On Friday, April 6, several dozen elected officials and train-hat-wearing enthusiasts gathered at the Goleta station platform to celebrate the first week of the new morning commuter train. Cutting the ribbon to officially inaugurate the service was State Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson, who’d had a major hand at the state level in pushing the new train time into being. She likened its long-awaited arrival to giving birth, except it took years. The first week, which suffered delays four days out of five, was like “the soft opening of a restaurant,” she said.
A switching mishap, a mechanical issue, and passing Metrolink trains had delayed the morning commute by an hour each day. Brian Annis, secretary of the California State Transportation Agency, ballparked a cool $30 million to create additional siding between Ventura’s Seacliff and Santa Barbara to alleviate track-and-train conflicts.
“Good things don’t come easily, but I think we’ve turned a corner and are on a roll,” punned SBCAG’s Gregg Hart. SBCAG, or the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, is the local agency that has been pursuing a commuter train for at least the past decade.
Down a ways from the hoopla was a mix of commuters and students headed home for the weekend, most of whom were plugged into their smartphones as they waited, including Jayline Pasacio, a UCSB junior on her way back home to the San Fernando Valley. Trying to press through the crowd were a couple of women who worked at Community West Bank. Lu Herrera, who had taken the train daily to and from Ventura that week, laughed as she said, “On the train, you can go right by the traffic.” She had ridden the bus to get to Goleta previously, and in comparison, “The train is so comfortable,” she said.
While the delay in the train’s arrival on Monday hadn’t been a problem for Herrera’s schedule, her colleague Cheryl Stafford said she had to switch to the bus on Tuesday. But taking the train home in the afternoon worked for both of them, a relaxing end to the day, they agreed.
Community West Bank reimburses half its employees’ mass transportation expenses, up to $70 monthly, said Kevin Moon, the bank’s marketing director. The initiative is used by about 10 workers from Ventura County, he said, to reach the bank’s headquarters in Goleta.
Many employers on the South Coast offer commuter benefits for employees who live out of town. At Cottage Health System, where about a quarter of its 3,500 employees live south of Santa Barbara, workers have a 50 percent subsidy for bus passes, van pools, and train tickets, said Ron Lafrican, director of benefits. Employees buy the passes or tickets themselves — train passengers use their smartphones to display their ticket purchase — and are reimbursed. For all employees, Cottage also offers a $75 cash bonus if they use alternative transportation 80 percent of the time during the month. “Every car that comes off the highway helps,” said Lafrican.
Who was using the free 10-trip pass offered by SBCAG and who wasn’t was impossible to determine, said Jennifer Bergener, who runs the rail authority that operates the Pacific Surfliner. Ridership peaked on the inaugural run, with a total of 248 passengers — 182 of whom used the 10-trip pass, 32 the monthly pass, and 34 a single ticket, she itemized. “We’re trying really hard” to keep the train on time, she said at Goleta on Friday as she boarded the train herself, headed home to Orange County.