If local students were surprised to be sharing their City bus ride to school Monday morning with Mayor Gary Soiseth, they didn't show it. To the handful of Turlock High, Dutcher Middle School and Crowell Elementary students riding the Bus Line Service of Turlock's A-line it was just another morning on the bus . To the Mayor, however, it was an eye-opening experience of the benefits and issues with Turlock's current transit system.
At the April 12 City Council meeting, Soiseth challenged the Council, City employees, members of Stanislaus State's student government and all community members to take a ride on the bus during Try Transit Week, which is recognized this week. The Mayor led by example, catching the bus in downtown Turlock Monday morning with Josie Hazelton, the Mayor's Public Policy Award recipient and Stanislaus State student.
Hazleton has been studying Turlock's public transportation system with the goal of finding ways to increase affordability and convenience for Stanislaus State students and city residents at large.
"As I was conducting this research, I came across a common theme with cities across the country. From Sonora, California to Omaha, Nebraska to Arlington, Virginia — it's that policy makers and public administrators ride transit. Whether it's daily to work, weekly to a city council meeting or annual during a Try Transit event, cities across the country recognize the importance of having decision makers ride transit," said Hazelton at the City Council meeting.
The Mayor issued his bus riding challenge at the perfect time, as the City is currently making changes to its short-range transit plan. A few months ago, the bus line extended its weeknight and Saturday service hours and the Council will soon consider adopting a whole new route plan that takes the current system of four one-way loop routes and changes it to six direct routes that all connect at the Turlock Transit Center.
"I'm excited to see the progress that's been made over the past few months in redesigning the bus routes and service hours," said Hazelton, who shared that right now it's faster for her to ride her bike from home to the Stanislaus State campus than it is to take the bus.
The new route system should also make it easier to get from one side of town to the other in a relatively short amount of time. It took Soiseth and Hazelton 46 minutes to get from Lander and Main Street to the Crowell Road bus stop at Stanislaus State, not very practical if the Mayor wanted to take the bus from City Hall to a meeting at the university and back or for college students looking to kill time between classes by taking a ride to one of downtown's popular eateries.
On Monday, the Mayor also had to pay with exact change for his fare and purchase a transfer ticket to change from the A-line to the B-line, in order to get from downtown Turlock to the university. Starting in May, however, paying to ride the bus will be much easier as the City is set to install electronic fare boxes on all buses and eliminate the need for transfer passes.
With all the changes, the City is hoping to increase overall ridership.
"I want to see more students, more seniors, more community members ride the bus, like in Berkeley and Washington D.C., with no social stigma," said Soiseth.