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ORANGE COUNTY PERSPECTIVE

Vital New Directions for OCTA

April 01, 2001

The Orange County Transportation Authority lately seems to have as much trouble connecting with its riders as riders have connecting with its buses.

The bus service problems began in September when the authority realigned its routes, dropping the circuitous routes that took riders to population and transit centers and transfer points. They were replaced with a straight-line, grid-like system that was greeted with confusion and complaints that today, more than six months later, persist.

Riders still bemoan costly transfers that require them to take three or four buses to get to their destination. This has increased commuting costs and riding time for some by up to an hour. They also complain about the long walks the new grid system requires to get to destination points that the old system had serviced. They also complain about inconvenient and remote new bus stops.

Some riders have protested with their feet, simply by walking away and not using the bus system anymore. When the grid approach was launched in September, transit officials said they were planning for a 41% increase in service demand for a bus system considered one of the fastest growing in the nation. On Monday, they disclosed that there are indications that overall ridership has fallen because of the changes. If so, what a miscalculation.

Arthur Leahy, who became OCTA's new chief in January, said the agency would study ridership figures and launch a public relations campaign to encourage bus use. Service improvements should be made before the public relations campaign is brought out of the garage, lest any new riders have the same negative experiences as those now abandoning the system. The authority appears to have the right person to evaluate the service situation in Leahy, who started his transportation career as a bus driver in Los Angeles. In fact, the authority hasn't had a true transportation expert like him at the helm in more than 10 years.

Some service revisions are due in June as part of a continuing evaluation program. They include adding earlier and later bus service on several major routes, increasing the number of buses running in off-peak hours and improving connections and service to major centers.

Those changes, along with Leahy's efforts to make buses more convenient and usable, are vital--not only to attract new riders but to serve those who have no other transportation option.

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