The inaugural run of the public transit service from Fresno to Yosemite, with stops in Coarsegold, and Oakhurst, will be Saturday, May 23.
The start date was announced Friday by Dick Whittington, transit manager for the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS). The service comes after five years of planning by YARTS and the Fresno Council of Governments (FCOG).
The service, scheduled to make five round-trips per day, will pick-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 in Coarsegold and the Best Western in Oakhurst.
After departing Oakhurst north-bound, stops will be made at the Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp, the Wawona Hotel, Wawona Store, Curry Village, Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Visitor’s Center, and Yosemite Lodge. The trip from Fresno to Yosemite Lodge will take about four hours.
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.
A round-trip ticket from Fresno to Yosemite Valley is $30 per person. An Oakhurst to Fresno round-trip ticket will be $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. One child, 12 and under, rides free with one paying adult, and there are discounts for seniors, students, disabled, and children under 12.
According to Whittington, the operating and marketing budget for the Highway 41 service is close to $2.4 million. The funding comes from the federal government (congestion, mitigation, and air quality fund - $1.33 million), a federal Intercity Bus Program Grant ($300,000), the National Park Service ($300,000), estimated ticket fare funds ($200,000), state Air Pollution Control District ($183,520), and Amtrak ($50,000).
Whittington said the buses that will be used on Highway 41 are clean diesel and California Air Resources Board compliant.
“Constituents have been contacting me for years asking what could be done to increase transportation opportunities in our area,” said Madera County District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler. “ 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 all the other gateway communities have come to the conclusion that the bus service is simply an option for tourists and will not prohibit vehicle access to Yosemite.
YARTS has been operating for 15 years in Mariposa, Merced, and Mono counties, although there has been a history of opposition to the service by business leaders and individuals in the county.
The largest issue that had business leaders and others opposing the plan was based on language in the 1980 Yosemite General Management Plan which stated “a study will be undertaken to find a method to totally eliminate cars and other obtrusive vehicles from Yosemite Valley.” The Management Plan is the legal document for the park, which establishes the framework guiding all management planning efforts.
But that wording was changed in the 2014 General Management Plan Revision to read: “The intent of the National Park Service is to remove “automobile congestion” from Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove ....”
Two years ago, park spokesman Scott Gediman said there is no plan to eliminate private vehicle access to Yosemite National Park.
Unlike Wheeler, Madera County Supervisor Rick Farinelli is also opposed to the service.
“YARTS is still bad for the taxpayers and Madera County,” Farinelli said recently. “Madera County Transportation Commission ran a study that showed that Madera County residents have no interest in riding YARTS, and it looks like that lack of interest remains high. Because of this, it is still highly subsidized by taxpayers. It’s a foreshadowing of the coming High Speed Rail debacle, if it’s (high speed rail) ever finished.
Whittington stands by the program.
“With the big international airport in Fresno, and connections with Amtrak and Greyhound, along with the half million population in Central California, our challenge is simply getting the word out about the new service, not only locally, but to the entire world,” Whittington said. “YARTS.com, the website for the service regularly is contacted from around the world. It will take a little time to get it working the way we anticipate it can, but we will get there.”
A kick-off luncheon for the new Highway 41 bus service will be held at noon, May 20, at River Creek Golf Course, 41709 Road 600, Ahwahnee. Supervisor Wheeler will emcee the luncheon.
Luncheon attendees, by invite only, will include Eastern Madera County business leaders, Yosemite National Park, Fresno COG, and YARTS representatives.