The Santa Barbara City Council unanimously voted this week to spend approximately $500,000 to improve the Metropolitan Transit District’s service on a number of lines, including line 11, which runs through UCSB.

The council approved the funding at their meeting on Tuesday, May 23. Sherrie Fisher, the general manager of the MTD, said the organization has been working with the council to fund the enhanced transit since July 20, 2005, and said the service improvements should be up and running by January 2007.

Fisher said MTD wanted to improve the headway – the time between bus services – of bus lines one, two, three, six, and 11. Fisher, along with the council members, said she was excited that the council decided to fund the improvements after a year of discussion.

“A multitude of conversations led to yesterday’s city council decision,” Fisher said.

Fisher said the council agreed to fund additional service during peak hours – 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. She said the bus’s service on lines one and two are currently 15 minutes apart, but with the improvements, the headway will change to 10 minutes. Pickup times for lines six and 11 from downtown, which are currently 15 minutes apart, will change to 10 minutes. Additionally, the headway time for line three will change from 30 to 20 minutes.

Fisher said she hopes the additional bus service will encourage people to use public transportation.

“[The increase in service] will give people a more comfortable ride, because our buses get very full sometimes,” Fisher said. “Also, the high price of gas is one reason we are trying to hustle this through.”

Funding for the enhanced transit will come from a number of sources. Fisher said approximately $105,000 will come from Measure D, while $350,000 will come from MyRide – a program that gives county employees free, year-long bus passes.

As a tradeoff for increased services, Fisher said the city will no longer provide free bus service to county employees. However, Fisher said she does not think that the change will stop people from using public transportation, especially if it provides better service.

“People will use public transportation, even if they have to pay,” Fisher said. “Look at UCSB: Everyone has free service, but not everyone uses it.”

Council member Das Williams said transportation is a major issue not only in the Santa Barbara region, but also throughout the state, making it a complex problem for a local government to solve.

“Traffic reduction needs to be everybody’s job,” Williams said. “Traffic congestion is the biggest issue affecting everyone’s lives in Santa Barbara. It’s a key part of protecting our quality of life.”

Along with funding from MyRide and Measure D, Williams said UCSB has committed money to the project. He said the council now needs the city of Goleta and the county to provide funding for lines six and 11’s improvement.

“This is tremendously important,” Williams said. “If we put forth our best and UCSB puts forth their best, the burden is on the county and Goleta because the improvements are going to help [the entire community].”

If transit headway is shortened, there could be up to 1,000 fewer car trips every workday, Williams said, citing a recent study.

“If we reduce the number of car trips on the South Coast, it’s a substantial benefit,” Williams said. “I do think that it is a step in the right direction.”

Fisher said there was one part of the plan that the council decided to set aside for the future – whether they will help MTD purchase the extra buses needed to increase the bus turn around time for lines one, two, six and 11. The money approved on Tuesday was set aside for operational support.

Council member Roger Horton said that while the council’s priority is to reduce the time between buses, they put off the decision of whether to fund the purchase of extra buses until a later date.

“However, the council was unanimous in that we are trying to promote as much public transportation as we can,” Horton said.