County OKs Bus Expansion to Link 8 Cities

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Ventura County is poised for a major expansion of local bus service that will link eight cities in the county and include connections to Metrolink commuter rail lines by next July under a plan adopted by county supervisors Tuesday.

The four new bus lines are part of a two-year, federally aided trial program aimed at reducing county residents' dependence on the automobile.

If ridership on the new buses meets expectations after two years, the county and the cities served by the lines will attempt to forge an agreement to pay for the new system themselves.

The bus service--called VISTA, for Ventura Intercity Transit Authority--will replace Interconnect, the county's existing bus network.

The new routes will include existing stops and provide additional service to cities just over the Los Angeles County line and to large area employers such as Camarillo State Hospital and the Navy base at Point Mugu.

"We think it will fill a lot of holes in the current system," said Butch Britt, deputy director of public works in charge of transportation. "I also think there is clearly a desire in this county to reduce pollution, and this will serve that purpose."

Nearly 90% of the cost of the expanded bus service will come from federal funds. The rest of the cost will be divided among the county and the cities receiving the service.

While county officials said they were confident that all of the cities involved will sign on to the agreement, at least one city was debating its role in the program.

Pleased with their own local bus service, Fillmore City Council members said they were concerned that participation in the countywide program could harm their own bus system. "This is a really difficult decision for us," Mayor Linda Brewster said. "Our local operator is inexpensive and they know us."

Despite the concerns, Britt said he believes the county will work to resolve any problems the plan poses to the cities. "We'd have to look and see what their concerns are, but I believe we could still move forward," he said.

Supervisors called the transportation program innovative and expressed high expectations for the new service.

"It's something that we have wanted to do for a long time," Supervisor Vicky Howard said. "We have a lot of people who have expressed interest in this, particularly in the east end of the county. But we were always held back because there was no funding.

"Now we can have funding for the first two years and have the chance to build ridership," she said.

Supervisor Maggie Kildee applauded the program. "It's an excellent plan," she said. "I think people will be pleased with the increased access it gives them."

The county has already submitted a request to the federal government for funding for one of the new bus lines, called VISTA-Highway 126, which would serve Fillmore, Piru and Santa Paula.

Tuesday's approval allows the county to move forward in obtaining federal start-up dollars for the other three lines.

Another new bus line, VISTA-Highway 101, would include stops in Thousand Oaks, Camarillo, Oxnard and Ventura. VISTA-Central would serve Camarillo State Hospital, Casa Pacifica, Point Mugu, the National Guard headquarters, Camarillo, Oxnard and Port Hueneme.

The VISTA-East line would serve the Moorpark and Simi Valley Metrolink stations, Thousand Oaks, Agoura Hills and Westlake Village.

Planned bus fares are $1 or $2, depending on the length of the trip. Discounts will be offered to senior citizens and people with disabilities. Countywide bus passes are also planned, costing $40 to $50 a month.

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