Click photo to enlarge
Dick Spotswood writes a weekly column on local politics for the Marin Independent Journal. (IJ...
COUNTY SUPERVISORS and council members on the Marin Transit District board just voted to spend up to $300,000 on consultants to learn, among other things, why Marinites don't ride local buses.

The initiative will also include "outreach" and a marketing study.

Here's an idea.

Instead of again hiring expensive outside consultants to state the obvious, why not require county supervisors and the two council members who sit on the Marin Transit District's board to ride their very own buses at least once a week.

For a $2 ride they'll learn in real time the pros and cons of traveling on Marin Transit buses from their homes to the Civic Center.

Years ago, I was a Golden Gate Bridge District director, and on the general manager's annual performance review committee we set a goal for the general manager to ride Golden Gate Transit once a week.

The same expectation needs to be set for Marin Transit directors.

To answer the obvious question, I was then an almost daily bus commuter from Mill Valley to my San Francisco Financial District law office.

Would it be so hard for Supervisor Kate Sears to regularly take the bus from her Sausalito residence to the Civic Center?

Surely Supervisor Steve Kinsey could take it to his Metropolitan Transportation Commission meetings in Oakland.

Of course, his trip requires two Golden Gate bus routes, a transfer to BART, plus a short hike — a nearly two-hour trek.

Being personally more transit-centered might even lead supervisors to surrender their soon-to-be $10,888-a-year car allowance and instead receive a transit pass.

One supervisor already walks the talk. Supervisor Susan Adams is a regular Marin Transit rider, using shuttles from her Marinwood home to the Civic Center.
Nor does the frugal Adams accept the auto allowance.

If transit directors ride their own buses they'll have a splendid opportunity to fully understand the system they govern. They'll gain direct input from bus passengers and drivers without consultants in the way.

This isn't about Golden Gate's excellent commuter buses serving San Francisco's central business district. Sears understands that, as she once commuted by bus when she worked in the city.

It's about buses that start and end in Marin, funded by Marin taxpayers and governed by county supervisors and two council members, Novato's Madeline Kellner and Stephanie Moulton-Peters of Mill Valley.

Even if they pass on becoming transit passengers, the supes can easily find out why Marinites don't ride local buses.

Instead of a new big-bucks study, they should go to their files to read the district's 2013 — and $100,000 — "Countywide Transit Market Assessment," prepared by consultants. They will find that the bulk of Marin Transit riders are what's called "transit dependent." As Nelson-Nygaard's analysis says, "while only 2 percent of county residents have no car at home, nearly one-third of Marin Transit riders (32 percent) said they did not."

The heaviest-traveled routes are from San Rafael's Canal neighborhood. It's no surprise that the 2013 study found "respondents who said Spanish was spoken in their homes accounted for nearly 40 percent of the responses, compared to only about 12 percent of county residents."

Of course the new immigrants clustered in the Canal take the bus. They don't own a car or have a driver's license. As soon as they get licenses, their understandable goal is often to purchase an auto.

Marin Transit does an excellent job with limited recourses. It runs clean and punctual buses.
Its buses just don't go to enough places, aren't particularly speedy, require inconvenient transfers and don't run very often. Miss a bus and it's a long wait for another.
It's obvious. Run frequent buses at reasonable fares on a comprehensive network and more people will ride them.

What's not so obvious is how to pay for it.

One way is to not spend $300,000 on a study, "outreach" or even marketing. Instead divert the cash to running more buses.

Columnist Dick Spotswood of Mill Valley now shares his views on local politics twice weekly in the IJ. His email address is