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High cost projections kill plan for weekend fixed-route bus service in Laguna Woods Village

LAGUNA WOODS — A motion to advance a fixed-route weekend bus service in Laguna Woods Village failed 2-4-0 at the Oct. 3 Golden Rain Foundation Mobility and Vehicles Committee Meeting, due to a combination of high projections for unbudgeted expenses and a rise in operational costs.

The proposed service aimed to provide the regular weekday bus scheduling on Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m alongside Plan-A-Ride at reduced availability.

At the Aug. 31 meeting, the committee voted to reinstate a weekend fixed-route bus service after high demand from residents.

This month, staff returned with cost projections to do so. GRF would need to pull $96,000 — $26,000 in personnel costs, $70,000 in operational costs — from unbudgeted operating expenditures just to cover the final two months of this year and $560,000 — $155,000 in personnel costs, $405,000 in operational costs — in total for 2019.

“If this is going to fix all the problems, that money will be well worth spent — but we all know that it’s not,” Director Cash Achrekar said.

According to a Village Management Services staff report, current personnel costs for additional part-time driver hours are already running about 17 percent over budget at a cost slightly more than $100,000 year-to-date and are expected to rise to $150,000 by the end of the year.

“It’s already a failed system,” resident Suellen Zima said, noting she’s all for the idea of a seven-day, fixed-route system, just not the board’s execution. “Going to a system we already know after 2 ½ years doesn’t work well is inefficient and a lot of people don’t ride it because of that.”

Shopping carts

To correct misleading information Chair Judith Troutman found on a VMS flyer, the committee presented guidelines for shopping carts on buses — not mandatory regulations.

Carts, walkers and canes must be folded and secured at all times. In the Laguna Woods Village Bus Transportation System guidelines, it reads:

“The number of carry-on packages is limited to no more than a passenger can carry onto the bus in one bus entry and no more than the passenger can manage with two hands.”

Additionally, bags and packages are required to fit on the passenger’s lap and/or between a rider’s feet while seated, according to the regulations. The recommended — not required — dimensional size for shopping carts is 15 by 17 by 36 inches.

Also, it’s at the sole discretion of the driver as to whether a cart poses a safety concern, in which case a rider may be asked to call a Plan-A-Ride or make alternative transportation arrangements, according to a VMS staff report.

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Ridership trends

According to a VMS staff report, trips on both the Easy Rider and Plan-A-Ride are manually tracked via a chip in the resident identification card, which are then recorded in the ‘Ride Now’ scheduling software. General Services Director of Village Management Services Bruce Hartley relayed the following statistics:

Of the Plan-A-Ride frequent riders, five book and complete 50 or more trips per month. Of the 30 most frequent users, they take 20 or more trips per month. Of the 80 most frequent riders, they take 10 or more trips per month. According to Hartley, there are a total of 385 users.

“This shows us that the people who use it enjoy it and use it a lot,” Hartley said.

During the month of September, there were 2,713 completed drops. For “one reason or another,” 199 were canceled by the dispatch system, 461 were canceled by residents and 17 were “no-shows,” faulted to the resident. Troutman reiterated that after three no-shows, you are suspended for one month.

Some residents, including board advisor Vashti Williams, vouched for riders left behind due to a lack of communication or incompetent technology not represented in the statistics presented at the meeting.

‘You’re telling us we didn’t make it and we’re telling you we did.” Williams said. “Whether it’s a glitch in the software or a glitch in the schedule, I’m saying that’s not being noted in your statistics.”

In response, Hartley noted that the software is incapable of tracking when the software drops the reservation.

For comparison, the fixed-route bus system, known as Easy Rider, provided a total of 9,700 trips in August.

Year-to-date, Plan-A-Ride has completed 22,423, while Easy Rider has completed 71,184 trips.

Changes in staff

Many personnel changes have been made in transportation at VMS, with some members introduced at the Wednesday afternoon meeting.

Interim Maintenance Manager Jim Ross will be covering operations in lieu of Drew Harrell’s recent departure. Hartley said that he will announce the replacement manager before the end of the month.

In other personnel news, 16-year Transportation Supervisor Gary Anderson has retired. In his place, Francisco Perez will be taking over the position.

“(Francisco has) been behind the scenes on all the route changes, whenever direction was given to make changes or reduce costs. He has working knowledge of how to do the scheduling, of how the drivers approach the routes, the turning, the components of it,” Hartley said during his introduction. “He’s a great resource and he’ll be working with us and the committee moving forward.”

Next meeting

Service animals on transit vehicles as well as boarding with oxygen generators and respiratory support devices will be up for discussion in next month’s meeting scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 5.

Source: Orange County Register

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