Transit system looks into the valley of its future
After 10 years of being in service, the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System, or YARTS, hopes to turn itself into more than just a novelty shuttle. Currently, consultants from the Transit Resource Center and Transit Marketing are gathering data to develop YARTS’ short-range transit plan for the next five years. The hope is to expand use beyond the backpackers that are mostly using the system now.
Several workshops were held in the Eastern Sierra in the last week in order for Clifford Chambers of the Transit Resource Center and Selena Barlow of Transit Marketing to talk with community members to determine what is, and is not, working with YARTS. Workshops were held in Lee Vining, June Lake and Mammoth, and the consultants rode the buses themselves to get a first-hand look at the system.
At the Mammoth workshop on Monday afternoon, Danna Stroud pinpointed one of the system’s major flaws. “There are a lot of pieces that do fit together in this system, but many may not be understood by the general public,” Stroud observed. This is why Barlow’s piece of the puzzle will be so crucial to the system going forward. Marketing tools such as sample itineraries, a website with some teeth, and social media outlets will need to be developed to help riders understand exactly what their options are when using YARTS.
For example, many people may be unaware that the Amtrak connects with the YARTS system in Merced, which means visitors can get to Mammoth from anywhere in the country via a train and a bus. It would make for a long trip, but it can be done.
Another huge flaw in the system is that no one is assigned to keep watch on what information is being disseminated to the public regarding YARTS. Currently, according to YARTS Transit Manager Dick Whittington, who visited the Eastern Sierra to take part in the workshop process, wrong phone numbers for YARTS are being listed in directories and front desk managers at hotels in Mammoth are telling people to go and wait in wrong locations for the bus. John Urdi, Executive Director for Mammoth Lakes Tourism suggested sending these employees out on the bus for them to experience the process themselves and be able to relay information to guests more accurately.
YARTS has two routes, the abovementioned route along Hwy 140 that hits Merced and Mariposa and ends up in Yosemite where, if you chose, you can hop onto the YARTS 120 route that would then take you to the Eastern Sierra. The two routes have a stop at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center where a transfer can be made.
Day trips on YARTS from the eastside are currently tough, which is why the system is more often than not used by hikers who are only traveling one way, usually into the park to then hike their way back out. If you do choose to take a day-trip on YARTS you would endure a four hour trip each way, with about four hours to actually hang out in the Valley. While the trip is not bad for a single rider (I did it a few years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it), it may be disheartening and exhausting to families who want to bring their kids along.
Mono County Supervisor Vikki Magee-Bauer, who represents Lee Vining, June Lake and a portion of Mammoth, was at the Mammoth workshop and suggested that YARTS look at creating a hub in Lee Vining.
“Perhaps we could use the Eastern Sierra Transit Authority [ESTA] to get people from Mammoth to Lee Vining and then YARTS would take you from Lee Vining to the Valley,” Bauer suggested. “It would give flexibility to have several shuttles running back and forth throughout the day rather than just one.”
The idea was expanded upon and others thought perhaps it would be even better to have YARTS just run from Lee Vining to Tuolumne Meadow. Riders who wanted to go all the way to the Valley could then jump on a park bus to ride the rest of the way. Those at the workshop thought the Lee Vining to Tuolumne route would be good for Eastside locals looking for day trips. This route would cut the travel time on YARTS down to about two hours.
Currently the YARTS shuttle picks up at several locations in Mammoth, then goes to June Lake and then Lee Vining before heading to Yosemite.
“We would just still need to be able to say that you can get to Yosemite from Mammoth,” Stroud said, with her marketing hat on. Which would be true, it would just mean taking several buses rather than one.
The flaw in the Lee Vining hub plan would be that while YARTS currently stops on the June Lake Loop to pick up passengers, the CREST bus that is operated by ESTA and would be the alternative for getting people from Mammoth to Lee Vining, does not. This means June Lake would be cut out of the equation if that idea was implemented. Breaking up the current YARTS route would also mess up the Amtrak connection to Mammoth.
“I always do this to myself,” Bauer, who represents Lee Vining, June Lake and a portion of Mammoth, said in regard to trying to help one area, while inadvertently raising issues for another.
Overall the general feeling was to try to coordinate the ESTA and YARTS entities in order to make them work together rather than against each other.
None of the ideas that were generated at the workshop were set in stone. It was merely a collaboration of thoughts and ideas that the consultants recorded for their recommendation reports that they hope to have generated by the end of the year.
According to Barlow, Yosemite is also in the midst of conducting a transportation study as well, which may play into what she and Chambers will recommend in their reports.