After months of anticipation, the new VINE bus routes debuted in Napa on Monday and were accompanied by slight hiccups — some buses ran late, while some riders were confused, lost or irritable.
But staff with the Napa County Transportation and Planning Agency (NCTPA) said these issues were to be expected given the magnitude of the changes, and riders seemed willing to give the agency a chance to work out the problems with the new routes.
The routes were redesigned to make them shorter, quicker and more direct to major destinations throughout the city, with more connections to other routes. Most routes will now have buses running every half-hour, instead of hourly service.
The majority of the routes flow through the new Soscol Gateway Transit Center on Fourth and Burnell streets, often at a rate of more than 20 buses per hour.
Truncating the routes meant some riders had to walk farther to bus stops, while others had to transfer between routes when they didn’t need to before.
But the redesign should provide improved service to the vast majority of VINE riders, NCTPA Assistant Planner Diana Meehan said Monday. Meehan was one of several people at the new transit center to help riders adjust to the new system.
“For the great, great majority of people, I think the system is a great, great improvement,” Meehan said.
The changes provoked a massive amount of phone calls from residents, and customer service representatives were tied up answering them for much of Monday, Meehan said.
“The phone has been ringing off the hook,” Meehan said. “There’s no break in the phone ringing. The call volume was huge.”
She said she hadn’t seen any rider with questions lose composure and resort to shouting or outbursts. “I haven’t seen anybody completely irate,” she said.
Napa resident Joseph Carroll said his bus was running late Monday, turning a normal 20-minute ride into a 45-minute ride, but he was willing to be patient and let the new system take hold.
“I think once they get it down it will be a little smoother and more effective,” Carroll said.
Carroll said he had notice of the changes, given that NCTPA was advertising them extensively, but
wasn’t able to get information on the new routes by calling the agency.
“Getting through on the telephone was not going to happen,” Carroll said.
Napa resident Kerina Stoner said she rides the VINE from south Napa to her job at Trancas and Jefferson streets, and was pleased to see that the new routes will be more frequent. In the past, she said if one bus ran late she’d miss her transfer. She hopes to avoid that in the future.
“If the bus was late I’d miss the transfer, then I’d be late for work,” Stoner said. “I like that it’s more frequent. That helps a lot. It’s a little bit easier to understand.”
Napa resident Vivian Avanzino said she’s been riding the bus around Napa for 20 years, and wasn’t pleased with the new routes. She said she didn’t like the route’s direction, and having to wait for a connection at the new transit center. She did like the increased frequency, but said she wishes the old routes would have remained.
“I wish we would have stayed where we were before,” Avanzino said.
Art Coleman of Napa said he’s been riding the VINE for about three years since getting into a car accident, and uses it mostly to get back and forth from doctor’s appointments. While the new routes mean more walking for him, he’s not unhappy about it — it means more exercise, he said.
Given he pays discounted fares for being a senior citizen, Coleman said he was also willing to wait out whatever problems NCTPA might have with the new routes.
“The price is right,” Coleman said.
Meehan said NCTPA hopes to help riders through this transition period, and offers volunteers, known as transit ambassadors, to help anyone get acquainted with riding the new routes. They’re available by calling 707-259-8778.
“The hard part for most people is the transition period,” Meehan said. “That’s what we’re in right now, and we’re going to be in it for a while. We know that people are going to need help and we need to help them.”