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Lodi weighs expanding GrapeLine bus service hours

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Posted: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 12:12 pm

Longer service hours and on-demand pick-up options are coming soon for the city of Lodi bus services.

The Lodi City Council met Tuesday morning in a study session to hear a draft five-year plan for the city’s transit department.

The city contracts with MV Transportation to run five fixed routes each weekday, and four routes on weekends. For these routes, a GrapeLine bus arrives at each stop about once an hour. Five express routes run on weekdays, with buses arriving at stops every 20 minutes.

Bus stops can be found about a quarter-mile from every residence and business in Lodi, said Gordon Shaw, a transportation consultant with LSC Transportation who spoke to the council. Department director Paula Fernandez was present to answer questions.

The buses provide 220,000 rides a year, or about 600 each day. That does not account for bus transfers or repeat daily riders.

“Those numbers surprise me a bit. To me, that’s a lot. I still have the impression that we have a lot of empty buses,” said City Councilman Larry Hansen. “But clearly a lot of people in Lodi depend on our bus system.”

Buses are more crowded when school is in session, said Shaw, especially along the express routes in morning and afternoon. Fernandez said that is a result of Lodi Unified School District ending bus service in town.

Fernandez plans to add service to the Department of Motor Vehicles office on Pixley Parkway, and more stops near Reynolds Ranch shopping center off Harney Lane.

One loop in the northwest of town will change to on-demand pickup. Drivers generally only pick up two or three riders a day in that area, a small circle from Beckman Road to Turner Road to Cluff Avenue and back onto Lockeford Street. Instead of waiting for the hourly bus, riders will have to call dispatch 20 minutes ahead of pickup time.

Express Route 7 will also be cut. Fernandez said that route averages only about one rider per hour. Other routes average 12 riders per hour.

The major shortfall of the current bus system is its hours of service, not the areas each route covers, staff said.

Riders have requested more evening service, so the department plans to extend hours to 9:15 p.m. on weekends and 7:15 p.m. on weekdays. Sunday service will end at 3 p.m. Fixed routes will start an hour earlier, at 6:30 a.m. Express routes hours will not change.

“Extending the hours is overdue,” said Hansen.

Also on the project list are updates to city bus stops to add shelters and benches, more security cameras, and secure bus storage at the Lodi Transit Center. The department plans to create an ad policy to potentially install ads on buses and benches.

Resident Myrna Wetzel asked the council to refrain from cluttering buses and benches with advertisements.

“I really get tired of being badgered with ad upon ad upon ad everywhere you go,” she said. “It gets to a point where it really is irritating.”

The $3 million budget to run buses and Dial-A-Ride comes from state and federal grants and funding. About $190,000 comes from rider fares. These changes would result in a 6 percent increase in costs. Shaw said there are more federal grants available, and the department will apply for them if the changes are approved.

These changes will come to a city council vote in September, and may go into effect a few weeks later.

“For somebody who has no vehicle, it’s huge, this transit system,” said Hansen. “It’s a quality of life issue.”

Contact reporter Sara Jane Pohlman at sarap@lodinews.com.

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