At an SBMTD public hearing in late 1986, staff hinted that service between Santa Barbara and Ventura would operate "sometimes in the 90's". SBMTD never made it there, but around 1991, a new service called "Clean Air Express" started carrying commuters between Santa Barbara and Ventura. (They also ran to Lompoc and Santa Maria, and still do as of this writing). The Clean Air Express only runs a few commuter trips per weekday, and only accepts prepaid monthly fares.
As early as 1995, transit officials in both Ventura and Santa Barbara counties were discussing some sort of transit service to Ventura. This was finally realized on August 6, 2001, when VISTA, with the help of Santa Barbara County, set up a route linking the two counties. Unlike the Clean Air Express, the new VISTA service would accept cash fares, and run throughout the day (even on weekends-- including Sundays when no other VISTA routes operate)
Since the new service would have more stops, there was some grumbling from current Clean Air Express riders. (There's even talk about additional service that would run express between Ventura and Goleta...)
The bus was new, hadn't even been painted yet, and featured wide, comfortable seats. In the back of the bus, there were even rear-facing seats, Metrolink style.
We picked up one additional passenger in Downtown Ventura, then headed north on US-101 to Santa Barbara County. As we entered Carpinteria, the early morning sunrise flooded everywhere with its golden light. No one got off at the stop in the industrial section of Carpinteria (Mark Ave), but one Goleta-bound passenger boarded in Downtown Carpinteria.
Everything went according to plan until we got to the industrial loop in Carpinteria; there, the driver seemed a bit unsure of the route and stops. Fortunately we made it to the UCSB bus loop with enough time for me to use the ATM and grab a snack before walking back to the bus loop for my next connection.
After walking around Downtown Santa Barbara for about an hour or so, it was time to start heading back down the coast. Of course, that meant a ride on the VISTA Coastal Connection again. This time I wasn't so sure where to board it (either on Figueroa near Chapala, or on Chapala just north of Figueroa). Neither location had a marked stop for the Coastal Connection. (In fact, most of the Coastal Connection stops in Santa Barbara were poorly marked-sometimes just a sticker on an existing MTD bus stop sign, but often, no indication at all that the Coastal Connection even stopped at a particular place).
At 10:18 (15 minutes late) the bus arrived at the Figueroa/Chapala stop. There were about five or six passengers, three of which got off. I got on, and in a few minutes we were on our way-I think! The driver seemed to have little experience with Downtown Santa Barbara, and kept asking "Where's city hall? Where's the courthouse?". She also complained about the lack of clearly marked stops.
The bus on this run was one of VISTA's older buses, with a headsign that read "Moorpark College" and an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper saying "Coastal Connection-Ventura Santa Barbara Bus". Unlike the luxury coach I got earlier, this bus had the standard retinue of 47 seats close together, and even a touch of GRAFFTI! Boo!
Once out of Santa Barbara, we picked up a passenger in Carpenteria. When we got to Ventura, we didn't follow the scheduled route at all. Instead, the driver continued via US-101 and CA-126 to the Government Center, but didn't stop there at all, choosing to continue via Telegraph Road to the Pacific View Mall bus stop. We all got off there. The passenger who had boarded in Carpinteria started asking the SCAT drivers at the stop whether his MTD disabled pass was valid on the SCAT buses.
I had lunch at the mall, then walked back up to the stop for my next bus:
However, we passengers (myself included) were in for a shock when we found out that southbound VISTA 101 trips no longer stopped at the Oaks Mall. Instead, the route terminated at the new Thousand Oaks transit center: at Rancho Road. This was literally out in the middle of nowhere: no phones, no facilities, it wasn't even complete (they were still building the shelters and doing some final landscaping). The happy memories of Santa Barbara were set aside, as the hot winds of Thousand Oaks blew all around us.
The next bus from there that would take us back to the Oaks Mall was due in about an hour. That's right. The driver said a Thousand Oaks Transit bus might come along anytime, but there was no indication that TOT was stopping there yet (I heard that they would not start using this facility until later in August). So we (including one 84-year old lady) were supposed to wait an hour, in the heat, in this lonely place...
Fortunately, the driver, who was just heading back to the yard anyway, took pity on us and gave us a ride back to the Oaks Mall. From there, with visions of the letter I was going to write, I walked across the blazing, empty, parking lot over to the LADOT #422 stop about a half-mile away, at Wilbur Road.
About 100% of #422's ridership (e.g. when no transit geeks are using it to connect between LA and Ventura Counties) is domestic employment. Although we picked up few people in Thousand Oaks, there was significant boarding at the MTA #161 stops in Westlake Village and Agoura Hills. By the time we got on the freeway at Kanan Rd, we had a full seated load. Popular #422 stops in LA county, at least on the bus I took, were at Topanga Cyn, Reseda Bl, and at the US-101 freeway stops. By the time we got to Downtown LA, the bus was nearly empty.
I should have gotten off at the stop at Temple/Broadway, which was roughly two blocks away from the Metro Red Line Civic Center stop near 1st./Hill. Instead, I accidentally rode all the way to 1st/Hope, which was a three-four block walk.
Since this is the line I commute on every day, it was pretty much the same old thing up until we left Chatsworth. From there I noticed that the train runs really fast through the recently-upgraded tunnels and throughout Ventura County in general. Once past Simi Valley, the landscape became less suburban and more rural as well. At the last stop in Oxnard, about 20 other passengers got off.
We left at 7 pm about 1/3rd full on a Flxible bus that sounded like a cow. I made a big mistake at Government Center. SCAT only makes one stop there, at Victoria and Telegraph, before continuing on to a stop about 1/2 mile walk away, on the other side of the CA-126 freeway.
Guess who got a lot of exercise that day?