Chris Caskey, The Union Democrat

Travelers looking to get to Yosemite from Sonora, Jamestown or Groveland have a second option today.

The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System today will launch its second summer transportation service on the Highway 108 and 120 corridor between Sonora and the Yosemite Valley.

YARTS already runs regular routes into the park along the Highway 140 corridor from Merced and up Highway 120 from Mammoth. Last year, Yosemite National Park, YARTS and the Tuolumne County Transportation Council started limited bus trips with stops between Sonora and the park. The service attracted 3,700 riders over the summer season without as many booking options as will be available this year.

"We really want to double or triple that number," Darin Grossi, executive director of the Transportation Council, said during a ribbon cutting and kickoff ceremony Wednesday.

Beginning today, the YARTS bus will run one bus a day from Sonora to the Yosemite Valley visitors center with stops on Mono Way, downtown Sonora, Jamestown, downtown Groveland, Buck Meadows the Big Oak Flat park gate and Crane Flat in the park. The schedule includes two buses a day from June 15 through Aug. 18, and then back to one bus through Sept. 15.

Tyler Summersett, a planner with the transportation council, said this week that YARTS will also have a handful of extra buses on hand if there are more passengers than seats on busy days.

Last summer, YARTS initiated its first season along Highway 108 and 120 as a way to help ease congestion in the park. Around 4 million visitors go to Yosemite each year, with the busiest season running through the summer and most visitors staying in the popular and scenic Yosemite Valley.

According to a study analyzing last year's ridership, July was the most popular month with about 34 riders per day on weekdays and 29.5 on weekends. The study also shows that the Thousand Trails stop at Yosemite Lakes was the most popular place to board, with the Old Yosemite Road stop in Groveland following and the Best Western in Sonora at a distant third.

According to Bob Asquith, chairman of the Yosemite Gateway Partners, the numbers reflect one of the main reasons people take the bus. Tourists from all over fly to the major airports down the hill, rent an RV to places like Yosemite Lakes to camp and then don't want to hassle with driving to the park.

The first question he always hears form tourists at places like Yosemite Lakes is "Where is the bus to Yosemite?" Asquith said.

"Well, we've got an answer for them now," he said.

The National Park Service funded the pilot YARTS program in Tuolumne County with $171,600. The park is also teaming up with the county transportation council to fund a $30,000 effort to market other activities along the corridor outside of the park, to help further alleviate traffic during heavy visitation days.

"This is just one piece in the overall puzzle of addressing congestion in the park," Grossi said.