By Darren Kettle
Ventura County Transportation Commission
The Ventura County Transportation Commission (VCTC) celebrated 25 years in July as regional transportation planning agency. With this milestone VCTC also marked its 20th year operating VCTC Intercity Transit (formerly VISTA), the county’s popular intercity bus program.
These achievements are solid evidence of the agency’s commitment and hard work to keep Ventura County moving; and reflective of VCTC’s continued focus on customer needs.
There is much more to our mission to keep Ventura County moving than just providing communities throughout the county with reliable and efficient mobility options. It is about listening to members of the public and empowering them with resources to make their transportation experience a positive one.
Intercity bus service
In 1994, six Ventura County communities operated independent local transit services. The Southern California Regional Rail Authority had just expanded its Metrolink commuter rail service into Ventura County. However, a key component still missing was a link between communities, popular destinations and Metrolink rail stations to connect with people countywide.
That year, VCTC launched the county’s most comprehensive intercity program dubbed the Ventura Intercity Service Transit Authority (VISTA).
“A new era of transit service,” proclaimed the original service brochure. It was touted as the link connecting all local transit service in Ventura County. VISTA’s original service offerings consisted of four fixed routes as well as general public Dial-A-Ride service in the rural Heritage Valley. It provided connectivity and a mobility solution desperately needed by local residents and commuters.
By its fifth year, VISTA had expanded service into Los Angeles County via its Conejo Connection route. It had also begun offering frequent service to California State University – Channel Islands and a local school-day commuter shuttle in the rural community of Santa Paula. In 2001, a partnership with the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments to the north resulted in the launch of the popular Coastal Express route.
Since then, VCTC has expanded to include service to local hotspots, employment centers, educational institutions and intermodal hubs. Each VCTC Intercity Transit vehicle is equipped with free onboard Wi-Fi, and we are excited to be expanding our fleet with additional MCI over-the-road coaches later this year.
What is our key to success? Responsiveness. VCTC is constantly retooling its programs and listening to the people it serves. While this may seem obvious, it is the cornerstone of our mission and our longevity. Open communication, consistent attention to customer feedback, and a willingness to adapt to emerging needs has allowed us to grow VCTC Intercity Bus into a long-term means of keeping Ventura County moving.
That’s not to say we have not faced challenges. As Ventura County has no dedicated transportation tax, VCTC must carefully balance customer needs with available resources. Statewide measures such as California’s Proposition 1B have provided funds for capital purchases, thereby allowing VCTC to maximize use of other revenues for operations.
Moving into the next 20 years of transit service, VCTC is actively pursuing alternative fuels and testing all-electric solutions from BYD, Proterra, and Complete Coach Works.
We’ve taken an aggressive approach to integrating social media and mobile applications into our communications to equip riders with real-time bus arrival updates and schedule information.
VCTC has also fostered multimodal coordination by providing comprehensive information regarding local bikeways via a countywide bike map and accompanying mobile application. We are actively searching for and evaluating emerging “green” technologies.
Integrating into VCTC’s Commuter Services program has further augmented the growth of VCTC Intercity Transit. Formerly, rideshare services for all of Southern California were under regional management.
However, when that program disbanded in 2002, administration of the local Ventura County ridesharing program fell to VCTC to coordinate and promote. Since then, our Commuter Services program has grown to include close relationships with local employers, the development of targeted resources and annual countywide campaigns such as Bike to Work Week and Rideshare Week. Each component includes information regarding local transit options as well as carpooling and vanpooling.
To promote Commuter Services, we have consistently tailored communications and campaigns to appeal to current needs and trends. VCTC provides free worksite outreach events through local employee transportation coordinators who distribute service and program information, distribute promotional items and gain valuable participant feedback. The creation of strategic partnerships and provision to those partners of the education and resources to champion ridesharing has helped make the Commuter Services a vibrant arm.
An eye on the future
Even with these strong programs in place, VCTC had yet another partnership in mind. Seeking to integrate new perspectives and connect with local youth, VCTC launched its Teen Council program in 2011. Comprised of students ages 13-19 from across the county, the VCTC Teen Council has successfully achieved these goals since its inception. Those who serve on the Teen Council provide insight into the mindset and motivations of the next generation of transit riders while learning about transit and local government.
The council is more than just talk. In 2012, the group developed its Student Rider Guide, which it distributed to schools, libraries and youth centers, as well as community events countywide. This resource provided comprehensive information regarding transit options to and from educational institutions and destinations popular with youth. The response was overwhelmingly positive and earned VCTC a first-place AdWheel Award from the American Public Transportation Association. Subsequently, the Teen Council developed youth-focused video addressing barriers to riding and current mentalities and sponsored a highly successful countywide art contest.
The art contest, promoted to schools throughout Ventura County, invited students to create artwork depicting what their community is known for, or what they would like it to be known for. The contest engaged youth in discussions about transit and gave VCTC an opportunity to recognize local students by placing winning artwork on the side of VCTC Intercity Transit vehicles.
The next 25 years
VCTC’s mission, keeping Ventura County moving, is more than a commitment to transportation. It is a commitment to providing the county with resources. We aim to provide community members with efficient, sustainable, and quality mobility options as well as reliable trip planning and communications tools. It is also a commitment to equipping and empowering current and future generations of transit riders. Through our services and programs we can engage, educate, and glean valuable insight into our community to focus our pursuit of new and innovative ideas. We look forward to another 25 years of rising to this challenge.