As part of the City of Turlock’s Go Green week, citizens could catch a ride with the city’s public transportation services free of charge. By cutting the usual fares, city staff believed Turlock residents would be encouraged to utilize the city’s bus service, therefore cutting back on vehicle gas emissions.
Serving the community since 1998, the Bus Line Service of Turlock, or BLAST, has developed four scheduled routes throughout the community, providing a fast, economical way for residents to travel around town for a regular fare of $1.50 per passenger.
The fares for BLAST have increased over the years, with the current $1.50 fee being in place since 2011. These increases were the result of the City addressing farebox recovery issues, where the bus service’s operating expenses were not being met by the fares paid by the passengers. In addition to bumping up passenger fares, the City also cut back service hours for the system, with all BLAST services ending at 5:30 p.m. during the week. On the weekends, bus riders in Turlock are subject to limited service hours, with BLAST being closed after 4 p.m. on Saturdays, and all day on Sundays.
According to the Stanislaus Council of Governments, the regional transportation planning agency, there were concerns that Turlock’s farebox ratio would fall below the required standard based on a performance audit conducted in 2012. The agency also had concerns that Turlock would not qualify for Article 8 Local Transportation Funds, which are available to cities that fully contract out their transit service. Currently, the City of Turlock owns and maintains its transit vehicles and keeps its farebox revenue while only contracting drivers and dispatchers.
According to the City of Turlock’s Financial Reports, the total operating cost of the city’s bus system was $1,067,110 in 2012. During the same year, BLAST had a system wide total of 112,786 passengers, bringing in $145,827 in passenger revenue. Since 2009, the bus system has seen an 8.4 percent decrease in total passengers over a three-year period, and a roughly 20 percent decrease in vehicle service hours.
The same reports showed that Turlock’s Dial-A-Ride services had a $30.03 operating cost per passenger in 2012, while BLAST’s was $9.46 for the same year. Although the system wide operating costs had decreased 22.8 percent from 2009-2012, a seemingly positive trend, StanCOG’s audit report found this was due to the cut in service hours, which have subsequently resulted in a declined ridership.
With the decline in service hours and increase in fares, the City has been hard-pressed in improving ridership rates. Even despite the fact that California State University, Stanislaus is located in Turlock, audit reports have shown that there is a minimal ridership demand to and from the campus. In fact, most of the transit system’s ridership is comprised of the transit dependent with limited mobility options, living in the southern and western parts of the City.
With many of the passengers utilizing BLAST coming to Turlock from other areas, the city began looking to develop a transit center that would link travel to various activity centers while providing a connection point between BLAST routes and Stanislaus Regional Transit, or StaRT, and Merced County Transit routes.
In 2012, the City of Turlock officially opened the $1.65 million Turlock Regional Transit Center, located at the corner intersection of Golden State Blvd., Hawkeye Ave., and Dels Lane. At the time, Turlock Mayor John Lazar noted the economic opportunities provided by public transportation, saying that every $1 invested into public transportation would generate approximately $4 in return. However, with the decline in ridership over the years, that projected return might seem questionable.
The second phase of the Turlock Regional Transit Center includes two additional parcels, which were approved for purchase by the City Council in February 2013. Two vacant properties were purchased by the City for $1.5 million, and are set to become part of the completed Regional Transit Center where the public can buy passes and get information, in addition to connecting to other regional transit services.
Since the construction of the first phase of the Turlock Regional Transit Center, many Turlock residents have voiced concerns over the amount spent on the project, as the transit hub typically sees low-activity. However, once the second phase is completed, the City will consider moving its transit operations into the facility from its existing Corporation Yard, perhaps making the facility seem livelier.
Although BLAST received 12 complaints and one compliment in 2012, many residents are dependent on the bus service as their only source of transportation. In order to maintain a state-required system wide farebox-to-cost ratio, where a fraction of the operational costs are covered by passenger fares, the City adopted a Short-Range Transit Plan that aims to attract additional riders by expanding public awareness and opportunities. The plan also allows the City to receive state and federal funding.
By using strategies like allowing fares to be dropped for Go Green week, the city is attempting to make Turlock residents see that public transportation is a realistic alternative to individual vehicles. While the City might have a ways to go in marketing its transit service as a permanent alternative to vehicles, especially with decreased service hours, providing online services like the Easy Rider Trip Planner has helped make the system more accessible to first-time riders.
To learn more about Bus Service Line of Turlock, such as riding etiquette, routes and schedules, visit www.blastbus.com.