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Looking beyond BRT's big rhetorical theater

A TOWN THAT WORKS

I drove to Stockton on March 11 to ride that city’s BRT system.

I wasn’t a pioneer. That honor goes to Council Member Olivier, who did the same thing a year or two ago when City Hall couldn’t decide whether Fresno’s BRT system should be elaborate or modest in scale.

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San Joaquin Regional Transit District ambassador Domingo Soto and Bus Rapid Transit customer Anthony Gomez on BRT Bus 44. “It’s a lot better than the old system,” Gomez said of BRT. “It’s convenient and quicker.”

Stockton has what might be called BRT Lite. The system was born with 40-foot buses rather than the 60-footers you find in many BRT systems. Bus stops can be moved if ridership trends demand change. (Stockton is now starting to get 60-foot buses, too.)

Olivier returned to Fresno and led the effort to rewrite the Administration’s BRT proposal to “lite” status. Thanks to Olivier, the project survived.

I had a great time in Stockton. The downtown Transit Center wasn’t luxurious. But it was clean and the men’s restroom was in good shape.

I bought a one-day pass for $4 (I could have got one for $2, but I forget to say I’m a senior). The ticket-seller was very helpful. She introduced me to Nelson Nieves, the San Joaquin Regional Transit District’s lead “ambassador.”

The district has a team of ambassadors helping customers get on the right bus and better enjoy their journey through Stockton. Nieves, on learning of my purpose in Stockton, joined me for my first ride.

We took BRT Bus 40 from the Transit Center to Hammer Triangle Station and back. I’m guessing it was about six miles, one-way. We made a handful of stops each direction. We zipped through Stockton’s “Miracle Mile” and cruised past University of the Pacific.

San Joaquin Regional Transit District ambassador Nelson Nieves points to a Bus Rapid Transit ticket-vending machine.
San Joaquin Regional Transit District ambassador Nelson Nieves points to a Bus Rapid Transit ticket-vending machine.

I was most impressed with the movement of passengers on and off the bus. There was no lollygagging by anyone. The bus doors opened. Departing passengers hustled off. Boarding passengers hustled on and found seats.

Passengers already had their tickets. That meant both the front and side doors could open for speedy boarding.

Stockton folks know how to use their BRT.

Nieves said Stockton police officers come on board periodically and make sure passengers have a validated ticket.

BRT is a big hit with Stockton residents, Nieves said.

“The hardest part is educating the people that they have to have that prepaid ticket,” Nieves said. “But they learn quick when they pay that $300 fine.”

Three violations for failing to have a validated prepaid ticket and the bill can be $1,000 plus 120 hours of community service, Nieves said.

I didn’t time the round-trip, but rest assured it went by in a hurry. Nieves, who drove Stockton buses for 22 years before retiring, knows his stuff. The BRT buses run every 10 minutes at peak hours. Ridership along BRT routes has risen dramatically since the system’s birth. The system, started about 10 years ago, has three routes and will soon add two more. The goal, Nieves said, is to eventually have 10 BRT routes.

Despite a heavy rain, Bus 40 was full for most of our trip. There was a constant turnover of passengers. We never stayed long at a stop.

We returned to the Transit Center. I thanked Nieves, grabbed a sandwich for lunch, then returned to the Transit Center to take BRT Bus 44 to South Stockton. Domingo Soto, an ambassador for 16 months, was my companion.

A portion of Bus 44’s route went through neighborhoods of single-family residences. I thought that significant. Council Member Baines someday wants a BRT route for California Avenue in West Fresno. City of Fresno officials say BRT works best along major commercial corridors. Maybe BRT Lite is more flexible than we think.

Nieves grew up in New York City.

“There’s a certain stigma about Stockton in some people’s minds,” he told me. “I’m from the Big Apple. To me, Stockton is paradise.”

George Hostetter
George Hostetter is The Sun’s Fresno Civic contributor – covering the City of Fresno, County of Fresno, and Fresno Council of Governments.

3 Comments

  1. Take some time to read the UN Agenda 21 recommendations with regard to ‘sustainability’ and ‘smart growth’ and then think about what you are seeing unfold here in Fresno. Agenda 21 mandates are being funneled on down to every city in the United States by our politicians in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Become informed about the strings attached to funding of HUD/ transportation projects and then report back in your blog. People are suspect of politicians who are intent on spending these large sums of money because of the kind of ‘ misappropriation’ that, as an example, has occurred in the Cal Trans agency. The ‘smart growth’ goal is to stack people up in high density living arrangements; get them out of their cars and onto a bus in order to save the environment. Some say this is yet another way to discourage ownership of private property by making it cost prohibitive to own a home or even a car. Maybe Councilman Brandau is actually representing some of the taxpayers and citizens which would be a rarity these days.

  2. Being a longtime Fresno resident and having been involved in the new technology transit industry for 20 years, it is particularly infuriating to read about Fresno’s fight over its proposed BRT, which incidentally is changing its name to “the express bus” due to its slow speed and non-rapid classification. The story merely represents more rhetoric regarding an outdated issue with a frozen claim that the issue is new.

    For 10 years Fresno has had a $36million fund to address a rational approach to modern transportation issues that appropriately concern urban growth. What has Fresno done with the $36million fund? Nothing. The PTB (powers that be – politicians and staff) are absolutely unwilling to even talk about a modern solution to transportation issues. That is: to refuse and entertain a conversation. Why? Perhaps it is nothing more than the psychology of being afraid to approach something different or new. This dereliction of response to responsibly is devastating and harmful to the community. No one wins with Fresno’s intensely hostile attitude of selective ignorance. There are many examples of this purposely hostile attitude against viable transportation solutions.

    Talk about infuriating, one of the current mayoral candidates declared at a 2007 New Technology Transit Reserve Fund meeting when he personally said to me: “I don’t know anything about New Technology Transit and I don’t want to know anything about New Technology Transit.” This type of attitude is reprehensible.

    Last week, COG released its RFP for a portion of the Measure C New Technology Transit Reserve Fund Grant. The New Tech Fund is geared towards PRT (personal rapid transit) system technology. As yet, no local municipalities are participating to advance any PRT system technology. Fresno was approached for a project but, claimed no interest to consider modern transportation solutions.

  3. Thanks George. As always, an interesting read. “Smart growth” and “Sustainability” as an Agenda 21 movement is in the minds of conspiracy advocates. Sustainability simply deals with being able to sustain development in the future. Sprawl is not sustainable. If you want evidence of this, look no further than LA.

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