The Ceres City Council voted Monday to approve turning over the Ceres Area Transit (CAT) system to the city of Modesto transit system to operate.
The move comes in the face of declining ridership and revenues and the city’s failure to meet the required minimum fare box revenue in relation to operating cost.
Nationwide, transit ridership has been in decline since 2013, explained Fred Cavanah, director of the city Transit Services. 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.
“The city of Ceres really doesn’t have a population that is (public) transit oriented,” said Cavanah. “We have very low density. We have very few what are known as regional trip attractors that have a lot of people who want to come into the city of Ceres and move around by way of transit.”
Because Stanislaus County reached a population of over 500,000 residents, the required fare box recovery ratio for transit systems increased from 15 percent to 20 percent which has been impossible to meet. Because the Ceres system came up $15,000 short in fares, the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) withheld $15,000 in revenues, effectively causing the city to pay $15,000 out of its General Fund.
Handing the system over to the Modesto Area Express (MAX) would improve the economies of scale. The city will lose control over the system in Ceres but be able to provide input on any service changes. However, Ceres will not be subject to any penalties for falling short in ridership revenues. Cavanah said Modesto has the liberty to adjust service changes in Ceres in order to reach their efficiency standards.
“We can’t really ask them to cross subsidize too much of the Ceres transit system because they don’t want to get themselves into hot water with respect to that financial penalty.”
Under the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) the city of Ceres would turn over its assets to Modesto which include three buses and 14 bus rider shelters and waste containers. The city is also giving up about $700,000 in regional transit funds. Eventually the Ceres fixed route buses will be repainted with the MAX logo and colors.
Modesto carries 1,200 passengers a day while Ceres is 58.
An added benefit to Modesto’s takeover will be passenger access to smartphone apps which detail where buses are located and what time they will be at specific bus stops. Tickets may also be purchased through the apps.
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.
Either city can back out of the agreement once a 240-day notice is given.