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.
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.
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.”