Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District to Reduce Operations and Adjust Routes

Illustrated by Bridget Rios

Lauren Luna

News Editor

Starting Monday, April 25, the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District (SBMTD) will temporarily reduce operations and adjust bus routes. This change, while only for the spring and summer, will allow the MTD time to hire new drivers and improve the quality of bus service overall.

Here’s a list of all routes and the changes to come, with routes common for UCSB students bolded:

1: Weekday p.m. peak headways reduced to 15 minutes

2: Weekday p.m. peak headways reduced to 15 minutes

5: Reduced span of service and reduced frequency on weekdays

6: Weekday a.m. and p.m. peak headways reduced to 15 minutes

11: Weekday a.m. and p.m. peak headways reduced to 15 minutes

12x: Operating on Saturday service schedule on weekdays

14: Reduced frequency on weekdays

15x: Running on the Limited Service Schedule

16: Temporarily suspended

20: Reduced weekday a.m. and p.m. peak and midday frequency 

23: Small schedule changes, mostly remains the same

24x: Reduced frequency on weekdays

25: Small schedule changes, mostly remains the same

27: Will remain on UCSB OUT schedule

28: Reduced span of service and reduced frequency to 36 minutes on weekdays

Various bus trips over the past five months have been canceled due to staffing issues, prompting changes to make the MTD system more reliable. MTD attributes the lack of staff to a combination of retirements, the Omicron variant surge, and normal attrition rates throughout the year. 

“Across the board, [the American Public Transportation Association] is saying it’s harder to hire and retain folks,” said Hillary Blackerby, planning and marketing manager for SBMTD. A survey conducted by this association found that 71 percent of bus programs are dealing with the same staffing issues.

In the end, SBMTD hopes to bring in at least 20-25 new bus drivers. In the meantime, Blackerby advises nearby bus attendees to call the MTD to check that their trips are still happening and review new route changes. Passengers can also see the status of their routes in real-time by using SBMTD’s bus tracker

Though SBMTD has addressed the volatility of its services, some students find that the bus tracker itself is not entirely reliable. 

While these changes are temporary, there is still high demand for bus services among the student population. The housing crisis has only added to this demand, as more students have needed to look for housing options further away from campus, some commuting all the way from Ventura County by bus to campus. 

For students in similar situations, UCSB’s Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) offers vanpool and rideshare resources. Students with a TAP membership may also be entitled to up to six days of complimentary campus parking, monthly transit passes, and use of UCSB’s Emergency Ride Home vehicles. 

Isla Vista (I.V.) Bicycles sell both new and used bikes for students needing an affordable transportation option over short distances. The vendor also offers rentals for $75 a month and $100 a quarter for those who will not need to use a bike for long. Varsity Bike Shop and the Associated Students (AS) Bike Shop also repair bikes for a reasonable price. 

Service reductions and changes are typical for the summer, as fewer students are around during that time, thus reducing the SBMTD hopes to resume regular bus hours by August. Blackerby said that SBMTD has worked with Teamsters Local 186, the city bus union, to develop strategies to retain current and recruit new bus drivers. Due to the plans still being in development, Teamsters Local 186 declined to comment at this time.

“In collaboration with Teamsters Local 180, [we’re working on] an amendment to [the bus driver’s contract] that increases the wage to $23.33 an hour,” said Blackerby. “This includes training and everything.”

As students and community members alike wait for the local bus system to reorganize itself, they can look forward to smoother operations and more reliable transportation in the months coming up.