Public Transit for reservation moving forward
Free service to begin Dec. 1
Residents of the Tule River Reservation will soon have access to complimentary public transportation, thanks to an agreement that was approved Tuesday by the Porterville City Council.
In the agreement, the Tule River Tribe authorizes the city to operate transit service and Dial-A-Ride service to the reservation — partially funded by the tribe and federal dollars.
Transit service includes expanding fixed-route bus service from the downtown Transit Center to the reservation, expanding Dial-A-Ride service to the reservation and administration of the tribe’s Tribal Transit Program and marketing, a report in Tuesday’s council agenda stated.
As part of the agreement, the council accepted $110,000 from the tribe to cover operating costs for one full year, allowing the city to provide free transportation to and from the reservation to tribe members, the general public and Eagle Mountain Casino employees from Dec. 1 through Nov. 30, 2013.
Rich Tree, transportation manager with the city’s Transit Division, said the city wanted to start the service as soon as possible for a chance to continue receiving federal funding.
“In order to do so, we need to show the service is performing well. We have to track ridership and cost to show the federal government and Caltrans this was a successful project to start reapplying for continual funds,” he said, noting that the grant application cycle begins in June of 2013.
Tree said that based on the 2010 census and the number of low-income persons in the business project area, he expects about 6,500 people to take advantage of the free transit services.
“More in the range of 50,000 to 60,000 riders a year, probably more. Our routes average 50,000 per year,” Tree said.
To start operating by Dec. 1, the route will begin by leaving the Transit Center and use the casino’s Park and Ride lot on Highway 190 as a first stop. As part of the changes, the casino will stop their transportation services during the city’s operating hours.
“Right now, Eagle Mountain Casino employees have to park at the Park and Ride and take the bus up. We didn’t want to duplicate service, so the casino will not run during hours we operate,” he said.
As a result, the casino expects to layoff about three drivers.
“Unfortunately, their staff is going to decrease a little bit, but the beautiful part of all this is that three part-time transit drivers for the city will also drive part-time for the casino so they’re going to drive full-time for us,” Tree said.
The city is working with the tribe to install solar-lighting shelters and lighting for bus stops that don’t have benches as well as installing displays at the Park and Ride and the Tribal Office for printed material.
The city is also planning two community outreach meetings at the reservation to explain how transit service, bus and Dial-A-Ride works. Dates for those are yet to be determined, Tree said.