Increasing the ridership aboard SunLine CommuterLink 220

Source: Riverside Transit Agency. For reference only. Please do not use for trip planning.
Just a little more than three years ago when the Riverside Transit Agency launched CommuterLink Route 217 into service which currently provides commuter services between the Hemet Valley and Escondido, ridership was very light at first. The line took in less than 2 passengers per hour. Back then, we called on RTA to continue to study local travel patterns and find ways to make the once underperforming bus route more useful and productive in lieu of simply cutting trips or cancelling the line. This is crucial for lifeline bus routes with no alternatives such as cross-regional connectors.

We originally asked RTA to work with the San Diego Association of Governments and extend Route 217 further down south via the I-15 Express Lanes to directly connect the line with employment centers from Rancho Bernardo to Kearny Mesa without the need to transfer buses in Escondido. The concept included a proposal to replace the Hemet-Temecula segment with a streamlined Route 79 as the 217 overlapped this route. By establishing a timed transfer, riders coming in from the north could transfer seamlessly to the San Diego-bound route at Temecula. RTA instead kicked off a strong marketing campaign for the line, and it worked. Combined with a spike in gas prices, ridership for the entire line shot up. Regarding our suggestion, SANDAG has long range plans to directly connect commuter buses from Riverside County to San Diego employment hubs.

Today, SunLine's CommuterLink 220 is in the same boat according to The Desert Sun. Ridership is light coming out of Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage. Like Route 217, this line spans a great distance, from the Coachella Valley to Downtown Riverside. The segment between Beaumont and Riverside is actually performing well, but it's the Coachella Valley branch that is currently suffering from low ridership. SunLine officials have promised to kick in a strong marketing campaign, pretty much repeating what RTA did to successfully get Route 217 performing productively. While an end-to-end trip goes over 2 hours in length, a 70-75 minute commute between Cabazon and UC-Riverside is certainly doable. Likewise, a trip between Palm Desert and Banning lasts about an hour, an acceptable bus commute time.

There have also been some local belly-aching about the lack of connections to/from local SunBus lines with the express route scheduling. Commuters living in Palm Springs also have to backtrack to Rancho Mirage to catch the bus. Off-peak intercity Greyhound bus service stops only at the valley's far-east bus transfer hub in Indio. There is work that needs to be done. These are some concerns that both RTA and SunLine officials will need to consider and study to enhance local-to-express transfers, getting express departures to match commuter patterns, and to better connect through intercity services with the SunBus during off-peak hours.

Be sure to check out our long term future vision of the region and see how the Coachella Valley can be connected to other regions in a productive manner via mass transit. We'll post something tomorrow about this.