Lompoc’s transit system is failing. Service has dropped from 320,009 in 2006 to 134,171 in 2013.
During those years, most of the Transportation Development Act (TDA) funds intended for transit in Lompoc have been diverted to repairing roads. In 2006-07, only $497,000 out of $1.5 million was used for transit. In 2013-14, $170,000 of nearly $1.6 million went to transit. Most of the funds went to repair roads.
Roads need to be fixed, but these funds come from TDA, a state statute that funds public transportation and transit systems — including facilities for bicycles and pedestrians — that provide an essential public service, especially to the elderly, handicapped, youth and people of limited means.
These funds are only allowed to be diverted to roads if a jurisdiction can demonstrate it has met all public transportation needs. Unfortunately, each year when the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments holds a needs hearing, it seems it is just trying to find ways to spend the money on roads. It tries to prove negative unmet needs do not exist, or they are not reasonable to meet. The jurisdiction should have to show what the needs are and how they are being met.
This year’s hearing was held at the Betteravia Government Center in Santa Maria. Only Lompoc and Santa Barbara County do not use all of their TDA funds for transit. During 2013-14, a total of $1.7 million allocated to the unincorporated part of North County went to transit. The remaining $500,000 did not. Why?
Some SBCAG members questioned what was going on in Lompoc, and thought the city should have surveyed bus riders. They even suggested the hearings were only held to satisfy a legal process. But no one from Lompoc answered their questions.
But SBCAG members should blame themselves. They let Lompoc and the county divert more money each year. All other jurisdictions in the county spend 100 percent of their TDA funds on transit. SBCAG held this hearing, but it did not survey bus riders. About a dozen people spoke at the hearing, out of a population of 435,000.
Nobody from Lompoc testified, but there obviously are needs. When ridership declines by 58 percent due to cutbacks in service, those needs are not being met.
There are other needs not being met, because the people with those needs have not been surveyed. They shouldn’t have to come to a hearing. Go into the community and ask what the needs are, perhaps even survey them by phone. Compile that information and act on it.
Or, if the city or county can’t figure out how to spend the funds to meet transportation needs, hire someone who can. There are plenty of experts who have a track record of identifying and meeting transportation needs. It is the responsibility of the jurisdiction to do everything possible to use these funds as intended.
Some SBCAG members said more outreach needed to be done, especially in Lompoc, and they wanted to hear from local residents at their next board meeting on Feb. 19.
They are accepting written comments until Jan. 25. Send them to email@example.com, or 260 N. San Antonio Road, Suite B, Santa Barbara 93110.
Jeanne Sparks is communications manager for Santa Barbara County Action Network (SB CAN). She can be reached at Jeanne@sbcan.org. Forward View is a progressive look at local issues that runs on Thursdays. For information, call 736-1897, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Catch the latest in Opinion
Get opinion pieces, letters and editorials sent directly to your inbox weekly!