By Reggie Ellis
farmersville – Farmersville residents on the south edge of the city may finally be able to catch the bus without trekking halfway across town. Residents have probably noticed the large concrete curbing space in front of Roy’s Park that was completed in May. The area was paved and curbed to allow buses traveling to the southern city limits to make a U-turn and return to the main intersection of the city at Farmersville Boulevard and Visalia Road.
The area at Roy’s Park was necessary to allow for long buses to make the U-turn as part of a proposed service offered by Visalia Transit in cooperation with the City of Farmersville. Called “on-demand,” Christine Chavez, transit management analyst for Visalia Transit, said the service would divert the regular bus on Route 9 south on Farmersville Boulevard for pick up and drop off at Village Grove Apartments on the southern edge of town.
“If someone near that location wants a ride, they call the dispatch who then calls the driver of the bus nearest to their location,” Chavez said.
Visalia Transit already offers on-demand service in Visalia at the Riverway Sportspark and the Visalia Airport. Chavez said both of those locations were started with a trial period, which normally lasts about six months when Visalia Transit adjusts fixed routes in August and January. They average between two and 15 requests for on-demand pick up per week.
The on-demand service, where people can call in at any time and have a bus diverted to pick them up, is different than Dial-A-Ride which Visalia Transit requires advance notice, often 24 hours ahead of the scheduled pick up. Chavez said providing the on-demand services cuts down on unnecessary stops and doesn’t affect wait times at the remaining stops. Visalia Transit has already done some route monitoring and will build in an extra 5-7 minutes at the stop nearest the on-demand location in town.
“On Demand is a service people are interested in and while it goes a little off the path the system doesn’t have to pay for extra mileage, time and fuel,” Chavez said. “That’s important because Visalia Transit is mandated to recover 20% of its expenses and we have had a decrease in ridership the last few years.”
The on-demand stop near the Village Grove Apartments in Farmersville was briefly mentioned in Visalia Transit’s Short Range Transit Plan (SRTP). The plan, which is updated every two to five years, proposes the elimination of one of two routes servicing Farmersville and Exeter but may actually improve service to those communities, or at the very least just make the routes more efficient, as ridership has declined 14.5% over the past three fiscal years.
The SRTP proposes a complete overhaul of Route 12, which leaves Visalia along Caldwell Avenue, passes through Farmersville via Visalia Road and then makes a loop in Exeter before heading back down Visalia Road/Caldwell Avenue to Visalia.
Because Route 12 duplicated the east-west service provided by Route 9, the SRTP turned the route into a connecting route between transit hubs in Visalia. Route 12 now runs from the northern transit hub at Dinuba Boulevard and St. Johns Parkway to the southern transit hub of Orchard Avenue and South Fairway Street. This means residents living along Visalia Road between Farmersville Boulevard and Virginia Avenue on the western edge of the city will have to catch Route 9 at the intersection of Farmersville Boulevard and Visalia Road in order to get to Visalia.
The SRTP only made minor changes to Route 9. The route will become the only connection between Farmersville, Exeter and Visalia. In order to streamline the route, the SRTP proposes to eliminate turns on Road 156, Noble Avenue and McAuliff Street between Farmersville and Visalia on Walnut Avenue. Instead Route 9 will be straight show down Walnut between Farmersville Boulevard and the transit hub at Walnut and Ben Maddox. The exception to this proposed route would be on Thursday and Sunday when the buses would still cut over on Road 156 to Noble Avenue to provide service to the flea market before returning to Walnut on McAuliff. Last August, Visalia Transit added a second bus to Routes 9A and 9B, meaning one will arrive every 45 minutes instead of every 90 minutes.
“We are never set in our ways in transit and are constantly trying to make things better,” Chavez said.
Chavez said the SRTP is just a proposal and it is available for review on Visalia Transit’s web site at www.visaliatransit.com. The public comment period is open until Aug. 18, 2017 at which point the Visalia City Council will review and accept the recommendations either as the presented or with modifications. Comments can be made by calling the Greenline at 1-877-474-0473 or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
“We welcome specific comments about how to improve the route for residents,” Chavez said. “Telling us what the specific challenges and obstacles you face to using transit is extremely helpful.”
Visalia Transit, the City of Visalia’s transportation department, has been offering fixed route bus service through Exeter and Farmersville since 2004.