Stagecoach south route will extend to Olema

12/22/2011

A contingent of West Marin residents convinced the Marin County Board of Supervisors on Monday to fill a service gap that will be left open in January by the elimination of the Stagecoach’s coastal route 62, which shuttles passengers from Stinson Beach to Point Reyes, with a northern extension of south route 61 to Olema, beginning next fall.  

The reorganized line, which will run from Bolinas up to Olema twice a day for five days a week to connect with route 68 through the San Geronimo Valley, is meant to directly benefit Bolinas and Stinson students commuting to Drake High School in San Anselmo.

It will likely be tested during a monitoring period during the fall semester and run once in the morning and once in the early evening. The board will evaluate the results and decide if the service will be renewed.  

Marin Transit officials decided to cancel route 62 starting this January because it serves fewer than 250 people a month and can cost the agency almost $60 per rider. Their recommended proposal had used savings from that cut and others to add four extra round trips to the highly trafficked route 68, but the modification approved on Monday, and its associated service costs, will prevent the addition of one of those trips.

“The main disadvantage [to the extension] is there’s not a later round trip in the evening [on route 68],” Amy Van Doren, Marin Transit’s director of operations, said. “The latest return trip will be the same.”

While transit officials were not pleased with the wrench thrown into their detailed plans to maximize ridership on the Stagecoach, advocates at the meeting were content with the results.

“I’m ecstatic,” said Anny Owen Densmore, a Bolinas resident who spoke at the meeting. “A small group of concerned citizens got together from different hamlets and included each other in our process. That was what made the difference.”

Owen Densmore, who told supervisors that service through the Olema Valley offers Bolinas residents a connection to the “regional center” of Point Reyes, said that the three-day scheduling on the 62 never provided enough consistency to recruit regular ridership and believed the community could fill the bus with a more regular schedule.

Supervisor Steve Kinsey, who had previously attended a meeting in Bolinas about the changes and motioned to make the modification to the recommended proposal, articulated the tension between conventional performance expectations and local needs. “I certainly understand why you’re recommending the one that you are because we are trying to develop our route selections by performance measures and clearly this [reflects] what you expect would be higher ridership as a result,” he said. “The flip of that is that there’s sort of a life-line quality or a limited access interest that I think we’re gonna hear about from Stinson and Bolinas that I’m gonna be encouraging directors to pay close attention to.”  
Locals also requested support at Monday’s meeting for alternative community-based transit programs, like the West Marin Commons ride-sharing program and West Marin Transportation Committee’s recent purchase of a van.

Social worker Maria Niggle read a letter from West Marin Commons Director Elizabeth Barnet that “[urged] the Board of Supervisors to support our collaborative and self-help approach which you see represented at the meeting today.”

Jack Kramer, a member of the ad hoc West Marin Transportation Committee, which is devoted to fulfilling the transit needs of the elderly, Latino and youth populations, said his organization was in the early stages of developing a van-share and ride-sharing program.

“We in the unincorporated areas of Marin are accustomed to rolling up our sleeves and doing for ourselves,” he said. “While this independence has many benefits, we cannot nor should not fund all of our transportation needs through the generous giving of our citizens.”

Kinsey expressed interest in helping these grassroots programs in the long-term. “I think that we may find in the future that the best use of our resources would be to partner with an organization in [West Marin] that takes on more responsibility rather than trying to provide it through our Stagecoach service,” he said.

Kinsey suggested that the National Park Service could charge for parking  in Point Reyes National Seashore to fund more functional West Marin transportation.  

Niggle saw the decision to extend the 61 route as an early victory in developing a more robust local transit system. “Right now, it’s that Stagecoach line; we don’t know when it will be ours,” she said. “We have to stick together.”