What do the world's biggest music festival and an award-winning transit agency have in common? It's Coachella — the rural California community with a vibrant history of social and political movements .
And when the inaugural Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (now simply known as “Coachella”) debuted in 1999, the area’s local transit agency, SunLine Transit Agency (SunLine), was also bringing new energy to the town. Over the course of three years, the agency replaced aging diesel buses with new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses and saw hugely positive environmental and economic impacts.
Since its inception in 1977, SunLine has continuously innovated and advanced mobility for local communities. It quickly grew to a medium-sized operator with a fleet of 95 vehicles, transporting 2.5 million riders every year in the sprawling Greater Palm Springs area. By 2019, when the pandemic hit and ridership dwindled, the SunLine team emerged with new ways to embody innovative ideas to meet the changing mobility needs of the community, implementing safe community engagement strategies amid lockdowns.
Despite the temporary shrinking ridership and the need to incorporate short-term COVID-19 safety regulations, SunLine’s Board of Directors and management saw an opportunity to envision how their transit network would look in the long run to support a growing population and its travel demands. “We’re looking 10 to 20 years ahead and asking ourselves what type of a network — what modes — would be able to meet our mobility demands in the decades to follow,” said Rohan Kuruppu, the Chief Planning Officer at SunLine.
Population projection in the year of 2045, mapped in Remix. Data source: Southern California Association of Governments.
The SunLine planning team pulled census data layers and a population growth estimation map in Remix and placed them on top of the transit network to see where future development is going to be. “Data in Remix was a huge help in visualizing and developing service strategies for the future, gathering stakeholder and public input, tweaking plans, and finalizing them in the midst of the pandemic – all done virtually,” Kuruppu added. The agency launched SunLine Refueled in January 2021. More specifically, the SunLine Refueled Initiative included:
- Consolidating 15 routes to 9 routes, minimizing transfer connections and introducing more one-seat rides, expanding the high-frequency span of service, introducing a timed transfer system, laying the transit network along current and future transit supportive land uses, simplifying the route numbering system so customers could better understand and memorize their trip (which is a key component of improving customer service and making public transit attractive to choice riders).
- Implementing SunRide, a microtransit service initially operating in four geofenced zones and now operational in seven zones in the Coachella Valley — Cathedral City, Coachella, Desert Hot Springs (including the community of Desert Edge), Indio, Mecca-North Shore, Palm Desert and Palm Springs
- Launching the 10 Commuter Link service between Indio and San Bernardino on July 12, 2021
Analyzing different types of demographic and geographical data in Remix.
Remix has played the role of “GIS expert” for the team, said Kuruppu, meaning Remix helped tackle all the geographic data analyses and provided data-driven insights. Without a background in using GIS software or coding, which he says he has “no interest in learning,” Kuruppu found the tool so easy-to-use and user-friendly that he was able to quickly create, manage, analyze, and map almost all types of geo data.
Ensuring 100% accuracy in transit planning sounds like a daunting task, but the agency is proud to have met this challenge. “It was an amazing outcome as we put the completely redesigned system in place, and remarkably, we saw zero errors — whether it be a timetable, revamped schedules, or route maps as generated by Remix. The tool really contributed to that level of accuracy by enabling the ongoing route design review, public engagement, correction, and refinement progress,” Kuruppu commented. “It was impressive to get that level of accuracy, along with the customer service and information components, in Remix.”
In January 2022, the agency was recognized with top honors by Caltrans, in their Excellence in Transportation Awards — the state’s most prestigious awards for transportation projects. Additionally, SunLine was named the 2021 Urban Transportation System of the Year by the Community Transportation Association of America and the 2022 Transit Agency of The Year by the California Transit Association. The Remix redesign, Kuruppu said, helped SunLine achieve its ultimate goal: to enhance the economic opportunity and well-being of all residents.