Those who frequently ride Santa Ynez Valley Transit buses or take advantage of the Dial-a-Ride service can expect changes in the near future that are aimed at improving the system and increasing ridership.

The changes are part of the transportation system’s Short Range Transit Plan update unanimously approved Monday by the Solvang City Council, which directed the staff to bring back a more detailed report on several options.

One major change will be instituted soon, but the second won’t be phased in for several months to give the staff time to educate riders.

The initial change will be to launch an express service along the Highway 246 corridor between Buellton, Solvang and Santa Ynez while offering limited service to Los Olivos.

“Every half an hour, a bus will come by the bus stop,” Matt van der Linden, public works director and city engineer, said of the express service.

One reason people don’t use the transit system is the timing of the bus runs is not convenient, but more continuous runs throughout the day are expected to encourage more people to ride.

The trade-off will be more limited service to Los Olivos, with buses making runs to that community perhaps three times a day — morning, around noon and late afternoon.

“We target the service where the ridership is, and I’m satisfied Los Olivos won’t be isolated because there will be trips there throughout the day,” said Matt Dauber from the Transportation Division of the County Public Works Department.

The second change that won’t be phased in for six to 12 months will be to provide senior Dial-a-Ride users with an alternate “demand-responsive service” provided by taxis or Lyft or Uber drivers.

The current type of Dial-a-Ride service would still be provided to those who are eligible under the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines.

Other options the staff was directed to investigate include a hotel partner pass-through program, which would require citizens to authorize through a ballot measure.

Under that proposal, hotels, motels and inns would charge their customers an extra 25 or 50 cents on the room rental rate, with those funds used to help subsidize the transit system.

In exchange, all hotel, motel and inn guests would get free unlimited transit bus rides during their stay.

The council directed the staff to see if the hospitality industry would support such a program.

As a last resort, a fare increase could be instituted, but that would likely reduce ridership, thus having the opposite effect the transit officials are looking for.

Van der Linden said that would only be considered if the other changes were fully implemented yet the farebox recovery rate remains below the 10 percent threshold required by the state to receive full Transportation Development Act funding.

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Mike Hodgson is news editor at the Santa Ynez Valley News, where he writes about local government, special events and the people who live in the Valley. He has been a photographer, writer, news editor and managing editor at weekly newspapers since 1972

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