NPS to fund purchase of shuttles to connect local state, county and national parks

A shuttle service will be implemented this summer that will link more than seven local parks.

The two-hour shuttle route will connect more than seven local area parks.

By Heidi Manteuffel/Special to The Malibu Times

National Park Services (NPS) is funding the purchase of 21-passenger shuttle buses in a three-year experiment overseen by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy to link county, state and national parks in Malibu and surrounding areas, making them more accessible to visitors. The public service, called Heart of the Park shuttle service and scheduled for a summer commencement, will run weekends and holidays only, and unite more than seven parks in the Malibu area, including Malibu Creek State Park, Tapia Park and Solstice Canyon.

The need and price of the shuttle project has raised concern for some, especially with current budget cuts California State Parks has undergone, forcing the department to raise fees beginning in July. Woody Smeck, superintendent of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, strongly believes a need exists for the shuttle service. “It’s a great way to explore and use the parks while saving gas and protecting the environment,” Smeck said.

Smeck said the shuttles would cut down on gas emission from private cars to and from the parks as well as within the mountains.

Concerning price, NPS is footing the bill for the $1.2 million overall cost for the three years, funded from private donations as well as monies provided from Proposition 40, the Clean Water, Clean Air, Safe Neighborhood Parks, and Coastal Protection Act of 2002, and gas taxes. The shuttles alone will incur a $200,000 dollar per year operating cost that the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy hopes to cover with a $5 charge for an all-day ticket, though price is still in negotiation. MV Transportation, based in Fairfield, Calif., has been selected to operate the shuttles.

A major part of the plan is to attract new park visitors. Margie Steigerwald, community planner for the NPS, said it’s been long expected that there are those who rely on bus transit who would be interested in exploring these parks.

The shuttle route will connect Malibu Creek State Park, Tapia State Park, Malibu Lagoon State Beach, Solstice Canyon, Zuma Beach, Rocky Oaks, Peter Strauss Ranch, Paramount Ranch and the trailheads to Kanan and Malibu Canyon roads. The hope is that by connecting these locations, visitors will explore some of the less frequently visited sites, and help redirect some of the more popular parks crowd (Zuma and Malibu Lagoon).

Besides the ability to explore multiple parks in an afternoon, the shuttles will provide visitors with storage racks for their backpacks, bicycles, surfboards and picnic baskets. Steigerwald said equipment safety measures on the park’s buses are just like any other public transportation, and people should take their own precautions.

The four-sided route the buses will travel include Malibu Canyon Road, Pacific Coast Highway, Kanan Dume Road and Mulholland Highway. Bus stops along the two-hour route will be designed to include passenger shelters, trail signs and benches for waiting riders.

Park planners have not solved the issue of Route 161 riders along the 101 Freeway who will have a 2-4-mile trek to the nearest park shuttle stop. A potential NPS community shuttle route has been suggested to take riders from the MTA stop to the park, but this is not expected to operate until January 2005. MTA 434 Blue Route bus stops will, however, be the same as park shuttle stops at Malibu Lagoon State Beach and Zuma Beach.

The fact remains that the overwhelming majority of park visitors will most likely opt to rely on their own transportation to and around the parks, and will be in need of parking. For the nine shuttle stops, there are only two park and ride locations. One is at Paramount Ranch and the other at Malibu Creek State Park. Both are situated on the eastern leg of the shuttle’s path, which, if other parking is discouraged, could cause a logistical nightmare. Steigerwald is assured this will not be the case. Park visitors will continue to be allowed to park where they prefer. Like park and ride locations for morning commuters, it merely gives people more options. Steigerwald said this is an experiment, and certain variables (ticket price, shuttle availability) will be adjusted upon riders’ needs.