There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting around

Today was just one of those days.

The wife had to be at the UC Davis Medical Center pre-op room in the main hospital at 6:30 a.m. She's not a morning person. We got there at 6:40 a.m. I drove.

I'd like to say it hurt to put aside my transitarian dedication to leaving the car at home and relying instead on Sacramento Regional Transit. But it didn't.

By noon, the wife was back in her bed at home, the surgery declared a piece of cake -- images of slices and knives and party hats. Final word on whether all of the cancer was removed this time won't arrive until next Thursday.

At 12:37, I was standing at my bus stop waiting for the No. 82. I had a 2 p.m. appointment with the opthalmology clinic back at the UC Davis Medical Center.

Here was an example of when the bus is actually a good thing. I have tried to drive with my eyes dilated. It's torture. Obviously, the wife couldn't drive me, and the kid was caring for the wife. The bus was a perfect option.

Which brings me to an odd lesson. Every time I've taken transit to the Medical Center, I've taken the bus to 65th Street and then the train down to 39th. From there, you can either wait for the hospital shuttle or take a short walk to the campus.

It wasn't until I was leaving the Ellison Building at 48th and Y streets after my appointment that it occurred to me that I didn't have to walk all the way to 39th and R. There's a light rail stop on 48th Street. Duh!

Of course, no good fortune goes unrewarded. I walked to the station and arrived just in time to see an inbound train arrive and depart. And I waited. And waited. And waited.

And then I watched another inbound train arrive and depart the station.

Of course, the only way to get the outbound trains to start running again in a situation like this is to call 321-BUSS. By the time you get a live person on the phone, the faint headlight of the train will be just visible in the distance. And so it was.

Which leaves the final puzzle: At each of the light rail stations I visited today, RT had set up signs with notices about the new fares. Each was chained to a nearby structure.

I suppose experience has taught RT that everything not tied down will walk away. After January 1, those people chained to transit will still be there. But what about those who have a choice?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Infusion of infamy (coda)

On Oct. 2, the wife was in the midst of her every-other-week chemo infusions at the UC Davis Cancer Center when her path crossed that of Ellie Nesler. I wrote about it in the "Infusion of infamy" post.

"Ellie Nesler, the Sonora woman who made international headlines after she shot and killed her son's alleged molester in a Jamestown courtroom ..."
The news yesterday that Nesler had died after years of battling cancer clearly upset the wife.

Today, the wife and I were at the UC Davis Cancer Center for a pre-op consultation and last-minute tests. Tomorrow the wife will be back in surgery at the UC Davis Medical Center for a "re-incision," the do-over required because the first lumpectomy failed to get all of the cancer.

With an average cure rate of better than 85 percent for the wife's type of cancer, it's not difficult to be optimistic as each step in the treatment progresses -- chemo, surgery, radiation -- even with do-overs.

But then you are reminded that on the other side of that coin are the 15 percent who are not cured. Some battle for years. In the case of Nesler, she told the wife she had been under treatment for cancer for 15 years.

At the time, when the wife was in the midst of coping with the side effects of the chemo, to imagine a decade of the same was a deep cut. To learn that death still awaits even after so many years of fighting is a painful re-incision.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A world without personal autos

Much has been said about America's almost religious conviction to the right to bear arms. (Not to be confused with the other religious debate over the right to bare arms.) This Wild West mentality is ingrained in the national psyche. It's second only to our devotion to personal automobiles. For a real, red-white-and-blue American, it is hard to imagine places where guns are as foreign as, well, as personal automobiles.

If personal autos are outlawed, only outlaws will have getaway cars. Or maybe we could have this outcome:

Of course, in real life it's even easier to capture trolley-riding criminals. See this story.

A stimulus we can believe in

President-elect Barack Obama recently promised to create the largest public works construction program since the inception of the interstate highway system a half-century ago. As Congress works to put this package together, it is important to remind our representatives that investing in transit is key.

As the Washington Post said in a recent editorial:

Lawmakers should give priority to projects that are environmentally friendly and that encourage smart growth. They also should adjust the federal government's disbursement formula to direct more money to mass transit and to other projects in underserved metropolitan areas.
Transportation for America is coordinating a grass-roots effort to promote a smart stimulus package that does more than just pour more highway lanes. Use the "Take Action" link in the right column of this blog to help the cause.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A California VMT Quiz

Question: Before reading the document embedded at the end of this post, put these 10 California metropolititan areas in order based on per capita vehicle miles traveled -- from most VMT per capita to least.

  1. Bakersfield
  2. Fresno
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
  4. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
  6. Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville
  7. San Diego-Carsband-San Marcos
  8. San Franscisco-Oakland-Fremont
  9. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
  10. Stockton
Bonus Question: In light of my ranting about Phoenix as a model for Sacramento here, who has a higher per capita VMT -- Sacramento or Phoenix?

This quiz is prompted by the Brookings Institution report released this week entitlted "The Road...Less Traveled: An Analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled Trends in the U.S." Brookings found "driving, as measured by national vehicle miles traveled, began to plateau as far back as 2004 and dropped in 2007 for the first time since 1980." The decline has played havoc with the national transportation funding.
"The recent drop in total VMT leaves federal and state governments shortchanged for current projects and potentially bankrupt for future ones. This situation will only get worse as these trends continue and as the demand for transportation dollars continues to rise. It also suggests that projections of revenue increases are off base, regardless of whether the primary revenue stream is the gas tax or other mileage-based systems."
But there is a silver lining to this decline in VMT:
"The entire transportation sector accounted for 33 percent of all U.S. CO2 emissions in 2006—the single largest contributor to total emissions of all end-use sectors.12 The lion’s share of the sector’s GHG emissions—82 percent—comes from passenger cars, sport utility vehicles, freight and light trucks. And though emissions from other pollutants—such as volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—have fallen over time as a result of engine and fuel policies, emissions of CO2 continue to rise almost lock-step with VMT.14 Any change in VMT of such vehicles, therefore, corresponds almost directly with changes in GHG emissions."
The twin issues -- paying for transportation costs from a tax generated by vehicle miles traveled and the need to reduce those miles traveled in order to slow global warming -- present a conundrum.

What can be done to secure funding for expanding -- not just continuing, but expanding -- our transit options? If California Gov. Arnold "The Transitator" Schwarzenegger and the no-tax-hike-now-or-ever Republicans in the Legislature hold sway, California transit operators and Sacramento Regional Transit in particular are in for unbearable pain.

Brookings VMT Cities Ranking

Answer to quiz: 10,1,5,7,9,6,8,3,4,2
Bonus: Sacramento

Thursday, December 18, 2008

November ridership statistics

After the fiasco of my efforts to analyze the ridership statistics for October and September, I'm going to play it safe and let this document speak for itself.

Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Nov08

The statistics came with this added note:
Please note that November 2008 had fewer weekdays this month than it did last year, so the monthly figure looks a little lower than you might expect.
Even with that caveat (and my general lack of skill in analyzing these statistics) it certainly appears that the days of double-digit increases in ridership are drawing to a close. With fare increases on the way in two weeks and the threat of further state funding cuts, the clouds building on the horizon are troubling.

A matter of perspective

The No. 82 rolled into Sacramento State a couple of minutes early. The end of the school year has that effect on this route. When the crowd thins from standing-room-only to simply full, the bus makes better time.

When we turned off J Street into the campus, we followed a No. 30 bus. That in itself was a bit unusual, but it is not uncommon to find a No. 30 parked on a break when the No. 82 arrives.

I'm meeting the No. 31 for my ride to the Amtrak station. When I first started this two-bus routine for getting to the Amtrak station, I once boarded the parked No. 30 thinking it would leave before No. 31 arrived. The driver was mute as a dozen No. 31 passengers boarded, each imagining arriving early at his or her destination. Then someone had the sense to ask the driver when he was leaving. The driver said he didn't leave for another 15 minutes, long after the No. 31's scheduled departure. All of the No. 31 passengers left the bus. Another lesson learned.

So today when I left the No. 82 seven minutes early and walked to the No. 30/31 stop and found not one, but two No. 30 buses, I allowed myself just a little hope.

The crowd of regular riders who each morning make the transfer to the No. 31 approached the lead No. 30 bus. "When do you leave?" I heard each rider ask. "Right away," the driver replied. I took a step inside the bus and stopped. "When do you leave?" I asked. "Right away," the driver said.

I took a seat. I was still suspicious of my good fortune. I waited until the bus was well on its way down J Street toward downtown before I got my book out. Outside Mercy General Hospital we overtook an empty No. 30 that was parked with its lights flashing. We overtook and passed another No. 30 on L Street.

Seeing all the No. 30s, I imagined a bunch of disgruntled Sacramento Regional Transit riders whining about the fact that their scheduled No. 30 bus didn't arrive or arrived late. But from my perch in the back of the bus rumbling down L Street, it was all good fortune.

I arrived 7 minutes before the No. 31 is scheduled to arrive, giving me plenty of time to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

One person's late bus is another person's early bus.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Go Elf Yourself 2008

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Evil Transitator (continued)

I made a mistake. I admit it. I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Twice. So I guess I am to blame.

Bad, John. Bad.

After two straight years of successfully stealing money from transit, it is not at all surprising that governor considers transit riders an easy mark.

Sacramento Regional Transit has joined several transit agencies protesting the governor's latest foolishness:

During the past two years, the Legislature and the Governor have diverted nearly $3 billion in transit funds to address the state budget shortfall, which in turn has impacted RT’s ability to provide the necessary service to our growing region. The Governor’s most recent proposal has occurred as transit ridership has increased in record numbers, in part because of high gas prices, traffic congestion and the public’s desire to fight global warming. Cutting transit programs is detrimental for California just as historic laws such as Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 375 urge people to use public transportation to meet greenhouse gas mandates.

If this proposal is approved by the Legislature and the STA funding is eliminated, the result will be an additional $5.6 million hit to RT’s current budget and a 16% reduction in RT’s annual operating budget going forward. RT will be forced to cut productive bus and light rail service at a time when people are turning to transit more than ever before.
The California Transit Association offered this explanation on Nov. 6, the day the governor's proposal was announced:
The Administration’s revised budget proposal released today includes diverting another $230 million in State Transit Assistance (STA) program revenues, which accrue primarily from a portion of the sales tax on gasoline. Under provisions of the September budget, the account contains a $215 million contribution from Proposition 42 funds. The net result of the governor’s newest proposal is a 75 percent reduction in funding for public transportation operations compared to the budget plan adopted in September.

In addition, the new plan would result in the elimination of STA payments for the remainder of the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The governor’s proposed increase of the state sales tax rate from 5 percent to 6½ percent would generate $626 million in transportation revenues, of which 20 percent (approximately $125 million) would be allocated to public transit.
RT and the other transit agencies are promoting a letter-writing campaign.
Another transit advocacy group, TransForm, suggests calling direct and giving legislative leaders a piece of your mind:
  • Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg: 916-651-4006
  • Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill: 916-651-4014
  • Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass: 916-319-2047
  • Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines: 916-319-2029


That was better.

This morning the wife went off to the dentist and then to work. I stayed home. I made a half-hour call to a web developer in Vermont who I'm working with and then spent an hour and a half on a conference call for work. I finished just in time to take a quick shower and catch a bus.

Making do with one car (the kid has taken what was once our second car) really is possible -- even in Sacramento. Yes, you have to work at it, but it is possible.

Today I rode from my house to the 65th Street light rail station. I enjoyed the time reading. I just don't read if I'm not on a bus. From 65th I took the train to 39th Street. I was on my way to meet the wife at the UC Davis Cancer Center for an appointment with her oncologist. Yesterday the surgeon, today the oncologist -- I'm seeing altogether too much of Cancer Center.

I called the wife when I got off the train.

"Are you on your way yet?" I asked.

"The appointment isn't for another 45 minutes," she said.

OK. So maybe I should have checked before I rushed out of the house. I walked to the Starbucks at T and Stockton, had coffee and bought a gift for the wife, and then walked to the Cancer Center. I still arrived before the wife.

The visit with the oncologist went well, or as well as these things go. The wife likes her doctor, and by the end of the visit she was feeling better about everyone saying she should have a second surgery. No big deal, everyone says. The surgeon wants to scoop out a little more just to be sure nothing bad is left behind. Play the odds, the oncologist says. With the surgery, there's a 10 percent chance of cancer returning in the breast. Without the surgery, the chance of a recurrence rises to 30 percent. So the wife will chat Friday with the radiation oncologist to make the verdict unanimous.

With such clarity came a odd tolerance for traffic congestion as the wife and I drove home together.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The dark cloud over my car

President-elect Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe "Amtrak" Biden, will add one more Lincolnesque touch to their inauguration as they travel by train on the Saturday before their Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony.

President-elect to Travel by Train to Inaugural Weekend
Monday, December 15, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama will board a train in Philadelphia on January 17 to make his way to Washington in the final leg of his incredible, nearly 2-year journey to the White House.

This inauguration belongs to the American people and President-elect Obama is interested in including as many people as possible in the inaugural celebration, whether you can make it to Washington or not. Before he begins his daylong trip, he’ll be doing an event in Philadelphia, then heading to Wilmington, DE to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his family to do an event together in Baltimore.

