H-SANTA MARIA

Apr 27, 2011 8:18 PM by Monica Quintero

Bus riders in Santa Maria say new transit center is long overdue

Just as many are looking for alternatives to driving because of the high gas prices, bus service will be getting better in Santa Maria. A new transit center will open soon at the corner of Boone and Miller Streets. It will replace the current transit hub on Cook Street. The new center will also provide a larger and more secure hub for several transit services including Santa Maria Area Transit, BREEZE and San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority. On Wednesday, the city gave us a preview of center which is just weeks away from opening.

The hub of public transit services in Santa Maria is currently just a big bus stop on Cook Street. Many longtime riders say heavy traffic makes it dangerous.

"It's pretty unsafe," said David Evans, a bus rider. "Somebody can get hurt really bad or somebody could get killed."

"You see people all the time running across the street through traffic, trying to get to their buses and it's kind of scary," said Dee Young, another bus rider. "I'm surprised there hasn't been a lot more accidents."

The new transit center about to open nearby is larger and in a safer location. "I think it's great. I think it's perfect right off the street, a great location," said Evans. There's a lot more space with 16 bays for buses.

"The new one it has more room for all the buses," said Jason Lock, a bus rider.

As for the $9 million price tag, that's covered. The funding came largely from the state and federal government.

"We are not going to have any new taxes or bonds to pay for this, the building is paid for as it stands today," said Santa Maria Mayor Larry Lavagnino.

Last year, the SMAT and BREEZE bus services gave more than a million rides. The city expects ridership to grow as high gas prices force more people out of their cars.

Austin O'Dell, transit services manager, said, "Santa Maria is definitely growing in its transportation needs, especially as we're seeing gas prices increasing," said Austin O'Dell , transit services manager.

"They're only going to get worse and it just makes economic sense to take the bus if you're able too," said Young.

City leaders hope this will help them expand services. There are plans to add three new SMAT buses next year. It's scheduled to start operating on June 19th.

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