OCTA to make sweeping changes to bus routes

Passengers board a bus at Saddleback College. (Niko LaBarbera/Lariat)

A passenger boards a bus assigned to route 82 towards Foothill Ranch at Saddleback College. Route 82 is one of four routes that stops at Saddleback College and would be affected by planned cuts by the Orange County Transportation Authority. (Niko LaBarbera/Lariat)

The Orange County Transportation Authority plans to cut routes across Orange County. The changes shall also affect routes that pickup passengers at Saddleback College.

Cuts to the routes come as a response to lower ridership throughout Orange County. This has caused OCTA to take this measure. According to Joel Zlotnik, Manager of Public Information, since 2008 OCTA has gone down from approximately 69 million riders to 48 million resulting in a reduction of about 30 percent.

“Orange County’s bus ridership has plummeted in recent years, ” Zlotnik said. “OCTA needs to make changes that grow ridership and make the bus system more efficient and cost-effective. Otherwise, major service cuts and fare increases could be made in the future that would worsen the ridership decline trend.”

The changes, under the proposed 2016 Draft Bus Service Plan, aims to increase ridership by offering faster, more convenient service in areas that the bus is most used. Routes which would see cuts or, in some cases, be totally eliminated.

Four routes specifically stop to pick up and drop off passengers and students at Saddleback College: 82, 85, 91 and 191. Of these four, three would be changed according to Zlotnik.

“Under the draft proposal Route 82 would be cut back south of Santa Margarita at Antonio Parkway because of low ridership and Saturday would be eliminated,” Zlotnick said. “Route 85 would be cut back south of Alicia Parkway at Crown Valley Parkway, service would be reduced to every 60 minutes and Saturday service would be eliminated, Route 191 would be eliminated.”

Route 91, which runs from San Clemente to Laguna Hills and back, would remain completely unaffected under the changes.

A draft of the plan still remains in pending status until put up for a public review this January. Based on public input, the OCTA board enacts the final draft of the plan in February.

If passed, Zlotnik said OCTA hopes for many positive changes.

“92 percent of riders will see either improved bus service or no change in service. The benefits include increased bus frequency and quicker travel times for passengers in the areas of the county where the service is most heavily used,” Zlotnick said.

To those impacted by the new changes, Zlotnik said he understands the frustrations of passengers saying that OCTA plans to seek input from the public regarding the plans. However, Zlotnick says that changes must be made.

“Change is always difficult and we know this plan may disrupt bus service for some people, but it’s something we have to consider for the future health of our transit system,” Zlotnik said.

For students especially, Zlotnik said that OCTA understands the plight of students affected by the changes who depend on the bus for travel.

“OCTA is working with cities to gauge their interest in operating community bus routes tailored to community needs that could cover some of the areas that would no longer be served by OCTA buses,” Zlotnik said.

The final draft and its changes, once approved, take effect starting this June and October.