Guest Post for CRTP by John Webb
Editor’s Note: John Webb represents Humboldt County on the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority Rail Committee. Wondering why Humboldt County has a representative on a Central Valley railroad agency? Read on!
The San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority (SJJPA) Rail Committee is a citizen advisory committee to the decision-making SJJPA Board. The SJJPA is the public agency responsible, in partnership with Amtrak and other agencies, for the operation and management of the Amtrak Thruway Buses that connect Humboldt County with the rest of California’s bus and train network.
The SJJPA Rail Committee met on November 1, 2019 and was given a two-hour briefing by SJJPA staff on the current status of SJJPA’s work to improve public transportation in California. #1 on the agenda was planning for the post-SB742 era.
SB742 is the recent legislation that, as of Jan 1, will allow SJJPA/Amtrak to sell tickets for local travel on its buses. Prior to the passage of SB742, Amtrak was not allowed to transport passengers who did not purchase a ticket for travel on an Amtrak train. According to SJJPA Manager of Regional Initiatives Dan Leavitt, all or most Amtrak Thruway Bus routes in the state will be affected.
Fortunately for North Coast residents, SJJPA views this as an opportunity, not a problem. If done the right way, new post-SB742 policies could improve bus service to the North Coast and simultaneously make the entire Thruway Bus system more financial stable.
The plan is to begin a phased implementation, starting on January 1, 2020. This is a new universe for SJJPA, and they want to start with routes that are easier to implement and gain experience before proceeding wholesale. The decision of which route would be first to allow local travel has not yet been made. However, Leavitt referred to the need to create a statewide bus/rail network. It is good that SJJPA is thinking of its bus system as more than simply feeders for the San Joaquin trains, but rather as a part of a system of integrated bus and rail travel. SJJPA should be commended for its holistic approach to this concept.
As Humboldt County’s representative on the Committee, I did my best to push for an overhaul of SJJPA’s Route 7 (Arcata to Martinez) that would not only provide for local travel (for instance local passengers would be allowed to buy tickets ride between, say, Garberville and Willits), but would also make that long trip from Humboldt County to the Bay Area easier and more comfortable. Paul Herman, SJJPA planner for Route 7, seemed to be impressed with the idea and said he would give it serious consideration.
Here’s what I put forward to SJJPA as a post-SB742 plan for Route 7:
Bay Area-bound passengers would be able to buy a single ticket and ride the Amtrak Thruway Bus to the new SMART train San Rosa Airport station. The SMART train would then take them to SMART’s San Rafael station where they would ride an Amtrak/Thruway Route between San Rafael and the Richmond Amtrak/Bart station. This would drastically reduce the number of miles paid to Preferred Coaches, the present charter bus operator of the route. Additionally, SJJPA would not be paying Preferred long deadhead miles to pick up passengers in Martinez, since Preferred is based in Santa Rosa.
There are some challenges, of course:
- Implementation of thru ticketing arrangements with SMART. SMART should be receptive since it brings them riders during the more lightly patronized mid-day travel times on their trains.
- There will need to be some careful planning so as not to put the Thruway buses in competition with other transit agencies for local passengers. For instance, our local transit provider runs buses between Eureka and Garberville, two points also served by the Thruway buses. There are other similar situations in different areas of the state.
- There is no Amtrak agent at Richmond to sell tickets and facilitate bus/train transfers (including baggage handling). However, based on my personal look around at the Richmond BART/Amtrak station yesterday there seems to be unused/unrented commercial space available at the station. It would seem that an argument could be made to Amtrak to provide an agent since this plan would bring significantly increased ridership to the station.
Some other items presented at the meeting:
There was discussion of the changes being brought to Central Valley rail travel by High Speed Rail. Leavitt cautioned that plans are sketchy at this point. but the thinking is that the San Joaquin trains would run from the Bay Area to Merced where passengers could transfer to a High Speed train for 45-minute ride to Bakersfield. SJJPA is planning on a Thruway bus route from Merced to San Jose. Also, there was discussion of expanded ACE (a commuter rail line between Stockton and San Jose) operations through the Altamont corridor.
If you live in Humboldt County, John represents you at the SJJPA. If you have ideas for him about the local Amtrak bus route, let him know! He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.