The Bus system being upgraded

Some routes and dial-a-ride recertification to be changed

rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.comApril 23, 2013 

— Proposed route changes to Merced County's bus system are nearing completion as transit officials finalize their plan to make the system more efficient, reliable and user-friendly.

Officials also are starting the recertification process for dial-a-ride users.

A workshop will take place from 1 to 3 p.m. Friday at Merced College to introduce users to the new dial-a-ride online application process, said Transit Manager Rich Green. The meeting will be in Room 137 of the Student Union.

The updated routes, which include evening and weekend service, begin July 1. Green said new schedule brochures will be available mid-June.

After hearing from the public at several community meetings, including more than 300 people at a Transportation Center open house last month, Green said he's narrowed the proposed route changes.

"It was a lot of good feedback. A lot of people liked the new routes," Green said, adding that he received more than 200 survey responses from Merced College.

"We heard a lot of the same things we'd heard before -- that the biggest issues were reliability and frequency. That's why we're changing those (routes)."

Because there is more than a 25 percent change in service, a public hearing will be held at the end of May. After the hearing, Green will take the updated routes to the Transit Joint Powers Authority board for final approval.

As for dial-a-ride, the new application will be available May 20. It will ask dial-a-ride users to answer additional questions about their capabilities and limitations.

The goal is to recertify each user to ensure they are still eligible to use the program. Green said the process starts with "active" users -- those in the system who have used the service in the past six months.

Users can be approved on "conditional," "unrestricted" or "temporary" status, he added.

Conditional approval would be for riders who normally can use the fixed routes but may occasionally need dial-a-ride service.

Unrestricted approval provides unlimited dial-a-ride service, and temporary approval allows riders to use the service based on a medical treatment plan and for a short period of time.

The transit system overhaul includes installing new bus stops and adding solar lighting to bus shelters, Green said. The total cost to buy and install the lighting is $91,000, which is covered by a grant.

Building the new stops will be covered by an $82,000 grant, he added.

Green said bus stops already in place will be updated to include signs, benches and shelters. He expects construction to begin in July or August.

Along with the bus route changes, the bus system's logo got a face-lift. The logo, which has gotten mixed reaction from officials, could be revealed to the public in the next few weeks.

Reporter Ramona Giwargis can be reached at (209) 385-2477 or rgiwargis@mercedsunstar.com.

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