By Kevin Kane
General Manager, Victor Valley Transit Authority
Over the last dozen years Victor Valley Transit Authority has grown from a semi- rural bus service to a sophisticated professional transit system just as the Victor Valley has grown into a Small Urbanized Area as determined by the federal government. The VVTA Board of Directors is comprised of city council members form the participating cities and First District Supervisor, Brad Mitzelfelt. The board’s mantra of tempered growth and fiscal conservatism has been one of the secrets to success for VVTA. Over the last few years the state’s unprecedented raids on transit funding and the downturn in the economy have led transit agencies throughout the state to reduce service and increase fares. In some cases, like in Orange County, the reductions have been as much as 20% of their total bus service. In contrast, over the past two years VVTA has actually increased service and has only implemented one fare increase since 1997.
Victor Valley Transit Authority serves Adelanto, Apple Valley, Hesperia, Victorville, and portions of the county, including Helendale, Silver Lakes, Oro Grande, Lucerne Valley, Phelan, Pinon Hills, and Wrightwood. The authority continues to perform admirably both fiscally and with regard to performance metrics. For instance, in fiscal year 99 the cost for demand response service for the disabled was over 40% of the cost for providing fixed route service. In FY 11 it represents only 26%. During that same period yearly budgeted service hours for demand response decreased by 6,199 hours and expenses (excepting fuel) increased by only $462,720 or about 2.25% per year. This was accomplished without denying any requests for rides by employing new technology, computerized reservations, dispatch, and mobile display computers installed on all demand response (ADA) vehicles. In fact, within the last year VVTA has introduced same day reservations based on availability. All this while receiving an average of 1,635 new and renewal ADA certification applications per year for the past 4 years.
VVTA’s fixed route service is more robust than ever. In 2008 for the first time VVTA introduced 30 minute service on its most popular routes. As anticipated, this increase in service grew ridership significantly with little impact on performance metrics. In 2006, according to National Transit Database Reports (NTD), VVTA provided 71,214 service hours. In 2009 the service hours increased to 98,564 or an increase of 27,350 hours or 38%. Yearly bus ridership during the same period increased to 1,241,185 for an increase of 34%, and the number of riders for each service hour provided stayed level at about 12 riders per revenue hour.
With SANBAG approval, VVTA has recently applied for federal Congestion Mitigation Air Quality (CMAQ) demonstration project funds for lifeline service between Victor Valley and Barstow. One main reason for the project is the lack of health care options in Barstow. For instance, if you require chemotherapy and live in the Barstow area you must come all the way to Apple Valley or Victorville. This new bus service will help fill that void.
Since its inception in 1992 VVTA has never occupied its own bus facility. Currently VVTA’s bus facility is a leased property on Santa Fe Avenue in Hesperia with a gravel lot and too little parking to accommodate all employees on site. Space is so tight that two of the administration offices are located in a converted metal container positioned next to the building which was the old, old Apex Rentals location. The route to VVTA’s new facility under construction at E Ave. & Smoketree in Hesperia has been fraught with “detours” and other obstacles.
In 1996 VVTA purchased 5 acres off Jasmine on Business Center Drive in Victorville upon which it placed a small CNG fueling compressor and planned to construct a bus facility. In 2004 VVTA hired Gannett Fleming, Inc. to develop a Master Plan for the development of a new facility to meet VVTA’s needs for the following 20 plus years. One finding was the Business Center Drive site was too small “It is the opinion of the Gannett Fleming team that the 5.2-acre site cannot meet the future requirements of the transit system.” The report went on to recommend a site of approximately 10 acres. As a result, in 2005 VVTA sold the Business Center Drive Property and purchased 10 acres on Ottawa St. in the Victorville Redevelopment Area. The Ottawa site ultimately did not work out so VVTA sold the Ottawa property and in 2007 purchased the current construction site.
As early as 2000 VVTA was budgeting grant funds for the design and construction of a bus facility, it became quite evident that some form of financing would be required. In August 2007 VVTA offered in conjunction with the California Transit Finance Corporation and the Bank of New York Certificates of Participation for its transit facility in an amount of approximately $36.8 million dollars at an interest rate of between 4.00% and 4.75%.
With financing secured VVTA on November 1, 2007 VVTA finally issued an RFP for the Design Build of a new and first ever VVTA Bus Maintenance, Operations, and Administration facility.
Design Build Project Description
“The Project, as master-planned, will include a 27,000 square feet administration and operations building; an approximately 31,000 square feet bus maintenance building; a bus parking lot to accommodate 120 buses and paratransit vehicles; 230 parking spaces for employees, visitors and service vehicles; a 13,000 square feet bus wash structure and fueling station; and a photovoltaic panel covered bus shade structure. Off-site work will include widening of Smoke Tree Street and E Avenue; and extension of Sewer and Water Lines. The project is designed and to be constructed to achieve the highest feasible rating as established under the standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (“LEED”).”
After more than a year working with the highest scoring proposer, VVTA terminated its relationship with that contractor for various reasons. During this period VVTA “value engineered” the project and right sized it to a project that could still meet VVTA’s projected growth but fit within a budget of approximately $32 million for construction.
Subsequently, on August 17, 2009 VVTA released an Invitation for Bid (IFB) for the value engineered construction project. The engineer’s estimate for the project was approximately $32 million. Finally the planets aligned due in most part to a poor economy and the bottom falling out of construction. As such, VVTA received 13 bids with the winner, Edge Construction, wining with the low bid of just under $20million.
Project construction finally began in November 2009 with substantial completion scheduled in June 2011. The only major changes since the bid have been to increase the size of the photovoltaic to one megawatt, making VVTA self sufficient, and thanks to favorable pricing to convert asphalt parking areas to concrete.
CNG Fueling Station
In an effort to reduce operating expenses, VVTA issued a separate RFP for the design and construction of a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling facility. The fueling station went live in July of 2009. This allowed VVTA to produce its own CNG fuel as opposed to buying it on the retail market. As a result of this investment, VVTA saved $195.000 in CNG costs even though the authority used 43,000 more gallons (gas equivalent) of CNG fuel in FY 10 than the year before.
VVTA has come a long way in the last dozen years. In 1998 VVTA operated mostly school buses disguised as transit buses. They had only a front door and once you boarded one you were faced with the same brown forward facing seats you see on all school buses. Electronic fareboxes, global positioning, automatic vehicle locators, Google transit, on board computers, and security cameras are all part of the VVTA landscape now. The near future will bring automatic passenger counters, automatic bus stop annunciators, online bus tracking, and a new bus facility that will keep VVTA a vital and contributing part of the vibrancy and future of the High Desert.