The trip follows in the tradition of past inaugural journeys that included events along the way and pays homage to America’s rich history, beginning in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Liberty Bell rung out.
All this change in the air was nice. Hearing about it lightened the cloud that hung over my car all day as I drove first to UC Davis Cancer Center, where the wife learned she may need a second surgery; and then to Rancho Cordova to drop the wife off at work; and then to American River College, where I had a final in my Flash animation class; and then back to Rancho Cordova to pick up the wife; and then -- finally -- home. Not a bus trip all day. All very untransitarian.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Spousal abuse

I got up this morning at 5:45 a.m., took a shower and got dressed. I then checked the web site I'm responsible for maintaining. Still dead. It had been more than 12 hours since workers performing an unannounced upgrade of my server had stepped on, first, the mail server and then the web server configuration files. The system admins for the owner of the dedicated server we rent were able to restore the mail server. When I went to bed last night, they promised the webserver would be fixed real soon now.

So I called the company at 6 a.m. and talked with technical support. The call dragged on and on. At 6:36 a.m. I was again assured that system admins were working on the issue and would have a resolution shortly. I hung up the phone.

And then I realized that I had missed my bus.

If I'm to catch the 7:40 a.m. Amtrak train to Oakland, I need to be outside my house at the bus stop at 6:28 a.m. The bus is never early, and it is never more than a minute or two late. I'm only two stops from the start of the route.

My only choice? Spousal abuse.

I woke the wife and told her I missed my bus and needed a ride to the Amtrak station.

"Now?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

She got out of bed and started dressing.

"When does the train leave?" she asked.

"7:40," I said.

"What time is it now?" she asked.

"6:38," I said.

"Why do we have to go now?" she asked.

It was at this point that I realized just how disoriented I was by the change in my morning ritual. As I stood in the dark bedroom as my wife continued to get dressed, it took a couple of moments before I could sort out my situation. Finally, I told the wife she could go back to bed and I would wake her at 7 a.m.

I'm writing this from the train. When I arrived at the Amtrak station, the train was already boarding. Just after I stepped aboard, the doors closed and the train started to roll out of the station. The entire traffic-clogged drive from my home to the station had been one long, nail-biting affair as I watched the minutes tick on the car's clock.

Relying on the Sacramento Regional Transit bus driver to pick me up and drop me off in time for another bus driver to pick me up and drop me off at the Amtrak station is much less painful, even if it does take half-hour longer than driving in rushhour traffic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Between Portland and Phoenix

During the Sacramento mayoral campaign debate on May 7, Mayor Heather Fargo and challenger Kevin Johnson were each asked which city they would like Sacramento to be more like. Fargo chose Portland and Johnson Phoenix. If I lived in the city of Sacramento, that alone would have been enough for me to know which candidate to vote for. Nobody could confuse the transit options in Phoenix with transit in Portland.

Now that Johnson has been elected, I certainly hope he can put aside his fascination with sprawl and look instead at the value for everyone -- even developers -- from an interconnected and extensive transit network.

We've got a lot of catching up to do. Since 2001, Portland transit riders have been able to call a number and find out when the next bus at their stop will arrive. Not the next scheduled time -- something you can get at Sacramento Regional Transit by calling 321-BUSS and waiting a half-hour to speak to a customer service rep -- but the time the bus will actually arrive.

In Portland, the buses are all equipped with GPS linked to the district computers. Since the district knows where all the buses and trains are at any given moment, it's a simple computer task to compute when they will arrive at the next stop.

If you look on the back of bus stop signs here in Sacramento, you'll see large numbers like those shown on the Oregonian video. You can even use those numbers at RT's "Next Bus" feature at But only the very newest buses have GPS and without the GPS locators on every bus and train, there's no way to know when the next bus or train will really arrive.

But at least we're not in Phoenix (yet). That city will inaugurate its first light rail line with grand opening ceremonies on Saturday, Dec. 27. At least we in Sacramento have had light rail for more than two decades.

What sort of vision does Kevin Johnson have for transit?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bus bike racks -- the musical

This video has been making the rounds. I saw it the other day on Streetsblog. It reminded me that I wanted to blog about a theft I read about recently. Someone had placed their bike on a bus rack and boarded the bus. Sometime during the trip, someone stole the bike off the rack. I remember that Sacramento Regional Transit was quoted as saying you can't lock your bike to the rack on the bus. Instead, the spokesman suggested locking the bike's wheel so that it can't be ridden if it is taken off the bus.

So now I can't find the story. There's only a couple of places I would have come across a story like that, including, but I can't find it now. I've tried Googling all sorts of combinations. I remember that the story made specific mention of the fact that it was an expensive bike that was stolen.

I'm beginning to think maybe I dreamed it. I've been thinking of doing more bike riding as an alternative to driving for errands that don't involve more than one shopping bag. With only two slots for bikes on buses, you're not exactly guaranteed to get a ride.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Documenting RT's customer service

I wasn't able to get to the Sacramento Regional Transit board meeting tonight, but I was able to get an electronic copy of General Manager Mike Wiley's reports to the board. I consider that a success.

This morning I sent an email to customer service at asking for an electronic version (PDF, Word -- whatever) of the general manager's report to the board and a PDF copy of the PowerPoint slideshow presented at the meeting.

The customer service rep forwarded my email to the "Reception Desk," the same place Wiley said I had to go during the online chat Friday.

I wasn't holding my breath as I waited so you can imagine my surprise when I received an email a little after noon from Cindy Brooks, clerk to the board and document coordinator for Sacramento Regional Transit. Attached was everything I had requested.

"If you need anything further, please feel free to contact me," Brooks wrote.

Really? So I asked, "Is it OK if I let others know that they can contact you for these documents? If not, is there an address I can offer to others?"

To which Brooks replied:

Yes, it is ok to give them my e-mail address. In fact, the bottom of the agenda tells people that they can contact the"Clerk to the Board" which is me, to get copies of documents from the agenda.

Our receptionist at the front desk has a complete agenda package for patrons to view, but unfortunately does not have the capability to make copies for anyone. If requests are made through her, she will forward them on to me for processing. Our receptionist does have the ability to give out copies of the agenda.

Ultimately our goal (hopefully sometime in the latter part of next year) is to get the agenda and all agenda reports/materials up on the website, so that patrons can download the information when it is available.
Well, it would be nice if I didn't have to ask, but this works. Brooks address is

Below is the Key Performance Report from the meeting. There's plenty of "good" news here. Still, it would be nice to know whether Roger Dickinson again raises the question of whether the RT really needs the fare increase that takes effect in January.

