Unitrans proposes service changes for 2020–2021 service year

Unitrans proposes service changes for 2020–2021 service year

Photo Credits: Quinn Spooner / Aggie File. Passengers board the Unitrans E Line at the Memorial Union bus terminal during Winter Quarter 2020.

Proposal includes drop-off only stops, schedule adjustments, rear door boarding

Unitrans has proposed new service changes for the 2020–21 school year, set to take effect Aug. 3, 2020. These changes, inspired by reliability and crowding, are open for public comment until Friday, May 22.

“Proposals focus on improving your ride by making it faster and more reliable,” said the Unitrans website.

Two pilot programs include all-door boarding and new spots for drop-off only. 

Prepaid riders or those with a pass are now able to board the bus from both the front and rear doors, a newly implemented change.

“It’ll be an honor system,” said Jeff Flynn, the general manager of Unitrans. “We trust our customers to pay for their fares.” 

Flynn said bus services in cities like New York, Seattle and San Francisco have adopted similar systems. 

Unitrans is also proposing drop-off only stops to help clear congested lines. They are proposing to convert five stops on the G and J line and two stops on the V line to be drop-off only. One of the stops on the V line has already been converted to a drop-off only zone, Flynn said. 

“These drop-off spots will only be in the outbound direction,” Flynn said. “What we’ve seen over the past few years, the later and more unreliable the busses are getting, the more that we see people boarding on the outbound side of the street in order to travel inbound. If more people do that, it slows down the bus service even more.” 

When asked about riders with disabilities who may need to use outbound stops to ride to stores like Safeway, Flynn responded that “the drop-off only designation would apply to all customers,” and that those who would be affected should provide comment on the proposed changes before the May 22 deadline.

This trend exacerbates the strain on the system, and Flynn believes these changes will improve time performance. 

Both of these programs, the rear boarding and drop-off ony spots, will be a one-year pilot program. 

Beyond these pilot programs, Unitrans is also making service changes to some of their lines. 

“The biggest small change is that in the morning between 6:30 a.m. and 9:30 a.m., we’re proposing to shift all the schedules five minutes earlier,” Flynn said. “Between 8:30 and 9 is when the most people are using Unitrans, and it’s also the time where there’s the highest traffic.” 

This service change, based on GPS and traffic data, is to ensure that morning buses arrive on time. 

Unitrans is also proposing an afternoon schedule update on the V line, proposing to adjust the 25 minute after-the-hour afternoon and evening departures to 20 minutes after the hour. In addition they propose “capacity focused improvements,” proposing increased weekday morning capacity trips on the A and V lines, new 7:10 p.m. Z line and 8:10 p.m. K and Z line trips and the elimination of 6:20 p.m. D,G, J and W lines and 6:25 p.m. V line trips. 

On top of these service changes, Unitrans is preparing for the 2020–21 academic year while facing a severe drop in ridership.

“Ridership has fallen significantly,” Flynn said. “During the regular academic year, we carry 23,000 people a day. Right now, we’re carrying about 400 people a day. That’s about a 98% drop in ridership.”

As a result, Unitrans has reduced the number of fully operational lines. 

“For fall we have our ear to the ground,” he said. “We don’t have any information on what’s going to happen, but right now Unitrans is planning on regular service. I’m not sure how likely that is, but we need to set a goalpost for ourselves.” 

This drop in ridership also comes as ASUCD faces potential losses of $1.1 million due to COVID-19. 

“Right now, Unitrans is funded half through student fees and half through the City of Davis,” Flynn said. “The City of Davis, through the CARES act, received emergency aid funding for public transit. Our plan is to work with the city to use that federal stimulus to backfill any holes we may end up having in our budget.”

Any customers who this may impact should call Unitrans at 530-752-2877, email at comments@unitrans.ucdavis.edu or send mail to Unitrans, 1 Shields Avenue, 5 South Hall, Davis, CA 95616. The comment period ends on May 22, 2020. 

Written by: Alex Weinstein — campus@theaggie.org