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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Residents Take Ideas, Gripes to Transit Panel

February 13, 2001|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

CAMARILLO — County residents want more buses, going to more places, more frequently.

That's according to the dozens of people who gave county transportation officials opinions on how to improve public transit during an annual "unmet transit needs" hearing Monday at Camarillo City Hall.

The session is required by state law to allow the public to suggest how the Ventura County Transportation Commission should best allocate state and federal transit money. Funds not spent on transit are then divided among cities for street repair and maintenance.

Officials said this year's hearing was similar in attendance and tone to earlier hearings, but people were more specific in their recommendations.

"In the past we had comments like, 'Please improve senior service,' " said Mary Travis, regional program manager for the Transportation Commission. "This year, they're more specific about areas, problems and days they are interested in."

The eight-member commission oversees transit planning in the county, including bike lanes, highways, airports and trains. It sets priorities for transportation improvements, such as renovating freeway interchanges and increasing public transportation. It also operates the VISTA countywide bus service.

Several people complained to the commission's Transportation Policy and Planning Committee about the limitations of local bus service that only runs within one city.

"Not everyone shops or goes to church within city boundaries," said Mary Ann Woodard, a Camarillo resident who attends St. Paul Baptist Church in Oxnard. She submitted a petition signed by 217 church members requesting bus service outside of Oxnard. "Our taxes are paying for this. We have a right to go to church and we shouldn't have to do it in Camarillo."

Another vocal contingent requested bus service to Villa Calleguas, a mental health facility on Lewis Road that houses 24 mentally disabled people. A bus runs from the Camarillo train station to the Cal State University campus, but it doesn't stop at the nearby facility.

"How can we grow into productive people if you shut us in?" asked Felicity Taber, a spokeswoman for the residents of Villa Calleguas. She said many residents don't have cars and are forced to depend on friends or family to get around.

"A simple thing, like going to the store for milk, becomes a major ordeal. The disabled could become able by offering us public transportation."

Toni Young, a Port Hueneme councilwoman who is chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, told the group that a bus cannot safely pull off the side of the road near the facility because the road is too narrow and traffic speeds are too are high. But when the road is widened in several years, buses will be able to service Villa Calleguas.

To receive money, a proposed bus service must meet certain criteria, including not reducing riders on existing bus lines and generating a percentage of the cost of running the service.

The VISTA bus service, which carries riders between most county cities, was an outgrowth of the unmet-needs process in the mid-1990s. There are now five cross-county, fixed-route lines. Last year's hearing led the commission to begin plans to link Santa Barbara and Ventura with a commuter bus.

The Transportation Commission usually receives about 65 verbal and written comments during its unmet-needs process. So far, the agency has received 22 e-mails. About 30 of the 80 people who attended Monday's hearing spoke to the commission.

Any county resident can submit comments until Feb. 19 by calling 642-1591. The committee is scheduled to present its findings to the full commission on May 4.

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