January 2013 Meeting

Speaker: Dick Whittington, YARTS Transit Manager

Counties involved in YARTS: Merced, Mariposa and Mono. Under a Joint Powers Authority (“JPA”) since year 2000; about 95,000 passengers last year.

Last year was the first time YARTS ran busses in Tuolomne County. Originally Tuolomne and Madera were supposed to be part of YARTS, but they dropped out.

Yosemite Valley is capable of handling and parking about 7,000 cars, but on July 3, 2011 – 11,000 cars entered Yosemite Valley, so the National Park Service (“NPS”) is interested in doing something about the cars and congestion in general. There were 43 days of parking/congestion problems in 2011.

As a way of relieving congestion in general, last year the NPS wanted to expand YARTS service as the way of relieving some of the congestion. In 2012, after expanding to Tuolomne, YARTS didn’t exceed capacity (note: falls weren’t as spectacular, and hantavirus hit, so could be multiple reasons for this).

The park service offered to expand service to Madera/Oakhurst, but were turned down by the Oakhurst Visitors Center. In Tuolomne there was also a push to get people to go in during the week instead of the weekend.

YARTS receives half million in fares in 2012.  One objection to YARTS is that it’s publicly subsidized; but as Dick pointed out, all public transit is subsidized as are our roads, etc.  Subsidies usually require matching funds and fares can’t be used for that, so NPS gives $300,000/yr to YARTS and the various counties in the JPA also contribute with Mariposa County at $135K/yr; Merced at $85K and Mono County at $30K/yr.  YARTS also contracts with Amtrak to provide Amtrak Thruway service to Mariposa County destinations, including Yosemite NP year-round, and Mono County destinations, in the summer.   Also involved is 5311F funding from the state (involves transporting people from rural areas into urban areas).

YARTS owns 8 busses now which are cheaper to run than using contractors and the buses are cleaner running, meeting or  exceeding CA Air Resources Board requirements for that type of vehicle. They run clean as natural gas.  Also, the YARTS busses are the only public transit to offer three point seatbelts. The cost is about $580K per bus; if YARTS purchased hybrid, would be $825K per bus.

Tuolumne Co. is conducting a transit study to evaluate ways to improve the service model used last year.  They are also evaluating service to the San Joaquin Valley, probably to Modesto or Manteca.  Manteca has expressed strong interest in having service between there and Yosemite.

Two years ago the Fresno Council of Governments (COG) did a transit study on "Transit to National Parks", i.e., Kings Canyon and Yosemite National Parks.  The study was approved by the COG Board and two projects are moving forward.  Visalia Transit operates the Sequoia Shuttle and has been tabbed to operate the service to Kings Canyon.  That service is planned to begin in summer of 2013.  The study recommended that YARTS provide the service to Yosemite on Hwy 41.  That service is currently anticipated to begin in summer of 2014. Apparently Oakhurst doesn’t want YARTS to stop in Oakhurst, but Fresno plans to use highway 41, looking at airport, Amtrak and greyhound stations for collection points in Fresno.

Merced River Plan came out recently from the NPS – 2,500 pages – need to reduce congestion in park.  If YARTS just carried 10% of the traffic into the park (that would be 400,000 people) the park wouldn’t be congested. YARTS will never have capacity to replace cars. And the “no cars” restriction is no longer in the new plan.

Dick was asked to see if the reduced winter schedules can be coordinated with other transit options such as Amtrak. Dick said 35% of ridership is commuters.

It was mentioned that the last bus leaves Yosemite at 6, doesn’t work well for people working in restaurants and other concessions in the park. In the WINTER, the last bus leaves the park at 6 PM.  In the summer it leaves at 8:30  Apparently, DNC in the past hasn’t been cooperative about getting YARTS to work with their employees’ schedules.

Bike racks on YARTS?  The bike racks on the front of the YARTS buses would make the buses longer than the state length restriction of 45 feet AND would keep the buses from being able to get across the DETOUR bridges on Hwy 140, which also has a 45-foot restriction. However, bikes can be put bikes in the luggage compartment.