On Monday April 16, 2000,I finally got a chance to ride the infamous Sunlink (express bus between Riverside and Palm Springs)
I started by taking the 6:25 Metrolink from Union Station to Riverside. But that train was late, so it was more like the 6:43 train. I thought I might miss the Sunlink, but it turns out that Sunlink will wait for the incoming train. And waiting it was, at the Riverside Station.
For those of you who are familiar with the Superbuses (tractor-trailer buses) when they ran in Orange County, here is what Sunline Transit Authority did to them:
Our first stop was Highland Springs Road. Sunlink stops at the RTA/Beaumont/Banning stop near the Carl's Jr, south of I-10. We picked up another passenger here, and after a 10-minute break for the driver, we continued via I-10, through the wind farms, and on to the Coachella Valley.
First CV stop was the Palm Desert Park and Ride (an isolated corner of a big box shopping center). One user got off here. I was thinking, gee, if Sunline hadn't extended the route to the mall further south, I would have really been stuck out in the middle of nowhere.
Next, we ran nonstop along Monterey toward the Westfield Shoppingtown Mall in Palm Desert. This part of the CV seemed to consist of three land uses:
I stopped by the Rancho Mirage Library to make a quick "pit stop". No here's some *real* transit-hostile development: there's a short brick wall between the sidewalk and the parking lot, requiring a 5-minute walk between the bus stop and the library front door. Ouch!
Well, anyway, back on the bus, again, maybe 3/4 full or so. In the open spaces between Rancho Mirage, Cathedral City and Palm Springs, the bus could travel quite fast, making only a few stops.
Around 11:30 a.m, I arrived at Palm Springs. After a quick lunch,
I wandered up Palm Canyon Drive, on foot. This area is quite
pedestrian friendly--if you stay on the sidewalk! Auto traffic moves
pretty fast going north on Palm Canyon and south on Indian Canyon.
(the two streets make a one-way couplet)
Palm Canyon is the nicer of the two streets, with stores, shopping, etc. Indian Canyon gets the police stations, the boarded up hotels and such (although the Spa Casino, which is actually on an Indian Reservation, is on Indian Canyon).
After about an hour or so, it was time to roll on back. I was originally planning to take the 1:45 bus back to Palm Desert, but I took the 1:32. Again, the bus was about 1/2 to 3/4 full along most of its route. I got off at the Palm Desert Mall, actually went inside the mall (nothing new here, but it did have an ice rink, and I was almost tempted to pay $6 and rent some skates. But...)
The Sunlink pulled up at 3 p.m., we still had a 20 minute wait. While talking to the driver, I learned that the Sunlink was carrying between 6 and 16 passengers per commute run, but reverse-commute service was more like from 0 to 3 passengers per run. Ridership was slowly building up.
We left on time at 3:20. At the Park-and-ride, we picked up a UC Riverside student and a couple of kids with skateboards. The student asked for a "courtesy stop" near UCR, but was told by the driver that "the last time I tried it, we got in trouble with the RTA".
As we left the CV, it started to rain. Hard. In fact a couple of the windows were leaking. We stopped again at Highland Springs Road, but no-one got on this time. As we got out of Moreno Valley, the freeway really started backing up, so we took Martin Luther King Bl into Riverside. (The driver *did* make a courtesy stop near UCR, after looking around to be sure no RTA buses were nearby...)
We arrived in San Bernardino around 6:55 a.m. There has been a service change to the IEC; #110 and #100 are now separate routes, not through routed anymore. (also, #100, between Riverside and San Bernardino, now runs every 30-minutes on weekdays). We got into Riverside around 7:30.
The Downtown Transportation Terminal in Riverside has been modified; the only part that's used by RTA buses is the "long" portion where the #1, #16 and IEC buses used to stop. Now IEC stops outside of the terminal (near the brick building). Local RTA buses use the "new" terminal. The old terminal building is now used by the Riverside Fire Dept, although Greyhound still operates out of one end (the old "Trailways" office, I think).
After about 16 minutes, RTA #16 pulled up. The trip to Moreno Valley was uneventful, the bus was about 1/2 full.
At the Moreno Valley mall I changed to RTA #35. This route still uses those 15-passenger van-buses. There were two other passengers with me, and a third got on once we arrived in Beaumont. I got off at the San Gorgonio Hospital and walked south along Highland Springs Bl. to get to the Sunlink stop.
The Sunlink pulled up as scheduled, around 9:10, but we had a 10-minute layover while the driver sold me a ticket. The one other passenger got off and went to the nearby Carl's Jr for a snack...Soon we got going again. We got off the freeway to pass by the Outlet Mall and Casino in Cabazon, but no one got on there. There was another approx 10-minute wait near the casino, as the driver got off to talk to the driver of the other Sunlink bus that had stopped there.
After traveling on I-110, S-111, and a few local streets, we arrived at the Palm Springs Mall, where I got off. (More on the Mall in a little bit). The Mall is also near the Palm Springs library (which was closed on account of it being the day after Christmas) and a large city park, but it's about a 30-minute walk to Downtown (Palm Canyon Rd.) Luckily, Sunline buses #14 and #30 stop at the mall (on the opposite side of the street from the Sunlink stop. Passengers riding between Riverside and Palm Springs will need to cross the street (Baristo) in order to access the Sunline buses going downtown).
I was also interested in Sunline's new service to Yucca Valley. Imagine my dismay when I walked up to the stop (near Greyhound) and found out that instead of several daily round trips, the service had been reduced to two early morning round trips, plus one mid-afternoon round trip. Not too useful for Sunlink riders out of Riverside. (Later on, I found out that MBTA had taken over a lot of this service.)
Palm Springs itself was kind of dead, so I had a quick lunch, then took #14 back to the mall. I had a thirty-minute wait for the Sunlink, so I explored the mall. What a letdown. It had a Ross, a True Value, and a Gottschalks/Harris, plus a bunch of (what I considered) down-market stores and a tiny food court. Plus it was almost empty, not a good sign for the day after Christmas. Sort of reminiscent of the waning days of the old Indian Hill mall in Pomona, before the school district took it over...But I digress
The Sunlink pulled up to the stop, and I boarded, this time paying the fare to Riverside ($8). There were two kids (probably the same ones from last April) in the "business class" section in the front of the bus, and three other passengers. Two of them got off at the Cabazon outlets (which was by now jammed with parked cars and "Full" signs in all the parking lots). Beware, the Sunlink stop is not marked on either side of the street at Cabazon. I overheard the driver telling the departing passengers where to pick up the bus for the return trip, but didn't hear where.
After leaving Banning (another 10-minute break for the driver), the Sunlink took an alternate route via I-10 and I-215, arriving in Riverside about 15-minutes ahead of schedule. It stopped on "Fremont Place", that new street created in the reconfiguration of the (former) RTA terminal. and stayed there for at least 15-minutes, before continuing on to the Metrolink.
I went over to the RTA stops, and eventually got on a #49 around 2:45 pm. (As all good bus geeks know, this route was formerly part of a much larger route #496 that ran all the way to Downtown LA). The Mission Bl. portion of the route was just as busy as it was in the #496 days, with a full bus leaving Riverside, and tapering off along the way to Country Village. At CV, about 10 of us got off. (This particular bus had a neat feature: the interior "Stop Request" sign showed the route number and destination of the bus!)
I took an Omni #71 back to the Montclair Metrolink station, where I had started. It left CV with about 3 people, but picked up a few more in the industrial district near Ontario Airport, then there were a few passengers getting off and on between ONT and the Montclair terminal.