The Turlock City Council gave the proposed Dels Lane Public Transportation Hub a green light on Tuesday evening, despite a grassroots petition effort that drew 1,970 signatures from Turlockers who wanted the hub sited downtown.
The hub was previously set for construction following a June 4 Planning Commission decision before Turlocker Pat Noda filed an appeal that brought the project before the council.
“The reason I appealed the proposal of the Planning Commission was that I don’t believe the majority of the wishes of the riders and the citizens was considered,” Noda said. “… What’s the point of having a transportation system if it doesn’t go where people desire to go?”
Comments received from petitioners decried a lack of convenient bus access to Emanuel Hospital, the post office, City Hall, restaurants, the downtown, and senior apartments.
Louise Meyers, a petition circulator, spoke of an abundance of senior citizens in their 80s or 90s that still drive because they have no accessible transportation.
The primary benefit of the $1.75 million transit hub will be safer, more convenient, off-street transfers and waiting areas. However, as the hub — set to reside in the triangle of land bordered by Dels Lane, Golden State Boulevard, and Hawkeye Avenue — will be directly adjacent to the current transit hub, it is expected to have no major impact on the currently disliked routes.
Almost all in attendance expressed a preference for the routes used by The Bus Line Service of Turlock up until two years ago, when the hub was centered in downtown.
The hub’s move to the current site was precipitated by a state requirement that 15 percent of operating expenses be raised by fares collected. The new location allowed BLAST to cut down on route times to generate more trips, though a fare raise accompanied the change as well.
According to Noda, monthly ridership dropped by about 4,000 trips — or 25 percent — following the change in routes.
“It’s my opinion that the drop in ridership was not due to the route change, but a doubling of fares,” said Turlock Traffic Engineer Roger Fall.
Despite numerous rider concerns, the City Council was forced into action Tuesday evening due to the time-sensitive nature of the hub’s potential funding.
The $1.75 million project is set to be funded entirely by federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funds and state Prop 1B transportation funds. Because of strict rules regarding shovel-ready projects, the City of Turlock must act quickly or lose the $1.5 million they have already been allocated.
“My concern is delaying anything and losing the money,” said Mayor John Lazar. “And I sure wouldn’t want to lose $1.5 million in this climate.”
Councilmembers Kurt Spycher and Amy Bublak, who voted in favor of the project, echoed the sentiment. Vice Mayor Ted Howze was absent.
Councilwoman Mary Jackson cast the lone vote in opposition of moving forward. She requesting two weeks of further study focused upon one potential site for a downtown hub that was offered up by Leroy Luchart, owner of the Greyhound Bus Depot.
Luchart said he had attempted to contact the city for the past six months regarding a co-location of the City of Turlock hub on his current Greyhound site at the corner of S. Golden State Boulevard and Marshall Street through “modest” rental fees.
“There’s been no response, not a single response from the city,” Luchart said.
According to Fall, the Greyhound site would not be large enough to accommodate all of the BLAST, Stanislaus Regional Transit, and Merced THE BUS traffic set to occupy the hub in addition to its use as a Greyhound site.
Lazar said the city would continue to inquire about opportunities in the downtown with respect to a potential “sub-hub,” possibly at the Greyhound Bus Depot.
While those in favor of a downtown hub were let down by the news, Fall left the door open for future changes in routes that may address some concerns. He said that BLAST would be reevaluating its routes during a public meeting in the next few months.
However, some of the changes proposed in the past haven’t turned out to be beneficial to the majority of BLAST’s ridership — high school students.
Fall cited past attempts to offer free, nighttime service from downtown to the college that drew few riders. A route to Denair received a similar response.
“We want to go where the riders want to go,” Fall said. “That’s the bottom line.”
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