Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Rio Vista Catches a Breeze

Rio Vista Catches a Breeze
By Barry Eberling

The Rio Vista Delta Breeze, a new bus service connecting Rio Vista with Fairfield and Suisun heads toward Rio Vista on Hwy 12. (Photo by Mike McCoy/Daily Republic)

RIO VISTA - Bob Miller recently blew into Suisun City with the breeze.

The Rio Vista Delta Breeze is the new bus service in the eastern Solano County city. It not only has routes within Rio Vista, but also establishes the first mass transit link between that small town along the Sacramento River and Fairfield-Suisun.

If Delta Breeze hadn't begun service in February, Miller couldn't have made his mass transit trip from Walnut Grove to Isleton to Rio Vista to the Suisun City train depot.

"No way," Miller said.

But Suisun City wasn't his destination. Miller put his red backpack on a chair in the depot and used a machine to buy a train ticket to Martinez. The Delta Breeze links Rio Vista not only with Fairfield-Suisun, but the regional mass transit systems that have stops in those cities.

Now the jury is out on whether the Delta Breeze will succeed. The run Miller took from Rio Vista to Fairfield-Suisun had only two passengers. A 1 p.m. bus run around Rio Vista that day had no passengers. The city is trying to get the word out that the new system exists.

Driver LaVerne Carradine sees the routes filling a need. He recently carried a couple of passengers who had no other means of transportation, he said.

"This is going to be great for people like that," he said.

Deputy Public Works Director J.D. Lynd expects ridership to rise. He's getting lots of phone calls expressing interest in the bus system, he said. He talked of having at least 50 riders a day by April or May.

The goal is to recover at least 10 percent of the operating costs from the farebox, with that rate rising to 17 percent. The Breeze costs about $270 a day to run, Lynd said.

The Delta Breeze came about after Rio Vista did a transit study. The study showed the previous dial-a-ride service didn't do a good job serving the citizens, Rio Vista Mayor Eddie Woodruff said.

"It got to the point where it was serving a very small number of people," Woodruff said.

So the Delta Breeze is on a six-month trial run, to see if this revamped system with bus stops and regularly scheduled runs works out.

Lynd recently sat outside of the Trilogy clubhouse. This senior community, with its palm trees, golf course and tan stucco subdivision homes, is a few miles from downtown. This is the frontier of Rio Vista, with other new subdivisions scheduled to be built in the nearby fields.

"The area we're in right now will eventually be our core ridership," Lynd said.

For the price of $1.50 and a ride lasting 20 minutes, Trilogy residents can be standing amid the businesses of downtown Rio Vista and enjoying a view of the Sacramento River.

Rio Vista's in-town service has some small-town flourishes that can be afforded in a city with a population of about 6,000. People within three-quarters of a mile of the route can call and have the bus stop at their house. Or people can flag the bus down.

Then there are those buses that link Rio Vista with the larger world beyond.

A bus rumbles down Highway 12, making the 20-mile trip to the Suisun City train station, Westfield Solano mall and Fairfield Transportation Center. The one-way fare is $5. Another bus takes people to the small Delta city of Isleton for $1.50 and the fast-growing Contra Costa County city of Antioch for $5.

These links with the world beyond Rio Vista are only tenuous at best. For example, buses going to Fairfield leave downtown Rio Vista at 9:50 a.m. and 2:45 p.m. only.

"It's not really set up for a commuter-like transit system," Woodruff said.

But plans are afoot to set up a Highway 12 commuter bus service separate from the Rio Vista Delta Breeze. The Solano Transportation Authority and Napa County Transportation Planning Agency recently finished a transit study.

The service would come in phases. The Fairfield-Suisun-to-Napa run would come first, with the Fairfield-Suisun-to-Rio Vista run to follow.

Mass transit is never a money-maker and this proposed Highway 12 commuter bus service is no different. When fully implemented, it could cost $637,940 annually. The suggested one-way fares range from $2.50 to $3.50. A study estimates fares would pay $121,131 annually, about 19 percent of the cost.

The commuter buses would serve an estimated 238 passengers daily by 2030. Of these, about 46 would be traveling to and from Rio Vista. The trip between Fairfield-Suisun and Napa would generate far more riders.

Solano Transportation Authority Executive Director Daryl Halls views the proposed Rio Vista commuter service as worthwhile, even if it wouldn't be the busiest bus run in Solano County. Every Solano County community should have access to mass transit, he said.

But the Highway 12 commuter bus service needs money to become reality. Halls said that money would likely have to come from a county transportation sales tax. A tax measure could be on the June 6 ballot.

For now, the only Highway 12 bus service is the new Rio Vista Delta Breeze. It may not be for commuters, but it can serve people who want to travel between Fairfield-Suisun and Rio Vista for day trips.

"I'm really pleased we've been able to start this," Woodruff said.

Reach Barry Eberling at 425-4646 Ext. 232 or at

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