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Sonoma County to play host to start of $6 million effort to unify maps of Bay Area’s 27 transit systems

Sonoma County will pilot a new $6 million effort to develop a unified mapping system that will help commuters better navigate the Bay Area’s 27 public transit systems, beginning in 2024.

The goal is to develop digital and physical maps and a wayfinding system that would provide uniform signage, information about walking distances, along with shuttle options between bus stops, train stations and ferry terminals.

The unified regional mapping system was one of 27 recommendations made by a task force convened to encourage riders’ return to public transportation as COVID-19 restrictions on social gathering and office work have been relaxed.

The task force was formed in 2020 by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the government agency that oversees transportation planning in the Bay Area.

Design and installation of the new system is scheduled to begin in early 2024. The initial roll out will include new signs and physical maps. The system is to begin with transit locations in Sonoma County before expanding into Solano County and then the rest of the Bay Area.

Sonoma County is a good place to start the project because it is an example, on a small scale, of the challenges of navigating disparate public transit systems, commission spokesperson John Goodwin told The Press Democrat on Wednesday. Sonoma County has different bus systems in its various cities, in addition to the Sonoma County Transit system and the Sonoma Marin Area Regional Transit System passenger train.

“It is an opportunity to bring those separate systems under a single visual umbrella in a way that ideally will show the way for the rest of the Bay Area,” Goodwin said. The county’s public transit riders will provide feedback that could inform the program’s expansion into the rest of the region, he said.

Sonoma County got the nod also because its own transit oversight agency, the Sonoma County Transportation Authority, has already begun an effort to better harmonize city, county and regional public transit systems, said Rebecca Long, director of legislation and public affairs for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

“They’ve gotten their operators very excited,” about separate future efforts that include redoing system brands and even integrating fare prices, all steps that will pair well with a harmonized mapping systems, Long said.

“They’re ahead of the curve regionally,” she added.

The $6 million price tag is for the entire region, not just for Sonoma County, Goodwin said. Project leaders have not yet defined how the new mapping system will be conveyed digitally and whether it will entail a new smartphone application, he said.

Officials across the region cheered the opportunity to create a mapping system that can help Bay Area residents use public transit more smoothly.

“Up until now, every transit operator has used stand-alone wayfinding, maps and transit information that is inconsistent and disconnected from that of other operators,” Jeffrey Tumlin, director of transportation for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and a member of the pandemic recovery task force, said in a news release last week.

“This Regional Mapping and Wayfinding project will be a sea change for transit riders who will no longer have to figure out a new system every time they transfer from one transit operator to another,” Tumlin said.

You can reach Staff Writer Andrew Graham at 707-526-8667 or andrew.graham@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @AndrewGraham88

Andrew Graham

Business enterprise and investigations, The Press Democrat 

I dig into businesses, utility companies and nonprofits to learn how their actions, or inactions, impact the lives of North Bay residents. I’m looking to dive deep into public utilities, labor struggles and real estate deals. I try to approach my work with the journalism axioms of giving voice to the voiceless, comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable in mind.

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