The View from Behind the Wheel

LAVTA on freeway with other traffic

Insights from Executive Director Christy Wegener

With decades of experience and a passion for transit, Christy shares her outlook on the future of Wheels, public transit, and life behind the Wheel at one of California’s most successful transit agencies.

Rapid bus at BART Station

Transit Integration Part 1: Being a Good Neighbor

I live in Contra Costa County and work in Alameda County, and to get to work via transit requires me to take bus rides on two neighboring transit agencies – County Connection and Wheels.

“Talk the talk, walk the walk. For me, ride the bus. As I approached the San Ramon Transit Center I was relieved to see the County Connection bus already there on layover. I promptly headed to the designated bus bay and waited for my pickup. The minutes clicked by until it was the start time of the trip, but the bus did not move. Maybe he was in the restroom? Maybe he was on a call? Maybe he knew that “Friday light” traffic would mean the bus would be early? When the bus finally heads to my pickup point, my panic subsides. I greeted the bus operator, tapped my Clipper card for the $2 fare, and took my seat. The buses available for my work commute run every 20-40 minutes. Lucky for me, both are timed to connect at their terminus with BART, which means that they often time well with one another to facilitate transferring. A happy scheduling accident for this commuter.

As we drove south through San Ramon, I willed the bus operator to make up for lost time. Thankfully, we got to BART with time to spare – we arrived one minute early. Wheels route 14 was waiting in the bay adjacent to where County Connection dropped me off. A few steps later and I was in my seat on Wheels, ready to roll. But the experience had me thinking: What does meaningful transit integration between two different transit systems look like, especially when buses or trains run late?

Transit Integration Part 2: Enhanced Connectivity

In most parts of the Bay Area, transit agencies do a good job of balancing service designed to address local travel patterns with service designed to serve regional trip purposes. For regional trips, having local, well-time connections to systems like BART and ACE is essential. At LAVTA, we anchor most of our bus schedules to the BART schedule, and everything flows from those designated train arrival or departure times. But when trains or other buses run late, we often operate blindly.

Transit agencies have done an outstanding job communicating real-time information to our riders. What we haven’t figured out (to my knowledge) is how to communicate that same information with other agencies.

Back in the old days, there was a light on the Dublin side of the BART Station mounted on a pole. The light would flash when the BART train was approaching, signaling to the bus drivers that a train was about to arrive. The bus drivers would see that light flash and would wait a few more minutes so that passengers could make their connection. Unfortunately, that light hasn’t worked in years.

We need to lean on the smartest minds to figure out how we can use each other’s real time feeds for transfer-protection decisions. And maybe at the very least, we should fix that light.

Wheels in motion bus

Wheels In Motion Launches New Network

It’s an exciting time to be a Wheels rider! On March 23, 2024, Wheels unveiled a new bus network that offers expanded routes throughout the Tri-Valley, adds more frequent service on weekends, and seamlessly connects with the BART rail system. It was designed in response to rider’s feedback that they preferred Wheels matched the new BART 20-minute train service and add routes in more places. Our new network includes two new routes and the reinstatement of two routes that were suspended in the pandemic. Our new network doubles the amount of service provided by the Rapid bus lines on Saturdays, expanding Tri-Valley mobility seven-days a week.

Try out Wheels with free rides being offered March 23 through April 6. We invite you to take a tour of the Tri-Valley and welcome our new routes to the Wheels Family. Route 4 connects the downtown retail district in central Dublin and both the East and West Dublin/Pleasanton BART stations with residential neighborhoods in north Dublin. Route 4 also travels on Village Parkway and is another option for students going to Dublin High School. Route 18 also made its debut, providing weekday connections to both Granada High School, Mendenhall Middle School and downtown Livermore from residential neighborhoods in southern Livermore. We’re also reintroducing routes that have been suspended since 2020, including Route 11 which operates from the Livermore Transit Center to the Vasco Road ACE Station; Route 580X which connects to BART from central Livermore, with stops at the Airway Park and Ride and at the Wheels administrative office and bus yard.

Zero Emission Bus Transition

Wheels is proud to support California’s climate goals and is doing so by gearing up for our transition to a zero-emissions bus future. As mandated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), all public transit bus operators are required to be fully zero-emissions by 2040. In 2021, LAVTA’s Board of Directors adopted a visionary zero-emissions bus (ZEB) transition plan which recommended hydrogen fuel-cell technology buses for the future fleet of ZEB vehicles. LAVTA is thrilled to be ahead of the curve and on track to make our first zero-emissions bus purchase later this year. We are working to ensure that we have the appropriate infrastructure in place in order to support the safe operation and maintenance of fuel cell buses.

Bus in motion against green hills and blue sky