The inaugural run of bus service from Fresno to Yosemite National Park, with stops in Coarsegold, and Oakhurst, was May 23.
A luncheon, with Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler serving as master of ceremonies, was held in Ahwahnee May 20 to celebrate the beginning of the service.
The service is the result of five years of planning between Dick Whittington, transit manager for the the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS), and the Fresno Council of Governments (FCOG).
Wheeler, a member of the YARTS committee, welcomed dignitaries from Madera, Fresno, and Mariposa to the luncheon.
“I’m so happy this long-awaited service is finally here,” Wheeler said after thanking the efforts of YARTS and Fresno COG administrators and staff for their efforts to get the route up and running. Wheeler refereed to past opposition to the service, and said “we’re going to show everyone that this will work.”
Prior to the luncheon, Wheeler said people have been contacting him for years asking what could be done to increase public transportation in the Mountain Area.
“People want to be able to get to and from Fresno for doctor appointments, to visit family, and even to shuttle to and from the airport so they do not have to pay to leave their vehicle,” Wheeler said.
He noted there are between 20 and 40 residents of Coarsegold and Oakhurst who work for the park service or the park’s concessionaire Delaware North, including Tenaya Lodge, that will be able to use the service to get to and from work.
Mariposa County District 5 Supervisor John Carrier is the current chairman of YARTS. Mariposa has been served by YARTS from the Merced Amtrak station to Yosemite Valley for 15 years.
Carrier said the initial intent of YARTS was to bring tourists via Amtrak to Yosemite, but the benefits have grown over the years.
“We have county employees who live in Merced who use the service to get to Mariposa ... we have students who travel from Mariposa to Merced for college ... we have seniors that use the service ... and we have park service and DNC employees in our community who utilize YARTS to get to and from work.”
Carrier said YARTS is a more modern and efficient version of the early 1890s ‘Cannonball Express,’ the 120-mile, 11-hour stagecoach run from Raymond to Wawona.
Tony Boren, executive director of the FCOG, called the start of the service a historic occasion.
“The political will wasn’t there 15 years ago to make this happen,” Boren said. “As you know, the wheels of government turn slowly sometimes.”
Yosemite National Park Public Affairs Officer Scott Gediman, who rides the Highway 140 YARTS bus to work in Yosemite Valley, referring to Highway 41 being the last entrance to the park to have YARTS service, said he was pleased to see the last piece of the Yosemite transportation puzzle in place.
Gediman said Yosemite receives more than four million annual visitors with the majority arriving in private vehicles.
“The more people that come to Yosemite on a bus helps reduce the number of cars entering the park, and frees-up additional parking spaces,” Gediman said. “YARTS is an integral part of getting people to the park ... this is a great collaborative effort.”
Dan Rule, president of the Oakhurst Area Chamber of Commerce, said the community welcomes YARTS riders with open arms and encourages them to make Eastern Madera County their destination to stop, dine, stay, and explore all of the wonderful things to see and do along the scenic Highway 41 gateway.
The luncheon was attended by elected officials from the FCOG, the City of Fresno, Mariposa and Merced Counties, are representatives from Yosemite National Park, The Oakhurst Area and Coarsegold Chambers of Commerce, the Yosemite Sierra Visitors Bureau, and the Fresno Convention Center and Visitors Bureau. Also in attendance were representatives from Senator Tom Berryhill’s office, Assemblyman Jim Patterson’s office, and representatives from Amtark, and Forest Service Tribal Relations. Prior to arriving in Ahwahnee, ribbon cutting ceremonies were held at the Fresno Amtrak station and the Coarsegold Historic Village.
“Everyone involved with getting this project started has been just amazed at the level of enthusiasm and support from locals and visitors,” Whittington said. “The travel forums and the blogs just lit up following the announcement of the service earlier this year and the pitch has just increased as we have gone forward. We anticipate that the service is going to be very busy this summer.”
Buses make five round-trips per day, picking-up riders at the Fresno-Yosemite International (FYI) Airport, Amtrak and Greyhound stations, Fresno State, and the Highway 41-145 Park and Ride, before stopping at the Coarsegold Historic Village, the Best Western in Oakhurst, and Fish Camp’s Tenaya Lodge on its way to Yosemite Valley.
For Mountain Area residents who want to travel to Fresno, a bus leaves the Oakhurst Best Western at 6 a.m., with additional departures at 3:30 p.m., 5:35 p.m., 6:50 p.m., and 7:41 p.m., and 8:57 p.m., Monday through Friday. Buses depart the Best Western for Yosemite at 5:38 a.m., 9:50 a.m., 11:08 a.m., 2:08 p.m., 4:10 p.m., and 7:31 p.m.
An Oakhurst to Fresno round-trip ticket is $15. For those utilizing the bus to go to Yosemite, the ticket-price includes the Yosemite gate fee ($25 per car off-season, $30 in-season), and riders can connect to free Yosemite shuttles once inside the park. An Oakhurst-Yosemite Valley round-trip ticket is $20 ($13 for seniors, children 12 and under, students, and persons with disabilities). One child, 12 and under, rides free with one paying adult, and there are discounts for seniors, students, disabled, and children under 12.
Tickets can be purchased on the bus with cash, Visa, or Master Card.
Whittington said the buses that will be used on Highway 41 are clean diesel and California Air Resources Board compliant. He added YARTS is working hard to get the word out about the service, and mentioned more than 25 online travel sites mention the service.