Dec. 8, 2008, Sacramento RT Key Performance Report

Friday, December 5, 2008

The logistics of talking with Mike

I'm sitting at a table on Amtrak trying to write this post while regular riders are partying. The "hosts" of the party have seated an attractive 19-year-old college student next to me and plied her with wine. She's nursing her second wine as she carries on a conversation with a woman across the aisle. This is all very exciting for her. It's all very distracting.

What I wanted to talk about was today's chat with Sacramento General Manager Mike Wiley. They really out to call it something else since chatting implies a conversation. This is really more a press conference for the masses: Ask your question, get an answer. No followup allowed.

Here are the questions I asked:

Sacramento, CA: Senate Bill No. 343, amending Section 54957.5 of the Government Code, was signed into law by the governor on Oct. 5, 2007, and took effect this year on July 1. "The act requires the body to post an agenda at least 72 hours before a regular meeting and provides that agendas and [my emphasis] any other writings [end emphasis], when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at a meeting of the body are public records subject to the public disclosure requirements of the California Public Records Act." This law also specifies that local agencies can post these documents on their web site. I would like to see RT post its entire board report package (minus excluded items) at the time the package is delivered to the board. Any chance of getting the material from this Monday's board meeting?

Reply: Let me address each of the issues you raise: 1. Regional Transit has met the public disclosure requirements. We believe in creating as much transparency as possible, which is the intent of the code. 2. The government code does not require online posting of these documents. It does, as you noted allow online posting. We've been working out the technical issues for posting our board meeting information online before the board meetings. I asked Regional Transit staff to have this up and functional before July 09. As this has moved forward, many of the issues we've addressed have been more about the logistics of this work, than technology. 3. We are also working to bring the board meetings live via the web. Sometime next year this should be available. 4. If you contact our reception desk, they will assist you with obtaining Monday's package.
While I'm sure RT's lawyers are confident that the district meets the letter of the law, that's not necessarily the same as meeting the intent. As Wiley admits, making this material available on the web isn't a technology issue; it's a "logistics" issue. And that logistics issue is simply a matter of telling someone to make it so. That's all that's lacking. As for broadcasting the meetings live, that doesn't in any way make up for the lack of supporting documentation, although it would be useful if the meetings were archived and available online.
Sacramento, CA: Sacramento Regional Transit sends press releases to mainstream media but provides no vehicle for timely distribution to others who are interested in these announcements. Yes, they are posted on the web site, but the web site does not provide RSS feeds that would alert people to changes in the site. I have attempted on more than one occasion to have my email address added to the press release distribution. Nothing has come of these requests. Is this official RT policy? If so, please explain the rationale. In my view, RT should offer a way for anyone interested to subscribe to an email mailing list for RT announcements. There are plenty of web-based free services that could be utilized if cost is an issue.

Reply: Yes, I agree with your assessment. We are working with an automated notification system for riders. The pilot test was limited to about 5,000 people. Our next level of testing will be for the Community Bus System and will be open to all Regional Transit riders.
More logistics problems.

The blonde is working on her third glass. She's just amazed that these old guys party on the train. It's just so cool.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chatting with Mike again

Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley will be taking questions at his monthly online chat Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at

The press release announcing the event says this month's session will be open to general transit questions. No registration is required to participate and questions will be accepted two hours before the session, up to the conclusion of the chat.

Perfect foolishness on my part

I should just take down yesterday's post, but I will leave it up as an object lesson for myself in the dangers of sloppy work. It also serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who visits here who hasn't figured out yet that not everything you read on the web is necessarily true.

For too many years I was surrounded by editors who protected me from myself. Now I'm left alone without an excuse.

I added strike-out text to yesterday's post to mark where I carelessly swapped September for October data. That was simply sloppy. But worse than that, at least to me, was that I misread the two monthly reports. Somehow I completely missed the "Average Daily Ridership" header.

Commenter Anthony said:

Just a quick note to your comment, "All of the increase in bus ridership came from weekend riders." This is not quite true. When comparing monthly ridership, you should also check the number of weekdays in the month. Your tables show that October had 23 weekdays while Sept had 21. Because ridership is much higher on weekdays than weekends, most of the increase in monthly ridership is because October had two more weekdays in it than September. ...
To which I replied and in the process showed my total foolishness by attempting to divide the average daily weekday ridership by the total number of days. Huh?

Rather than embarrass me publicly, Anthony sent me an email that explains:

I agree that taking into account the number of weekdays strengthens your argument. My point was that the increase in weekend ridership was not sufficient to result in an increase in monthly ridership, given the reduction in average weekday ridership. If there had been an equal number of weekdays in the month, monthly ridership would have declined in spite of the increase in weekend riders. So even though average weekday ridership declined by 6% (from 69,700 to 65,400), with the extra two weekdays in October, total weekday ridership increased by 3% (from 1,463,700 to 1,504,200). And that increase of 40,000 explains most of the overall monthly increase.

In your reply, it looks like you are dividing the average daily ridership by the number of days, which I don't follow.
The next time I ask for statistics from RT, I can imagine the response I'll get.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Perfect storms -- good and bad

The Washington Post had a story Tuesday headlined "As gas prices fall, transit still popular," which reports that Metrorail in Washington, D.C., and other transit agencies around the country are seeing no falloff in ridership as gas prices decline.

Transit officials attributed much of the ridership increase earlier this year to skyrocketing gasoline prices. But despite falling pump prices -- from a national average of $4.11 a gallon in July to $1.82 yesterday -- transit ridership is setting records in some parts of the country, officials said.
One of those parts of the country setting records in ridership is here in Sacramento. While Metrorail in Washington, D.C., reports ridership increases of up to 5 percent over of the last four months ending October, Sacramento Regional Transit has seen double-digit increases during that period.

That fact probably says more about RT's historic underperformance in the community than any comparison with Metrorail, but it is still worth celebrating.

In October, according to the latest statistics from RT, overall ridership increased 23 percent compared with October of last year. The year-to-date total at the end of October was 13.6 percent higher than at this point last year.

October 2008 to October 2007 comparisons show increases across the board. Total bus ridership is up 23.5 percent and light rail is up 22.5 percent. This was even better than RT did in September, when bus ridership grew 10.3 percent over September 2007 and light rail increased 19.3 percent.
(See comments below.)

I originally started trying to get the latest statistics from RT back on Dec. 1 after reading a story in the Contra Costa Times that reported "Unemployment slows BART ridership gains, officials say." I expected lowering of gas prices to push down ridership, but the impact of the increasing unemployment was a surprising turn.

