An idea to help save Big Sur

“OVERTOURISM IS KILLING BIG SUR.” A banner was recently hung on Bixby Bridge with that message, but was quickly removed by Caltrans. A little over a week later that same message was painted on the pavement of the viewpoint overlooking the bridge. Caltrans cleaned it up within hours. 

While I don't condone vandalism, I sympathize with the message, and it did help drive home the point. Big Sur, not unlike many other famous places around the world, has been overrun with tourists. The banner and paint job explicitly expressed the legitimate frustrations of Big Sur residents. 

I haven't driven down the coast for awhile, but I have seen news reports showing cars on Highway 1 backed up for miles, crawling along at a snails pace. I've also read horror stories of people coming across piles of human poop, complete with toilet paper, along park trails due to the lack of public rest rooms. Clearly, something needs to be done. Soon. 

It has been suggested that Highway 1 be made a toll road, but I don't think that will help much. Tolls might be useful to help pay for road maintenance and services like much-needed rest rooms, but by themselves they won't significantly reduce traffic volume. After all, if people are making the effort to get here from far away places they aren't going to be deterred by having to spend a few extra dollars to go the last few miles. 

Instead, what is needed is reliable, frequent bus service to and from Big Sur to provide a credible alternative to driving. Right now, Monterey-Salinas Transit runs only three buses a day from Monterey to Big Sur, spaced about three and a half hours apart, with Nepenthe being the southernmost stop. And that schedule only operates during the summer months. From September to May MST only runs four buses a week, two on Saturday and two on Sunday, roughly four hours apart each day. 

The service pretends to be tourist-friendly by offering to stop at Bixby Bridge long enough to take a snapshot or two “upon request,” but I don't see how such schedules would be of much use to anybody. They certainly aren't practical for tourists, who need the flexibility to make relatively brief stops at parks, viewpoints, and restaurants as they explore attractions spread out over dozens of miles. So as it stands now, driving the family automobile is the only way to see Big Sur. That's why traffic backs up for miles. 

But what if MST ran buses as frequently as every 20-30 minutes? That would change the whole ball game. Passengers could get on and off at will, knowing that another bus would soon come along to carry them to the next point of interest. So, for example, a couple or family might get off at Point Lobos for an hour or two. Then they could catch another bus which would let them off at Garrapata, where they might spend 30 minutes walking the beach and trails before the next bus picks them up. A 5 minute stop at Bixby Bridge could be built into the schedule for the quick photo op, or the passengers could linger longer and be back on a different bus within half an hour. On down the road they'd go picking and choosing where to get off, when to get back on, and when to catch the northbound bus once they've seen what they came to see, all at their convenience. 

This sort of service would provide a very practical alternative to driving individual automobiles. To promote the service and encourage its use, day passes could be included in hotel room packages much the same way aquarium tickets are now. 

Ah, but then the question arises, how do we pay for it? Farebox revenue would probably not cover the full costs, so some sort of subsidy would probably be necessary. I confess I'm not familiar enough with potential funding sources to say where the money might come from. But we have a lot of clever people in Monterey County who might have an idea or two that could get this off and running.

Point Sur


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