Stagecoach eliminates coastal route, adds Valley bus

David Briggs
Jay Dancing Bear rode the soon-to-be-cancelled coastal route 62 for the last time Tuesday.

Facing low ridership and increasing cuts to federal funding, Marin Transit has announced plans to eliminate the West Marin Stagecoach’s coastal route 62, which runs from Point Reyes to Bolinas and Stinson Beach—a trip that can cost the agency almost $60 per rider. Weekend service on south route 61 from Bolinas to Marin City will also be scaled back to one bus from October through December.

The cuts and savings will fund an extra bus on the highly trafficked route through San Geronimo Valley, north route 68.

Marin Transit, which hopes to implement the service changes by February 2012, is holding a series of public comment meetings in West Marin that will conclude with one on October 11 at the Bolinas Community Center.

In the past the agency, which runs all intercity public transit in the county and established the Stagecoach in 2002, received significant funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s Rural Transit Assistance Program.

In 2007 the program supplied half of the agency’s $576,215 budget. Since then, funding has declined every year, as more and more Bay Area transportation agencies reach into a shrinking pot. This year the federal program doled out $108,000 for the Stagecoach, which, with rising fuel costs and projected service increases, has a budget of $975,000.

Marin Transit has closed the growing budget gap with money from the county’s Measure A sales tax, but financial managers at the agency say they are facing increasing pressure to allocate resources for maximum ridership.

Even at its best, coastal route 62 serves fewer than 250 people a month. During the colder months of October through March, route 61 hosted around 1,500 passengers a month, and, in December, cost the agency more than $20 a person.

Without a doubt, the most productive route for Marin Transit is route 68, which shuttles more than 36,000 passengers a year between Inverness and the San Rafael Transit Center. With an average subsidy per passenger under $10, transit officials want to improve what already works.   

At a public meeting on the proposed changes, held at the Dance Palace last Friday, only six people attended. “Ironically, the Stage doesn’t run late enough for someone to come to this meeting to go back home, which is a little embarrassing,” Marin Transit planner Sean Hedgpeth said. The last trip eastbound out of Point Reyes leaves at 4:58 p.m.

According to Hedgpeth, the agency has already received more than a hundred comments, many asking for increased afternoon service.
A contingent from the grassroots organization Tomales Transit expressed interest in a route that would cycle through Tomales, Dillon Beach, Petaluma and back through Nicasio.

“The problem out there is that we’ve been on our own for a very long time. Well, we were a much younger population then,” Tomales Transit board member Luana Pinasco said. “As with the rest of Marin County, we are now seniors and we are looking for an alternative. So we would think that at some point in the near future, that part of the county would be getting some sort of benefit from expanded service on some of these existing systems that are out there.”

Marin Transit’s director of operations, Amy Van Doren, suggested that seniors could use West Marin Senior Service’s volunteer driving program, but said she would remain open to the possibility of adding a new route if more funding emerged.

Hedgpeth, who seemed doutbtful that a Tomales route would ever be feasible, urged the group to look at securing retired vehicles from the many nonprofits in the area. “I’m not sure that the Tomales route would do any better than the coastal route, and so it’s tough,” he said. “It’s a public service, but at some point we have to make decisions that are the best for the good of all.”

For his part, West Marin Taxi owner and Stinson Beach resident John Posadas would like to see south route 61 eliminated completely or cut down, as he feels his tax money is subsidizing tourists and hikers from outside Marin.

“The weekend is ridiculous,” he said. “They’ve got multiple Stages transporting tourists. It was supposed to be for commuters and for people that live in the area, but nobody that lives in the area catches that bus on the weekends.”

Jay Dancing Bear, of Fairfax, has not owned a car for 30 years and has ridden the 68 regularly to Point Reyes and Olema since he moved to the region a month ago. As a bus advocate, Bear said that he wished Washington policy was friendlier towards transit riders.

“The basic policy for a number of years, not just recently, has been screw anybody who’s working for a living for an hourly wage. It’s the reality,” he said, before boarding the bus and playing a soulful blues melody on his harmonica. “Anytime there’s bus changes, my preference is always to have the bus run as late as possible.”