Earlier in the year, RT officials and others talked about the "perfect storm" of high gas prices and increasing environmental sensitivity pushing more people to leave their cars at home and take transit. Could an equally big "perfect storm" of lower gas prices and joblessness drive the numbers in the other direction?

For Sacramento, the pending rate increases add something even more troubling to that question.

So when I finally saw the October results I was at first relieved. More record increases. Bus service, which suffered a 5 percent service cut in January, had made up that and was still leading light rail ridership.

But I found a little fact in the statistics that raises a caution flag. It is in the breakout of ridership between weekday, Saturday and Sunday.

While total ridership for both light rail and buses was up for the previous month, the 65,400 weekday bus riders represented a 6.2 percent decline from September's 69,700. All of the increase in bus ridership came from weekend riders. See further discussion in comments below.

Is the rise in joblessness in Sacramento starting to bite? It will be interesting to see what the November ridership statistics reveal.

Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Sep08

Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Oct08

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Street-level commerce

When I started my job in Oakland, I was getting a ride to the Watt/I-80 park-and-ride lot and taking light rail to St. Rose. From there I would walk a half-mile to the Amtrak station.

It was a lonely walk along empty sidewalks past closed buildings. Each day I made that trip I was reminded of how far Sacramento still has to go to be a real city, alive outside office hours.

Today I bypass that walk by taking the No. 82 and No. 31 buses. But each day when I arrive in Oakland I'm reminded of what Sacramento lacks.

My walk from the Jack London Square Amtrak station to work takes me through Oakland's Chinatown, an urban mixed-use area of street-level commercial with residences and offices above. By the time I arrive at 9:30 a.m., the sidewalks are filled with shoppers.

To me, the most remarkable are the many sidewalk markets with their produce stacked on boxes on the sidewalk. Each morning I stop and buy fresh fruit.

Sacramento really needs to open up the ground floor of downtown buildings to street-level commerce that could meet the needs of residents, not just office workers. You get a feel of what this would be like in parts of midtown, but Sacramento's central business district is just that: all business -- sterile and lifeless.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Free wi-fi on the train -- sort of

I’m writing this blog post while riding Amtrak train 542 from Oakland to Sacramento. Nothing unusual in that except the connection to the Internet. For the month of December, the joint powers authority that operates the Capitol Corridor trains is testing an in-train wi-fi service. According to the Capitol Corridor rep, the goal is to offer free wi-fi on every train. Details of the Capitol Corridor program are available at

The test is being conducted by Hobnob, which specializes in enterprise mobile wi-fi. The CEO of the company, UC Davis grad Aron Hall, is sitting at a table with all of the apparatus necessary to aggregate the cellular signal and feed it to about 30 people in the car.

I’ve been using a Sprint mobile broadband connection provided by my employer. Unfortunately, the coverage is spotty. When you get to Rodeo and around the refineries of Martinez the signal fades in and out. It really puts a crimp in my work time if I’m online.

I’m hoping Hobnob can find a solution. So far the connection speed has been impressive. I’d guess it is better than I get on my Sprint modem. But I noticed the dead zones still take a toll.

Hobnob currently provides wi-fi services for corporate shuttle buses. Wouldn't it be fun if Sacramento Regional Transit could find an excuse for adding that service? Yes, yes, I know. RT doesn't have enough money to run buses, let alone pay to add wi-fi service. Still, I can wish. I just won't hold my breath.

Rosa Parks and civil disobedience

Sacramento Regional Transit is marking the anniversary of Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus for a white rider with a three-month campaign that includes a 40-foot bus wrapped in a special tribute to Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to the RT press release:

RT will reserve a seat on every RT bus and light rail vehicle in honor of Rosa Parks on Monday, December 1, on the same day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks refused to obey a bus driver's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.
There was no sign of this celebration on my morning commute. Neither the No. 82 nor the No. 31 had any mention of Rosa Parks. Both buses, however, had prominent displays of notices that, as of today, disabled Paratransit Group Pass holders can no longer ride free.

Learning about the civil rights movement has been something of a hobby of mine for many years. Whenever I read about Rosa Parks and her elevation as the icon of the civil rights movement, I'm reminded that it wasn't strictly by chance.

On March 2, 1955, nine months before Parks' civil disobedience, a handful of white people sought to board a Montgomery city bus. The white section was full and the driver asked blacks seated in a no-man's section between the front and back of the bus to give up their seats. All but one of the blacks made room for the whites. The lone holdout was a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who, according to Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63," "defended her right to the seat in language that brought words of disapproval from passengers of both races." Colvin was eventually arrested. "She struggled when they dragged her off the bus and screamed when they put on the handcuffs," Branch recounts.

Colvin was found guilty after a brief trial. But Judge Eugene Carter, realizing that E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr and the NAACP were exploring making Colvin's arrest a federal case against segregation, dismissed the segregation charge, thus removing the opportunity.

By the time the trial was finished and the NAACP was considering whether to try to rally the community around her case, Colvin had become pregnant. A pregnant, volatile teenager with a penchant for swearing just wasn't the icon the black middle class could rally around.

During RT's three-month celebration of the civil rights movement, perhaps a seat can be made available for today's Claudette Colvins.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trains, transit and choices

Over at the California Progress Report, I was reading David Greenwald's "The Future of Trains in Solving California’s Transportation Problems and the Larger Picture".

He offers:

"One of the huge keys to our future will be solving our transportation puzzle. There are some who believe that Americans will never give up their cards (sic). They might be right. The real question is whether you can get them to drive less in cars that are more energy efficient."
That certainly encapsulates what I'm trying to do. And I'd like to believe this is an ideal that a majority in America sees as worth pursuing. After all, we even have oil companies running national advertising campaigns urging people to use less energy, even specifically to drive less.

In Sacramento, as well as around the country, we have seen people make the choice to leave their car at home and instead to ride transit. This year there have been real increases in ridership. Even as gas prices started to fall from their record highs, the ridership continued to increase. (I'm told RT's ridership numbers for October are not yet available, and won't be available until closer to the next board meeting, Dec. 8.)

But the practical application of this ideal is a struggle. Will recent gains in transit ridership here in Sacramento slide as the commuters weigh their choices -- gasoline at less than $1.80 vs. an inconvenient and time-consuming transit trip? And then there's the coming fare increase. For monthly pass holders, that jump from $85 to $100 a month is going to test their resolve.

RT made an important choice as it struggled to make its budget balance in the face of state funding cuts: RT chose not to reduce service. That choice may help mitigate the coming fare increase. But RT needs to find a way to improve service, even if only incrementally.

