The Humboldt Transit Authority is looking for just a few more regular riders to ensure continuing service on its local route in Southern Humboldt. To make it easier for people to learn what HTA offers, anyone can ride anywhere for free on both SoHum's local and inter-city routes on "Try it Tuesday" every week in October.
The eight people who attended Southern Humboldt Working Together's general meeting last Wednesday, Sept. 5, took a mini-field trip on an HTA bus driven by HTA's general manager, Greg Pratt.
For the past two years, HTA has been operating two routes in SoHum. The 19-seater local bus makes five round-trips daily on weekdays, making several stops each in Garberville and Redway, at the Phillipsville Fire Department, and near South Fork High School in Miranda.
HTA will soon be adding a stop in Benbow and a stop at the Evergreen Business Park to the local schedule.
The 26-seat inter-city bus also makes five round trips on weekdays between Garberville and Eureka, with one stop in Garberville, one stop in Redway, the Phillipsville Fire Department, South Fork High School, the Myers Flat Highway 101 off-ramp, the Weott Highway 101 off-ramp, the Davis Street off-ramp in Rio Dell, and several stops in Fortuna and Eureka, including College of the Redwoods, Redwood Memorial Hospital, the Bayshore Mall, and the county courthouse.
Each route is required to make a small portion of its costs, between 10 to 15 percent, from fares collected.
The inter-city route continues to meet that requirement, bringing in 17% of its costs at the farebox, but the local route is right on the edge, making only a little under 10% of its cost from fares.
The county must make up the difference, so whether or not a route can be continued and whether new lines and new services can be added is up to county government, with the county board of supervisors charged with making the final decision, Pratt told the SHWT participants.
The local bus needs approximately 100 more riders overall per month to meet its share, he added, which comes to about five more riders a day.
Pratt drove the participants from their usual meeting place at the Garberville Civic Club to the Redwood Drive and Melville Road bus stop, where he spent an hour answering questions and hearing suggestions and comments.
In order to install a bus shelter at this site, the southern terminus of both routes, the entire sidewalk on the block will have to be reconstructed to meet ADA access standards, which includes altering the gutter and roadway eight feet out from the sidewalk to keep the gradient less than two percent, Pratt explained.
"I'm not sure we can do this without encroaching on the landowner's permit," Pratt said. "If we can't work with the landowner, then all we can install is an overhang," a minimal metal awning that serves more to mark the bus stop than to provide shelter for riders waiting for a bus.
So far HTA has drawn up conceptual plans for the shelter. The next step is for the county to approve a survey of the site to determine if the plans are feasible.
Pratt has spoken with members of the Garberville-Redway Public Restrooms Working Group, who are currently looking at potential sites for public restrooms. (See related story in the Sept. 4 issue.)
HTA's plans, drawn by SHN Engineering of Eureka, are based on meeting ADA-compliant standards, including sidewalk slope, and show the possibility of placing two structures at the site. Cost of the completed project is roughly estimated at between $50,000 and $60,000.
In a separate conversation with the Redwood Times, Pratt said,"[HTA] has nothing to do with restrooms.... It's up to the people of Garberville to decide whether to put a restroom" on the site. The plans merely include calculations for an additional ADA-compliant structure, which might be a second bus shelter if future ridership warrants it.
HTA does not provide restrooms at any of their stops, he continued. Planning and construction of a restroom would be up to some other organization.
Standard fares are $1.50 for a one-way local trip and $5 for the inter-city trip. Reduced fares are available for seniors, youth from three to 17 years of age, and certified disabled persons.
Frequent riders of the inter-city bus may find it cost-effective to purchase either a "stored value" card, which gives them a discount on each ride, or a monthly pass.
Pratt noted that every HTA bus has a wheelchair lift and a bike rack capable of holding two bicycles. Service animals are allowed on all buses, and passengers may bring pet dogs if they are in a pet carrier.
As a general rule, passengers can bring three bags or packages on board, usually holding one bag on their laps, keeping one on the floor at their feet, and stashing one on the overhead luggage rack. Pratt has found that passengers often help each other out, making space for excess carry-ons when the bus isn't too crowded.
Several people asked about weekend service in SoHum. Pratt advised them to call, email, or write to the Humboldt County Association of Governments, which evaluates transportation in the county, with their request as an "unmet transit need."
HCAOG reviews unmet transit needs and makes recommendations to the board of supervisors.
The more requests they receive for a particular service the more likely they are to qualify it as an unmet transit need, and the more likely it is to receive the county's support.
To make comments, email HCAOG at email@example.com or call them at 444-8208. Their postal address is 611 I Street, Eureka 95501.
No matter whether the request is phoned in, mailed in, or emailed, the request will be counted as an unmet transit need, Pratt said.
Other suggestions included having more restroom stops, such as public libraries, creating a stop at Humboldt Redwoods State Park to attract tourists, offering additional stops between Garberville and Eureka, and offering service to special events.
Pratt took notes on all the suggestions but he pointed out that scheduling is tricky, requiring a balance between convenience and maintaining reliable, timely service.
Currently a ride between Garberville and the courthouse, which is the last stop in Eureka, takes about an hour and 45 minutes. If there are too many stops along the way, the ride will take too long and the route will lose ridership.
Dean Creek and the Highway 101 on-ramp near Miranda are frequent "flag stops," where the bus will stop if people are waiting. Additionally, drivers stop for people who wave to them along the route - providing the numbers are small. If too many people flag the bus, it won't be able to keep to its schedule, so drivers will stop picking them up, Pratt said.
For more information, interested persons should visit HTA's website at www.hta.org.
To make suggestions or to report problems, Pratt can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by phone at 443-0826. The toll-free number is 877-688-0826. HTA's office hours are 8 a.m. to noon, 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on weekdays.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY VIRGINIA GRAZIANI
1. Southern Humboldt Working Together participants enjoyed a short ride on this Humboldt Transit Authority bus as part of SHWT's September meeting last Wednesday. They discussed changes and requests for improvements to the system with Greg Pratt, general manager of HTA.
2. Greg Pratt did not start his career in public transit as a bus driver, but he has learned to drive a bus since becoming the general manager of HTA. He occasionally drives routes in place of a regularly scheduled driver because it helps him to understand the real-life aspects of the system.
3. SHWT participants, including (left to right) Terri Klemetson, Julia Minton, Kathy Epling, and Leo Powers, were among the group that took a "field trip" on the HTA bus as part of SHWT's September general meeting.
4. HTA buses have many innovations to help make the passengers' experience more comfortable and convenient. Buses are heated and air-conditioned, ADA compliant, and are equipped with WiFi, bike racks, and wheelchair lifts.