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

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Evil Transitator (continued)

Heeeee's baaaaack! The Evil Transitator wants to skim more transit money to fill the gaps in the state's budget. Sacramento Regional Transit is organizing a letter writing campaign. You can get more information on their Web site here.

According to RT's handout, the Evil Transitator calls for redirecting $1.4 billion from the Public Transportation Account (PTA) into the general fund. "This is on top of the more than $1.25 billion slashed from the PTA in the current FYO8 budget and nearly $3 billion drained from the account this decade," RT says.

The proposed cuts would cost RT $18 million in the coming year. RT has already had to absorb a $14 million loss in state revenue in the current year. And the local economy isn't helping matters.

"Sales tax dollars that flow to RT through the Local Transportation Fund (LTF) are down for the third year in a row, resulting in a $14 million loss in FY09 compared to earlier projections," RT says. "Local Measure A sales tax is also down for the third year in a row, resulting in an additional $10 million loss in FY09."

RT has a sample letter you can use as guide for writing the Evil Transitator. (Download it here.) If you e-mail RT a copy ( they will make sure copies of the letter are delivered to key elected officials at the State Capitol.


So the wife got a whiff of V.O.T. on the way to work, but on the way home we got a chance to experience the odd delight of N.B.S. -- New Bus Smell. Sort of a new car smell, only larger. Well, maybe more new plastic than new car.

Anyway, I had overheard some drivers talking about the new buses arriving a couple of weeks ago but this was the first time I had a chance to ride in one. From a rider's perspective, the buses look like a polished version of the split-level buses already in the system. The wife and I rode home together in the back of the bus. I thought the engine noise was less obtrusive. The wife said, "What?"

The one thing I couldn't figure out was a device hanging in front of the windshield near the door. After pulling the stop request, I walked to the front of the bus and asked the driver, "What's that?"

"What?" he asked.

"This," I said, pointing to the device hanging inside the bus in front of the windshield.

"Oh, that," the driver said. "That's a television camera."

"Really?" I asked.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm not sure if it's going to hang me or save my ass in an accident."

How long do you suppose it will take before the Craziest Bus Crash Videos debuts on TV?


From the wife . . .

The husband warned me and I knew it had to happen eventually: V.O.T.

This morning I happily climbed into the train-before-my-usual-train at Starfire because the No. 84 bus was just early enough to allow me to jaywalk Folsom and run to the boarding side of the east-bound train before it arrived. When I get this train I don’t have to wait in the chill for the next train to take me to Mather/Mills; I get to the No. 74 bus at Mather and wait in the comfortable warmth of the bus until my rightful train arrives.

As I walked a short distance down the aisle, the unmistakable stench of vomit hit me, but it was too late to turn back. Other people were sitting and tolerating it, although one girl was standing by the door ignoring empty seats. Well, I sat down looking carefully, but not carefully enough. As I considered hopping off at the next stop and getting on another car, I decided the heck with it, I’ll just bear it. The smell seemed to lessen, but that was just my olfactory sensors benumbed by the onslaught of the odious compound molecules. As we finally got to Mather and I stood up to exit, I looked down, aghast, to see a loathsome substance dangerously close to my shoe! ARgghh!

I stopped at the first patch of dirt, hoping my being wasn’t permanently contaminated for the day.

Next time, I’m off at the next stop. At least you can get off the train with the expectation of a 15-minute wait for the next one. Not so lucky if that was on a bus. I hope the buses carry a bag of kitty litter.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

My other car is . . .

I've been playing around with Inkscape, a vector graphics program, and came up with a bumper sticker idea:

Unfortunately, Sacramento Regional Transit says I can't use its logo on these. Oh, well.

The stickers are available at Cafepress.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Benjamin O. Davis Jr. on the bus

Finished "Benjamin O. Davis Jr.: American," an autobiography. I was introduced to the book by a conservative blogger I read who took exception to Barack Obama's March 18 speech on race in Philadelphia and in particular Obama's unwillingness then to denounce the Rev. Jeremiah Wright.

Listening to Senator Obama’s speech (and reading the transcript), I wondered if the candidate—or his spiritual advisor—ever heard of General Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., the first African-American to reach flag rank in the U.S. Air Force.

