WHITTIER — Geographically this city stretches across a map like a submarine sandwich. It is much longer than it is wide, with busy Whittier Boulevard the only major link between the city's eastside neighborhoods and the Uptown Village district and businesses on the west end.
Because of Whittier's shape and the distance between major shopping areas, cross-town travel can be inconvenient, particularly for the elderly, who now make up nearly 20% of the city's 69,000 residents.
Recognizing the transit dilemma, retailers, city officials and civic leaders have pushed in recent years for a municipal bus system.
In a series of actions in recent weeks, the City Council has cleared the way for Whittier's first fixed-route bus line, a system city transit experts believe may attract 250,000 riders in its first year of operation. In approving the bus logos, routes and fares, the council has all but turned the key and started up the propane-powered buses that will begin running July 8 along 22 miles of city streets.
Financed by Proposition A
Whittier is the 12th city in Los Angeles County to launch a fixed-route bus system with money from Proposition A, the half-cent transit sales tax initiative approved by county voters 4 1/2 years ago. Based on their population, all 83 cities in the county receive a share annually of the transit tax money.
In fiscal year 1985-86, Whittier's share of Proposition A money will be about $650,000, just about enough to cover the first year of operating costs for the Whittier Transit bus system, including a one-time expenditure of nearly $100,000 on bus benches, shelters, signs and advertising to attract riders.
An experienced Wilmington-based firm, Transit Contractors, has been hired to operate the Whittier bus line. The firm, one of four considered by city officials, was awarded a two-year contract--about $460,000 a year--to supply buses and drivers and to maintain and fuel the vehicles.
Optimism in City Hall about the new bus system is high. Newly hired Linda Creed, the city's first transportation manager, believes that residents--with a gentle nudge through advertising--will eagerly line up and pay the 25-cent fare to ride the buses, which carry a maximum of 20 passengers each. (Children under 5 will ride free.)
"The city is long and narrow, making it difficult for people--especially those without cars, like the young and old--to get from one end to the other," Creed said. "The bus system should help solve that problem."
Following a public hearing and much discussion, the council last month settled on two routes. The Sunrise line primarily runs south of Whittier Boulevard, winding through housing tracts on smaller surface streets on the city's south and east sides. The second route, the Sunset, runs north of Whittier Boulevard through the west side of town to the Pico Rivera city limits.
Although the routes were designed to serve different sectors of the city, they do intersect at three locations--the Whittwood Mall, the Whittier Quad and Uptown Village, the city's major shopping districts.
Creed said those three stops, along with the city's two major medical centers, Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital and Whittier Hospital Medical Center, will be the primary destinations of most riders. She also believes the local system, by making it easier to reach Southern California Rapid Transit District stops in Whittier, will encourage commuters working in downtown Los Angeles and elsewhere to use that system.
The buses, which are 23 feet long and painted white with red and blue striping, will operate six days a week. They will run from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Saturday. There will be no service Sunday.
Four buses will operate at one time. Initially, Creed predicts a 45-minute wait between pickups at a stop, a wait that she is confident can be shortened.
"It takes time to work out the bugs, particularly when you're trying something brand new," said Creed, 29, a six-year veteran of the Orange County Transit District who was hired by Whittier officials last month to oversee the start-up of the minibus system. "Eventually, our goal is to get the wait down to 30 minutes--but that's down the road a ways."
City officials say the new transit system will not affect Dial-A-Ride, the city's van and bus pickup service for the physically handicapped and residents over 60. Last year, more than 33,200 people in the city used Dial-A-Ride.
Although the city's entire 1985-86 share of Proposition A money will be used to operate the new bus line, Creed said interest income from $1.4 million in transit tax money accumulated by the city since 1981 will easily cover Dial-A-Ride's $130,000 budget next year.
Whether the new bus system succeeds will depend largely on ridership, officials said.