The San Joaquin Regional Transit District is starting a process that could lead to the reduction or elimination of bus routes connecting Tracy with Stockton and Manteca.
The board of directors met Friday in Stockton and was originally set to vote on a resolution to discontinue five intercity service routes by the end of the fiscal year in June.
Instead, after a clarification at the meeting, the board voted to approve a changed version of the agenda item, 14D.
“We are not saying that the intercity service in fact is going to be canceled; we’re asking for the permission to go out and talk to the public and other agency partners and city partners about the service and whether or not we will actually discontinue it,” said Jean Foletta-Morales, chief of marketing and communications for RTD.
Finances are at the root of the issue. A report published along with Friday’s agenda said that RTD had a “significant shortfall this year” and was looking for ways to cut costs. One way to do that is by reducing or eliminating service.
The district is funded by the county and the city of Stockton, but it also provides transportation services to other cities in the county that do not contribute transit funding to its budget, including Tracy. The report claimed that RTD “should not be responsible for shouldering the entire financial burden for services provided to surrounding cities.”
The five intercity bus routes — Route 90 between Tracy and Stockton, Route 797/97 between Tracy and Manteca, Route 91 between Stockton and Modesto, and Routes 93 and 723/23 between Lodi and Stockton — also make stops in Lathrop, Ripon and Escalon.
The operating cost for intercity service for this fiscal year is expected to be $2,868,266. Revenue from fares, federal grants and the countywide Measure K sales tax is expected to be $1,933,428. That amounts to a $934,838 deficit, and that led to the discussion of whether to abandon intercity routes, which tend to be long and have relatively few passengers paying fares, making them some of the most expensive services RTD provides.
As a public agency, Foletta-Morales said RTD has to follow certain procedures, including state and federal requirements, when it cancels a service. It also has an internal policy that requires public hearings before cutting back a route by 25% or more.
“We just can’t go out and arbitrarily say we’re going to discontinue a service,” she said. “We must, even regardless if there are budgetary restraints, we have to go out and start working with the public, and that’s part of our public participation plan.”
Meetings will be scheduled in Tracy, Manteca and Lodi, and possibly other cities, to discuss where riders get on and off the buses, what time of day they use them and how often they ride.
“So if there were going to be some sort of cuts, but not as severe as discontinuing the service, we could use what the public has said with our own data to perhaps make some strategic modifications versus complete discontinuance of the route as a whole,” Foletta-Morales said. “We have ridership data, but to have the public come and hopefully add to what we already know for our data would be the best thing. We want to hear from the riders themselves — information that you’re just not going to get just looking at a bunch of numbers.”
Foletta-Morales said the board of directors would discuss plans for meetings within a few weeks and RTD would publicize the dates and locations after that.
No more Hopper to Mountain House
Also at Friday’s RTD meeting, the board of directors voted to phase out Hopper Route 99 between Tracy and Mountain House.
The route travels from the Tracy Transit Station on Sixth Street to the San Joaquin Delta College campus in Mountain House with another stop at Parco Avenue in Mountain House.
Foletta-Morales said only a handful of riders used the route, which had been started with dedicated funding that was no longer available.
The RTD staff will propose an ending date for the route to the board of directors and then announce it publicly.