Bus transit authorities are concerned that the number of UC Santa Barbara students riding their routes may soon reach critical mass, should the university enroll any more students.

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Passengers wait in line to board the 25 bus to Ellwood. The Santa Barbara County Metropolitan Transit District expects buses to exceed their maximum capacity if the university continues to enroll more students.

Santa Barbara County’s bus system provided 7.9 million rides in the county last year, with UCSB students accounting for 10.6 percent of those rides. In recent years MTD has increased its presence around UCSB by reducing time between buses, also known as headway, and adding an Isla Vista shuttle. However, UCSB expects to add 5,000 students to its campus by 2025, which some MTD officials say may strain the system capacity. At times, Santa Barbara County Metropolitan Transit District buses have even been known to fill up completely with UCSB students, requiring transit authorities to schedule more vehicles during times of heavy student traffic.

County MTD General Manager Sherrie Fisher said that if an increase in students resulted in an increase in riders, the system would not be able to handle the influx.

“At the moment the transit system is under heavy use by UCSB, and that is a good thing,” Fisher said. “[However] we already have overloaded buses on some buses and some trips.”

MTD reports that the six bus lines servicing UCSB provided students with 754,765 rides between June 2009 and June 2010. A program survey also found in February 2010 that 10 percent of students were riding the bus to class on a regular basis — an increase of four percent from 2002 figures.

According to James Wagner, UCSB’s Transportation Alternatives program manager, these university routes also saw a jump in the number of riders over the past decade.

“Our ridership has gone up quite a bit,” Wagner said.

UCSB and MTD are now discussing plans to accommodate any increase in students. According to Wagner, it will take time to come to a solution. MTD officials said they would like to see new investment from UCSB to account for a growing student population.

Roughly 60 percent of MTD’s funding comes from subsidies tied to advertising, along with county taxes. The remaining 40 percent is drawn from bus fares, including a $13.13 lock-in fee levied on UCSB students each quarter to provide them with stickers good for bus fare.

This fall, UCSB’s registrar anticipates handing out 15,000 bus stickers, which Office of the Registrar Student Representative Martha Gonzalez said constitutes roughly the same number as have been issued over the past few years.

“The more they see we need the bus, the more they will provide us,” Wagner said. “But I think it’s tricky for our two bureaucracies to balance … how do we get more service and more money?”