In mid-May, Santa Maria Area Transit launched its new commuter service the Breeze Bus, offering 15 daily trips between Santa Maria, Calif., Vandenberg Air Force Base and Lompoc. Recent data showed a strong start for the service, as ridership numbers exceeded expectations, with 2,478 riders in June 2005, surpassing first-year service projections by 63%.
Various studies through the years yielded conflicting conclusions regarding the feasibility of intercommunity transit in northern Santa Barbara County. However, interest in a commuter route between Lompoc and Santa Maria continued to grow. In 2003, the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments approved a three-year pilot program to begin transit service.
The demonstration program is funded through a CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation Air Quality Program) grant. Though it could not have been foreseen at the time, the need for this new service increased dramatically in April 2005 (two months before launch), when Greyhound eliminated Lompoc and Vandenberg from its schedule.
In an effort to provide much-needed service for air force base personnel and contractors, a Vandenberg shuttle service was launched, which meets the Breeze Bus and takes commuters to their work locations on base. For the service, four Opus low-floor buses manufactured by Optima Bus Corp. were purchased, at $240,000 each, for a total cost of $960,000.