A public hearing on service cuts and modifications to SamTrans buses along the Peninsula brought a standing-room only crowd together Wednesday to plead with commissioners to keep their bus routes running.
Nearly 50 community members packed the San Carlos SamTrans Headquarters to respond to the draft SamTrans Service Plan, or SSP, a strategy aimed at improving bus service efficiency, effectiveness and usage and modifying or discontinuing unused or underutilized bus routes.
The first comprehensive study done by the agency in more than 10 years, SamTrans' planning and development teams spent more than two years studying ridership patterns to determine some methods to increase ridership and revenues while bettering service to San Mateo County communities, according to April Chan, executive officer for planning and development, who presented the plan at the hearing.
Throughout the two-year process, planners have received more than 1,300 comments from the public, most of which were incorporated into the latest versions of the plan.
"The plan is very comprehensive and reflective of a pretty large amount of community feedback," said Jayme Ackemann, SamTrans communications manager. "This has been a highly iterative process and we have come up with new recommendations and their comments effected change."
SamTrans currently operates 48 bus routes throughout San Mateo County, with service to the cities of Palo Alto and San Francisco. The SSP would make changes to the existing bus service in several ways, Chan said.
The SSP aims to improve bus service along El Camino Real with improved service and frequency along the "north-south spine" of the transit network, Chan said. This would mean consolidating Routes 390 and 391, making it one route between Daly City and Palo Alto every 15 minutes.
The plan also calls for creating an enhanced core bus network by improving weekday service the core market areas of Daly City, South San Francisco, Redwood City and East Palo Alto to at least a 15-minute service and improve east-west connections to El Camino Real on weekends.
Some service routes will be modified, Chan said, if it falls into one of three categories: consolidating services, modifying routes or frequency, and a major reduction of service to downtown San Francisco, according to SSP documents.
Routes 123 in the North Bay, 280 in East Palo Alto and 359 along El Camino in the Central County are all recommended for discontinuation based on duplications with other routes, Chan said, although route 280 could receive a reprieve depending on the city's shuttle service.
Lastly, the plan calls for the introduction of alternative service pilot programs in San Carlos and Pacifica to test an alternative model with a flexible, demand-response service.
Many in attendance represented adults with special needs or challenges, or seniors, all worried about being stranded without transportation or having to walk a greater distance should their route be modified or discontinued.
Laura Lorenger said for 37 years she has ridden the 260 bus, which serves Belmont and San Carlos, every day to her Community Gatepath Adult Day Care Center in San Carlos. She voiced concern about the changes.
"I am concerned about my accessibility. Will a shuttle stop at the bus stop," she asked the board.
William Ames Farrell voiced his fear in losing route 295, which he says would force him to walk a great distance on dark, unpaved sections of the road where he could get hit by a car or become a victim of crime. Reductions to this route could force him to walk two miles to catch the bus at El Camino Real in Menlo Park.
"I ride it to work every day," Farrell said. "I am not up for something new, I am up to fight for it -- the people with special needs and challenges cannot walk there -- it is unsafe for us."
Foster City resident Patrica Niederhofer came to the meeting representing other Foster City seniors, who, like her, rely on the bus service to get around.
"Losing our bus service in Foster City would present a hardship for those who ride busses in the city," she said.
Jay Rohas with the Canada College students union said his classmates fear a reduction in service from Redwood City's Sequoia Station to the college at the top of Farm Hill Boulevard in Redwood City. Reading three letters from his peers, Rohas said, "it's just another obstacle to overcome to graduate."
The public has until April 15 to comment on the SSP before it is finalized with further recommendations and brought to the board for a vote on May 1. If it passes, the plan will not be implemented until fall at the earliest.
But until then, Ackemann said, SamTrans planners will look closely at the comments presented Wednesday and that they receive in the coming weeks.
"We will look closely at all of [the] comments before rendering any decisions," she said. "If there is a transit-dependent group, we want to make sure that we don't leave them without critical lifeline services."
Additional comments on the plan are due by April 15. To view the plan and find out ways to comment go to www.samtrans.com/ssp.