At Redding Area Bus Authority (RABA): New Short-Range Transit Plan Sets Framework For Long-Term Growth

Shown, left to right, are RABA and Transdev representatives: Alex Peacock, Hallie Fonseca, Chuck Sheff, Christy Sheff, Brittanny Lanning, Mike Brown, and John Andoh.

By Harrell Kerkhoff Busline Magazine Editor

Service expansion through the implementation of a new short-range transit plan is propelling the Redding Area Bus Authority (RABA) to a promising future. RABA is a joint-powers agency serving the Northern California cities of Redding, Shasta Lake, Anderson, as well as other parts of Shasta County, CA.

“We presently operate 15 bus routes, which include fixed, commuter, and local; and have just launched a vanpool program with Commute with Enterprise,” RABA Transit General Manager John C. Andoh said. “We also have a new bikeshare program with Redding Bikeshare and Shasta Living Streets (a non-profit 501(c)3 program). And, RABA operates its own Americans with Disability Act (ADA) demand response paratransit service, which is an origin-to-destination, shared ride, advanced reservation program for persons with disabilities who are functionally unable to use fixed-route bus service. Our paratransit offering is comparable to fixed-route, including the service area and hours. We will soon be expanding that program to include people who are 65 and older, to provide additional mobility for seniors who can’t necessarily access a traditional transit ride.”

RABA is also in the process of working on a subsidy program with ridesharing companies Lyft and Uber. The goal is to help the transit system provide additional mobility options in areas where RABA services are currently not available.

The big news came in January 2024 when RABA officially adopted its new short-range transit plan (rabaride.com/about_raba/planning_for_the_future.php), designed to help retool bus routes, create a new microtransit service, restructure fares to become simpler, enhance marketing efforts, purchase smaller vehicles to right-size the transit system, and transition RABA’s fleet to zero emission vehicles involving battery electric and possibly hydrogen technology.

A main objective of the plan is to guide RABA’s transit operations over the next five years, which includes evaluating transit services and identifying better ways to meet various mobility needs within available resources. Involved with the plan’s implementation was a multi-step data collection and analysis process, public outreach, and problem-solving. The plan has been designed to help provide safe and efficient area transportation, and includes a focus of fares, capital needs, marketing strategies, and financial options. The focus is also on mobility management, multimodal opportunities, and new service concepts different from what had been operated in Shasta County over the past 42 years.

According to Andoh, one result of the plan is a new fixed-route network that connects the cities of Shasta Lake, Anderson and Redding with improved on-time performance and frequency upgrades that are common for a small urban area.

Also part of the plan includes: better connectivity to newer areas such as a regional airport, veterans home and VA clinic; a network of microtransit zones in neighborhood areas that can provide more responsive localized transportation; subsidy programs with Redding Bikeshare and ride-share companies for addressing first-mile/last-mile connections; launch of a vanpool program; increased weekend services; and enhanced and cost-effective rural services such as flex routes, microtransit, and volunteer mileage reimbursement programs.

He added many of those services are expected to be delivered through partnerships that RABA currently has in place. That includes: Transdev (for the past 25 years), Uber, Enterprise, Shasta Living Streets, and the Shasta Regional Transportation Agency (SRTA). It is the hope that the expected initiatives will increase passenger miles traveled, thus increase FTA funding to the Redding urbanized area as well increase eligibility for Small Transit Intensive Cities (STIC) program incentives.

A County With A View

Located in far Northern California, Shasta County is known for natural beauty and plenty of outdoor recreation. Among its many popular sites are Shasta Lake; the Shasta-Trinity National Forest (the largest national forest in California); and Lassen Peak, which is the southernmost active volcano in the Cascade Range of the Western United States.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county has a total area of 3,847 square miles, of which 72 square miles are covered by lakes and rivers. The county is lined with mountains to the east, north, and west. The Sacramento River flows from mountains on the north side, through the center of the county, and toward the Sacramento Valley to the south. The county’s population is approximately 180,000 residents and has three incorporated cities: Redding (the county seat), Anderson, and Shasta Lake.

As a joint powers authority, RABA was created in 1976 by the three cities and Shasta County with the purpose to provide public transit services throughout the county. RABA started service in 1981.

“Our transit system has been very status quo for a long time. Even though it’s a separate entity, RABA relies on two contractors — the city of Redding to provide administrative support, and Transdev Services, Inc., to operate and maintain the system,” Andoh said.

He added a RABA rejuvenation process was started in 2022. Dedicated staff were hired to focus on managing, growing, and improving operations. Previously, RABA relied on the City of Redding’s Public Works for administrative oversight, which split its time between RABA and other duties for the city.

A year later (2023), Andoh was hired as RABA’s first dedicated general manager since the system’s inception. His objective was to implement many of the successful mobility programs that he was able to help launch while in transit leadership roles at The COMET (Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority), in Columbia, SC; and Hele-On (County of Hawaiʻi Mass Transit Agency), in Hawaii. Soon, three additional support positions (for a total of five) were added to the RABA staff, allowing for further implementation of upcoming enhancements.

As a county-wide system, RABA’s service area not only connects area cities but such scenic places as Shasta Lake and the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area, which are quite popular in the summer.

“We provide a lot of mobility options for people living in, or visiting, our vast rural areas. However, our primary service centers around 100 square miles of a 3,700-plus square mile service area,” Andoh said. “We currently provide 841,884 revenue vehicle miles a year, involving approximately 57,000 revenue vehicle service hours.”

As with many transit providers in the United States and beyond, the COVID pandemic hurt ridership at RABA, although recent efforts have proven successful for increased numbers.

