Sonoma/SF commute club running out of gas

The Valley of the Moon Commute Club once ran a fleet of three full-sized buses weekdays between Sonoma and downtown San Francisco. The service saved the hassle and expense of driving, and parking, in the city.

The monthly pass was a deal – and those were the days of $2 bridge tolls.

Now down to one bus, the Club must raise fees to compensate for a drop in membership. But not even hiking the monthly fee to $350 may be enough to keep the bus going.

“It’s getting down to the wire,” said longtime rider Jaretta Avery.

The loss of the VMCC’s familiar white bus will likely send the 23 members, and scores of casual riders who use the service irregularly, back to their own cars.

While the riding the VMCC has its advantages, attrition has been dramatic. The bad economy has definitely played a role, Avery said, as there are fewer city jobs to commute to.

Once ridership started dropping a few years ago, the price of membership crept up and, one by one, buses were cut. That left fewer options for workers with inflexible schedules.

“Each time we cut a bus, people would drop out because of the timing,” Avery said.

In addition to monthly memberships the club sells a one-day pass. “Although we are a private bus club, we have always welcomed casual riders,” Avery said. “In fact, it’s those casual, non-member riders who have kept us afloat for the past several years.”

The one-day pass is a good option for workers who don’t need to report to the office every day. It’s also handy for day-trippers and riders on the way to a Bay Area airport.

The VMCC has boosted the fare to $30 for one roundtrip, a tab that may be too pricey for the casual rider.
The monthly club fee of $350 works out to about $18 per weekday commute.

VMCC began in the mid-seventies as a not-for-profit organization for workers who required reliable and economical transportation from Sonoma to San Francisco, Monday through Friday.

The morning commute begins at 5:37 with the first stop in Boyes Hot Springs. The bus works down West Napa, swings by the Plaza, then heads down Broadway. It hits the last of its eight stops, the deli at 116 and 121, at about 6 a.m.

The bus crosses the Golden Gate Bridge at about 6:45 a.m. A few riders get off on Lombard, but most – after a brief yawn-and-stretch ritual – access stops in the financial district, along Battery, and up Mission.

The route is reversed on the way home, with benchmark stops at the Broadway Market (at 5:50 p.m.), the Plaza (5:55 p.m.) and El Verano (6:05 p.m.)

While riding the bus, many participants use the time to work on their laptops, read, chat with acquaintances, or take a nap.

Despite the assets and no real competition from Golden Gate Transit, attracting new members has been difficult. The goal to find seven members before the end of the year is “in today’s bleak economy, doubtful,” Avery acknowledged.

For information about the VOMCC contact 812.0110. Detailed information about bus stop locations and times can be found at newwestmedia.com/VOMCC/.


3 Responses to Sonoma/SF commute club running out of gas

  1. Ralph Hutchinson says:

    For the 13 years I’ve lived in Sonoma I’ve been a casual rider and remain a huge supporter of the efforts of the Commute Club. In fact, its existence is one of the reasons I felt comfortable in settling in Sonoma> At the time I commuted into San Francisco on a somewhat regular/yet sporadic basis and on a daily basis it was not feasible for me to drive myself nor was it environmentally responsible. I learned of the bus from the Chamber of Commerce when I was prospecting Sonoma and at the time I remember at least 3 buses operating in the late 90′s.

    I rode the bus from January through April this year most recently and reconnected with my “old friends” the very same people I see at St Francis Solano school as parents, meet for coffee at the Sonoma Market to discuss stock tips, and see at the Little League Ball Diamond on the Depot.

    While I recently worked on a consulting assignment at a San Francisco bank, I now operate my own consulting business out of Sonoma and don’t get as many opportunities to ride. However, when I need them I want them to be there and remain a vibrant part of Sonoma Valley’s commute options.

    I wish the Commute Club well and will be cheering for your continued success.

    Thank you Sonoma Sun for recognizing the contribution they offer to Sonoma Valley residents.

  2. Ralph Hutchinson says:

    Suggestion…I know I might be interested in buying an “option” or membership to help bridge the gap in revenues perhaps some others who aren’t riding this very minute but are sympathetic would contribute in this creative way? If I could help ensure the bus stayed afloat and available for future instances when I know I will need a ride, I for one would be interested in pursuing?

  3. Ralph Hutchinson says:

    Without public transit options Sonoma is beyond striking distance to The City for anyone who needs to commute on a fairly regular basis. Carpools are often difficult to arrange. To drive everyday into The City at 60-90 minutes each way is exhausting and makes an 8 hour day a 10-12 hour day. The $6 toll and parking at $12-$25/day aside from the fuel costs and wear and tear on the vehicle only add ot the emotional costs and stress.

    I know people who drive to Novato to catch the #54 Golden Gate transit bus and to the Ferry to catch a boat but these options are cumbersome and require multiple stops and in my opinion to drive half way you may as well keep going all the way into the city.

    I think most in Sonoma agree we desire a diverse population and that includes working professionals from The City. Without these public options it renders that nearly impossible.