SAN BERNARDINO: Rapid bus line off to slow start
When she needs to get to school, Tracey Sanchez knows a hassle-free way to travel.
She catches a high-speed bus that takes her from downtown San Bernardino to Cal State San Bernardino in about
Sanchez gives rave reviews to sbX, the Inland area’s first rapid bus, but likely not the last. Transportation officials are
moving ahead with plans for similar routes in Riverside County as well as elsewhere in San Bernardino County.
Sanchez prefers sbX – which runs 16 miles from north San Bernardino to Loma Linda – because it stops less often
than standard buses. The 60-foot buses have devices to control traffic signals, allowing them to pass through
intersections without stopping. They also run at more frequent intervals than regular buses.
“This one takes you straight to school,” Sanchez, a 19-year-old San Bernardino resident, said while waiting for a bus
on a recent weekday. “It’s convenient and there’s plenty of seats.”
The empty seats are great for riders wanting extra space. But they’re not a good thing for transportation officials who
envisioned more customers when the buses started rolling in late April 2014.
The bus is getting about 2,300 average weekday boardings, less than half the number anticipated in its first year.
“It didn’t meet our original projections,” said Wendy Williams, spokeswoman for Omnitrans, the bus agency that
serves much of San Bernardino County. She noted bus ridership on all routes is down about 8 percent this year
compared to 2014, due partly to a September fare hike and a steep drop in gas prices earlier this year.
Omnitrans attributes the slow start of sbX to delays in opening a transit center next to the sbX station at E Street and
Rialto Avenue in downtown San Bernardino. The center, expected to open in September, will be the hub for 13 bus
routes, making for easier connections, the agency says.
Ridership on sbX is expected to rise about 30 percent by next year, Williams said.
OTHER ROUTES ON TAP
As Omnitrans works to enhance sbX , other rapid bus projects are underway in the Inland area.
The Riverside Transit Agency is the early stages of planning a 25-minute route that would offer limited stops between
UC Riverside and Corona along Magnolia and University avenues. RapidLink, as the service is called, would operate
during peak hours and slice travel times by 30 percent, said Bradley Weaver, the agency’s spokesman.
Buses are expected to be running in early 2017. A second express bus line to Perris roughly paralleling the 215
through Moreno Valley is on the drawing board, he said.
In western San Bernardino County, Omnitrans plans an sbX-like service running along main corridors in Ontario,
Rancho Cucamonga, Fontana, Pomona and Montclair. The express buses are set to start rolling in 2018.
The other projects aren’t expected to generate the same amount of controversy as sbX because they won’t have busonly
lanes and it shouldn’t be necessary to acquire property to widen streets, officials say. More than 150 properties
were affected by the sbX line, with most owners losing slivers of land or giving up space during construction.
“We’re going to be using existing infrastructure,” Weaver said of the Riverside-to-Corona project. “It shouldn’t affect
traffic any more than our buses already do.”
The sbX line generated heated debate before it was built.
Supporters said it would spur foot traffic and reinvestment in San Bernardino’s core. Opponents countered it was a
waste of tax dollars and would hurt businesses. The project cost nearly $192 million, including $75 million in federal
Former Mayor Pat Morris championed sbX before he left office last year, predicting it would help revitalize the city. He
believes that will still happen with the opening of the transit center, coupled with the extension of Metrolink service
downtown and completion of a passenger rail project from San Bernardino to Redlands.
“All the data shows that when you build a good transportation infrastructure, businesses will come around those
centers,” Morris said.
Judi Penman, president and CEO of the San Bernardino Area Chamber of Commerce, sees it differently.