Thank you for the opportunity to respond to the letter dated Jan. 3 regarding the Napa Valley Transportation Authority's Vine Transit Services ("Bus system should have been planned better").
Prior to the pandemic, the Vine provided over 1 million transit trips in fiscal year 2019-20. Since the pandemic, ridership has dropped off by almost 80% but it is slowly coming back and the agency staff anticipate that ridership will be fully restored when the pandemic ends. During the pandemic, bus services nationwide - particularly those in suburban and rural areas - did not experience the same precipitous ridership drop as commuter services. This is because smaller systems, like the Vine, provide critical mobility for members of the community that cannot drive or choose not to drive. Providing services to the most disadvantaged members of the community is a key objective for the agency.
All public transit agencies are subsidized by taxes - it's extremely expensive to deploy public transportation and state and federal block grants minimize the impacts to local communities. That said, Vine Transit is the 8th most cost-effective transit system among the 28 San Francisco Bay Area systems. Its key performance metrics have resulted in a revenue bump of over $1.1 million from a Federal Transit Administration program called Small Transit Intensive Cities or STIC. STIC is awarded to transit systems that meet any one of the six criteria targets - NVTA met four of those targets last year - more than any other transit operator in the region.
NVTA is indeed building a new maintenance facility. The existing facility is owned by the city of Napa and served its purpose when the city provided only fixed route services within the city. Since that time, NVTA has consolidated services in the four other cities in Napa County, added regional and express bus services, and is providing Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) services. Consequently the existing facility is simply too small to accommodate these expanded services. It is also outdated - few improvements have been made in over 20 years anticipating the construction of the new facility.
Finally, NVTA is transitioning its clean diesel fleet to all electric. The existing maintenance facility is not sufficient to adequately park Vine Transit buses, let alone provide bus charging stations for the fleet.
The new transit facility will be on Sheehy Court near the airport. The facility is fully designed and will be funded through grant revenues and borrowing. The agency intends to pay the loans back using existing revenues. The Vine is primarily funded through Transportation Development Act (a state statute that directs 1/4 percent of local sales tax to transit), State Transit Assistance (sales tax on diesel fuels based on a revenue-related formula), and federal gas tax (based on urbanized area population formula). The agency also collected roughly $1 million from fares in FY 2019-20. The agency has been operating well within its statutorily funded means and has not sought additional revenues from the local community. NVTA staff have also been extremely successful seeking competitive grant funds for service expansion and capital projects.
Like all public agencies, NVTA suffered a significant loss in revenues beginning in March. Tourists stayed home, people stopped riding the bus, and revenues plummeted. To address the corresponding reduction in revenues, NVTA acted quickly to transition the fixed-route system in the city of Napa to a stop-to-stop on-demand service. It reduced trips on regional and express bus services, and reduced the hours on shuttles in the smaller jurisdictions of American Canyon, Calistoga, St. Helena, and Yountville. Vine Services were on an upward ridership trajectory when the pandemic hit in March. NVTA staff members are optimistic that riders will return when the pandemic ends and life returns to normal.
On behalf of the NVTA Board and staff, we wish you much peace and good health in 2021 and we look forward to seeing you back on the bus.