El Dorado Hills is the largest foothill community along the Highway 50 corridor, and the only one without local fixed-route bus service.
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Would affluent El Dorado Hills residents use local bus service if it were available?
A recent study suggests that a flexible, well-planned route in the north-south core of El Dorado Hills on weekdays would carry 56 passengers daily, 13,900 annually, but would require a $204,700 annual subsidy, plus $747,500 in startup costs and an additional $73,000 annually for complementary ADA-compliant paratransit service, provided by El Dorado Transit’s Dial-A-Ride system.
Ridership projections were based on a detailed analysis of the 2010 census data, which found 4,480 seniors, 10.6 percent of the El Dorado Hills population, plus 7,623 kids age 10 to 19, both considered prime candidates for a bus ride. Those statistics drive a complex transit demand calculation.
In a community known of its affluence and vehicles, it also found a surprising 2.8 percent poverty level and 158 households with no vehicle.
But don’t look for a bus on the corner any time soon. The study recommends a far less expensive “taxi voucher system,” combined with a trial one-day-a-week “activity bus,” both providing inexpensive local on-demand curb-to-curb service. Existing taxi and shuttle companies say they can meet ADA requirements, which makes startup costs negligible.
El Dorado Transit Executive Director Mindy Jackson said she could get the system up and running in early 2014, assuming her board adopts the final study on June 13.
Senior advocates Janet Kenneweg and Yvonne Griffin run the El Dorado Hills Senior Center. They’ve bent the ears of local elected officials for years, begging for better public transportation options for seniors. John Raslear joined the chorus on behalf of the senior population at Four Seasons. Raeanne Jones and DJ Petersen of the Vision Coalition chimed in on behalf of local youth.
The El Dorado County Transportation Commission heard them. In July, 2011 the commission won a $65,000 federal transit grant written by Senior Transportation Planner Jerry Barton for an El Dorado Hills Community Needs Assessment and a related US 50 Corridor Transit Operations Plan.
The commission awarded the project to LSC Transportation Consultants in Tahoe City in March, 2012 for $52,920.
Barton continued to serve as project manager, assembling an advisory committee and assisting the consultants in surveys, public meetings and working papers published.
Commute patterns, activity centers and ridership zones were identified. Elderly, disabled, youth and poverty populations were charted and mapped. Existing El Dorado Transit services and capacity were examined.
Finally, transit options were analyzed; including on-demand transit such as the popular Dial-A-Ride service, conventional fixed-route bus service and several hybrid variations.
The results are in. Gordon Shaw of LSC Transportation presented the draft report to the Transportation Commission on May 2.
The study identified the “potentially transit dependent” population in El Dorado Hills: the elderly, age 65 or greater; the young, age 10 to 19; those living in poverty, income less than $22,050 for a family of four, or $10,830 for a single individual; the disabled and households without a vehicle.
The study also found that El Dorado Hills was built with little thought to public transportation access. Turnouts are nonexistent on major transportation arteries. Bus stops, benches, sidewalks and shelters would be needed for any fixed route service.
Ridership, operating costs and startup costs were estimated for each of several alternative transit scenarios. The two alternatives which might serve the most passengers were dismissed as too expensive.
Deviated fixed route
A deviated fixed route service would operate like a normal bus route with “curb-to-curb” service via route detours up to .75 miles to pick up or drop off passengers at, or closer to, their homes and destinations. The report suggests two specific routes that are within a half-mile of 40 percent of El Dorado Hills residences.
The suggested routes include major local destinations such as Town Center, the Senior Center, the Safeway Center, the Community Park, the library, Oak Ride and Rolling Hills schools, White Rock Apartments and the Sunset Mobile Home Park. Destinations not on the route but within the .75 mile route deviation area include Four Seasons, Marshall Family Medicine and four schools: Marble Valley, Oak Meadows, Marina Village and Lake Forest.
The report estimates that a deviated fixed route service would generate 13,600 passenger-trips at a operating cost of $279,200 annually.
A checkpoint service is a semi-fixed route alternative that follows set route deviations with fewer scheduled stops, more on-demand “check point” stops, but doesn’t provide curb-to-curb service.
This approach could serve slightly more residents at a slightly lower cost, 14,800 trips for $277,700 annually.
Both fixed-route options would require an additional $747,000 capital investment for buses and bus stops, according to the study. Cost estimates don’t include land acquisition costs, utility relocation or permit fees.
The recommended routes cover the north-south El Dorado Hills core but exclude the Bass Lake Road corridor, eastern Serrano, the neighborhoods north of Lake Forest Park and the Blackstone subdivisions along Latrobe Road.
