Downtown and Waterfront Shuttle service, according to a budget presentation given by Transportation and Parking Manager Rob Dayton during the city’s Wednesday’s budget meeting.
“The city is subsidizing about $4.65 a ride. We were already talking to MTD about reducing this service, but in the wake of suspended service and expected revenue we’re proposing to cancel this service,” said Mr. Dayton.
Mr. Dayton said the cut was necessary given the millions the city will have to make up in its budget for the coming fiscal year due to the coronavirus pandemic. City staff are predicting a 25% reduction in revenues, according to Mr. Dayton.
The city has worked with Santa Barbara MTD to subsidize the electric shuttle service since the early 1990s.
The service is structured through a memorandum of understanding that is renegotiated every few years. MTD operates the services and provides partial funding, while the city uses downtown parking funds to pay for a “fair buy down” and gets credit for the fares that people pay.
Mr. Dayton pointed out that ridership has been declining by hundreds of thousands over the years.
“It’s not a mystery that ridership has been going down,” said Mr. Dayton.
However, any renegotiation of the agreement would have to be ratified by the City Council and the SBMTD board.
Those discussions have not yet been initiated, according to SBMTD spokesperson Hillary Blackerby.
“We expect that there will be conversations for that effect,” said Ms. Blackerby.
The service was suspended along with several others on April 6, after the coronavirus pandemic led to a massive drop in ridership. SBMTD is projecting that the shuttle service will remain paused for the remainder of the fiscal year.
“That’s what we’re budgeting, but we’re open to negotiate with the city to see if things change budget-wise,” said Ms. Blackerby.
“We want to be a long term partner for downtown. That may look different, it may look the same, but those are things that we have a little time to have discussions on.”
While there is naturally uncertainty over what downtown and the waterfront will look like in the coming year, Ms. Blackerby said SBMTD is looking to have the necessary formal and informal conversations with the city about the future of the service.
The MTD Board will also consider opening up other agreements with the city and colleges for renegotiation during their meeting Tuesday in light of their fiscal emergency declared in March.
From SBMTD’s perspective, the service is simply on hold.
“For now, as far as we’re concerned, and as far as the agreements are right now, it’s suspended. They’re not paying any subsidies and we’re not paying anything to operate it,” said Ms. Blackerby.
“It is a two-party agreement, so it does take two to tango on this one.”