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Yosemite Valley Buses Begin 2-Year Trial Run

Tourism: Shuttle system will take visitors into park from nearby communities in effort to reduce car traffic.


YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK — After trekking 8,603 miles from Bombay, India, to stay at the Victorian-era Wawona Hotel and see the glacier-etched wonders of Yosemite, Radhika and Vijay Haribhakti had all but given up their reservations after hearing there was no way to travel 27 miles from the hotel to Yosemite Valley without a car.

Then the Haribhaktis discovered the National Park Service's newest amenity: a transit system designed to bring visitors to Yosemite from its gateway communities without the hassle of mountain driving or traffic congestion.

"We needed this so badly," said Radhika Haribhakti, as she and her family rode the bus from Wawona on a recent day.

The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System began a two-year demonstration project this month, and offers free bus and van rides through June 15. The service provides daily runs from Wawona, Merced and stops along California 140. Weekend routes run along California 120 from Coulterville to the west and Mammoth Lakes to the east.

The buses arrived just in time for Memorial Day weekend, the start of the summer tourist season. That's when an average of 15,000 visitors a day, in as many as 7,000 vehicles, typically negotiate the 35 miles of curves between the park gate and the seven-mile-long Yosemite Valley, and then proceed along one-way thoroughfares to vie for 1,600 parking spaces.

Park officials expect as many as 50,000 visitors over the holiday weekend--a good test of the transit system's potential, said Jerry Ernest, director of transportation and facilities for Yosemite Concession Service, which operates the buses.

"I can't imagine people not using the system once they know it exists," Ernest said.

Bob and Connie Smith, first-time visitors from Palm Beach, Fla., were anxious to try the new service last week.

"When you're driving, you can't see anything," said Bob Smith, a retired industrial engineer. "They should put a big parking lot at the entrance and make everyone use the bus."

"This is wonderful," said Connie Smith. "It cuts down on traffic. Shuttles are used widely at the Grand Canyon and it works out beautifully."

As soon the blue and white van they were riding in emerged from Wawona Tunnel, the Smiths were rewarded with a view from Inspiration Point. Their driver slowed to let passengers savor one of the most postcard-perfect panoramic views of Yosemite Valley: El Capitan and Half Dome, with Cloud's Rest nestled between them.

"This is absolutely gorgeous," said Bob Smith, "especially the falls coming right off the top of the granite."

Ernest said he hopes the new service will eventually turn a profit as it allows continued public access to the national park and reduces smog and congestion.

Plans for a transit service began eight years ago and developed apart from the dramatic changes the National Park Service is weighing for Yosemite.

In statewide hearings, park service officials are soliciting public comment on the proposed Yosemite Valley Plan, which includes several proposals to reduce the number of vehicles on the Yosemite Valley floor by up to 60%. The plan calls for restoring as much as 180 acres of parkland to forest, meadows and wetlands by eliminating some parking spaces, campgrounds and buildings.

Any plan must be approved by Yosemite's superintendent and park service officials, but nearly everyone involved said the final plan probably will contain provisions for a permanent but optional transit system.

An optional transit system exists at Glacier National Park and a more restrictive system banning all cars just went into effect at Zion National Park in Utah.

Yosemite Supt. David A. Mihalic said the bus service and the Yosemite Valley Plan are separate, with neither dependent upon the other for success. The plan, however, calls for provisions for a transit system such as regional buses, tour buses or shuttle services from satellite parking lots.

Mihalic said he is pleased that the transit system is running.

"It's going to help us solve some congestion problems," he said during a public hearing Wednesday in Merced, noting that a crowd of people outside had cheered when they saw one of the new buses roll by. "We hope it will be successful.

"It's a reality. And the first indications are it's being well received by visitors."


Yosemite Transit


Locations: Includes routes from Merced, Catheys Valley, Mariposa, Midpines, El Portal, Mammoth Lakes, June Lake, Lee Vining, Tuolumne Meadows, White Wolf, Buck Meadows, Wawona, Coulterville.

Fares: $3 to $20 round trip. Includes admission to national park.

For more information: (877) 98YARTS; on the Internet:

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