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Vine bus, new type

The Vine bus service in the city of Napa will have new routes this winter.

New Vine bus routes are coming to the city of Napa this winter that, while not the ones of transportation planners’ dreams, are moving in that direction within budget constraints.

The routes aren’t the favored bidirectional types, which have buses at each end start at the same time and cross in the middle. But most have equal travel times to and from destinations and are “small loops,” Napa Valley Transportation Authority officials said.

One goal is to make routes more direct. Another is to increase service on major corridors with jobs, stores and medical services, such as Imola Avenue, Soscol Avenue, Jefferson Street and Trancas Street, Public Transit Program Manager Matthew Wilcox said.

“The reason we started this project was in hopes of growing our ridership,” Wilcox said.

The NVTA Board of Directors approved the new bus routes last week. Agency staff plans to launch a public awareness campaign to prepare riders for changes that could come in January.

Also on the table were three other route-change options. One would have axed all fixed bus routes and given the city of Napa on-demand shuttle service.

“This is kind of the Cadillac,” Wilcox said. “You have a service that is door-to-door.”

But the cost would be an estimated $2.2 million annually, compared to $1.8 million for the current service and for the planned new service. The Vine would need to reconfigure its fleet from large buses to smaller vehicles and beef up the dispatch system.

The Vine runs on-demand service in American Canyon, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga. Calistoga Mayor and NVTA Board of Directors Chairman Chris Canning praised the system in his city. But he said that people during high-demand times wait for service.

“I can only imagine how that would compound in a city the size of Napa,” Canning said.

Calistoga has about 5,000 people living within 2.6 square miles. Napa has about 80,000 people living within 18 square miles.

“The city of Napa is small, but in the realm of on-demand service is quite large,” Wilcox said.

While on-demand service in the city of Napa isn’t on the horizon, transportation planners said they won’t forget about the idea. Changes in technology to better manage demand could come.

Another option called for having bidirectional bus routes in Napa and cutting service in the north Napa and Alta Heights area. Riders in north Napa and Alta Heights would use on-demand service to move around within those areas or to reach bus stops.

Staff called this the preferred option, but too costly at $2.2 million annually.

Still another idea called for having bidirectional routes and eliminating bus service in the low-ridership areas of Browns Valley west of Laurel Street and in north Napa, with no on-demand service replacement. The annual cost would be $1.6 million. Transportation officials said this option would cause problems in the eliminated areas for residents who cannot drive.

No member of the public addressed the NVTA directors as they sifted through the route options.

The Vine has seen ridership drop in recent years, from about 1.2 million a year at its peak to about 1 million. Bus ridership has fallen throughout the Bay Area, NVTA officials said.

Wilcox isn’t predicting an immediate return to peak numbers, even with the planned route changes. In fact, he said ridership could fall the first year as people get used to the new system. Also, the new system will require fewer transfers and each transfer counts as a ride.

The Vine in April modified its regional service, which are the bus routes to such places as the Vallejo ferry and El Cerrito del Norte BART station.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.