Award of Merit:- The Future Looks Sunny for SolTrans
A SolTrans bus takes off from the handsome new Transit Center in downtown Vallejo. The move to merge and streamline transit in Solano County has drawn more riders while improving safety.
When elected officials and transportation agencies from Vallejo and Benicia came together to create Solano County Transit (SolTrans) in 2010, they did so with one shared purpose: to provide sustainable and efficient transportation services for the citizens of southern Solano County.
At the time, the overall economy was sluggish and the independent transit operators in Vallejo and Benicia were facing long-term financial sustainability issues. Given this shared challenge — and concerns about the cities’ ability to serve the large population of transit users in the southern part of the county — city leaders along with the Solano Transportation Authority consolidated the two transit programs and formed SolTrans, a joint powers authority (JPA), in December 2010.
Less than a year after the JPA was established, SolTrans took over transit operations, saving more than $1 million annually in operational costs. The agency put a fleet of 21 new hybrid-electric buses into service and developed the downtown Vallejo Transit Center, which now serves approximately 1.4 million riders annually. “We are financially healthy as a merged organization,” say Mark Hughes, SolTrans Board of Directors chairperson and councilman from Benicia. “We were not as independent organizations.”
One indicator of the three-year-old agency’s success is its increased average monthly ridership, which has grown 5 percent over the last fiscal year. The farebox recovery ratio has increased more than 9 percent in the last two years, while the total number of accidents decreased significantly thanks to a new service contractor and an enhanced safety program.
SolTrans’ creation “is the best thing to happen to us,” says SolTrans Board of Directors Vice Chairperson and Vallejo Mayor Osby Davis. “We’ve had the ability to provide flexible service as well as on-time service, and it has worked out tremendously for all constituents.”
SolTrans’ yellow sun logo isn’t the only thing that looks bright for the agency — so, too, does its future. The transit system is now on the verge of increasing frequencies and turning loop routes into bidirectional services, moves that would not have been possible without the partnership. “It is the way of the future,” noted Mayor Davis about the merger. “If public agencies are going to survive, they are going to have to find ways to collaborate with each other because the resources are not there anymore to do it alone.”
The combo of collaboration and creativity has been the magic formula for SolTrans, earning the system new riders and an MTC Award of Merit.
— Khristina Wenzinger