By this summer, residents of the Cedar Street senior apartments in Garberville may have their own bus stop and a bus schedule that makes it easier to get to activities at the Healy Senior Center in Redway.
About two dozen people met with Humboldt Transit Authority manager Greg Pratt and 2nd district supervisor Estelle Fennell in the community room at the Cedar Street apartments to discuss Southern Humboldt transit needs, particularly for the senior residents of the apartment complex.
In addition to many Cedar Street residents and other members of the public, Healy Senior Center manager Rebecca Arcos and two board members, president Jim Hoeffer and Gary Wellborn, attended to talk about making the bus schedule more convenient for seniors who wish to attend the lunches and activities at the Healy Center in Redway.
HTA offers two separate services to Southern Humboldt, an intercity bus that makes five round trips each weekday between Garberville and Eureka, and a local bus that stops at several locations in Garberville, Redway, Phillipsville, and Miranda.
Most recently the local bus has added stops in Benbow and the Evergreen Business Park in Redway.
The local bus has a “deviated fixed route,” which means that riders can request to be picked up and dropped off at locations within a mile of the established route.
The “deviated” route was intended to help elderly and disabled persons who used to ride the Quail bus, which offered door-to-door service. The Quail was discontinued three years ago due to inability to meet the 10 percent share of costs required by federal funding.
But the new service requires persons who wish to be picked up or delivered off the main route to be certified as eligible, which means paperwork and delays. Once a person is certified, he or she must call HTA 24 hours in advance to arrange for “deviated” service.
Currently the local bus is falling short of the 10 percent fare box requirement, earning only eight percent of its operating cost from fares, so it needs more riders.
One possible solution would be to change the current stop near the Humboldt House Inn to a stop in or near the Cedar Street apartments. A stop at this location would not only serve the apartment residents but also attract persons going to the library, the county social services building, and the hospital and clinic, which are all located within a block of the apartments.
Twenty persons live in the Cedar Street complex. Only four of them have cars, Cedar Street manager Patti Rose pointed out. Additionally, many residents have varying degrees of disability that keep them from walking very far.
While the street through the apartment complex is narrow and takes a sharp turn, Pratt said he thought it would be negotiable for the smaller local bus and that a stop within the complex would be feasible.
The Healy Senior Center in Redway offers low-cost lunches for seniors every Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday, followed by activities, including bingo on Wednesdays and card games on Thursdays.
Rebecca Arcos, the manager of the Healy Center, said that lunch is served at 12:30 p.m. but that seniors like to arrive a little early to socialize before the meal. An ideal bus schedule would have a bus arriving at the center at 10 a.m., noon, 1:30 p.m. and 3 p.m. to accommodate seniors who wish to combine shopping in Redway with lunch and activities at the center.
Again Pratt felt the local bus schedule could be adjusted to meet this request, but he would like some assurance that the changes would result in increased ridership that can produce an increase in fare box revenue to keep the system operating.
Arcos and the Healy Center board members agreed to survey their membership, and possibly to place a survey in local newspapers as well to find out how many riders an adjusted schedule might attract.
Even with a more convenient bus stop and schedule, many seniors feel that the local bus still does not offer the door-to-door service provided by the Quail. It's particularly difficult to get to medical appointments in Eureka, which requires a transfer from the intercity bus to a Eureka bus.
One person said that if he's not done with his medical appointment by 1 p.m. he misses the Eureka bus that takes him to the Bayshore Mall in time to catch the bus back to Garberville at 3 p.m. If he misses that bus, he has to wait until 6 p.m. for the next one. In turn, this means he arrives in town after dark.
”It's a nightmare to walk in this town after dark,” said another resident of the Cedar Street apartments.
Everyone agreed that the loss of door-to-door service has created serious hardship for seniors.
The best process is to ask the Humboldt County Association of Governments (HCAOG) to address this as an “unmet transit need,” Pratt said. HCAOG evaluates transit needs and available funding and then requests HTA to develop routes and services.
According to union rules, HTA must then ask drivers to bid on the routes. Because the drivers choose which routes they want to drive and because of other regulations, such as the requirement for 15-minute breaks, HTA is somewhat restricted in what it can ask of the drivers.
The bidding happens three times a year. The next bidding period is in late May, so Pratt felt there was time to research and develop schedule changes, which would then be implemented in June.
Asked how long the bus service has to meet the 10 percent fare box requirement, Pratt said that the local service was already in its “grace period,” which officially will end in July of this year.
The intercity bus is safely established, since it is earning 17 percent of cost from fares. Much of its ridership comes from local students going to College of the Redwoods, he said.
In a more general discussion, members of the public commented on other issues, such as the need for rest stops near bathroom facilities on the intercity route.
Many people felt that having at least one stop in Humboldt Redwoods State Park would be helpful to tourists as well as local residents who would like to hike or picnic in the redwoods.
During the summer, the intercity bus loses much of its student ridership at the same time more people are interested in going to the state park so a seasonal change of route might be appropriate, Pratt said.
A Phillipsville resident asked when a bench would be installed at the bus stop in Phillipsville. Pratt said the bench had been ordered and that HTA expects to install it by this week.
Supervisor Fennell pointed out that many people find the printed and online bus schedules confusing, and Pratt readily agreed. “It's a mess,” he said, and promised that it would be fixed once the new stops and times have been determined.
”We're on the path to solving the problem. If we stay dedicated we can make it happen,” said Fennell. “It will be good, but we all have to work together.”
PHOTO COURTESY OF KATHLEEN CREAGER
HTA manager Greg Pratt (at right, with notebook) and 2nd district supervisor Estelle Fennell (seated, in white jacket, at left) met with residents of the Cedar Street apartments in Garberville last week to discuss bus routes that will better serve seniors and others in Southern Humboldt.