County Connection bus service will be cut and fares raised by 25 cents per ride next spring to offset rising operating costs and cope with the state's continuing diversion of tax dollars away from public transit.
In its first service cutbacks since 2003, the board overseeing the bus system in Central Contra Costa County and the San Ramon Valley unanimously approved the actions Thursday, calling them painful but unavoidable.
"We don't like to do this, but we have no choice because the state has taken away so much money from us," said Mike Shimansky, a Danville town councilman who chairs the board.
Tentatively set to take effect March 22, the changes will raise the basic bus fare from $1.75 to $2. Free rides for seniors between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on weekdays will be eliminated and replaced with a $1 discounted fee during that period.
The board agreed to pare back or consolidate many routes, reducing total bus operating hours by 23 percent to save some $4 million a year.
County Connection managers said the overhaul of their service preserves the backbone of most routes, but bus runs will be less frequent in some places, and some portions of routes were scrapped or trimmed.
Residents of the Rossmoor retirement community will lose direct service to downtown Walnut Creek on bus route 101 despite objections from seniors there.
When the changes take effect, Rossmoor residents will need to take a County Connection bus to the Walnut Creek BART station and then transfer onto the city's free trolley shuttle to reach the downtown. This is in addition to the trip on a Rossmoor shuttle that carries residents to the Rossmoor gate.
"The idea of taking three buses is daunting," Harriet Shapiro, a Rossmoor resident, said at a public hearing Thursday before the board. "Who are you kidding? None of us are going to do that ... I'm not going to Broadway Plaza no more."
Shapiro said having to use several buses for a single outing can be disorienting, especially for seniors.
Rossmoor officials are asking Broadway Plaza operators to finance private shuttle buses from Rossmoor to the shopping center, but it's unlikely that service would be as frequent as the current County Connection service, said Gretchen Hanson of Rossmoor's transportation department.
County Connection managers say they expect by the end of the year to post a full list of all the route changes on their Web site at www.cccta.org. Information about the changes can be obtained by calling the agency at 925-676-7500.
The board also voted to close County Connection's Walnut Creek transportation center, where the public can buy regional transportation cards to get senior and disabled discounts. A replacement site is being sought.
The cutbacks approved Thursday inevitably will result in layoffs, but how many and when has yet to be determined, County Connection managers said.
Contact Denis Cuff at 925-943-8267 or firstname.lastname@example.org.