Personally, I think RT should reconsider the point at which it switches from commuter service -- 15 minute interval on light rail and the most popular bus routes -- to its minimal evening service. Just moving the dividing line to 8 p.m. from 7 p.m. would allow me to reverse my morning commute at the end of the day, something I can't do today when trains and buses are running at half-hour headways. I also expect two extra Folsom trains would more than pay for themselves in increased ridership.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Back to the blog

OK. If I'm going to have a blog, I'm going to have to blog. Of course that's easier said than done, but still . . .

Part of the problem has been that I don't ride the bus as much as I did when I worked in midtown Sacramento. Now that I commute four days a week to Oakland, I take the same morning bus four days a week. On days I work and the kid gets off work at 8 p.m. at Safeway on Alhambra, I take the No. 30 bus out to Safeway and ride home with him. On days when the kid works a different shift or has the day off, the wife picks me up at the Amtrak station.

After 7 p.m., Sacramento Regional Transit is just not useful. I sympathize with the writer of the Nov. 25 letter "Light rail leaves Amtrak riders behind" and the writer of the Nov. 27 letter "Another poor light-rail link to Amtrak," but they miss the point. It's not that the light rail operator won't delay the scheduled departure to allow arriving Amtrak passengers to catch the train. It's that RT cuts costs by shortchanging non-commute riders. If light rail and the No. 30 bus continued at 15 minute intervals into the night, then the vagaries of Amtrak's arrival wouldn't matter.

In a pinch, RT could get me home after 7 p.m. or at least within a walkable distance. But that requires a level of transitarian dedication -- a faith-based commitment -- that I find just too hard to maintain after 7:30 p.m. on days that start with a 6:30 a.m. bus ride. If I can cheat and get home in a half-hour rather than an hour and a half, well I do it.

I suppose my guilt at not trying harder to make RT work for me is the biggest reason I've not been blogging.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Riding on the edge

There is a line between success and failure when it comes to getting around on the bus. But that line is so thin as to be the difference between two sides of a single coin. If you make the connection, it's a success. It doesn't matter how close you came to missing the connection. It doesn't matter that depending on such a connection would be beyond foolish.

No. There's nothing like success.

I'm writing this on my Amtrak run to Oakland this morning. Last night, I arrived in Sacramento at 6:37 on an Amtrak trip that wasn't scheduled to arrive until 6:48 p.m. As I walked from the train, I saw a No. 30 bus arrive. I walked over to the bus and boarded. I picked up a No. 30 schedule -- I already had a No. 82 -- and settled in the back. I minute later, the bus began its circuitous route to J Street and Sacramento State.

The No. 30 bus I was riding was scheduled to arrive at Sacramento State at 7:03 p.m.
The No. 82 bus heading from CSUS to my house was scheduled to depart at 7:03 p.m.

I suppose that if I'm going bet on connections like that I should invest in Lottery tickets. Sure, you're not likely to win, but it could happen.

And, miracle of miracles -- or, more likely, thanks to the fact that we didn't have to pick up or drop off passengers at every stop -- we arrived at Sacramento State at 7:02 p.m. I had just enough time to walk from the No. 30 bus to where the No. 82 stops before I saw the No. 82 turning on to Sacramento State.

This morning, I boarded my regular bus outside my house at 6:27 a.m. and arrived at Sacramento State at the scheduled 7 a.m. But the No. 31 I need to ride to meet my Amtrak train connection didn't arrive 7:09. The No. 31 is scheduled to arrive at the Amtrak depot at 7:31 and the train is scheduled to depart at 7:40. Since I have been making this particular run, the bus has never been early to the station, but it has never been so late that I missed the Amtrak train. At least not yet.

The No. 31 was five minutes late leaving Sacramento State. I resigned myself to my fate and tried not to watch the clock display in the front of the bus.

By the time the bus turned on 5th Street for the final leg of the route, it was 7:37. By the time the bus came to a stop and I stepped off, it was 7:39 a.m. In the distance I could see the crowd of passengers waiting for the train.

I had made it. Imagine that.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

It's the music

The difference between riding Paris Metro and light rail in Sacramento:

It's the music.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Chatting with Mike

Participated today in the second monthly online chat held by Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley. The questions were supposed to be limited to a discussion of the district's Transit Master Plan proposal. I'm not a big fan of this format since you ask a question and get an answer but you don't get a chance to follow up. Still, it does provide some insight into current thinking at RT, or at least Wiley's thoughts.

I asked two questions.

1. Sacramento, CA: Besides a sales tax hike, what NEW revenue source does RT plan to seek to pay for the expansion?

Wiley's Reply: This is a good question that is being asked by many of our community workshop participants. As part of the TMP process, we have a panel of transit financing experts who are assisting us as we evaluate both traditional and innovative sources of funding. A wide range of funding sources have been presented and reviewed including public grants and subsidies and private revenues such as developer fees and benefit assessment districts. You are correct in assuming that the sales tax is one funding source that is being evaluated, but it is only one of more than a dozen, including gasoline sales taxes, benefit assessments districts, and public-private partnerships. More information will be available on the TMP web site as we complete our technical work. The TMP will contain recommendations on how to fund future services and projects.
I found this response encouraging. With the state Legislature likely to raise the sales tax as a means of attempting to balance its budget, I fear that voters will be unlikely to jump at the chance to raise sales taxes still further. With California's screwy law requiring a two-thirds approval for the increase, I'd put the chance of a successful effort somewhere between slim and none. RT is going to need that innovation in financing if it hopes to attain the goals of the TMP.

2. Sacramento, CA: The new Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress plan to craft a jobs stimulus package that includes funding for transit projects that could be under way within 90 days. Are there any elements of the Transit Master Plan that could be started if new federal money were available?
Wiley's Reply: There are several aspects of the Transit Master Plan that could be implemented very quickly without raising operating costs unduly. For example, RT would seek funding for hybrid-electric vehicles for our community bus service division, and for our non-revenue vehicle fleet (Police and maintenance). This would both improve our environmental profile and lower our fuel costs. RT would seek funding for an automated passenger information system, which would tell our riders when the next bus or train was due to arrive. We could also seek funding to enhance the Gold light rail line in order to operate limited stop express trains and to extend the trains that currently turn around at the Sunrise station to the Hazel station. RT could also seek funding for our next major projects, such as the South Line Phase 2 - every year that we can save on construction reduces our cost by 5 percent or more.
Some background here: Three weeks before the election, the organization I work with found itself with an opportunity to help write a transit-oriented jobs stimulus bill. What we needed was a list of transit projects that could be offered as examples of what could be done within 90 days after funding. I called Caltrans and chatted with the state official who heads the train program and I chatted with a guy who will remain nameless at RT. Both said they'd get back to me. The RT guy said he'd get back to me and then said it again. Neither ever did. I suppose they don't believe in Santa Claus or free money. While the transit lobby fiddled, the highway lobby submitted lists of billions of dollars in roadway projects that could be started. Is it any wonder that transit only receives 20 percent of the federal transportation funding pie?

