San Joaquin Regional Transit District (SJRTD) officials celebrated the start of work on a $51.1 million storage, maintenance and office hub on March 21, saying it will improve the efficiency and reliability of public transportation in San Joaquin County.
Slated for 10 acres east of Filbert Street in Stockton just north of the Crosstown Freeway, the Regional Transit Center will expand an existing county facility to combine the functions of three cramped, outdated sites scattered throughout downtown Stockton, according to the district’s project plan.
Administrative functions, fueling, maintenance and parking for the district’s 121 vehicles were once spread between the existing Filbert Street location and sites at Fremont Street and Wilson Way and Weber Avenue and California Street. With the recent demolition of RTD’s Fremont and Wilson facility, buses must be fueled by mobile tanker and cleaned by a mobile wash service at the Filbert Street location, and then parked in a converted warehouse.
The new site, scheduled for completion in late 2015, will house several employee divisions while giving the transit district a single place where buses can be stored, fixed, cleaned and fueled. According to an RTD press release, the consolidated center will improve efficiency by enabling the simultaneous fueling and washing of four buses instead of just one at a time.*
District CEO and General Manager Donna DeMartino said the move should lower operational costs and provide capacity to increase the size and scope of local public transportation services.
“This project will benefit SJRTD immediately upon its completion, and will continue to benefit the community as a whole for decades to come through improved efficiencies and increased services,” she said.
According to SJRTD spokesman Paul Rapp, construction is funded by $16.2 million from Measure K, the county’s half-cent sales tax originally passed by voters in 1990 and renewed for 30 years in 2006. The rest comes from transportation-oriented Proposition 1B ($11 million), Federal Transit Administration Grants ($17.8 million) and other local sources ($6.1 million).
If the statements from SJRTD are accurate, that spending should present local leaders with the chance to significantly upgrade the bus system in Stockton and San Joaquin County. With a modern facility in place, it’s reasonable to expect a renewed focus on providing more frequent service to more places.
The potential for a stronger, expanded public transportation fleet that better serves San Joaquin County is welcome news. Robust public transit systems offer a greener alternative to individual auto travel, and are a matter of social justice for those who cannot afford personal, private transportation.
But the promise of the Regional Transit Center will go largely unfulfilled if its construction is not accompanied by other changes.
One of those is a commitment to spend more money on inter- and inner-city transportation. Recent investments in the bus fleet include the purchase of hybrid vehicles that pollute less and save money on fuel. But one-time investments like hybrids and new facilities can only accomplish so much if elected officials do not devote more money to public transportation operations on an ongoing annual basis.
Perhaps the biggest improvement to the county’s long-term public transportation system relates to how cities grow. Buses can only knit together so many subdivisions built with automobiles as the central transportation theme.
The outward march of Stockton’s subdivisions during the past four decades, for example, has been centered on the car. Developers have talked about the concept of walkability, connectivity and non-car travel during that time, only to build neighborhoods stretching away from the city’s core. The Regional Transportation Center could provide the opportunity for public transit to take on a higher profile when it comes to future development — development that should be designed with public transportation as a core concept, not something shoehorned in to placate smart-growth advocates or meet the letter of environmental law.
Without efforts such as these, the Regional Transit Center will still be a boon to residents in Stockton and the rest of San Joaquin County — but it will be through tinkering at the edges, rather than as a catalyst for wholesale change.
*Post has been updated from original