The brimming population of Santa Barbara City College commuters traveling from Isla Vista to campus has prompted MTD to find a more cost-efficient, environmentally-conscious solution than running more buses — it’s bringing in a bigger bus.
The 2011-2012 academic year witnessed a great increase in ridership of Line 15x (SBCC/UCSB Express). MTD hopes that a new 62-foot long, 62-seat bus will be able to accommodate this growing flow of passengers. The bus consists of two cars connected by a pivoting joint, and the extra space gives it the ability to transport a maximum of 112 sitting and standing passengers, servicing more people without having to hire additional drivers.
MTD is currently borrowing the articulated bus from its manufacturer, Nova Bus, for a one-month test run. If successful, MTD will purchase three of the buses in a year or so for permanent use. On the morning of Friday, February 24, the new bus took members of the press, city council members, and other community residents on a test drive from the downtown MTD office to City College.
“With the articulated bus, we’re hoping to not have to put more buses out there, and that when people get to the bus stop they can be confident there will be room for them on the bus,” said MTD Assistant Planning Manager Paul Tumbleson, the driver during Friday’s demo.
An excess of SBCC students living in Isla Vista who rely on the 15x line to get to class has called for something more accommodating than the three 40-foot buses (which each fit up to 80 passengers) that the line currently utilizes. MTD officials, SBCC staff, and SBCC students alike voiced the severity of this issue. On a daily basis, many students are being left without transportation to school, they said.
“The problem is we have so many riders and not enough service,” said MTD General Manager Sherrie Fisher. “Eighty-eight times in one month, we’ve had to refuse service to students. We’re hoping to avoid that.”
“It was getting progressively worse — students were trying to catch a bus, and all the seats were full,” said Jack Friedlander, acting superintendent/president of SBCC. “That was hurting their class attendance, which hurt their retention … they would get discouraged because they couldn’t get to school. If they tried to drive a car here, it’s almost impossible for them to get a parking spot, and they get even more discouraged. This would make a difference.”
“I know students who are in between quitting school and trying to decide what they’re doing, and for those students, it’s really important that they continue their education,” said SBCC student Aaron Thule, a frequent 15x rider. “If they have a hard time getting to class, then they might just skip out entirely. If they are going to the bus stop and they get left behind, they’re going to be like, ‘Screw it, I’m gonna go home and hang out instead of going to class.’ They should be able to get on the bus completely fine.”
SBCC student Elie Katzenson said that about 25 percent of the students she knows drive to class, while 75 percent depend on the MTD bus system.
“If you’re not [at the bus stop] on the dot, or five minutes before, and the bus gets full, you’re left behind,” Thule went on. “One time when I was heading out to I.V., I got on the bus, but they had to close the door on the guy behind me because it was so full.”
The articulated bus is now undergoing a month-long trial run, almost exclusively with the 15x line. Bus drivers who will take the articulated bus’s wheel will receive special training, though piloting it is similar to driving a typical bus, according to an MTD press release. After gauging the community’s reaction to the new bus, MTD’s board of directors will make the final decision of whether or not to purchase the three new articulated buses.
“We will be running the bus in service to see what it’s actually like in operation, how the passengers like it, the students at City College in particular,” said Jerry Estrada, MTD assistant general manager and controller. “We’re optimistic that it’ll go very well.”
“It’s a win-win for our students and MTD’s commitment to providing the best service that it can for its community, and the trial here is to make sure that this bus will work,” said Friedlander. “And I hope they will because in terms of impact on our students, I cannot overstate how important it is that they can get on the bus.”