“RABA’s yearly ridership dropped from a high point of approximately 976,000 to 322,000 passenger trips,” Andoh said. “The good news is, our ridership numbers are trending upward. As of last fiscal year, we were close to 406,000 passenger trips, and we anticipate the new short-range transit plan will further increase urban ridership by 38 percent and rural ridership by 83 percent.

“Public transit has always been a social service for Shasta County. Our local government is committed for that to continue — making sure our population has an accessible way of traveling. The recently adopted short-range transit plan will set the framework for future transportation opportunities over the next five years. Presently, it takes close to an hour and a half to two hours to get around our entire service area. New services through the short-range transit plan will provide more direct trips — whether it’s via fixed-route, microtransit, or other means. The objective is to have people reach their destinations in a faster and more direct manner.”

It helps that RABA’s current facilities have been built with expansion in mind. That includes the RABA Passenger Terminal in downtown Redding, which is the main transit hub in Shasta County. It not only serves the RABA system, but also provides a point of connection to other interregional transportation services. There is also the Canby Transfer Center which is located at an area shopping mall. RABA features as well 55 bus shelters throughout its service area.

Along with those employees assigned to RABA from the city of Redding, the transit system also involves 54 Transdev employees. The latter group includes 32 drivers, six dispatchers, four mechanics, three utility workers, and one road supervisor.

“I feel the entire RABA workforce is personable, including the drivers who become very familiar with our passengers,” Andoh said. “Those drivers are connected with our communities. It is important drivers possess a good personality, can relate to passengers, and have a passion for the job. We want RABA to be a friendly system.”

Andoh added it remains a challenge to find additional drivers to operate RABA’s vehicles, along with hiring qualified administrative personnel.

“We also continue to meet challenges when it comes to funding, in an effort to make sure our current fleet is in a state of good repair as well as update other assets,” he explained. “That includes purchasing new vehicles and improving bus shelters.”

RABA’s fleet includes 18 fixed-route vehicles, which are either 35 or 40 feet in length. It also has 20 cutaway vehicles used for lower performing fixed-routes, as well as flex routes and demand response. In the future, RABA officials look to transition the fleet to zero emission technology, from gasoline and diesel engines to a possible combination of battery electric and hydrogen propulsion.

“We already have one battery electric bus in our fleet and have just ordered one battery electric van,” Andoh said. “We are hoping to purchase more zero emission vehicles over time and are pursuing a Low or No Emission Grant from the Federal Transit Administration to help us with our fleet transition. That includes getting the appropriate infrastructure in place to charge such vehicles.

“RABA’s main objective with zero emission vehicles is to reduce our carbon footprint, provide better air quality in the area, make our buses quieter, and provide an overall futuristic experience for passengers.”

Other types of updated technology are also used by RABA. That includes an app that provides passengers an easier way to pay for trips, and an automated vehicle annunciator system that alerts passengers when their vehicles approach specific bus stops.

“We are going to add credit card reader technology in our vehicles in the near future, allowing for an even faster way to pay for a trip,” Andoh said. “And, our new fare policy includes fare capping. Once passengers reach a $50 cap, for instance, they will receive 30 days of unlimited rides.”

Other technology used at RABA includes vehicle tracking in real time, and is transitioning its paratransit and microtransit software to allow users to schedule such trips with an app.

“We have also added Wi-Fi to our fixed-route vehicles, and are getting ready to launch a partnership with a local library where books will be available on vehicles for passengers to use,” Andoh said. “The program is called, ‘Redding Reads On RABA.’ The objective is to improve literacy.”

RABA’s short-range transit plan has provided direction on how to get the word out about the various changes taking place at the transit system. That includes an enhanced website, greater use of social media, and participating in traditional advertising such as with local newspapers, radio, and television. RABA officials also have fun participating in community events including student fairs and farmers’ markets, allowing transit representatives to form lasting relationships with social service- and community-based agencies — all in an effort to inform and seek out different transportation needs.

“We are a big believer in making sure our customers have the best services possible, and we encourage them to make suggestions and express any complaints, all in an effort to build a better public transportation system,” Andoh said. “There is a new database provided by Transdev called ‘Listen’ that helps us receive passenger input. The public can also reach out to us on social media; via email, fax, and phone; and can visit one of our facilities to share their thoughts.”

Recovery And Growth

There is much optimism surrounding RABA as the transit system works to increase ridership in a post-pandemic environment, with the help of service expansion in Shasta County due to its short-range transit plan.

“I expect the launch of our vanpool and bikeshare programs will help attract more choice riders who don’t typically use a transit bus on a regular basis,” Andoh said. “It’s always good to introduce alternative modes of transportation to attract more people.

“Our main objective is for RABA to remain a strong mobility manager for Shasta County. We want to provide multiple mobility options for people to access for better quality of life opportunities, and without barriers in doing so. Such an effort can also spur economic development, while helping more people become productive and happy. I feel that with our board supporting the short-range transit plan, which involves a new public transportation direction in Shasta County, the future of RABA is very bright.”

Andoh is also bullish about spending a career is public transportation, something he has done over the past 24 years in various capacities and locations.

“I first became interested in this industry at a very young age, after taking a field trip in grade school to what was then known as Santa Clara County (CA) Transit,” he said. “I met a transit planner there who encouraged me to look at public transportation as a career. The experience spurred my interest in the industry and is why, at a very young age, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

“I tell people all the time, if you have a passion for social service and helping people get from point A to point B, if you like the logistics of planning routes and schedules, or if you are interested in the mechanics of how buses, trains, and ferries work — then this is a great industry to pursue. You can also really make a difference in people’s lives.”

Visit rabaride.com.

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