Getting to destinations in Oxnard and Ventura by bus is easier than going elsewhere in the county, just because those cities are where most of the public transportation is concentrated.
More problematic is going to or from more remote places like Ojai and Thousand Oaks. Bus riders may have long rides ahead of them, as much as 90 minutes, depending on traffic — and that’s assuming the rider only needs to make one connection without transferring to still another bus.
“I live up in Santa Paula. Early in the morning I catch a VISTA at Santa Paula and Third streets by the police station,” explains Oxnard College political science major Josue “Joshua” Ruiz.
For Ruiz, who not only has classes to attend but meetings as the Ventura Community College District’s student trustee, that means catching a VISTA bus at 5 a.m. to make sure he’s able to catch another at Ventura’s Government Center at about 7 a.m.
“I only have about three minutes to cross Victoria Avenue” and make the next of two more transfers that finally get him to Oxnard College in South Oxnard on time for classes.
“It’s a pretty tough journey,” says Ruiz, who says he performs the routine about three times a week. “I used to do it daily.”
Missing a bus or even just having a long wait between buses can throw off a whole day’s carefully planned schedule.
“If your (two-hour) transfer has expired, or you don’t have the right change, you’re stuck,” says Ruiz.
When a Board of Trustees meeting runs late and there are no buses available, that presents a whole different dilemma.
“Sometimes I’ll wait at a Subway or Jack in the Box for somebody to pick me up,” says Ruiz, and other times, “I’ll start walking; sometimes somebody will recognize me and give me a ride.”
Ruiz says he and other student leaders have talked to Gold Coast Transit about using student fees to add more routes and provide students free rides.
But for now, discussions are on hold while Gold Coast prepares to move its maintenance yard from Third and Garfield streets in Oxnard to East Ventura Boulevard.
Not every Oxnard College student has as wearying a bus riding experience as Ruiz. Sociology student Alec Hamrick says that for the past four years his bus-riding routine has been “pretty nice.”
“I get on (the bus) about an hour before class. It takes about 40 minutes” to get to the campus, says Hamrick, who boards the bus at Victoria Avenue and Wooley Road.
Hamrick says he uses the time on the bus to send email or do homework, and has always felt safe riding the bus even though he rides “at all different times of the day.”
“I have a lot of friends that take the bus as well,” says Hamrick, “and I’m friends with a lot of the drivers; I don’t have to worry about driving.”
CSU, Channel Islands, student Angelek Abarca likewise uses the bus to save herself the hassle of finding a place to park her car on campus.
Instead she parks her car at the Metrolink station in Camarillo before getting on a VISTA for a 10- to 15-minute ride to the campus, generally catching a bus between 7:30 and 9 a.m., depending on when her first class of the day is.
“You get free parking at Metrolink, and it’s easy to find a spot,” as opposed to searching for one on campus, said Abarca. “If you miss the bus, trying to find a parking spot kind of sucks.”
Just as much of bus ridership is made up of students who find that riding buses to and from classes saves time and parking fees, the disabled and homeless likewise find public transit a tremendous advantage.
Wheelchair-bound Bill Swearingen says he uses the buses, which are equipped with wheelchair access, to get to appointments “a lot, three or four times a day.”
Besides doctors’ appointments and shopping, Swearingen uses the buses to get to community meals provided for the homeless and senior citizens by Catholic Charities and other organizations in Ventura.
“Plus it’s an outing,” says Swearingen, adding that he appreciates being able to “get out and enjoy the fellowship.”
Swearingen, who gets bus passes through the Ventura Area Agency on Aging, says the only downside of frequent bus riding is that if a bus transfer expires during a two-hour layover, “you’re out of luck; you’ve got to pay fare again.”
Being able to get a bus or have fare ready is also a concern for the homeless, who can sometimes get passes for a single ride from social workers but are often stuck panhandling for bus fare.
At the emergency weather shelter in Oxnard, a budget shortfall has forced managers to distribute only one bus pass to each person as they arrive at the shelter in the evening. Previously people received two passes for use after leaving the shelter in the morning.
“I usually have fare anyway,” says Bill Eagle, who regularly uses Gold Coast Transit routes 6 and 4B to go to Pacific View Mall or Walmart, “but I’m saving my (bus passes) just in case.”
But it’s more of an issue for Larry Dennis, who has had strokes and uses a cane to walk from the shelter’s location at Second and K streets in Oxnard’s National Guard armory to its downtown library.
Relatively long trips such as those for doctor appointments at the Magnolia Clinic on Gonzales Road are only practical if Dennis has a bus pass.
“It takes me a couple of hours just to walk to the library,” says Dennis, who in recent months has lost one phone and had another stolen, leaving him out of touch with social workers who might be able to help.
Social workers Ken Porter and Ken Belden say Dennis’ problem is a common one made even more difficult by the limited number of bus passes distributed to agencies that work with the homeless.
“The availability of case managers to clients is low because they lose their phones,” says Porter, who is a homeless outreach worker for Ventura County’s Behavioral Health Dept.
“We don’t have (bus passes); we haven’t had them since 2015,” says Ken Belden, who works for Ventura County’s Healthcare for the Homeless program. “I think they should be able to provide the funds.”
Frank Kelm says it’s doubly inconvenient that the only places someone can get monthly bus passes are at the Ventura County Transportation Commission offices in the Government Center and at the Oxnard Transportation Center.
Even so, Kelm has only one complaint about Ventura County’s public transportation system.
“The restrooms at VTC haven’t been fixed, there’s only one available,” Kelm says, referring to the transfer center at Pacific View Mall. “Nothing’s been done about it for more than a month.”
Brad Denemark is one of VISTA’s regular passengers, taking the Hwy. 101 bus to and from the Thousand Oaks Transportation Center each workday for the last 14 years.
At the transportation center he transfers to the Thousand Oaks Transit No. 2 (Gold Route) bus that takes him to his job at Marty’s Hobbies, where he is a salesman.
“I don’t have a car and it’s the only way I can get to work,” Denemark explains. “I really like riding the buses; the drivers and passengers are super, they really are.”
In fact, he knows exactly how many different VISTA buses he has ridden, having kept track of their assigned numbers: 65 different buses, mostly Van Hools and MCIs, during those 14 years.
Denemark has been such a fixture on VISTA’s Hwy. 101 morning route, which stops at the Thousand Oaks Mall before going to the transportation center, that one driver let him keep track of how many people got on and off the bus, which at the time was part of a driver’s job.
“The difference is, now they have these fare machines that do it automatically,” says Denemark. “Everything has just continued to steadily improve; the on-time ratio is a lot better than it was — they’re on time much more now than they were then.”
Denemark says the Thousand Oaks Transit Gold Route driver that he rides with each morning is “the best one they have.” The only thing he would change about the Thousand Oaks bus service would be to add buses to the routes to shorten waiting time.
“They added one recently to Route 2; instead of waiting two hours, you wait one,” said Denemark. “That really helps out.”
VCTC WANTS YOUR INPUT
People with specific suggestions or complaints about the county’s bus service (Ventura County Transportation Commission) can attend a public hearing at 9 a.m. on Feb. 3 in the Camarillo City Hall Council Chambers at 601 Carmen Drive, Camarillo.