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Golden Gate Transit may add service in Sonoma County

As Sonoma County's transportation landscape undergoes major changes, regional commuter bus operator Golden Gate Transit could be adding service for the first time in a decade.

The agency, which buses nearly half a million passengers a year from Sonoma County to Marin County and San Francisco, launched its first long-term planning process last week since the agency reduced bus service by 22 percent in 2003.

As part of the process, the agency is considering providing new or additional service to growing Sonoma County communities including Windsor and east Santa Rosa, said Ron Downing, Golden Gate Transit director of planning.

Ridership on the North Bay bus network has grown 3 percent each month in the past year. To capitalize on this growth, the transit district board will consider reconfiguring routes in Sonoma County to add more express service and potentially add bus service to Rincon Valley, Downing said.

"We're looking at making better use of what have rather than spending more money," he said. "It would cost a lot to put in a new route. We need to do more survey work."

In 2010, the agency eliminated or reduced four bus routes from Santa Rosa that served San Francisco or San Rafael, citing low ridership. Earlier that decade, Golden Gate Transit eliminated routes or trips several years in a row as the agency grappled with deficits.

The commuter bus network is gaining popularity in Sonoma County, Downing said. The agency has 15 weekday buses on the popular 101 route from Sonoma County to San Francisco's Financial District and Mission District. The buses originate in Santa Rosa with stops in Rohnert Park, Cotati, Petaluma, Novato and San Rafael.

The 57-seat buses run about half full, Downing said.

"Sonoma County is growing, but we have capacity on buses," he said. "We do have some seats available."

The board last week adopted a "strategic vision," and more specific plans are expected by spring, Downing said.

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