The 70 and 71 have issues

Last week, in covering GGT's quarterly schedule update, I mentioned that the 70 follows the 71 too closely for some of its runs, once just 3 minutes behind. This, however, was not an accident of poor scheduling but a deliberate choice. There are two reasons for this.

History. Years and years ago - long before the senior Marin Transit (MT) planner I spoke with came to work for the agency - GGT needed extra capacity on Route 70. They found that most passengers on the line were staying in Marin and crowded out the folks heading to San Francisco.

To beef up service, GGT asked MT to create Route 71, a Marin-only local bus. Though operated by GGT, the 71 would better fit MT's mission to provide transit within Marin County than in GGT's mission to provide service between Marin and neighboring counties.

At the rush hour times when the 70 closely follows the 71, then, the 71 serves as a relief bus, picking up all the local ridership and leaving the regional ridership for the closely-following 70.

But why not just use a larger bus for the 70? Because of the next reason:

Fare media. MT issues a raft of bus passes and discount cards for students, seniors, the disabled, and low-income riders that are accepted on all MT routes. Because GGT operates most of MT's system, the most common place to use these is on a GGT-operated bus, and it would seem logical that GGT would also accept these on its routes - the commute and inter-county routes - for trips starting and ending within Marin. Alas, it is not so.

Transit-dependent riders equipped with MT-issued passes will therefore avoid the 70, as they will need to pay full price for their trip. Instead, they'll board the 71, which does take the passes.

As a result, the 70 and 71 serve different ridership pools, both of which need to make the same transfers at San Rafael.

One planner I spoke with said that "everyone knows" the 70 and 71 don't make sense. Given the reasons above, it's hard to argue with him. GGT ought to take MT's fare media for intra-Marin travel but either can't or won't, and so the 71 provides 101 corridor service to MT's poorest riders. It's an exceptionally inefficient and wasteful workaround to what should be a simple problem to fix. (But, given transit law in California, I'd wager GGT can't take MT's fare media without a waver of some kind.)

Lack of seats is a concern, but the benefits of all-day 15 minute frequency on 101 would far outweigh the negatives. Larger buses, such as the MCI commuter buses or double-deckers like the Google shuttle, could also provide some of the necessary capacity.