The Bus is getting better.
Merced County's bus transit system is getting a makeover, and officials are getting ready to implement some big changes just in time for summer.
Adding evening and Sunday bus service -- a common request for many years -- and adjusting routes and schedules are just a few of the changes on deck, said transit manager Rich Green.
With the help of state funding, officials will test drive the evening and Sunday service for three years. "We're going to do a demonstration project to see if it's economically feasible to provide that service," Green said.
In a survey, 35 percent of riders requested evening service and 25 percent wanted Sunday service. The evening service would run from 6 p.m. until 9 or 10 p.m., and Sunday schedules would operate much like Saturdays, Green said.
While many have asked for expanded bus service, the system has generated many complaints and scheduling questions. "I'm hearing from riders that the system is too confusing, and they don't know where to go," he said.
A consultant was brought in to evaluate the system and put together a short-range transit plan, which is done every three to five years. A few key deficiencies were identified through that process, Green said.
"It overlaps itself, duplicates itself and is not easy to navigate," he said of the existing bus system. "I threw out the entire system and wanted to start over from scratch."
Green began revising the routes and creating new schedules after collecting data on the most -frequent boarding times and locations, as well as where people work, live and shop. He also solicited feedback from bus drivers.
"They're the ones who are out there, and that's definitely a factor when it comes to safety or points of delay," he said.
Now on his fourth draft, Green will reveal the new route plans and get comments in a series of public workshops.
Along with new routes and schedules, a marketing team hired this week will get the word out and interact with customers, he said.
Green shared plans to install new bus stops and shelters that are easier to find. Flag stops -- which happen when a rider waves at a bus to get it to stop -- will be eliminated.
"It delays the bus and becomes a safety issue for us," he said.
Green is in discussions with UC Merced officials about the possibility of integrating its CatTracks system and streamlining the bus routes. Although nothing has been decided yet, Green said he's very hopeful.
He's launched www.thebuslive.com to track bus locations in real time, addressing riders' biggest complaint -- late buses.
Transit officials want feedback from the public and will host workshops in Merced, Los Banos and Atwater to pre- sent the new routes and get comments.
Workshops will be in Merced from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 22 at the transportation center, 710 W. 16th St.; 3 to 5 p.m. April 2 at the Sam Pipes Room inside Civic Center at 678 W. 18th St.; 6 to 8 p.m. April 2 at MCAG office, 369 W. 18th St.. In Los Banos, two workshops will run from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 to 3 p.m. March 26 in the Community Center, 645 Seventh St.
The date and time for the Atwater meeting will be announced later.
Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or firstname.lastname@example.org.