In a packed meeting room at the Santa Barbara Library on March 1, they talked about alternative transportation — bicycles, buses, light rail, reconfiguring Amtrak trains — anything, in short, that avoided the almighty automobile.

But for Rachel Morris, founder of Ventura County Climate Options Organized Locally (VCCOOL), a group that promotes alt-trans, the meeting pinpointed the difference between talk and action.

“How many of these people came here on a bus or train today?” she asked. “I did, but I bet not very many of these people did.”

Former director of Amtrak and 1988 Democratic presidential nominee, Michael Dukakis, was among the approximately 100 officials, politicians and Central Coast residents who mulled over the future of transportation at the meeting.

“The people are way ahead of the politicians on this issue,” said Dukakis, who advocated double tracking the existing Union Pacific rail track from Ventura County to Santa Barbara County to allow for commuter rail.

“You can spend a billion dollars widening that freeway (Highway 101), but three years later it’s going to be a moving parking lot.”

Dukakis also suggested locals ask the presidential candidates about Central Coast transit when they come to campaign in California.

“There’s nothing partisan about doing something about congestion in the United States of America,” he said.

Ventura County should think about putting magnetic levitation commuter trains down the center of Highway 101, 2nd District Supervisor Linda Parks said.

“No (rail) train could go up the Camarillo/Conejo Grade, however a mag-lev train could do that,” she said.

Electromagnetic forces can move mag-lev trains up to 300 mph and, because there are no moving parts, less maintenance is required as compared to rail trains, Parks said.
Ventura County would benefit from a transportation tax if a significant amount of it went to alternative transportation, Parks added.

“I think there’s something we can all agree on, and that’s that traffic is a problem,” she said, citing congestion’s negative effects on businesses, schools and emergency responders. “Unless something extraordinary happens, traffic is not going to get better.”

Parks said the Ventura County bus transit service, Ventura Intercity Service Transit Authority, or VISTA, is in the process of adding two more buses because of standing room only conditions and is considering adding double-decker buses to its fleet for 30 percent more rider capacity.

“The journey of 1,000 miles begins with that first step, and I see this meeting today as that first step,” Parks said.

However, Paul Dyson, president of Rail Passenger Association of California, said getting the masses to use mass transit may prove difficult.

“All of us have to be realists,” Dyson said. “Owning an automobile is very convenient and a great thing and most people want to do that. You’ve got to understand the automobile is out there, and it’s easy for people to use.”

Morris agreed that a cultural shift must take place before more people begin to use alt-trans.

“There’s this cultural stigma, because of marketing, which is heavily toward youth and is heavily toward professionalism,” Morris said. “If you don’t have a car, you’re really looked down on.”

She said mass transit has to be reinvented “in a professional way, in a sexy way.”

Practical functionality also needs to be improved before people begin to flock to buses and trains, Morris added. Central Coast residents should be able to use Google Maps to find a mass transit route from point A to point B, she said.

“I’d be great to get every member of the City Council in Ventura and say were going to go here and there using mass transit, they could just try it and see how difficult it is.”