Transit solution: As easy as getting from point A to B
Originally published in the Ventura County Star
Ventura County is growing up. Once simply a pleasant and convenient bedroom community to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, the county is now well on its way to being a collective force in the southern and Central Coast region on many fronts.
The county, which is geographically separated into east and west county by the Conejo Grade, has experienced a boom in population, industry, institutions of higher education and amenities. And with that also comes some logistical challenges endemic with urban growth.
Ventura County used to be a sanctuary for working-class families looking to escape the bustle and congestion of L.A. Now, some of those urban characteristics, like the traffic associated with commuting, have also grown part of the local norm.
However, that lifestyle frustration is avoidable. Just as the problems with urban development are upon us as a county, so are the solutions. To see the same faces and vehicles during your commute to and from work or school is to see opportunity for a comprehensive transit system.
A truly comprehensive transit system would be more environmentally and financially sustainable by contributing to our smaller carbon footprint; that also means less traffic on the roads and a useful transit system tailored to our community.
I remain steadfast in my belief that everyone in our community deserves to be able to go through our county on a transit system that works and not have to hop between a series of stand-alone systems. That is currently the only option for public transit users in Ventura County.
We are serviced by Amtrak and Metrolink by rail, Greyhound, Gold Coast Transit and VISTA bus services, in addition to small city-based bus services in Camarillo, Moorpark, Simi Valley and Thousand Oaks.
All of us, but especially the transit-dependent people of Ventura County, demand and deserve a better and more comprehensive system.
Current law supports this fairly straightforward as well.
A bill that was passed back in 2009 (SB 716 by state Sen. Lois Wolk) mandates that come July 1, 2014, all cities throughout Ventura County must spend their Transportation Development Act funds, on transit.
The past practice, as it was negotiated with lawmakers at the time, has been that some cities in Ventura County were allowed to divert from state law to use some of their TDA funds for streets and roads. However, over the past five years that has amounted to at least $24 million throughout Ventura County that was intended for public transit, but instead diverted to cities' general funds with the expectation that it is being used on streets and roads.
Many cities in the county that receive these transit funds do not have an adequate transit system; or fund an inefficient system because they choose to spend the transit funds for other purposes.
If that money were instead used for its intended purpose, the county would be well on its way to a useful and comprehensive public transit system.
This was also the goal of the special exemption negotiated between Wolk and the Ventura County Transportation Commission. VCTC was granted two years to come up with a plan to organize and fund public transportation in the county.
However, it failed to meet that deadline. The plan that it eventually submitted to analyze options for mass transit failed to be turned in on time and was well short of providing options for organizing countywide transit.
Stemming from my time as an early transit user, to my time working on the issue as a community organizer with CAUSE before being elected to the state Assembly, there is a clear cry for better transit in Ventura County.
There are many bus routes that could get better frequency and more rapid service for mere tens of thousands of dollars while some cities raid millions annually for non-transit uses.
In its own words, in a report prepared by the VCTC last fall, "By any measure, public transit in Ventura County is less of a system than a series of stand-alone operations that provide widely disparate levels of service; that are not easily understood or accessed by customers; and that may or may not interconnect."
We can do better and the people of Ventura County - transit dependent or otherwise - deserve better. As we try to get many of our state's public services back on track, most notably, our education system; with strapped budgets and limited resources cities and counties are looking for the most efficient ways to use limited public dollars. What better way to do that and demonstrate the cohesiveness of this county than through a unified transit system.