Santa Cruz County commuters and a fare hike



What will a 42% transit fare increase do to Highway 17 traffic?

AirSage recently released this report showing nationwide county-to-county commute patterns. Of the roughly 200,000 commuters in Santa Cruz County, 13,000 of us cross the Santa Cruz Mountains into Santa Clara County.

Heavy traffic on Highway 17 Santa Cruz Mountains

Santa Cruz County is geographically isolated from the rest of California. Leaving the county means crossing from the Pacific tectonic plate to the North American plate, resulting in a challenging topography for bike commuters. Only a handful of people bike up and over the Santa Cruz Mountains on a semi-regular basis.

I’m among the roughly 1500 people ride the Highway 17 commuter express bus on a daily basis. I pay $113 for a 31-day pass, which works out to a little over $5 per day of riding. That’s not a bad deal.

Santa Cruz Metro, unfortunately, operates at a structural deficit systemwide. This means their revenue does not keep up with expenses, and something has to give. In a series of public meetings to discuss this structural deficit, all held at 6 PM when Santa Clara County workers are still returning home, the public and Metro staffers decided on a 42% fare hike to sock it to the working stiffs who mostly didn’t show up for these meetings.

42%. Ouch.

Highway 17 Express

Metro staff anticipate an extra $300 thousand in annual revenue from this fare increase. They predict, at the most, a 10% drop in ridership, which I think sounds optimistic. For “captive” riders, 10% is about the right number for a 42% fare increase, but Highway 17 commuters have a higher ratio of “choice” customers than is typical for Santa Cruz. Most of the people I ride with have already told me the proposed $160 per month tips the balance in favor of driving.

This fare increase will add over 200 cars to Highway 17 traffic each day, clogging an already difficult highway. If this was a private development, that kind of traffic would trigger a requirement for a Transportation Impact Assessment for both Santa Cruz and Santa Clara counties, complete with mitigation measures to reduce the impact from increased motor vehicle traffic.

Cozy Santa Cruz bus

I understand Metro is in a tight spot, and I don’t object to modest fare hikes in an attempt to generate more revenue. This 42%, however, is a real kick in the teeth and almost feels like a punitive “soak the rich” hike. Trust me, none of us who ride the bus drive a Tesla Model S to the park-and-ride from our gated, beach-front mansions.

Public Hearings

Santa Cruz Metro will hold two public hearings in April to publicize these proposed changes. The first hearing takes place Friday, April 10, 2015 beginning at 9 AM in the Santa Cruz City Council Chambers, 809 Center Street, Santa Cruz. The second hearing takes place the same evening, 6:30 PM at the Watsonville Civic Center Council Chambers, 275 Main Street.

I plan to take the day off to attend the morning session. For those who cannot attend, you can also email, or send snail mail to METRO Administration Offices, 110 Vernon Street, Santa Cruz, CA 95060.

Where else?

Going back to the inter-county commute report, AirSage also reports 5300 people commute to school and jobs in Monterey County, another 6000 travel to Monterey County, 1200 to San Mateo County, 800 each to San Benito and San Francisco Counties, and 600 to each of Contra Costa and Sacramento Counties. Interestingly, AirSage also logged nearly 700 people who commute from Santa Cruz down to Los Angeles.

AirSage uses anonymized mobile phone data to model the flow of people. Their nationwide commute report shows commute-time patterns between counties.

One Comment

  1. I wonder if Santa Cruz Metro would allow the buses to be official Teleconference locations for their public meetings that are held during commute times. I think the buses would meet the Brown Act requirement for a Teleconference site of being publicly and handicap accessible. You would certainly have all the interested people in one location at the same time.

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