With the start of North Bay passenger rail service expected to be just around the bend, public transit planners across Sonoma and Marin counties are busy trying to link up connections to the trains.
One of the more recent efforts involves Sonoma County Transit — operator of the county’s bus system — which on Monday unveiled new routes and a number of changes to existing ones to coordinate with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit trains.
The new “50-series” routes include connections to SMART stations from all corners of the county, as well as two “last-mile” shuttle buses for employees at the Airport Business Park, Kaiser Permanente Medical Center and the county’s administration center. Shuttles also will be available for Santa Rosa Junior College students.
Janice Thompson, a county roads engineer who has commuted to work in Santa Rosa from her home in Rohnert Park for more than two decades, said she’s anxious to use the SMART trains as an alternative to driving on Highway 101.
She plans to catch the train in Cotati to arrive at the Guerneville Road station at 7:35 a.m. From there, it’s a 10-minute shuttle bus ride to her office at the county’s administration center.
Thompson said the evening shuttles are not as convenient for her schedule, getting her home after 6 p.m. But she said depending on how it goes she may use the trains and buses every day.
“It’s an exciting opportunity,” Thompson said.
Schedules for about half of the county’s 23 bus routes were adjusted to accommodate the new SMART connections, according to Sonoma County Transit Authority manager Bryan Albee.
The changes were announced a few days prior to going into effect Monday. The short notice apparently caught some longtime bus riders off-guard, including one man who criticized the county’s actions as “very unprofessional” in an email he sent to The Press Democrat.
Albee blamed the short notice on delays printing the new schedule and the recent July 4 holiday. He also referenced changes SMART made to the train schedules after the rail agency and transit planners had already settled on a plan. Those revisions followed public outcry over 90-minute gaps at certain hours of peak demand for train service.
“Typically we like to have schedule changes out a week ahead, but with the holiday week and the timing of such a big change we were later than we intended it,” Albee said.
He said the new routes were launched Monday because county transit planners expected SMART would be operating passenger service by then. But that date remains uncertain.
The rail agency said it is waiting on final approval from the Federal Railroad Administration to begin full operations. In the meantime, the public is being offered “preview rides” on a limited basis.
Albee said the new SMART routes can be adjusted based on rider feedback, and that more transfers will be offered as more trains go into service.
“It’s a big change, and we’ve been anticipating the train for a long time,” Albee said. “We’ve been putting out additional services and we’re anxious to see how it works.”
The four new connector routes to SMART stations include:
Route 52, which operates along the Highway 116 corridor between downtown Sebastopol and downtown Cotati. The route includes stops at the Cotati Depot, Sonoma Mountain Village and Sonoma State University.