Illustration by Jarrett Ramones
By Karina Guzman
FRESNO — Fresno resident Violet Ayala has for a decade now relied on the Fresno Area Express (FAX) to ferry her to and from work. But while the city’s main public transportation provider boasts over 12 million riders annually, Ayala and others say FAX’s limited hours often leave them stranded.
Ayala, 52, commutes to her job at St. Agnes Medical Center five days a week. Her schedule often changes or requires unusual hours either late into night or early into the morning. “When I get off at five AM and have to wait two hours [for a bus], no, it doesn’t work,” she said of FAX service.
Ayala adds she sometimes has to leave for work two hours early to accommodate FAX’s schedule. She says that the solution is simple: requiring early service for weekends and longer weekday hours.
FAX’s 100-strong bus fleet currently operates on 16 fixed routes which run from 6 AM to 10 PM during the week and from 7 AM to 7 PM on weekends and holidays. According to The Fresno Bee, nearly 93 percent of Fresnans live within three-quarters of a mile from a bus stop, while FAX’s website boasts service to over 12 million fixed-route riders in 2013.
Sara Hernandez, 20, is a Fresno State University student and, like Ayala, struggles with FAX service. “The bus tends to lag sometimes [with] intervals between bus times of 30 minutes.” She also says that at least once or twice a week she has to work late and so is forced to look for other ways home.
Anna Vue, 21, points out that longer hours on weekends would allow people who have been out drinking a safe way of getting home without getting behind the wheel. “On the weekends it should be run longer because that’s when everybody goes out. It would be a lot better and safer for them to get on the bus than it is for them to drive home.”
A spokesperson with FAX told The kNOw that “given the available resources, FAX places service in times when the ridership levels are the highest.” FAX uses data from passenger counts, customer surveys and public comments to determine exactly when those hours are.
District 6 City Council Representative Lee Brand acknowledges the need to expand public transportation services, especially in a city where, according to the Bloomberg News, 31% of residents live below the poverty line, many of them without their own cars.
But with only 20 percent of FAX’s budget covered by rider fees, he says there’s little room to maneuver. “We have to make do with what we have. Do we provide more lines but shorter service or less lines with longer hours of service?”
Fresno residents have for years complained about FAX’s services, including its limited hours. Last year a group of riders came before the City Council to list their grievances.
In response, the council approved a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan that will create express bus lines that run along Blackstone and Kings Canyon. BRT was initially shot down by City Council, who turned down tens of millions in federal and state grants to fund the project. Council also created a Council Subcommittee tasked with addressing rider complaints.
In the meantime, FAX is urging riders to continue taking the bus during available hours and to consider alternative means at other times, including carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling, walking or jogging.