Elderly residents of Casta del Sol in Mission Viejo who don't drive have been stranded since the Dial-A-Ride bus service came to a halt in December. Housekeepers at the Dana Point Resort who live in Santa Ana complain they have great difficulty reaching their jobs by bus on weekends.
Both of these groups of bus-dependent people, and others, are expected to benefit from a proposed overhaul of Orange County's bus system that would go into operation in October, affecting the lives of about 47,500 daily bus passengers.
Far-ranging changes--which would affect 47 of the existing 67 bus routes--represent the first comprehensive update of the county's public transit system since it was founded in 1972, said officials of the Orange County Transportation Authority, which operates the county's buses.
The proposal, which OCTA officials say resulted from more than a year of research, including meetings with city transportation planners and community representatives, will be presented Monday at a public hearing before the 11-member OCTA board of directors. The OCTA staff may then make adjustments in the plan before the OCTA board meets to vote on it July 10.
"Orange County has grown tremendously in the last 23 years, and we are realizing the system of the 1970s isn't meeting the demands of the 1990s," said Mike Greenwood, OCTA's senior transportation analyst and a drafter of the plan.
Among the goals of the plan, Greenwood said, is to extend service to newly developed areas of South County such as Foothill Ranch, Lake Forest and the Irvine community of Northwood.
Because of a shift in the county's demographics, including a burgeoning population of lower-income Latinos, a larger proportion of people who ride the county's buses today do so because they can't afford a car. In surveys of passengers, 64% in 1982 said they had no car available to them, compared to 89% in 1994.
So another important objective of the revamped system, Greenwood said, is to tailor bus schedules to meet the demands of this core group of bus riders, especially their desire for more convenient transfers and more frequent service.
However, Greenwood said, plans for improved service had to be scaled back after OCTA learned this spring that it faces a 10% reduction in the bus system's current $110-million annual operating budget because of funding cuts.
Greenwood said the district next year will lose $2.6 million in annual operating funds from the Federal Transit Administration and $3.2 million because of lower interest earnings. As a result, there will be a 5% reduction in service levels and a 5% reduction in administrative costs, he said.
In the move to economize, OCTA plans to eliminate seven routes that are not attracting sufficient passengers to be cost-effective. The agency also plans to replace traditional 43-passenger buses with 17-passenger buses on less heavily used routes. The county's small-bus fleet will be expanded from 28 to 56 vehicles.
If the proposed plan is adopted, OCTA estimates, about 400 current riders will discover they are no longer within walking distance of a bus stop and 3,500 more will have to take different routes to reach the same destinations. Another 4,000 riders would gain better service, with the addition of 13 new routes and the restructuring of other routes to make them more convenient.
Not everyone is pleased with the plan. Anaheim officials say they will protest the planned elimination of a bus line that links the Anaheim Stadium Commuter Rail Station to hotels, the civic center and other major employment centers in the city. OCTA officials contend there aren't enough passengers to justify continuing the service.
John Lower, the city's traffic and transportation manager, said the loss of this bus service would discourage residents of South County and the San Diego area from riding the train to work in Anaheim. This is upsetting to some of the city's large employers, including Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center, who want more employees to use trains and buses to help them meet regional air quality standards, he said.
Greenwood said he anticipates opposition to several of the proposed route cuts. "Some people will have more service and some less, but overall the routes with the highest ridership will have the same or improved levels of service," he said.
Among those welcoming the proposed plan are the elderly of Mission Viejo, who would be served by one of eight new "community routes" using small buses to transport passengers to shopping, post offices and other popular destinations within their own communities.
For some bus-dependent residents of Casta del Sol, Mission Viejo's largest private retirement enclave with 3,500 residents, the new route "will mean access to the outside world," said Jan Micky Scholte, chairman of the transportation committee of Orange County's Area Agency on Aging.