Neither of the two fixed-route options would meet county transit performance standards, which require local route service to generate at least five trips per hour and require no more than a $15 subsidy per passenger.
The fixed-route options would serve only 44 to 56 riders per day, less than four per hour, and require a subsidy between $18 and $21 per trip, according to the study.
Demand response options
On-demand transit options, called “demand response” in transit circles, are widely used in other communities and provide ADA-compliant door-to-door service without buying any buses or building any ADA bus stops.
The study found that El Dorado Transit’s Dial-A-Ride provides an average of nine one-way trips per day for elderly or handicap El Dorado Hills residents at a flat-fee of $5 per trip. The majority of El Dorado Hills trips are to or from the Senior Day Care Center in Placerville. Several changes were considered.
The study found that annual El Dorado Hills Dial-A-Ride trips dropped from 2,300 to 1,300 after El Dorado Transit implemented zone fares, raising the cost of a trip within El Dorado Hills from $2.50 to $5.
It predicted that reducing the fare to $2 would roughly double usage to 2,800 trips at an annual cost of $134,200.
Opening Dial-A-Ride to the general public six days per week at a $4 local fare would add another 3,920 passengers annually, bringing the total to ridership to 6,720 at an annual subsidy cost of $244,000.
The increased volume would require another $55,000 van. An El Dorado Hills operations center would cost $300,000 up front but reduce the annual subsidy to $200,300.
The two Dial-A-Ride proposals would serve an estimated 1.1 and 1.9 passengers per hour. The county transit standards for demand-response service is two passengers per hour.
Taxi voucher program
The study recommends a voucher-based taxi system which it estimates would generate 6,000 trips per year, assuming good service from the cab companies.
The recommended fare of $2.50 per one-way trip for ADA-eligible passengers and $5 per trip for the general public would generate $22,500 in fare revenue annually, offsetting an estimated $110,000 operating cost and yielding a $14.58 per passenger-trip subsidy, which complies with El Dorado Transit’s $15 per trip performance standard.
Participants would then purchase vouchers in advance and call one of the participating taxi companies to schedule a pickup.
The vouchers would be valid for trips within El Dorado Hills, and could also offset a portion of the fare for longer trips. Taxi companies might also establish a second flat-fee zone for trips to Folsom or Cameron Park.
Voucher sales would be limited by month and by individual to prevent misuse, with exceptions for those with medical needs. Vouchers would be non-transferrable but fully redeemable for face value.
The report recommends paying the cab companies $12 per trip, and capping the annual subsidy at $87,500.
Wednesday Activity Bus
The report also recommends a one-day-a-week “activity bus” on a trial basis to determine the potential for scheduled transit service and demonstrate usage patterns.
An existing van is currently available on Wednesdays, and would be dispatched from Diamond Springs. Reservations could be made in advance, similar to Dial-A-Ride. Suggested one-way fares are $4 for the general public, $2 for seniors and disabled.
Dispatchers would attempt to group trips to key destinations at key times, a juggling act they often achieve with Dial-A-Ride.
The Wednesday activity bus would provide an estimated 1,040 trips per year at a cost of 35,000 to operate. The study estimated just $2,500 in offsetting fare revenue, requiring a $31.25 per trip subsidy.
Kenneweg was present for the report’s unveiling. She praised its thoroughness, but said she was disappointed at the cost projections for traditional fixed-route bus service. “There’s no room for bus stops on El Dorado Hills Boulevard, and most seniors couldn’t get there anyway,” she said.
She called the taxi service “a good start.”
Walk then run
The study demonstrates demand for nearly 100,000 annual transit trips in El Dorado Hills.
Yet the proposed projects, if they are approved, planned, funded and implemented, meet a fraction of that demand, just over 7,000 trips per year.
Jackson, the El Dorado Transit director, concedes that the taxi service and activity bus won’t meet the demand identified in the study. “But let’s get this started,” she said. “You have to walk before you run.”
She sees El Dorado Hills as a large hole in the service her agency provides, and hopes to start filling it in 2014.
Jackson predicted her board would adopt the study and instruct her to draw up an implementation plan and start looking for funding.
The two El Dorado Hills transit proposals fall within the range of projects covered by her current state and federal funding sources, which are in flux, but generally supportive of well conceived transit projects, she said.
The taxi voucher program details have to be worked out. State and federal passenger safety compliance alone will take most of the rest of 2013, she said. “There’s no boilerplate for something like this, but we’ve done it before and know what it takes.”
The El Dorado Hills Needs Assessment is available on the El Dorado County Transportation Commission Website, under projects.
It is conjoined with a report on U.S. 50 Corridor Operations, which contains an analysis of corridor transit performance and recommendations to improve it.