San Bernardino to Montclair express bus service proposed for return

Omnitrans' east-west segment of the former under-performing Inland Empire Connection Express Route will return for the rush hour. It can and should be productive this time around...

I-10 Commuter Express Bus Transit: Peak-hour runs of the former east-west segment of Omnitrans' express services are proposed to be reinstated. Graphic: Omnitrans.
Note: Map does not reflect current transit services. Do not use for trip planning.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The I-10 freeway between San Bernardino and Montclair is slated to get its express bus services back during peak commute hours.

San Bernardino County's transit agency Omnitrans currently operates one freeway express route dubbed Route 215, which connects downtown San Bernardino with downtown Riverside.

The transit agency has now proposed restoring a once-unproductive and discontinued second freeway express route segment during rush hour only. It will directly reconnect Downtown San Bernardino with Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Ontario Mills and the Montclair Transit Center via the I-10 freeway. Route 290 is proposed to run as a peak morning and evening service and is a "Pilot Freeway Express Service" according to Omnitrans.

Compared to the local service, the commuter freeway express runs will reduce travel time by 50% when compared to local bus service.

San Bernardino Transit Center location
Graphic: Omnitrans
In addition as construction nears completion of the San Bernardino Transit Center, the transit agency has proposed how each of the downtown routes will be realigned to serve the new hub.

The opening of the hub will be one of two major upgrades that will stimulate ridership growth along both Route 290 and the sbX Green Line. The other being the Metrolink extension. By having the seamless, across-the-platform connections, transit route performance can be greatly improved. Also because of the new connectivity options, the local Route 2 is proposed to operate hourly.

Omnitrans has compiled these proposals and several local proposed changes in this brochure. Several public meetings are scheduled all around the service area during this public hearing period.

It's evident that connectivity options at major stops can make or break a transit line. So how can Route 290 be improved to operate at its best?

Can 100% of Omnitran's Inland Empire Connection Express be productive?

As mentioned, the Route 290 proposal is actually a partial reinstatement of an identical route that ran every hour, but was cancelled back in 2007 due to productivity problems.

Here's a brief recent history of the line:

Omnitrans Freeway Express Master Plan
Graphic: Omnitrans
Last decade, Omnitrans operated the interlined freeway express line dubbed the Inland Empire Connection with all-day services covering the I-215 freeway segment between San Bernardino and Riverside as well as the I-10 corridor between San Bernardino and Montclair. Service span ran from the early morning until late night.

A snapshot from Internet Archive's Wayback Machine showed that in 2001, the Route 100 segment between the two county seat cities ran every 30 minutes with hourly early morning and late evening runs on weekdays with hourly weekend frequencies. The lesser-used Route 110 segment between San Bernardino and Montclair ran hourly seven days per week.

The busier route 100 was later re-numbered to Route 90 and was split off from from Line 110. Not too long after, the two lines were married again, renumbered to Route 90 and operated approximately every 50 minutes.

Then heading into 2007, Omnitrans ran into operations productivity trouble and needed to get systemwide farebox recovery ratios back up. The agency ended up conducting a bunch of service cuts of unproductive runs that included the Route 90 branch between San Bernardino and Montclair. However the San Bernardino-to-Riverside segment had its frequency increased back to every 30 minutes.

The service cuts back then pre-dated The Transit Coalition's direct involvement with Inland Empire transit. Whenever a transit route becomes unproductive, we normally call on transit agencies to explore all productive alternatives possible before slashing the service. To be fair to Omnitrans, the under-performing cancelled segment of Route 90 was not a lifeline route simply because of the paralleling local and Metrolink train options available. However, transit connections between the train and the downtown area bus routes were very tough, and they are still tough today. Thankfully, the downtown transit center project will address that.

Proposed: I-10 Express Lanes alternative for the I-10 Corridor Project
Graphic: SANBAG
Using the proposed I-10 Express Lanes alternative to improve Route 290 productivity

San Bernardino County has a key opportunity to transform what was once a poor-performing express bus line into a potential candidate for BRT express services.

That's because of the planned I-10 Express Lane infrastructure alternative which could provide a 65 mph virtual guideway for the route, other HOV's and toll-paying solo drivers.

If the planned I-10 Express Lanes has direct access ramps or at least intermediate access points that would allow Route 290 to use the HOT Lanes instead of the general purpose lanes to get in between the express transit stops, the route would be more productive than it was in the past simply because it would not be stuck in traffic.

Coalition Concept: Montclair TransCenter Direct Access Ramp
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by any transit or public entity.

Concept: Montclair TransCenter I-10 Express Lanes Direct Access Ramp

For example, a multi-modal direct access ramp between the I-10 HOT lanes and the Montclair TransCenter would allow the freeway express buses faster connections.

A paralleling trail would also allow for local non-vehicle access between neighborhoods, public parks, and the transit center which could help muster local support for the ramp. 

The HOV busway between the freeway and the station utilizes an existing creek right-of-way and would allow for 55 mph travel and would only have two intermediate traffic signals. The existing general purpose roads connecting the I-10 with the TransCetner are Monte Vista and Central Avenues; each has at least 5 signals and a 35-40 mph speed limit. With the direct access ramp and transitway, the transition time between the bus station and HOT express lanes would be sped up considerably.

The faster speeds would then draw choice riders and commuters into taking the bus simply because the higher bus speeds would compete with driving solo to/from work or school. Plus, tolls paid for by the solo drivers can help fund and reinstate the off-peak runs too for restored hourly off-peak service.

As far as paying for the ramp and busway, the city can potentially take a lead on this simply because the transit center is surrounded by numerous surface parking lots. Why not get private developers to invest and build this infrastructure while transforming the parking lots into more dense structures and robust development? The park & ride options would all still be there under the same usage policies, but converted into parking structures with expanded capacity to permit development around the station. That would speed up the funding process.

Think about it: If SANBAG has the I-10 Express Lanes designed in a way that would allow Route 290 to operate at its best and San Bernardino can expel its social issues from its streets and draw business investments and in-fill development into its downtown core, all of that would certainly transform this once poor-performing express route into a robust, funded, and well-performing "I-10 sbX Rapid Express" with 15 minute peak hour frequencies and 30 minutes off-peak.

That would ensure that Route 290 will be productive and assured of staying in Omnitrans' Bus Book whenever the agency needs to examine its farebox recovery numbers in the future.