The rest of the chat can be read here.

Sticker celebration

MoveOn.Org is giving away free stickers. Yes, it's just a junk-mail scheme, but I'm still going to order one of these as a souvenir.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

News values and the price of riding Sacramento Regional Transit

A week and a half ago, Sacramento Regional Transit announced it would end its free rides for many disabled riders in December and raise everyone's fares in January. It wasn't until Monday, Nov. 3, that The Sacramento Bee offered a single word on the topic.

If you missed it, you can be excused. It was buried in the middle of a "Backseat Driver" column headlined "Drop in gas prices has little impact."

Of course, for some reason, even Sacramento Regional Transit has had difficulty owning up to the news. RT's press office didn't announce the change until today.

Has the measure of what constitutes "news" really moved this much? Maybe I'm old school, but something that will affect this many people should be prominent news, both for the organization implementing the change and for news outlets that profess to serve the community.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Regime change -- Finally!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Regime change -- the musical

I'm a big fan of Les Misérables. I just couldn't resist posting this:

At American River College, I'm taking a short, one-unit class of making web sites accessible to the handicapped. I'll have to share this with the class.

Stimulating the economy by building transit

If you are interested in improving transit and moving our nation away from its car-centric development focus, visit Transportation for America at

Transportation for America is made up of a growing and diverse coalition focused on creating a national transportation program that will take America into the 21st century by building a modernized infrastructure and healthy communities where people can live, work and play.
Work is ongoing in Washington to develop a real stimulus package that would generate jobs by accelerating the construction of transit projects around the country.

Former Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Beverly Scott, who today is general manager of Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority and the current chair of the American Public Transportation Association, testified yesterday (Oct. 29) before the House Committee On Transportation And Infrastructure.

In the testimony she offers a number of facts about transit and its role in the community that more people need to hear about:
  • Every $1 communities invest in public transportation generates approximately $6 in economic returns.
  • Last year, 10.3 billion trips were taken on U.S. public transportation – the highest number of trips taken in 50 years.
  • Public transportation use is up 32 percent since 1995, a figure that is more than double the growth rate of the population (13 percent) and up substantially over the growth rate for the vehicle miles traveled (VMT) on our nation’s highways (24 percent) for that same period.
  • Transit ridership grew by more than 5.2 percent in the second quarter of 2008, while the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has reported that the vehicle miles traveled on our nation’s roads declined by 3.3 percent.
  • On average, a transit user saves more than $9,499 per year by taking public transportation instead of driving.
  • In a typical two-adult, two-car household where both adults commute separately by car, if one adult switches a 20-mile total round-trip commute to existing public transportation, that adult's annual carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions will fall by 4,800 pounds per year, equal to a 10 percent reduction in all greenhouse gases produced by members of the household.
  • If a two-car family does without one of the cars and takes public transportation, walks or rides bicycles instead, the family can realize a savings of up to 30 percent in carbon dioxide emissions. This is more CO2 savings than if that household went without electricity.
  • By reducing travel and congestion on roadways and supporting more efficient land use patterns, transit saves the U.S. 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline each year, the equivalent of more than 11 million gallons per day. That amount of savings is equivalent to oil refined from 102 supertankers, or more than three times the amount of oil we import from Kuwait each year.
You can read her testimony here.

I heartily endorse Dr. Scott's concluding statement:
An investment in public transit is – the single “best bet” that we can place as a nation.

Infusion of blogging: The end of the line

Drip. Drip. Drip.

The race to the end starts with a single drip today. Five hundred milliliters later, the last of the wife's chemotherapy will set to work to finish its job. The drug speeds along at a blinding 195mL/hour. Today's leg of the race will take three hours.

This is the eighth time we have been here at the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center at the UCD Medcenter campus in Sacramento. The nurses have been great, but we won't miss the every-other-week trips to the infusion center.

The wife's oncologist says the treatment appears to have been effective in reducing the lumps. Now the surgeon takes over. The surgeon's office is attempting to arrange a meeting today, but there has been no word.

It is hard to remember that this is what it looked like back on Thursday, July 24, 2008.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Those old news priorities

With The Bee still unable to find space for a story about Sacramento Regional Transit ending free fares for some disabled riders and hiking fares for everyone else, it's nice to see The Bee can still afford to be its movie reviewer to travel on Amtrak and BART to gather that important movie news that sells all of those newspapers.

I'm in San Francisco at Rail-Volution and Carla Meyer rode along on Amtrak and then boarded BART at Richmond. I left her on BART when I got off at Embarcadero to go to the Hyatt Regency.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Fare hike? No more free ride for disabled? No news here

So this morning I'm on the train back to Oakland. I'll be in San Francisco for part of the day at the Rail-Volution convention. Transit has become an even bigger deal for me since I was laid off by The Sacramento Bee.

Yesterday, I left work early so that I could attend part of Sacramento Regional Transit's board meeting. I arrived in Sacramento at 6 p.m. and caught a No. 30 bus to 28th and J Street. I arrived at the RT headquarters at 28th and N a little after 6:30 p.m., just in time to catch the discussion about the measures that would be needed to fill the hole torn in the budget by the state's theft of money RT had been counting on.

Big news. Or not.

The Sacramento Bee had its regular transportation beat reporter at the meeting. RT had given him a stack of paper several inches thick of background information -- paperwork not given to me or any of the others in the audience. He followed along in the material as the presentation was given. He had everything needed for an excellent "news" story and access to anyone on the staff if he had a question. The vote was over by 8 p.m.

Having watched all that on my own time as a private citizen, I was curious what The Sacramento Bee would publish in today's paper.

The Sacramento Bee is available for free on Amtrak trains in the morning. I don't know if Amtrak is treating or The Bee is giving the paper away. This morning I picked up a copy and paged through it looking for the story about the fare hike in January and how the handicapped riders would lose their free rides in December.

I paged through the paper a second time. I started this blog post. Stopped and paged through the paper a third time. I searched for "Regional Transit" on


On the front page, The Bee announces the early results are in on The Bee's comics poll. "In the early returns, 85 percent of voter's lists include "Zits," with "Luann" and "Pickles" in a tie for second."

And on the "front" of the Business news, deep inside "Our Region," was the headline "Bee's paid circulation declines 4.2 percent."

Monday, October 27, 2008

Sounds of fare increases

I took my new toy to the Sacramento Regional Transit board meeting Monday night and came away with these audio highlights.

