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Fresno has a new transportation director, same BRT problems

Fresno City Hall

Fresno has a new transportation director, same BRT problems

Jim Schaad will take on a FAX system with declining ridership and a Bus Rapid Transit rollout that still has many question marks.

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Jim Schaad is Fresno’s new transportation director.

Schaad is assuming command of a train wreck.

Mayor Lee Brand and City Manager Wilma Quan-Schecter announced the appointment on Tuesday in a news release.

Schaad had been the Department of Transportation’s assistant director for the past six years. He replaces Bruce Rudd, interim director since Brian Marshall abruptly left City Hall in May.

“We are fortunate to have someone of Jim’s experience and ability joining our team,” Quan-Schecter said in the news release. “He’s shown superior skill in managing complex projects and he’ll make an excellent addition to our team.”

Schaad has an undergraduate degree in industrial technology from Fresno State and a master’s degree in business administration from Portland State University. He has worked for the city for 15 years, starting out in the Fleet Management Division where he managed operations and capital projects.

Schaad’s new job was effective Tuesday. He’s taking charge of Fresno Area Express (FAX) just in time to head to the Council Chamber on Thursday. I’m guessing one or two council members will have questions about a consent calendar item.

The proposal from FAX and Rudd is a cut in the standard bus fare. The idea is to reduce the usual fare from $1.25 to $1 after 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and all day on weekends and holidays.

Why? Because fewer and fewer people want to ride FAX these days.

“From 2011 to present, the Department has experienced a reduction of 46 percent of its ridership,” wrote Assistant Director Greg Barfield in a report to the council. “In order to address the decline in ridership the Department has recently implemented a number of services improvements, such as increasing frequencies on key corridors such as Blackstone, Ventura, Cedar, and Shaw from 30 minutes to 15 minutes during the day. These improvements have resulted in a positive growth in ridership along these corridors. Additionally, the Department has taken on a social media marketing campaign to highlight the changes; however, it believes that a $.25 reduction in the cash fare from $1.25 to $1 would be an incentive to attract individuals to FAX.”

The price cut would be effective Oct. 2 and last for one year.

“A subsequent reduction in cash fares for all hours of service is also anticipated during the months of November and December,” Barfield wrote.

FAX, like many public transportation systems in big cities, is heavily dependent on federal and state subsidies to remain solvent. The fare box has always been a relatively minor source of operating revenue for FAX.

If my memory serves me, FAX is supposed to generate a certain percentage of its annual operating revenue from fares. I’m thinking it’s at least 20%, but I’m not sure.

“The potential loss of revenues is being offset by a combination of FY17 operational savings and an increase in State operating funds,” Barfield wrote. “By temporarily reducing fares, the goal of this amendment (to the Master Fee Schedule) is to provide the Director, with the authorization of the City Manager, to implement different incentives that can be used to address the continuing decline in ridership and a comparable loss in fare box revenues.”

I take that last sentence to mean Schaad and Quan-Schecter may have some more marketing surprises for us.

Students, staff and faculty from Fresno State and Fresno City College already ride FAX for free.

Schaad’s initiation to the FAX hot seat figures to continue into October. According to City Hall scuttlebutt, that’s when Quan-Schecter will put a BRT workshop on the council agenda.

BRT, of course, is the Bus Rapid Transit system. BRT is supposed to revolutionize public transportation service in Fresno. We’ve been waiting years for BRT to go live.

No one outside the closed universe of the Brand Administration knows what the holdup is.

Steve Brandau – Thursday is your day.

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George Hostetter

George Hostetter is a contributor to CVObserver and advisor to The Collegian, the student newspaper of Fresno State.

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