By Bill McEwen
I’ve seen the future of Fresno bus service, and it looks like this.
It starts with a survey of residents. Where do they live, where do they work and what time do they need to clock in?
Then you add a fourth lane on each side of Highway 41, using local, state and federal funding.
During peak commute times, the fourth lane is dedicated to public buses and people with at least three people in a vehicle. Everyone else moves to the right and stays out of the way.
The rest of the time, anyone can use the bus lane. Trust me, we’re only a few years away from needing that fourth lane, anyway.
These aren’t run-of-the-mill buses, either. They’re spacious. They have wifi and workstations.
Potential Ridership for the 41 Express
Who is going to ride these state-of-the-art buses?
Let’s start with the 50,000 workers in downtown Fresno. And let’s give Bitwise CEO Jake Soberal credit for thinking big about downtown.
In 2016, Soberal announced that he hoped to create 250,000 jobs by 2024 in the area around Chukchansi Park. OK, he’s a dreamer and he’s a promoter. But I am certain that Fresno’s budding technology sector will add at least 10,000 jobs.
All together, that’s a whole lot of people who might be interested taking the bus, eliminating the parking hassles and expense, and helping improve Fresno’s notoriously dirty, unhealthy air.
Moreover, thousands of workers taking the bus to downtown will free up parking spots for everyone else. That will spur retail and entertainment options and continue downtown revitalization.
I envision several park-and-ride lots along the Highway 41 corridor. These lots will be public-private partnerships. They’ll be paved, striped and secure. They’ll each have a coffee kiosk — “Hello, Dutch Bros.” A bike/pedestrian trail system will connect to every lot.
Park, board and boom, you’re downtown. Suddenly, riding the bus is cool again.
How Can FAX Attract More Riders?
Call me crazy. I’ve got no problem with that. But answer this: What else will entice people to FAX?
It’s a question that city leaders are asking these days. Ridership is down 46% from the days when Fresno Area Express totaled nearly 16 million riders a year. The state requires public transit systems to cover 20% of their expenses with fares. Drop below that benchmark, and Fresno’s bus service will lose its state funding.
FAX is trying a little bit of everything to increase ridership — except (snark, snark) opening Bus Rapid Transit on time. By the way, City Hall isn’t calling it BRT anymore. For some unfathomable reason, it’s now the “Q.”
But I digress. FAX started charging $1 a ride Wednesday, a discounted rate that continues to year’s end.
The buck-a-ride fare is “every day, all day, nights, weekends and holidays,” according to the city’s website.
Last month, fares dropped from $1.25 to $1 on weekends and after 7:30 p.m. on weeknights after receiving approval from the Fresno City Council.
Share Your Ideas With FAX Officials
The city clearly is making a concerted effort to woo riders. For example, it’s asking folks to help them design routes in a series of workshops. The first one is Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., in the Skylight Room at Fresno City College.
There will be six more opportunities for you to chime in next week at locations throughout the city. Click on this link for the sites and times.
Things are changing quickly in transportation — even if California’s high-speed rail system is moving at a snail’s pace. There are more electric and hybrid vehicles. On-demand services such as Uber and Lyft are convenient and popular.
Fresno is changing as well. If city leaders are serious about getting people out of their cars, reducing air pollution and revitalizing downtown, they perhaps need to think way, way, way out of the box.
Share your ideas on improving Fresno’s bus service at one of the workshops. Or by commenting below.
Remember, no idea is too crazy.