Sonoma County Transit Integration Pilot Project

Sonoma County has 490,000 residents and five separate transit agencies. Before the coronavirus hit, these agencies attracted a total ridership of just 15,000 riders a day, which amounted to just 0.8% of the total daily trips in the county. Sonoma County Transit, the Santa Rosa City Bus, and Petaluma Transit provide local transit service while the SMART commuter rail line and Golden Gate Transit serve inter-county and regional trips.

While BATWG has never joined the chorus chanting for a single humongous bureaucracy to take over and operate all of the Bay Area’s 27 separate transit agencies, we do recognize that there are opportunities to effectively combine some services and the small systems in Sonoma County definitely qualify.

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To address these and other questions, in 2018 the Sonoma County Transportation Authority (SCTA) initiated a Transit Integration and Efficiency Study to find opportunities to coordinate or integrate many aspects of providing transit service among the three local bus providers. The analysis covered governance and finance, route structures, marketing, service planning, customer information services, equipment and technology and capital projects. BATWG strongly supports this effort. We believe that the Authority has ample reason to examine these possibilities and that it is therefore headed in the right direction.

The study goals include improving rider experience, increasing transit agency efficiency and reducing costs. The analysis generated a list of possible ways to expand integration amongst the three county-based bus agencies with recommendations packaged into a four-phase effort:

  • Phase 1:  Build integration framework. Set up interagency agreements or task forces to frame issues, agree upon definitions, and create a decision-making process.
  • Phase 2:  Basic integration. Implement projects that could be done with existing staff, resources, and communication.
  • Phase 3:  Complex integration. Address interagency agreements that require a greater level of staff resources and coordination.
  • Phase 4:  Consolidation. Execute agency consolidation.

In July 2021 MTC’s Bay Area Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force (BRTRTF) released a 27-Step Action Plan to better coordinate the transit services throughout the Bay Area. The Plan includes an “early action” allocation of $750,000 to support Sonoma County’s transit integration initiatives. Set to begin this year, the elements of the Sonoma County work will cover:

  • Fares and mobile ticketing
  • Customer service
  • Public information and marketing
  • Service planning
  • Mapping & way-finding
  • Stakeholder outreach and engagement

The complexities of greater integration and potential consolidation require extensive dialogue and analysis. The pace of these efforts can take considerable time, as evidenced by the three years that have already elapsed since the SCTA started its work. However, as indicated above, the objective of improving transit service and increasing transit ridership in order to meet the County’s growth and mobility needs is well worth pursuing.

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