Downtown shuttle hits milestone
The Santa Barbara (Calif.) Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle Program celebrated its 1 millionth mile of service in November. Ten electric buses, provided by a partnership between the city and the Metropolitan Transit District (MTD), carry tourists and shoppers through the city’s downtown business district and to the nearby waterfront.
The shuttle service began as part of downtown revitalization efforts, according to Dave Johnson, public works director for Santa Barbara. Downtown projects had included pedestrian-related improvements, constructing an underpass to the waterfront and a subsidized shopping plaza.
A transit system was needed to make movement through the area convenient for shoppers and tourists. Johnson says that the city experimented with several vehicles until 1990, when the Metropolitan Transit Authority was chosen to provide shuttle services.
Two 30-foot diesel buses provided service the first year. In 1991, the first two 22-foot electric buses were added and diesel service was quickly phased out. Since then, shuttle service increased to 10 electric buses. Ridership also has increased from 200,000 in 1990 to 750,000 in 1998.
The bus design, which blends with the Mediterranean-style business district, includes windows that can be removed for an open-air feel. Each bus is powered by 108 batteries, each of which have an eight-hour range.
The shuttle features two routes: The first travels down State Street, a main corridor with hotels and shops, where buses run 10 minutes apart, reversing their route around the base of a fountain at the wharf. The second route follows the waterfront, ending at the zoo. Those buses run every 30 minutes. Both routes run daily and offer extended holiday hours.
Originally, the shuttle was free to all riders. However, MTD discovered that some residents were using the transportation service for touring or napping, according to Lynette Coverly, manager of marketing for MTD. A 25-cent one-way fare limits usage, but ridership numbers have not changed, Coverly says.
“The main advantage is that the shuttle helps draw tourists,” Coverly says. Primary funding is provided by the city and supplemented is with fares and advertising revenues. Under a separate contract, other electric buses provide downtown employees access to commuter parking lots.
The success of the Downtown-Waterfront Shuttle program has inspired Santa Barbara’s Electric Avenue program, according to Johnson. Forty-one electric buses will eventually replace the diesel buses downtown for regular transportation routes. The Electric Avenue Program is funded primarily by a TEA-21 grant for mitigating traffic congestion, reducing emissions and improving bus service in Santa Barbara and Carpinteria and in Santa Barbara County.
“[The shuttle bus] makes transit users out of someone who might not otherwise use it,” says Martin Erikson, special project manager for MTD. Officials anticipate that the appeal of the open-air shuttle will draw riders onto the more traditionally designed electric buses for transportation routes as well.