Any regular readers of this blog will know that one of my largest pet peeves with Riverside's transit service is the abrupt service cut-off at around 8'oclock. (Most routes. Route 1, to its credit, has some feeble attempts at service until 10 pm, and Route 16 until 9.) I hereby submit to you what I think is a reasonable proposal for providing late-night bus service to the City of Riverside, without stranding anyone or breaking the bank.
Step 1: Riders in areas with marginal service (I'm thinking routes 20, 21, 22, 27 here) get access to the ADA Dial-A-Ride service starting from the point where the fixed route shuts down, until the (IIRC) 9:30 cutoff for DAR service. Since this is ostensibly a shared-ride service, adding passengers will increase efficiency (to a point). And since demand should be rather light, RTA should be able to pick these folks up at minimal marginal cost. General public riders must board and alight at marked RTA bus stops. (This will further improve efficiency by keeping most trips along major thoroughfares.)
Step 2: Create a night-shift Dial-A-Ride service, open to all riders. This could be as simple as one dispatcher and one driver. Run it from 10 PM through 5 AM. With allotments for time spent getting the bus into service and out of service, that's one full time shift. 40 hours a week. I know RTA is eliminating several operator positions, and so the labour pool is most certainly there. The phone lines are in place, and the buses aren't doing anything else at that hour. Once again, riders must board and alight at marked RTA bus stops, improving efficiency.
The fares for the public on both the usual DAR and the late-night DAR service should be at the same level as DAR fares are now- $2.50 per rider. Riders with local bus passes should be given half off, and riders with (the soon-to-be-released) CommuterLink passes should ride free.
Step 3: Use the data from Dial-A-Ride trips to determine where nighttime demand lies, and see if it justifies running a full-size bus along a given route.
The fact of the matter is, right now, the data available for nighttime transit demand is simply unreliable. Of the thousands in our area who work at night, there is no way to tell how many might take transit if the option were available. Are the current night buses rather empty? Yes- because transit riders here in Riverside know that you simply cannot be out past 8 PM and have any sort of reliable mobility using transit. Give them an option- it doesn't have to be a fantastic option, just one that can provide hints at latent demand- and you'll see how many people might want to take on a later shift, or go shopping, or go out to the club and not have to worry about designating a driver. (This is one I hear *A LOT*, FYI.)
So there. A plan on giving Riverside residents a late-night travel option at low marginal cost, and to gauge demand for late-night transit service in our city at the same time. Feel free to comment if you like.