Friday, March 7, 2014

Southwest Riverside County: Getting out on a Saturday by bus

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

The Riverside Transit Agency finally may have some good news for bus riders needing to get in or out of the Southwest region a bit more quickly on Saturdays. RTA currently has three local bus routes on top of the peak hour CommuterLink express lines that branch out of the Southwest Riverside County area which includes Murrieta and Temecula. They are:
  • Route 7 to Lake Elsinore via transfer from Route 23
  • Route 61 to Sun City via Menifee
  • Route 79 to Hemet via Winchester
Of these local lines, only Routes 7 and 23 currently operates on weekends. Lines 61 and 79 operate weekdays only. That means a transit-dependent rider needing to transverse either the I-215 or Highway 79 North corridors north of the Murrieta area has a long, circuitous journey ahead. During weekends, the rider would need to take the circuitous Route 23 to Wildomar, Route 7 to the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center, Route 22 to Perris (sorry, Route 40 is weekday only too), and Route 27 to backtrack toward Menifee and the Hemet Valley area. Talk about a complicated bus trip.

Getting between Murrieta and points north like Perris, Hemet, and Menifee by bus on weekends can last nearly all day. Mobile riders have sometimes elected that it would be easier to simply hike, bike or even hitch a ride along the route, and we've seen cases of this during field studies. This could be a thing of the past on Saturdays if RTA adopts a proposal to add Saturday runs along Route 61 and 79; the former very desirable, the latter nearly a decade overdue.

Yes, RTA will need to eventually streamline the bus routes through both Murrieta and Temecula to make them more direct to speed up local bus trips. Several studies back this notion up. The lines should connect at major transfer points and serve the major commercial and higher density corridors under the hub-and-spoke model. We know that this is a hot and desired topic and we'll restate our suggestions on Monday.

Anyway here are the non-finalized proposed schedules for each line:

Route 61 Proposed Saturday Schedule:

Route 79 Proposed Saturday Schedule:

Beyond JARC: Funding the Upgrades Permanently

It's worth noting that these upgrades along with the proposed Route 216 improvements mentioned yesterday were made possible thanks to federal funding through the Job Access Reverse Commute program. Because the route upgrades are specially funded, RTA will be watching the productivity of them between now and June of 2015. If productivity is low, the agency will propose to curtail or cancel the service.

Because the Route 79 upgrade is long past due, RTA should monitor the new service additions for a year and only propose cuts if ridership productivity remains stagnantly low and productive alternative service can be offered. Routes 61, 212, and 217 between the time they were launched to now, have all demonstrated that time and good marketing can allow new service to productively grow. Ridership was very light on these routes at first, but grew. Elected local and regional officials should work to ensure that these upgrades are budgeted and fully paid for in the coming years as these are lifeline connections. A robust market economy will be a key.

The economy looks promising for the Route 61 corridor. Strong growth in the medical sector in the Southwest region and northern Murrieta area along the I-215 corridor south of Menifee will contribute toward a productive bus route. Both the state and the Riverside County Transportation Commission should make sure RTA has the funds to continuously operate 7-day-per-week service on Route 61 as the medical sector grows. The future growth may even warrant a second bus route between Temecula and the Perris Station Transit Center which would allow for Route 61 to be more direct and streamlined.

Downtown Hemet
Photo: © Wikimedia/John Stroud CC-BY-SA
For Route 79, the Hemet Valley area really needs to see some marketplace job growth so that RCTC and RTA have the local resources to pay for daily hourly service to/from the Southwest Region.

With the mountain destinations on Mount San Jacinto, a Canadian snowbird market, several recreational lakes in the area, and gorgeous mountains and hillsides, both Hemet and San Jacinto should be affluent cities with plenty of marketplace job opportunities and vibrant downtowns. However, serious gang crime in the central city areas has obstructed the economy.

Hemet Valley region officials need to get to the bottom of solving this problem. That includes educating the youth that the police is not the enemy. We've mentioned some ideas of how San Bernardino can clean up its troubled areas and grow the economy and job market. Perhaps officials may want to debate and adopt the same for Hemet Valley. That would help ensure that ongoing daily service on Route 79 is fully paid for.

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