Monday, August 08, 2005

More than 70 percent of Solano County's 80,000 commuters love their automobiles.

Article Launched: 08/08/2005 07:29:18 AM

Mass transit still foreign to many
Two by land, one by sea: a transit tale

By David Henson and Jason Massad/Staff Writers

Solano County commuters love their automobiles.
More than 70 percent of Solano's perhaps 80,000 people who commute to points out of the county do so alone in their vehicles, according to a recent Commute Profile released by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

And the numbers have been rising intermittently during the last 10 years.

But why do commuters prefer to take congested roadways when a number of viable mass transportation options exist?

This is the second in a two-day package of stories on transit options. The Reporter sent three staff writers to San Francisco using different modes of transportation: car, BART and ferry - Editor.

"People call us and don't know their options," said Elizabeth Richards, director of transit and rideshare services for the Solano Transportation Authority. "It's the fear of the unknown."

Some 21 percent of Solano commuters have discovered the merits of car and vanpooling, but a paltry 4 percent take advantage of other mass transit options, such as buses, BART and Vallejo's ferries.

George Fink, transit manager of Fairfield, said getting people on transit is a major hurdle.

"It's getting people past that first ride," he said. "A lot of it is getting people in America comfortable with mass transit."

The Reporter recently decided to take a ride to the Bay Area, sending three reporters in a friendly race to San Francisco: one by car, one by bus and BART and one by ferry.

The car, by far, was the quickest trip, beating the BART trip by 20 minutes and the ferry by 40 minutes.

But it was also the most expensive, when the city's costly parking was taken into account and monthly passes were calculated for mass transit.

The tally surprised Mark Mazzaferro, Vallejo's public information officer, who originally said the ferry might cost a little more, but was worth it for the luxury.

"O.K. You save a little money and you save the air," he said. "The boat is a really comfortable ride."

There's no doubt, however, that Vacaville and Fairfield are on the periphery of the Bay Area's mass transit system.

Catching a bus from the Fairfield Transportation Center to the ferry, our writer was accompanied by one regular rider, and she wasn't catching the ferry.

A major complaint for would-be transit riders in the county is the lack of a strong link between the Bay Area's mass transit options and northern and central parts of the county.

But as the saying goes, if you build it they will come. Fink said ridership on regional buses is on the rise, though not yet at capacity. Likewise, the Vallejo Baylink ferries have seen evidence of increased ridership since a fourth boat was added in April.

"The parking lot, for the first time in the five years I've been here, is full," Mazzaferro said.

David Henson can be reached at Jason Massad can be reached at

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