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SMART celebrates a year of service

By: Katherine Minkiewicz
August 3, 2018

After its first year of carrying countless passengers from the San Rafael/Santa Rosa corridor, the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART) system is celebrating its one-year anniversary on August 18 with free service and a kid-friendly festival. 

At the time of writing this article, the rail service has carried a whopping 660,000 passengers since opening its doors and revving up its engines last August according to SMART statistics. 

Jeanne Mariani-Belding, SMART spokeswoman, says ridership has been extremely frequent. 

“Ridership has been consistently strong and we have had an amazing first year. Our community has been through a lot over the past year and we are fortunate and grateful to have such strong and loyal support,” Mariani-Belding said.

The peak time of service is typically around weekday commute hours from 6-9 a.m. and in the afternoon from 3-6 p.m.

SMART Board Member and Rohnert Park City Council member, Jake Mackenzie, says service has indeed seemed busy, especially with early morning commuters.

“We’ve met our targets and prior to the start of service last August there were a lot of naysayers out there saying that it was the train to nowhere, but there are commuters that I’ve ridden with who go to San Rafael or Santa Rosa, who go to work in Novato or at the Marin Civic Center at 6:30 a.m. It is not a train to nowhere, it is a train to somewhere,” Mackenzie said.

Vice Chairwoman of SMART’s Board of Directors, Judy Arnold, echoed Mackenzie’s thoughts, saying that SMART has had a healthy and thriving ridership for the past year.

“In just one year of service, SMART has been fortunate to have a strong and loyal ridership,” Arnold said in a statement to the press.

Mariani-Belding said the agency was surprised to have surpassed their goal and their weekend ridership numbers.

“Our strong weekend readership numbers were a pleasant surprise. We are seeing people from across the Bay Area and an increasing number of visitors from outside California as well,” Mariani-Belding said.

Compared to Petaluma’s early to mid-years with their bus transit system, which had around 163,000 riders in 2008 according to the national transit database, SMART’s outlook for a stronger ridership seems strong. 

Yet, despite its great success the commuter rail service still has a few things to work on, such as making the costly extension to Cloverdale and Healdsburg a reality.

“People wish there were more trains on the weekend, but the dream is that we extend all the way to Cloverdale and Larkspur. From funding we do have the ability to get to Larkspur and that should be ready by fall of 2019,” Mackenzie said. “But it may be a few years until we get tracks to Cloverdale and due to the economic recession in 2008/2009 it has taken a long time… But we have been relentless in working with state and federal funding to complete it.”

Mackenzie also said the system needs more carrying capacity in order to compensate for the larger amount of ridership than was originally expected.

“We will have increased carrying capacity this fall, but to get the train staffed is a major thing, especially in Sonoma County and they have to be certified by the Federal Railroad Administration,” Mackenzie explained.

Despite these minor setbacks, board members at SMART are excited about their one-year celebration, which will take place August 18 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Novato Hamilton Station.

“This celebration is our way of saying ‘thank you’ to our North Bay Community for making our passenger rail service a huge success,” said Deborah Fudge, SMART board of directors’ chairwoman.

The festival will feature live music, local beer and wine, food trucks and free children’s’ activities and free train service and extra trips from August 18-19.

Arnold said of the event, “This is a wonderful way to share our gratitude with our community — it is time to celebrate.”