By David Rutherford
With the construction phase substantially complete, Omnitrans, the transit provider in San Bernardino County, CA, began testing its new sbX Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) operations in early February. Omnitrans expects the system to be fully operational and underway later this month. The Omnitrans sbX is the first-of-its-kind express service in southern California’s Inland Empire, connecting California State University at San Bernardino (CSUSB), downtown San Bernardino, the City of Loma Linda, the Loma Linda University Medical Center and the VA Hospital where the system terminates.
The system runs along E Street in San Bernardino as a dedicated bus lane through the center third of the corridor. 5.2 of the 15.7 miles are identified by white dots in the red line. The other 10.5 miles is in mixed-flow traffic with curbside service.
Using 14 New Flyer XN60 60-foot articulated transit buses to travel the 15.7-mile corridor between northern San Bernardino and Loma Linda, the sbX improves travel time for existing transit riders in San Bernardino and serves as the centerpiece for economic development efforts in this region.
With the launch of sbX comes a number of historic firsts associated with BRT in this country.
• The first BRT application to receive a Project Construction Grant Agreement in the history of FTA’s Region IX.
• The first to receive the maximum funding allowable ($75M for projects with capital cost below $250M) for a BRT Small Starts project in Region IX.
• The first BRT system completed in 10 years from conceptual design to revenue operation.
• The New Flyer XN60 is the first five-door, 60-foot articulated coach to run on compressed natural gas (CNG). Omnitrans was one of the first fleets to run entirely on CNG among agencies in southern California, the region with some of the highest air pollution levels in the country.
Omnitrans sbX will operate 10-minute headways during weekday peak periods and 15 minute off-peak headways. The ridership projection for the first year of service is approximately 5,600 passengers per day, who will include people who live and work in the corridor, high school and college students, veterans, seniors and persons with disabilities.
The sbX service has created and approved an additional 23 employees are as part of Omnitrans annual budget, which include 16 coach operators, a field supervisor of operations, two equipment mechanics, one facility mechanic, one utility maintenance service worker, one maintenance worker for stops and stations, and one systems engineer for information. While 25 coach operators are dedicated to the sbX system, the net increase of 16 is due to the subsequent reduction of service on Omnitrans Route 2.
Planning and funding
Omnitrans began an alternatives analysis in early 2004 to evaluate transportation options in a corridor served by Omnitrans Route 2, the highest performing bus route in the Omnitrans system. In December 2005, local stakeholders selected BRT as the locally preferred alternative. The next two years, the transit agency worked with local stakeholders to identify funding sources and station locations. FTA approved the project for development in December 2007, issued a Finding of No Significant Impact in September 2009, with Omnitrans receiving a Project Construction Grant Agreement in 2011.
Ninety-six percent of the $191.7 million for this construction project came from federal, state and county funding used only for designated transit projects. The cities of Loma Linda and San Bernardino provided in-kind contributions such as permit fee waivers and facility use.
The breakdown: Federal, 763.9 percent; State, 15.7 percent; County, 6.2 percent; and 4.2 percent from Loma Linda and San Bernardino in-kind contributions.
The total cost for corridor construction includes the traffic signal priority system, the purchase of the New Flyer 60-foot vehicles and modifications to the Omnitrans vehicle maintenance facility to accommodate these larger vehicles.
During the E Street Corridor planning process, Omnitrans worked closely with the cities and corridor stakeholders to locate the stations at major existing activity centers or in areas with potential for transit- supportive uses.
San Bernardino adopted a new general plan in 2005 to include transit-supportive principles for mixed-use development and incentives for pedestrian amenities and shared parking — with the highest densities of development targeted towards the sbX corridor. Loma Linda also drafted a general plan with transit-supportive principles. Both cities are developing revised zoning regulations consistent with their general plan updates.
The City of San Bernardino has incentives in its general plan such as density bonuses to promote transit supportive uses and design. Most of the stations are in areas where tax increment financing and other development incentives are available.
While there are several recent examples of transit-supportive development in the Southern California region, none fell within the E Street Corridor. A major mixed-use redevelopment project is planned for the site of an aging mall in downtown San Bernardino and a proposed intermodal transit center will include joint development opportunities.
Riverside and San Bernardino Counties expect to gain more than one million residents over the next 20 years, the greatest percentage of growth in population for period 2000 to 2025 in the Southern California region. A 4,000-acre portion of the proposed station areas lies within designated redevelopment areas. Commercial or institutional build out of these areas could result in nearly 30 million square feet and over 45,000 housing units of new development, best served by express transit systems such as sbX.