Transportation used to be the number one complaint among SBCC students, said student trustee Nicholas Steil this week. He told “horror stories” of whole groups left behind in Isla Vista after buses packed to capacity sped past their stops.
“In 2013, when we were asking people how they felt about the buses, the responses we would get were ‘It’s too packed,’ ‘People get left behind,’ and ‘I didn’t even get to come to school until after my first class because I couldn’t catch the bus,’” said Steil.
But MTD hopes to change all that with three new articulated buses unveiled Monday during a press conference at SBCC attended by school president Lori Gaskin, MTD officials, and City College students. The three big buses will run on the 15x route from Isla Vista to UCSB and then SBCC — a line that has seen a dramatic increase in ridership in recent years, from about 250,000 in 2010 to over 350,000 in 2014 — and will hold 40 percent more people than the traditional 40-foot buses.
“The MTD board has tried to be as responsive as we can to the increasing demands of transit in this region, and this is one of the toughest issues that we’ve dealt with,” said Dave Davis, MTD board chair.
The project began in 2012 with a one-month trial run of a leased articulated bus, said MTD General Manager Jerry Estrada. After the trial was successful, the project received the necessary $2.2 million dollars from the state’s Transit Assistance Fund and Measure A revenue to purchase three Nova articulated buses. Two of the buses began running on the 15x route during peak hours on January 20 at the beginning of the spring semester, and Estrada said they have only received “fantastic” and “overwhelmingly supportive” reviews from the students.
“We used to commit as many as six diesel buses in the morning in Isla Vista to transport everyone to school,” said Estrada. “These new buses create much more capacity for the students and it’s been widely appreciated.”
The new buses are not hybrids, which Estrada said is both because the articulated hybrid technology is relatively new and untested and because the technology works better on stop-and-go surface roads, rather than the highway-intensive 15x route.
Gaskin had high praise for the new buses and the school’s partnership with MTD, joking that she wished she wasn’t on college grounds so that she could break a glass against the front of the bus in celebration. Gaskin said the school has about 3,500 students that live in Isla Vista.
MTD has no immediate plans to purchase more articulated buses, Estrada said, but it may work with the city’s Public Works department to see if it can lengthen any stops along other busy lines to fit the new 62-foot buses.