City holds transit update, hearing

Rebecca Neipp

News Review Staff Writer

City holds transit update, hearingMembers of the Ridgecrest City Council congratulate drivers of the city transit system in conjunction with the March observance of “Transit Driver Appreciation Day” — Photo by Laura Austin

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An update about local public transportation, and a hearing to address unmet needs, were held at last week’s regular meeting of the Ridgecrest City Council.

City transit coordinator Chris Smith noted that providing the city with safe, reliable transportation is the central mission of his department.

Smith outlined the main branches of service operated by the city, which includes municipal stops picked up from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays on a deviated fixed route.

Transit users have stops throughout the city where buses cycle through. For those with mobility limitations, the buses can divert up to three-quarters-of-a-mile off the route to pick up travelers (must be scheduled 24 hours in advance).

In addition, there are mid-day express routes that travel the length of China Lake Boulevard up to Cerro Coso Community College.

Cost per ride is $2.50, with a discounted price of $1.25 for seniors, disabled and youth. Bus passes are available for $45 per month ($35 for those eligible for the discount).

Kern County also contracts the city for routes to and from Inyokern, Buttermilk Acres and the Rand area. There are also dial-a-ride services offered to those living east of Jack’s Ranch Road in the unincorporated areas of the Indian Wells Valley. Those rides must also be scheduled one business day in advance.

For those looking to connect to the metrolink station in Lancaster, one of the Inyokern stops connects with the Eastern Transit system that runs from Bishop to the Antelope Valley.

Smith noted that during the 2017-18 fiscal year, the system provided 12,151 passenger trips, including 9,707 passenger rides on the city service.

Scott Miller, who identified himself as a professional driver during public comment, said that based on how many requests he gets from Randsburg and Inyokern, he believed that the city needed to put more effort into getting the word out about the availability of the service.

Members of the City Council also suggested having weather-proof stations at outlying stops that outline the schedules.

City routes are funded in part by transportation funds that become available if a minimum “fare box ratio” is met.

The city moved from a dial-a-ride to its present deviated-fixed-route model in an attempt to increase the fare box ratio.

City Manager Ron Strand he was not sure that the transit department was able to meet the desired targets through use, however he said that city officials were committed to making public transportation available in Ridgecrest — even if it had to be subsidized by the general fund.

“It is a good investment from our scarce general fund to help those of our residents who are in greatest need,” he said.

Strand said that if you look at the demographics of the community, the need for public transportation may never pay for itself exclusively through ridership.

“We are cognizant of making the system more efficient, but you have to take into account our demographics.

“Most people have their own cars, their own way to get to the store or to a doctor’s appointments. But we have a responsibility to the vulnerable population that has no other way to get to those places,” said Strand.

“We may never be an urban population that attracts enough riders, but we still have people to take care of. It may not serve a great number, but those it serves are important. We should care about them. It shows the kind of community we are.”

Story First Published: 2019-03-15