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Ceres may turn over transit to city of Modesto
The Ceres Area Transit (CAT) fixed route bus system. - photo by Contributed to the Courier

In the face of declining ridership and revenues, the Ceres Area Transit (CAT) system may be turned over to the city of Modesto or Stanislaus County transit system to operate, members of the Ceres City Council signaled on Monday.

Fred Cavanah, director of the city Transit Services, said the city has failed to meet the required minimum fare box revenue in relation to operating cost. He explained that because Stanislaus County reached a population of over 500,000 residents, the fare box recovery ratio for transit systems to meet increased from 15 percent to 20 percent which has been thus far impossible to meet. Because the Ceres system came up $15,000 short in fares, the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) will be required to withhold $15,000 in revenues, effectively causing the city to pay $15,000 out of its general fund.

Nationwide, transit ridership has been in decline since 2013, explained Cavanah. He cited the rise of private ride services like Lyft and Uber, lower gas prices and a rise in car ownership in a better economy. The problem has been greatest in suburban communities like Ceres with small densities and limited service levels.

He suggested that either the Modesto Area Express (MAX) or Stanislaus County Regional Transit (StaRT) is open to operating the Ceres system because of economies of scale. The city would lose control over the system but also would not be subject to penalties for falling short in ridership revenues.

“They would be completely responsible for everything that occurs in the Ceres transit service,” he told the council. “The Ceres transit system would actually become a part of either the city of Modesto’s service, which is MAX, or the Stanislaus County transit, which is StaRT and Ceres would not have any responsibility whatsoever with the transit service.”

Cavanah said any Memorandum of Understanding crafted with another agency would seek to allow Ceres to have some input on service level. But he cautioned that the agency taking over the system would likely make decisions that won’t negatively impact their own systems. He said Ceres has minimal service and doubted it would be scaled back. 

The idea had appeal to the council. Negotiations will determine which agency would be interested and how the agreement would be structured.

Vice Mayor Linda Ryno asked Cavanah why other agencies would be willing to take on the Ceres route when it’s likely to be a drain on them. Cavanah explained that the overhead in the other systems is so much greater than Ceres that it may not be noticed.

Modesto carries 1,200 passengers a day while Ceres is 58.

In 2016 the city raised rates and significantly scaled back its’ Dial-A-Ride and fixed route systems. Those changes forced CAT to trim two routes into one shorter route and eliminating two other routes. Service operates from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays with no weekend service. CAT currently operates 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.

Dial-a-Ride services were also limited to only seniors aged 65 and older, and persons with disabilities.