable transportation and affordable homes near jobs and transit. The report can be downloaded here.
Each metropolitan region in the state has a plan, required by law, to reduce emissions by reducing the need to drive. However, the report finds that regions are failing to deliver on their plans. Part of regions’ failure is due to challenges beyond their control, such as limited state funding and local land use decisions. But regions continue to invest in highways, which results in more driving, not less.
Read more at https://www.climateplan.org/new_report_california_regions_falling_short_on_climate_driving_increases
Kevin Fixler, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit board of directors Wednesday authorized spending $24 million to launch the next, highly anticipated phase of railwork needed to extend commuter train service north to Windsor.
The unanimous board decision represents a major expansion geared toward fulfilling the promise made in 2008, when voters approved a two-county, 70-mile line stretching from Cloverdale to Larkspur.
The SMART board approved the spending with two 12-0 votes, setting in motion rail safety upgrades and design work needed to expand the rail line north by 3 miles from the current northbound terminal near the Sonoma County Airport.
The work is set to begin this fall, with heavy construction in 2020 and system testing in 2021. Agency officials said SMART could start serving Windsor, with a population of 27,000, by late 2021 or early 2022.
Read more at https://www.pressdemocrat.com/news/8754419-181/smart-to-begin-work-on
Staff, PETALUMA ARGUS-COURIER
Santa Rosa Junior College students can now ride any bus line, any time for free on Santa Rosa CityBus, Petaluma Transit, and Sonoma County Transit. SRJC students simply show their validated SRJC CubCard to the bus driver when boarding a bus, and they are set to go. SRJC students ride free for travel anywhere in Sonoma County, not just for trips to and from campus.
Riding the bus is a sustainable transportation alternative that improves health, saves money and helps the environment. SRJC’s Associated Students recognize the importance of sustainable transportation alternatives and voted in favor of assessing themselves a transportation fee to support this free-fare program. The SRJC transportation fee, in combination with individual transit agency funding, will cover the cost of providing these free and unlimited bus rides.
Read more at: Santa Rosa, Petaluma buses free for SRJC students | Petaluma Argus Courier | Petaluma360.com
Robert Digitale, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
Five days a week, Wally Walston rides his bike less than 2 miles to the Cotati SMART station and rolls his two-wheeler aboard the train for a 32-minute trip to southern Novato.
In the past month Shaun Ralston has cycled to and from SMART stations in Sonoma and Marin counties. He also has combined his train trips with bus and ferry rides and been shuttled by Lyft, a ride-sharing service paid for by his employer, Sutter Health.
And Sharon Bringel last week said she was going to take her first SMART trip to her job in San Rafael. The decision came after watching a northbound train with a coworker on board zip by her car as it sat stuck in afternoon freeway traffic.
“When she passed us, I said, ‘Okay, we need to at least try this,’” said Bringel, who stopped by the Petaluma station on Thursday with her husband Don to purchase a Clipper Card, the payment method accepted by SMART and other regional transit services.
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency attracted nearly 53,000 riders in its first three weeks of service, surpassing projections for the period of 46,800 passengers.
The biggest surprise has been the 15,000 weekend patrons, which is more than seven times greater than first anticipated.Even so, the majority of passengers still ride during the week, and interviews with a half-dozen commuters offered overwhelmingly positive reviews.
Read more at: Commuters find joys, pains of using new SMART rail system | The Press Democrat –
J.D. Morris, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
For more information about SMART schedule and fares, click here.
The first three weeks of operation for the North Bay’s new commuter train showed the rail line has continued to attract weekend riders in far greater numbers than initially anticipated, while the concentration of passengers with bicycles is prompting SMART officials to ponder how they accommodate those commuters going forward.
Trains carried nearly 53,000 passengers in the weeks after paid service began Aug. 26, well beyond the roughly 46,800 passengers the agency projected for that period, Farhad Mansourian, general manager of the Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency said Wednesday.
More than 15,600 of those riders were on weekends, Mansourian told SMART board, whose members reacted with clear surprise. The agency’s early projections foresaw just 300 daily riders on weekends.
Mansourian, in an interview after the board meeting, said during weekdays, when up to 3,000 daily riders were projected, the agency so far sees “no pattern” for ridership.“Some days are higher, some days are lower,” he said, declining to provide specifics. “Weekdays haven’t settled down yet.”
Read more at: SMART reports higher-than-expected ridership over first three weeks of paid service | The Press Democrat –
Argus-Courier Staff, SONOMA INDEX-TRIBUNE
The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit authority has been cleared by federal regulators and will begin service Aug. 25, the agency announced in a press release Thursday.
“We are proud to say that we are ready to roll,” said SMART Board of Directors Chairwoman Debora Fudge. “This is the result of years of hard work from SMART’s staff, its team of contractors and consultants, and Federal Railroad Administration Regional Administrator James Jordan and his team. Successfully opening a new transit system is a major accomplishment—and we will remember this day for generations to come.”
SMART train service will be free of charge on opening day. In celebration of the start of service, SMART will host a community grand opening event at 9 a.m. at its Santa Rosa downtown station, at 7 Fourth Street at Historic Railroad Square, and will begin running the full service schedule at 12:49 p.m.
After opening day, SMART fares for everyone will be 50 percent off the regular price through Labor Day, September 4. Regular fares will be in place on September 5.
“This is truly historic. We want to thank the public for their support, and for providing the North Bay with a state-of-the-art transportation system. This system will bring relief to commuters stuck on Highway 101 and provide a stress-free way to travel. It will also provide a major economic boost for both Marin and Sonoma counties,” said SMART Board Vice Chairwoman Kathrin Sears.
In connection with SMART’s start of service, several public transit agencies have developed new routes or adjusted existing ones to coordinate with the train’s schedule. SMART passengers receive transfer credits to make their connections when using Golden Gate Transit, Marin Transit, Petaluma Transit, Santa Rosa CityBus, or Sonoma County Transit.
Source: SMART to launch full service Aug. 25 | Sonoma Index-Tribune | Sonoma, CA
Derek Moore, THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
With the start of North Bay passenger rail service expected to be just around the bend, public transit planners across Sonoma and Marin counties are busy trying to link up connections to the trains.
One of the more recent efforts involves Sonoma County Transit — operator of the county’s bus system — which on Monday unveiled new routes and a number of changes to existing ones to coordinate with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit trains.
The new “50-series” routes include connections to SMART stations from all corners of the county, as well as two “last-mile” shuttle buses for employees at the Airport Business Park, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and the county’s administration center. Shuttles also will be available for Santa Rosa Junior College students.
Read more at: Sonoma County adds bus routes designed to serve SMART train users | The Press Democrat