County Supervisor Roger Dickinson wins high marks for trying, if not for his elocution, as he attempts to make the case that the increased ridership RT has been seeing so far this year will more than cover the hole in the budget that the fare hike will fill.

RT expects to raise $2.5 million between Jan. 1, 2009, and the start of the new fiscal year in July. The staff explained that the $2.5 million total takes into account the "deflection" that will occur when people who have a choice vote with their wheels and drive to work rather than pay the new fares. I bought gas for the kid tonight. It's now under $2.80. Sure, it's unlikely to go much further, but when that fare hike hits, I wouldn't be surprised if the "deflection" is a lot more than the 2 percent that staff predict, especially on light rail.

Dickinson came back to the topic again and then forever won my gratitude by bringing up the topic of making people pay for transfers, a system that began in the 1980s when RT redesigned its routes to make the central role of buses feeders for light rail rather than stand alone services.

Regular riders will whine come January, but the disabled community took the biggest hit.

Today, RT provides free rides for people qualified to use Paratransit and their care givers. There's no secret why: It costs more than $40, perhaps as much as $60, for every door-to-door trip by Paratransit. By law, RT can charge no more than twice the regular bus fare for this service. Some time ago, RT figured that the money saved by getting people to use RT's fixed routes instead of Paratransit would more than cover the free rides.

That was then. This is now. And RT lusts after the $1.3 million it thinks it will collect from charging $1.10 for the 200,000 trips each month that they currently give away for free.'

The problem with charging the regular disabled fare for riders who qualify for Paratransit service wasn't lost on this blind woman:

RT staff argue that paying $1.10 vs. paying the new $4.50 Paratransit fee (double the new $2.25 basic fare) will keep these people on fixed route buses. But its not hard to imagine what would happen if half of those 200,000 monthly trips were taken on Paratransit.

Rubbing salt in the wound, RT will end the free rides in December, a month before regular fares increase. Staff argued that they didn't want news of the change to be lost in the noise of the regular fare hike. No one on the board expressed any sympathy for this additional insult to the disabled.

Still, the prize for callousness doesn't go the staff who brought this proposal or to the board members who approved it. No, that prize goes to this guy:

Here are the new fares:

Details are also available here.

A ray of good news in midst of budget storm

General Manager Mike Wiley reports:

Oil prices have gone down, and gas prices are going down. In spite of this, RT’s ridership for the month of September continues the District’s exceptionally positive increase. Although gas prices have gone down to the same levels as last year, many commuters that tried transit when fuel was at $4 a gallon are now realizing they save much more then $20 a tank. Compared to September 2007 system wide ridership increased over 23% and rail ridership increased 22%. This month also saw a 23% increase in bus ridership despite a 5% bus service reduction implemented in January 2008.
The thing I like the most about this is the strength of bus ridership. Bus ridership is now higher than at any point in the last 12 months. (See chart above) Light rail, on the other hand, lags well behind its previous peak.

I like the bus. It matters that the driver is in the same room with you. There's a certain shared interest in the environment. Light rail operators, secure behind their locked doors, just seem more -- well, removed.

So this brings up a question: Is bus ridership up because more people are enjoying the ride? Or is bus ridership up because more people find themselves in an economic squeeze that forces them on the bus?

I see the glass half-full: I see a demonstration that if RT added lines, improved frequency and otherwise made bus service more available, many more people would join the crowd.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

The business of transit isn't business. Oh, well

Back on Oct. 13, I mentioned a late-night party bus service that takes customers from the Detroit suburbs to downtown nightspots. Wow, I thought, that would be a real boon to midtown nightlife.

Reader Mattie agreed (October 17, 2008 6:05 PM):

This is EXACTLY what I want! I have virtually no social life because there's no public transit after dark. A taxi is prohibitively expensive and my friends live too far away to pick me up. I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd take advantage of a late-night "club bus."

To which I responded (October 17, 2008 7:16 PM):
Send a note about this to Maybe someone will take note.

OK. That's not really likely. But if you don't let them know, you know they'll never think of it themselves.
And so Mattie sent off her letter to Sacramento Regional Transit. And low and behold she actually got a reply from Mark Bennett, an RT planner:
While your idea of the businesses’ benefitting from this service subsidizing its operation is quite possible, RT is precluded by Federal law from operating charter services. However, you may want to pursue this idea with the various associations of downtown and central city establishments who could hire a private bus company.
Let's assume for argument sake that there really is a law that prevents RT from operating charter services. That's certainly a law we could do without.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Playing games with Sacramento Regional Transit's future

Sacramento Regional Transit is inviting people to play the "Willingness-to-
" game.

Unfortunately, this online game most likely has the same relation with reality as all the other online Sim games. It's just too hard right now to imagine a time when RT can do any of this stuff. They can't even fund today's operation. And next Monday, the board will vote to raise fares just to climb out of the hole that the governor dug for them.

UPDATE: The results of RT's online survey have been posted here. Given the way RT phrased the options, it is surprising that only 61 percent thought Scenario C should be RT's long range vision.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Chickens, eggs and transit

cindyn left this comment:

I've been given my very last option: If I can't start catching a bus by 5 p.m. from 9th and J, or at least the convention center, I have to start driving again. And I love being a "transitarian." My husband says he wants me alive, and that's it's not safe being downtown alone in the dark, waiting for a bus. I've got the mile walk home also. Financially, my company offers free parking or free RT pass, but I love trying to do my part to lessen my carbon footprint and the downtown traffic congestion. If others would also, I wouldn't be the only one at the bus stop after 6 p.m.
Between the chicken and the egg stands the ever weakening resolve of good intentions.

If Sacramento Regional transit offered more frequent service, especially outside the so-called peak period, more people would ride the bus after 5 p.m. Then women like cindyn wouldn't feel like they were putting their lives in danger by standing alone on a street corner.

But RT has no bus lines that run more often than every 15 minutes, and even the 15-minute headway routes fall back to half-hour or worse in the evening. Is it any wonder cindyn feels compelled to abandon the bus for the security of her car?

Having said that, I must point out the complicity of the city of Sacramento and the central business district employers -- public and private -- that make it so easy to abandon transit. As long as free parking is provided, transit ridership will suffer. As long as transit ridership suffers, RT's ability to expand service will be undermined. As long as RT is unable to become a more attractive option for commuters and others, transit will struggle to maintain even today's sorry excuse for service.

The problem with dwindling transit ridership is not the money generated by fare-paying riders. It is the community support that whithers when people see that RT offers nothing for them. Where will the support for new revenue to expand the system come from if more and more people like cindyn feel compelled to leave transit and return to their cars?

And it will only get worse from here. Next Monday, the Sacramento Regional Transit board will approve fare increases.