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

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Turning RT lemons into whine

I'm sitting here with a half-dozen lemons that Sacramento Regional Transit gave me this week and I'm thinking: Lemonade? Or will it be lemon whine?

Today I misplaced about an hour of my morning. I'm not at all sure where it went, but when I finally discovered it was gone, I realized I'd missed my regular bus to work. And to make matters worse, Sacramento Regional Transit's block schedule hit me with a 15-minute penalty. Take that!

So I had a choice of waiting 45 minutes for the next bus to 65th Street or head for the Watt and Interstate 80 station.

Nice day. I need the exercise. I walked from my house to Auburn Boulevard to catch the No. 1. The No. 1 bus is amazing. It is always full. If only all of RT's lines had this many customers.

As the bus approached the light rail station a guy walked to the front of the bus and asked the driver a question. I heard the driver explain to the guy how to get to the train -- down the stairs, under the Watt Avenue overpass and there you are.

When the bus arrived at the stop, I joined the guy and about a half-dozen others who headed down the stairs. By the time we reached the bottom, we were stretched into a single-file chain. As the first person reached the edge of the light rail station he started to run. Then the next person started running. And the next until finally I saw the train and started running too.

Miracle of miracles, the train was still there and the door open when I reached it.

As soon as I was aboard, the train rolled out of the station. The guy who asked the driver for directions to the train was seated across the aisle and down a couple of seats. He was wearing an auto mechanic's uniform.

I settled into a seat and started reading.

At the Arden Way stop a bunch of people boarded. At the back door to the car I was on I could her a lady having a load conversation with someone who was boarding the other car. The door started to close on her and she managed to squeeze on. Inside the train, she did a happy dance in the aisle and then took a seat. She immediately started talking to the women around her. She appeared to know everyone on the train. Must be a regular crowd, I thought as I went back to my book.

When the train arrived at Cathedral Square, the guy in the mechanics uniform got up and asked the group of women across from him if this was the way to Florin Road. He was clearly worried, unsure. He spoke with a heavy accent that I couldn't place.

The lady offered that, yes, this train goes to Florin Road.

"Or you can take the bus," she said. "That's where I'm going. Why don't you follow me?"

The guy nodded appreciatively and sat down.

At the Eighth and O stop, the lady got up and started to the exit.

"Come on. This is it," she said to the guy.

He got up and followed her off the train.

So it's lemonade after all. Isn't that better than hearing me whine about how I had to drive to work not once but twice this week because I had an appointment after work and RT's skimpy service wasn't adequate for my needs? Isn't a nice tale of a veteran passenger befriending a lost new guy better than hearing again about the driver who locks her bus while she takes a break and then arrives late without so much as an, Oops, sorry?


wburg said...

Sometimes a missed bus produces unexpected connections. I missed the super-convenient right-after-class bus at Sac State last week, and took the 82 to light rail instead--and ended up running into an old friend I haven't seen in a few years, with his son. Last time I saw them his son was still in diapers, now he's in elementary school. He was taking the train to meet his wife at work downtown and they were all going to pizza afterward.

That's the kind of random I like. Of course, there's the risk of the other kind, but that's what happens when you roll the RT dice.

Brian Goldner said...

hey, somewhat off topic...but what do you think about the price of the RT monthly? It's more costly than almost any other city's monthly pass, including NYC which obviously has better service and a higher demand.

John said...


RT fares are overpriced. Period. The new general manager has proposed that student fare discounts be reduced AND new fees for using Park and Ride lots added. As far as I am concerned, that is the short road to ruin.

RT management believes it doesn't have the money to expand service. Unfortunately, the unions are convinced management has mattresses stuffed with cash that should be used for contract improvements.

Meanwhile, NO ONE at RT cares about the riders. This is because RT sees itself as a mobility service of last resort. Only people who can't drive ride the bus. This is a captive audience and RT, its management and its workers treat riders accordingly.

Brian Goldner said...

indeed...I think it's sad that the RT drivers won't even ride RT:
of course, I'm not one to talk b/c I ride my bicycle instead...still, monthly passes are way too much

John said...

My employer offers the passes at half price. Some state agencies offer the passes at even less. There are businesses that give the passes away.

I think my half-price pass is fair for the level of service I receive. Anyone paying full fare is throwing away money.

As you may have noticed, I'm not in a very optimistic mood about transit in Sacramento. I don't see any reason to expect anything to improve, at least not under the current board.

Perhaps if RT had a board composed of people who wanted to make transit succeed something might be done. The current board members are killing any hope of a better future for service in Sacramento.

Brian Goldner said...

good points...
3 questions on this waaaay off topic comment area:
1. what is the process for getting on the board, and could you do it?
2. do you attend RT public forums?
3. Would you be interested in forming some consumer advocacy group for RT riders, like the Straphangers' Campaign in NYC?

Jon Q. RT Driver said...

Brian Goldner-

I'm glad to see that you are interested in public transit, like RT Rider and myself.

I would like you to know that I ride the train that I drive for 10+ plus hours a day to work when my schedule allows....Such is the practice for multitudes of RT Operators in Sacramento.

I can't speak for the Executive Management Team or related employees at RT but I can assure you that us operators ride the system to and from work at least 1 day a week, and more when we can.

Considering the limited scope of our service, If my assignment was to pull a train out of the yard at 3:40 AM, I would have no other choice but to no trains and sure as hell no buses could get me to RT Metro by such a time.

Only in a perfect world.

John said...


1. "RT is governed by an eleven-member Board of Directors comprised of members of the Sacramento, Elk Grove, Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova, and Folsom City Councils as well as members of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors." So, the short answer to "could you do it," as in get on the board: No.

2. I am not allowed to attend RT public forums. (It is complicated.)

3. I'd love to see riders in Sacramento form an advocacy organization. I blogged about it here. The district and the unions are talking hardball, with the unions threatening job actions. Who talks for the passengers?

Anonymous said...

This is in regards to your comment on 3/2/08, "NO ONE at RT cares about the riders".

I happen to work at RT, and MANY(if not MOST) of the folks that work at RT do care very much about delivering a quality service to our riders.

To cast such a comment demoralizes
those of us here at RT that are still working at 6:30pm, rather than being at home with our families.

RT is a collection of normal folks, just like you. Some care about what they do for a living, and some don't, just like any other organization.

John said...

Dear Anonymous,

I apologize. I've been in a foul mood, and it is washing over everything.

Someday, perhaps, RT can offer service improvements rather than cuts and fare hikes. Maybe the "new" administration will take seriously the challenge of attracting "choice" riders -- the people who could leave their cars at home.

Riding the bus is actually fun -- most of the time -- and being able to devote time to reading daily -- when the driver doesn't play his radio -- more than compensates for the extended commute time.

If only more people would try it.