ORANGE — A leaner, more efficient and--officials hope--improved bus system was unveiled Monday by the Orange County Transportation Authority.
Four routes will be eliminated. Schedules will be changed to speed service and reduce crowding on popular routes. And eight new community routes featuring smaller buses will begin operating Oct. 1.
Overhauling the system is expected to save $2.4 million a year at a time when Congress has cut federal bus subsidies by 44% and the OCTA is girding for the possibility of having to contribute more money to solve the Orange County bankruptcy.
"We hope this is more convenient than ever for our riders," said John Catoe, director of OCTA operations.
Officials hope the changes will increase OCTA's daily ridership, now about 50,000. Ridership already has grown 7% over last year.
"That would be an extra bonus if we can take someone out of their car," Catoe said. "We'd like to see that happen."
The OCTA contemplated the changes for 18 months. It heavily solicited opinions in communities throughout the county, at public hearings and in surveys of more than 10,000 residents including some who shun buses.
Catoe said the new system can be easily reduced further if more cuts are necessitated by the bankruptcy.
The key changes announced Monday:
* Buses will operate at regular, easy-to-remember intervals, such as 10, 30 or 60 minutes.
* Buses will be added to routes with the most riders to ease crowding and passengers being passed up by full buses.
* Arrival and departure times at major transit hubs will be synchronized to ensure waits of no more than 10 minutes between transfers.
* Eight smaller "Runabout" buses will be added on community routes, including portions of Orange, Santa Ana, Seal Beach, Westminster, Irvine, Foothill Ranch, Laguna Hills, Mission Viejo and San Clemente.
The four routes being eliminated are Route 78 between Huntington Beach and San Juan Capistrano; Route 161 between Westminster and Huntington Beach; Route 328 in Fullerton via Cal State Fullerton; and Route 529 between Laguna Hills and Huntington Beach.
Little-used segments on a dozen other routes will also be eliminated, officials said.
But riders on the eliminated routes will be able to find new service lines within a few blocks.
"There is no segment of the county where we've just pulled out completely," Catoe said.
Transportation officials acknowledged, however, that as many as 200 people might be left without a bus route and predict that Sunday and Monday--the first two days of the new service--could cause a commuting nightmare for those not prepared.
The OCTA is urging riders to learn the changes this week. To help them, OCTA will dispatch "bus ambassadors" in white polo shirts and caps with the slogan "Take the bus with us" to answer questions at transit hubs and other spots.
And a hot line to handle problems will be set up for the first few days, so drivers and others monitoring bus routes can call in, Catoe said.
"If there are people out there waiting at a bus stop [that's been eliminated] we will pick them up," Catoe said.
The OCTA has spread the word of the changes through flyers and signs printed in different languages. Marketing director Renee Sparks said the Vietnamese language barrier has posed a challenge, but authorities are concentrating their efforts to boost ridership in those areas.
Much of the $2.4 million in savings will come from operating the newer fleet of cheaper, smaller buses as the OCTA replaces its older vehicles that reach 500,000 miles of service.
Drivers for the smaller buses also earn around $7 per hour, about half the base pay of drivers who navigate the larger buses, officials said.
A spokesman for the OCTA bus drivers' union did not return telephone calls Monday.
But even with those anticipated savings, the OCTA is bracing for the possibility of having to make deeper cuts because of the bankruptcy.
Already, about $38 million a year in state bus operating funds have been used to help pay for the bankruptcy, although other county funds will be transferred to the OCTA to lessen the impact.
"We're just trying to minimize it at this point," said Chuck Smith, chairman of the OCTA Board of Directors.
Bus riders can call OCTA's customer service department at (714) 636-7433 for further information.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)
New Buses En Route
Next month the Orange County transit system will introduce the Runabout, a smaller version of the typical commuter buses. Particulars on the new system:
Begins: Oct. 1
Service: Mostly senior centers, residential areas, schools, train stations, shopping centers and other businesses
Cost: Regular fare, $1; age 65 or older, 45 cents during peak hours (6-9 a.m., 3-6 p.m.), 15 cents off-peak hours; children and transfers, free