Nonstop no more?

Electrify America initiative will replace current UC Davis shuttles with a fleet of 12 electric buses that may require more stops between Sacramento and Davis

Passengers board the shuttle in front of the Mondavi Center at UC Davis before heading to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Passengers board the shuttle in front of the Mondavi Center at UC Davis before heading to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Photo courtesy of rose cabral

Sacramento Regional Transit and the Yolo County Transportation District are preparing to launch electric bus service between UC Davis and Sacramento, but changes brought by the move have some students and employees upset.

In partnership with RT and YoloBus, UC Davis is replacing its private, nonstop inter-campus shuttles with 12 publicly-run electric buses thanks to a grant from Electrify America, an initiative funded by Volkswagen’s 2016 diesel emissions settlement.

Officials are still hashing out the final details before the new service is scheduled to start in April. The RT board had been scheduled to approve the plan Monday night, but instead decided to take a closer look at schedules and stops, and told staff to meet with current riders before the board meets again on Dec. 9. Already, in response to rider concerns, planners say there will be three buses an hour during peak commute times, including some nonstops.

But some riders are still worried.

Derek Young says his commute could double some days as his trip goes from no stops to four. “Traffic across the causeway is already brutal,” Young said. “Add in a couple stops in Sacramento and possibly through West Sacramento—we could be talking about over an hour between the med center and main campus.”

Matt Dulcich, UCD’s director of environmental planning, said the university is working with the other agencies to develop an express, nonstop route during peak hours to reduce commute times.

But smaller buses have Young worried there won’t be enough room for all passengers waiting to board. The electric buses will have 33 seats compared to 56 in the current shuttles. Dulcich said he hopes that more trips by the electric bus will be able to accommodate new riders on top of current ones.

While university officials assume most riders will switch over to the new system, Jason Moore, a UC Davis professor who uses the shuttle as his primary transportation between his Sacramento home and the university, says many folks won’t.

“It’s a bearable ride when you’re able to work or take a nap,” Moore said. “Take those options away and the ride becomes much less attractive.”

University officials said shuttle ridership has fallen from 150,000 to 90,000 per year over the last half decade.

Some supporters of the current shuttle service question using Electrify America funds to add one form of transit while taking away another one. Moore says the new system may lead him and other riders to ditch mass transit altogether, potentially putting more cars on the road.

“A lot of shuttle riders will just choose not to take the public buses and drive to work instead,” Moore predicted. “Some of us have centered our entire lives around the shuttle by going car-free or moving near stops. Now all that’s changing in the blink of an eye.”

While some current shuttle riders deride the changes as potentially backward, the university heralds its new “Causeway Connection” as an effort to make the trip between the two cities more affordable.

“For a few years, UC Davis has been looking for ways to expand the Davis-Sacramento transportation service for its existing riders while also giving a greater number of people in Sacramento and Davis communities affordable transportation options between the two cities,” UC Davis spokeswoman Melissa Lutz Blouin wrote in an email. “We believe that the Causeway Connection partnership will do just that.”