By Reggie Ellis
Getting to Visalia will be much easier next month for those who are unable to drive thanks to a recent agreement approved by the Exeter City Council.
At its Oct. 12 meeting, the council approved a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the City of Visalia's Transit Division to offer a fixed-route bus service between Exeter, Farmersville and Visalia. Transit Manager Monte Cox said the target date to begin the service is Saturday, Nov. 6.
"We like to begin new routes on Saturdays so that we have the weekend to work out any bugs in the scheduling," Cox said.
Cox said the bus service will cost riders 75 cents one-way, or half the price that the county's bus system charges. Riders can also purchase a day pass for $1.50. A monthly pass is available for $28 and is good for 31 days from the time it is purchased. Senior citizens and disabled riders only pay 55 cents one-way and $1.10 for a day pass. Also, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., when ridership is slow, seniors and disabled can ride for 25 cents one-way.
The Visalia City Coach will stop every 90 minutes at the two locations already used by the Tulare County Transit System -- the SaveMart parking lot and Carole's Restaurant at the corner of Palm and Kaweah avenues. The route will run from 6 a.m. to 10:17 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 7:17 p.m. on Saturday and 8 a.m. to 3:17 p.m. on Sunday. The route begins at Save Mart, travels south on Belmont, then east on Firebaugh, north on Highway 65 and finally west on Pine to return to the Save Mart parking lot on its way out of town. Cox said Visalia will be adding five to 10 more stops along the route after discussing possible locations with the City of Exeter.
"The primary thing this does for residents is to provide those who cannot drive or don't have a car with the same access to Visalia as those who do," Cox said.
The route will cost the City of Exeter about $30,624. According to Exeter Public Works Director Felix Ortiz, the amount is small when you consider the cost of the city's Dial-A-Ride service amounts to $98,000 a year. Exeter will continue its Dial-A-Ride service in addition to the bus route.
The City of Farmersville approved a similar MOU at its Oct. 11 meeting contingent on Exeter agreeing to the service. In Farmersville, the bus will stop at the corner of Visalia Road and Farmersville Boulevard and at the corner of Road 156 and Walnut Avenue.
Since Farmersville does not a have a dial-a-ride service, it will contract with Visalia for the buses to respond to pick-up points. The final step was for the Visalia City Council to approve the decision at its meeting after press time. Visalia was fully expected to approve the agreement because it helps the city and the Tulare County Association of Governments (TCAG), the entity that acts as a clearinghouse for transportation planning and funding, to meet unmet transportation needs in the county.
During a special meeting of the Exeter City Council on June 22, representatives from TCAG, the City of Visalia and a transportation consulting firm proposed the plan. Ted Smalley, transportation engineer with TCAG, said the benefits are three fold:
Jim Moore of Moore and Associates, a transportation marketing and planning company, told the council that only 26 percent of Exeter and Farmersville residents were familiar with the Tulare County Transit System but only half as many had actually used it. He also said that 94 percent of Exeter and Farmersville residents said they believed it was important for the cities to provide transportation alternatives. Their primary complaints of the county system were lack of frequency, no weekend service and basefare double that of Visalia City Coach.