By Robert Perry and Kristy Jansen
In order to gain first-hand experience of our local transit system in Santa Barbara, Robert Perry (the Academy’s Director of Energy Research), and Kristy Jansen, (the Academy’s Chief of Staff and Media Producer) resolved to only use mass transit at least one day a week during the month of May. Below is a recap of the experience:
Like many, I haven’t regularly used mass transit since before I owned a car, so I resolved to leave my car in Los Angeles (I live in LA but work in Santa Barbara, where I stay at my Dad’s house in Goleta) and use available mass transit to reach my destinations.
Monday: Taking Amtrak North to Goleta. Tales of Amtrak delays are legion, so I decided I would allow myself an afternoon to travel from the Chatsworth Station in Los Angeles to Goleta, which is only a few miles from my Dad’s house. Amtrak did not disappoint, as the train was over 40 minutes late. That said, the experience was better than expected and I was able to use their low-band wi-fi to manage email while in transit. The train can be a great travel experience, but the U.S. really needs to invest a level of capital comparable to other countries’ investment to (1) offer more trains at regular intervals and (2) upgrade their technology to increase rider satisfaction/productivity.
Days 2-4: Taking MTD to Work and Back. Although my bus commute from El Encanto Heights (off Glen Annie) to the World Business Academy offices on APS is long and off the beaten trail, I was fortunate to have a nearby bus stop, with a bus route to the corner of State and Mission streets. That said, the route was circuitous and took around an hour, going through UCSB, Old Town Goleta down Hollister Avenue to Upper State Street. It was all good, however, as I was able to do a lot of my morning reading while also witnessing a large number of UCSB students that pack the buses to the campus. In many ways, this arrangement is the transit ideal: regular transit modes for transporting an identified ridership to a specific destination.
Leaving Goleta at ~7:30 a.m., I arrived at Mission Street at ~8:30, then walked 20-25 minutes from State Street, up Pedregosa to our office across from the El Encanto Hotel. Those familiar with Pedregosa and California streets know that their gradient is as close to the streets in San Francisco as anywhere locally, and the climb served as my morning workout, which I normally complete before going to work. By rearranging my existing morning routine to accommodate the transit lifestyle, I was able to include that 30 minutes as part of my 90-minute commute. Others could accomplish this goal by riding a bike over their “last mile(s).”
Caveat: There were two instances where I needed to borrow a car or get a ride to an event. One adjustment I will need to make is to locate my own transportation, either a car or bike, at the office during the day to transport me to midday events.
Day 5: Taking Amtrak South from Goleta to Chatsworth. This time the train was on time, within five minutes of the scheduled arrival. This is probably due to the fact that there are only a few stops between San Luis Obispo and Goleta. Again, the experience while in transit was enjoyable and is much quieter than diesel buses or passenger jets for that matter.
I live less than a block from one of the main bus routes for MTD. When I worked downtown a few years ago, I would take the bus or ride my bike at least one day a week, giving up the expediency and flexibility of a personal vehicle for the environmental friendliness, extra exercise, and lack of parking headache by using bike or public transport. But now that I work for the Academy at offices up on Alameda Padre Serra – just across the street from the El Encanto hotel, a mile and a bit up a steep hill from the nearest bus stop, I had convinced myself that taking the bus or riding a bike did not make sense.
In mid-April, Trevor, an elderly friend of the Academy who lives nearby stopped in. Trevor does not drive, doesn’t use e-mail or have a smartphone, but still works part-time. For an octogenarian, he’s is doing quite well. On said morning, he stopped into the Academy office. Trevor was sweating, huffing and puffing. I asked him if he’d just been exercising, “No, just walked up from the bus stop at Pedregosa. I am just stopping in on my way home for a rest and to see Tiffany (our Controller who’s always got a jar of sweets at her desk) for some candy,” he said. If Trevor, who is 85 years old could walk up the hill from the bus, I thought, then I certainly can.
I knew it was doable but was I willing to commit to it? Yes, at least for the month of May. My route is much less complicated than Bob’s – just a straight shot down Hollister & State on the 6 or 11 bus line. During the height of the day, it runs every 10-15 minutes. From the stop near my house to State & Mission is roughly a 40-minute bus ride. Then it’s a 25-minute walk up to our office. This is 45 minutes longer than I’d normally take to get to work. But I decided that Tuesday – which is generally my lightest work day, and a day I usually only need to go to and from the office – I could commit to taking the bus and walking. I’ve now done my “Carless Tuesday” four weeks in a row, and plan to keep it up.
I have a 90-pound akita, who needs a good walk each morning, and thus I get one too. Since I still need to take my dog Tucker out every day, I can’t swap my exercise time for walking to the office. For me, the nice thing about adding the bus to my commute is time to read. In the four Tuesdays of my bus commute so far, I have been able to finish 2 novels – after several years of not reading fiction. I relish this found personal time!
- Amtrak Currently not Worth the Cost/Hassle. For Bob, leaving his car in L.A. and taking the train was neither economical nor efficient as he needs to bring a lot of stuff with him for the upcoming week. A better solution for Bob was to drive up, leave his car at the office and commute via local transit. To solve regional congestion and upgrade service, large capital investments will be needed to add sections of double-track and purchase electric light rail trains.
- Multiple Transit Modes are Needed at Connection Points. Connection points, such as train/bus stations and bus stops, need to be equipped with solar panels and batteries to charge downstream transit modes such as e-bikes, scooters and for electric vehicle stations.
- Lifestyle Adjustments are Needed. You will need to closely coordinate your activities on any day you choose mass transit. Events will need to be sequenced in an order that best utilizes the routes offered by a particular transit mode. You may also need to make separate arrangements for extra items.
- There is a Solution to Every Transit Need. Our case study involved some of the most inconvenient locations in relation to our current transit options. The World Business Academy offices located at 2020 APS, require either walking from State Street (good exercise!) or calling in a pick-up. Once at the office, any additional traveling will require borrowing a car or getting a ride. As noted above, having some form of transportation (car, bike) solves this problem and such workarounds are likely available for other commutes.
In advance of the upcoming Transportation panel discussion (May 22, 2019, at El Encanto 5-7PM) hosted by the World Business Academy, we had been brainstorming on a Call to Action for this event. After our transit experience, here’s our CTA: Join us in our “Carless” day of the week, finding a day to explore public transportation, get on a bike, a ride-share, or some other interesting alternative to transition to a clean, green and sustainable transportation future!