"Yo, taxi!" For too long in Lodi, that call has been replaced by a call to Dial-a-Ride, and in my opinion that needs to change.
If you have no idea what I am referring to, you can call Lodi's Dial-a-Ride service and get door-to-door service with or without a reservation. If you are a non-senior and able-bodied, that ride will cost you $5. Without a reservation it will cost you $10.
Is it at all practical that someone should be able to take a door-to-door trip from any corner of Lodi to Woodbridge seven days a week for that price? Sure, you might need to wait for the bus, but we are talking door-to-door service here. It is no wonder that there is so little taxi service.
Now before I go too far, I need to tell you that I think public transportation is important. Unfortunately, the versions of California's public transit that I have tried are horrible when compared to others.
Recently I was in Portland, and for less than $3 I rode into town from their airport. In Portland's downtown area, the rides are free. In Chicago, you can ride anywhere for $2.25. Compare those fares to BART and you will know what I mean.
After reviewing some of the options to save money in Lodi's GrapeLine system, I'll chime in:
- Cut the service area for Dial-a-Ride. Why is Dial-a-Ride going out to Woodbridge or, better yet, way out to Arbor Mobil Home Park in Acampo? Unlike what some of you might think, it is not because of some California or federal funding, but just because they do. Reducing the service area to Lodi only would undoubtedly make the service better for those who need it, and save money.
- Require reservations for Dial-a-Ride. This will make the system more efficient by making routes easier to plan and by eliminating idle buses.
- Stop allowing non-seniors and able-bodied people to ride Dial-a-Ride. I don't care if they make a reservation, have the best excuse for needing the service or if they pay a premium fare. These people can get to a fixed route bus and they shouldn't be using the system when seniors or those with disabilities need it.
- Raise fares. Sometimes it isn't all about cutting costs, because in this case it means cutting services — so raising fares a bit would help. Today you can ride a fixed route bus for no more than $1. Would $2 be too much? What about $1.50? For Dial-a-Ride, the current senior rate is $1.50. What about increasing that to $2 while keeping the 10-ride book at $12?
- Expand the hours for the fixed route system. Yes, I know one of the plans is to reduce the hours of this system to between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., but that just won't work for people with regular jobs. Expanding the service or at a minimum keeping the current hours of 6:15 a.m. to 6:45 p.m. will make sure people can use it for work. If it ran later, perhaps even more people would use it, maybe even some of those who are currently using Dial-a-Ride up until 9 p.m.
Undoubtedly changing this system is going to be tough. Getting people to use it regularly in a town like Lodi where traffic is relatively light and parking is easy is even tougher, but we must try, and cutting regular fixed route services will not help.
Shifting gears, if you are a regular reader of this column, you know that I am no fan of the Downtown Lodi Business Partnership. Well, the DLBP had a winner last Saturday with Fall Flavor Fest and I need to give them credit.
If you missed it, various eateries and drinking establishments Downtown offered specials for those who purchased a card from the DLBP. Why they charged for the card, I really don't know, but the event was a good one.
Perhaps they can keep this going with something like "First Friday" or "Last Friday" and just encourage the establishments to do it without charging the fee. Done consistently, this would attract more people to Downtown for a bit to eat and drink and it might even encourage other store owners to stay open on those same nights.
John Johnson, CFA, is a Lodi-based business appraiser. Contact him at email@example.com or 369-1451.