ONE YEAR FREE — Members of the city council, as well as city employees, citizens and Sonoma County Transit employees gathered on Aug. 2 for a ribbon cutting welcoming the fare-free bus program to Route 68.

Cloverdale joins cities across the county by subsidizing bus fare

For one year anyone can catch a free ride around town on local bus Route 68.

On July 24, the Cloverdale City Council voted to subsidize free trips for all riders of the route for the next year. The council was presented with the proposal to do so at a March council meeting and worked it into the city budget during the budget planning meeting in May.

During beginning talks of whether the city wanted to subsidize the bus program, questions were raised regarding rider accessibility and whether the bus route would be able to be changed to accommodate those who are likely to take advantage of the fare-free program.

Initial conversations about the bus program suggested that Sonoma County Transit (SCT) look for a way to add stops that go farther east, toward the First Street Bridge. Additional suggestions also included looking at the scheduling to see if the route would be able to extend later, since the stop on the schedule is 4:10 p.m., which doesn’t account for people who may rely on the bus to get to and from places in town that are open later than 4 p.m., as well as looking at ways to better accommodate students who want to ride the shuttle.

One thing stood out about the possibility of introducing the program — taking down financial barriers for those who may want to ride the bus around town, but can’t afford it.

“The fare-free program is intended to increase ridership and provide improved mobility options for residents by removing barriers to bus ridership and incentivizing convenient, cost-free, environmentally friendly transit options for all members of the community,” Mayor Melanie Bagby said in a press release from the city. “In addition, the program supports the city of Cloverdale’s environmental goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving air quality.”

The city agreed to pay $10,556 for the subsidy, under the assumption that Route 68 ridership will increase by 40%. If the ridership exceeds that amount, SCT will cover the additional cost, City Manager David Kelley said.

In a June interview, Kelley said that the city is using this first year as a “pilot program to see how it goes.”


RIDING AROUND — Councilmember Marta Cruz steps off of the Cloverdale Shuttle after riding around town following the ribbon cutting for the fare-free program.

New stops

Following the fare-free ribbon cutting, a group of citizens, including SCT Transit Systems Manager Bryan Albee, Bagby and Councilmember Marta Cruz, rode the bus route.

During the ride, riders spoke to Albee and SCT’s bus route coordinator regarding other stops that may be beneficial to add to Route 68, the primary of which included adding additional stops along South Foothill Boulevard. 

As of press time, a revised bus schedule (suggestions from the ride-along not included) is set to be implemented on Aug. 12. The bus schedule takes some of the council recommendations into consideration, including a time change for the shuttle stop at Cloverdale High School to accommodate the school schedule as well as a new stop on East 3rd and North Main streets. The new stop is geared toward providing improved access for people traveling from King’s Valley to the senior center.

Around the county

The fare-free program was first launched by SCT in June 2018 as part of Sebastopol’s city shuttle. Since then, the program has been adopted by other local towns, such as Windsor and Healdsburg. According to SCT, the five other fare-free shuttles have seen a cumulative increase of 46.09% in ridership since introducing the city-subsidized fare. SCT is predicting that Cloverdale will see a 40% increase in ridership from its projected 2018-19 ridership data. For the 2018-19 year, SCT said that overall ridership is projected to be at 8,408 trips, with the bulk of the passengers being seniors and adults.

As part of the fare-free program, buses that run along Route 68 will also have graphics advertising the new fare-free program.

The fare free program subsidizes bus fare from now until June 30, 2020. To view the bus schedule, visit sctransit.com/maps-schedules/route-68.

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