If you have noticed the “Vine” buses around Sonoma and wonder who rides them, the answer may soon be, “no one.”
The Napa Valley Transportation Authority announced in April that it plans to discontinue bus service between Sonoma and Napa – known as the “Vine,” Route 25 – on June 30, citing federal budget cuts.
A public meeting will take place on May 17 in Napa to discuss the service discontinuation.
Sonoma resident Matt Metzler rides the “Vine” a few times a month to meet up with his wife, Wendy, for dance classes in Napa. She works there and they prefer to drive just one car home. Metzler is unhappy about the discontinuation and brought the issue to the attention of the Sonoma City Council at its May 2 meeting.
“People who work in Sonoma can’t afford to live here so they are usually coming in from others towns,” Metzler told the Index-Tribune. “Those workers very likely use public transportation, so this is cutting off a whole job market for them.”
Metzler also pointed out that when he takes the 5:07 p.m. bus from the Plaza, traffic to Napa is usually terrible.
“So I guess I have to be one more car on the road after the Vine shuts down,” he said.
The Vine weekday-only service between the transit center in downtown Napa and the Sonoma Plaza is officially called Route 25. The service launched in 2012 and goes back and forth between the two Valleys seven times a day.
But ridership is low.
Napa Valley Transportation Authority transit manager Matt Wilcox says that there are currently only around 40 riders a day on the Vine – total.
Wilcox said that funding for the bus line came from a specific government source that has been cut dramatically.
“If our board is swayed by public comment on this, it is possible funding could be moved around to keep the Vine going but it’s unlikely,” he said. “This route is definitely the worst performing.”
While public transportation to Napa may soon be a thing of the past, riders can expect expanded bus service north and west of Sonoma Valley thanks in part to the imminent launch of SMART train service up and down the 101 corridor.
Right now, Sonoma Valley residents can travel north to Santa Rosa 11 times a day, seven days a week, starting at 5:50 a.m. and ending at 7:40 p.m. The trip back south is offered 11 times a day from the Santa Rosa Transit Mall beginning at 5:20 a.m., with the last bus to Sonoma leaving at 8:20 p.m.
Sonoma County Transit Authority transit manager Bryan Albee says that each weekday, on average, there are 350 to 400 passengers riding three to four full-size buses used for what’s called Route 30.
“I take the bus once in a while from Boyes to Santa Rosa,” said Judie Osborn-Shaw. “It’s convenient but a long trip. About an hour versus 35 minutes timewise.”
Within Sonoma Valley, 12 times a day, six days a week, riders can hop a bus from Agua Caliente Road and travel down Highway 12 to Safeway, to the Plaza, down Broadway and then Fifth Street West, out Leveroni, around Temelec and back to the Plaza. This Route 32 is handled by only two smaller buses and, Albee estimated, only 125 to 150 passengers each weekday.
The least popular route, with only 25 to 35 passengers a day, is Route 40, which runs from Sonoma Valley to Petaluma. But this is sure to change when the SMART train goes live, said Albee. He expects to announce expanded service to meet the train later this month.
Meanwhile bus ridership is down overall.
“Over the past year our routes are down a bit,” he said. “But we’re in line with the trends statewide. When the economy is strong, bus ridership tends to dip.”
Sonoma County Transit Authority is trying to make riding the bus more convenient with improved fare cards and apps.
SCTA’s new Clipper Card can be used regionally on any Sonoma County transit system.
“The card is what will be used for the SMART train so we are getting it in place ahead of time,” said Albee.
When it goes live, the SMART train will run from San Rafael to northern Santa Rosa.
Albee said that he expects to announce new services that link Sonoma Valley to the SMART train stop in Petaluma before the end of May.
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