General Davis, who passed away on Independence Day 2002, was a product of the hate-filled and racist times that spawned Reverend Wright’s anger. But the obstacles of that era had a far different impact on General Davis; he not only overcame the evils of racism and segregation, he shattered them, opening doors of opportunity and equality for thousands who followed.
Having now read the book, I agree that Davis and his career are truly inspiring. But to suggest that Davis himself "shattered" the evils of racism and segregation suggests a radicalism that did not exist. Davis was determined to prove that he was equal to any man, but he was determined to do it from within the system.

Davis was the son of the Army's first black general, Benjamin O. Davis Sr. When Davis Jr. graduated from West Point in 1936, the first black to graduate from West Point in the 20th century, he and his father were the only two black line officers serving in the U.S. Army. That is just amazing to me.

From Davis' entry into West Point until his retirement on Jan. 26, 1970, he lived 37 1/2 years under military control. And, as he points out, from 1936 until Aug. 1949, he had lived under complete segregation.
I was grateful to the Air Force for giving me an opportunity that did not exist for me anywhere else in the United States. It had given me a flying career, something I had always wanted. It had educated me at West Point, and it had handed me a Regular Army commission as a second lieutenant upon graduation. Initially the military had treated me badly, but eventually it had rewarded me with important assignments in Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. I lived almost 14 years overseas in these assignments, developing an appreciation of and respect for people at all levels of life -- people who were different in appearance and culture from Americans, but who had the same aspirations. I learned to recognize arrogance and its killing effects on human relations. I also learned the meaning of the phrase "the equality of man."
My co-worker, Ginger Rutland, is personally familiar with Davis and the story of the Tuskegee Airmen he lead. Her father was a civilian contractor at Tuskegee during WWII, and she has cousins who were fliers. When I mentioned that I was reading Davis' biography, she said Davis wasn't a popular commander. He wasn't, as she put it, one of the guys. He was aloof. That comes through in the book.
The role I had played as commander of the 99th Fighter Squadron, the 332d Fighter Group, and the 477th Bombardment Group had not been easy, primarily because of the segregation that had then weighed so heavily on the lives of all black officers and airmen. The very nature of segregation was demeaning, and its effect upon its victims was deadening. I had found it absolutely necessary to compound the troubles of black officers and airmen by asking that they perform better than their contemporaries in comparable white Air Force units. The eventual result of these demands was recognition throughout the Air Force of superior achievement, and in the minds of at least some of those under my command my actions were justified.
Davis was not a supporter of black separatists or even the concept of black self-identification. In 1972, the superintendent of West Point, Lt. Gen. William A. Knowland, asked Davis if he would provide a portrait that could be displayed in a place where cadets could be inspired by his example. "I find that many of our Black cadets are well aware of their heritage, but I believe public recognition of it would provide a welcome reinforcement," Knowland told Davis.

Davis initially agreed but then had a change of heart. "Having the views that I have," Davis explained, "I think it would be inconsistent for me to have my portrait displayed as 'a source of both satisfaction and inspiration' for black cadets, the reason simply being that there is a strong implication of the existence of a separate group in the Corps of Cadets. To some this concept is unimportant; to me it is most important because it is something I have lived with for a very long time."

It is this feeling of inclusion rather than separatism that explains the subtitle of his book: "American."

"We are all simply Americans," Davis explains. "Differentiations created by extensive statistical studies for no obvious purpose except to prove the superiority of a particular group are not helpful, and surely the unnecessary labeling of people by race, religion or ethnicity does nothing to bring the many diverse groups of American society together."

In 1987, when Davis went to West Point to do research for this book, the Visitors Center had an exhibit entitled "The Great Train of Tradition" that contained the pictures of outstanding West Point cadets from 1819 to 1950. As Davis explains, two men are included from his class of '36: William C. Westmoreland, "Chief of Staff, Army, Commander, Forces Viet Nam, and Superintendent"; and Davis, "World War hero, helped integrate Air Force."

Davis was not displeased with this honor. But it raises a point for me that I found troubling after I finished Davis' autobiography.

While the Army was segregated, Davis commanded troops in combat and attained a distinguished record for himself and the men he led. But what about after 1949? During the Korean War, he was sent to the Pentagon. He didn't serve in Korea until after the ceasefire. During the Vietnam War, the closest role he played was commander of the 13th Air Force, which was headquartered at Clark Air Force Base in the Philippines. The 13th Air Force acted as the logistical wing of the war effort.

Yes, Davis played important roles within the bureaucracy of the Army and the Air Force, but why was he never again put in an air combat role in wartime?

For students of black history, this is a worthwhile, if dry, volume.

Dear Mr. Transitarian

Here is my dilemma, my son, who just turned 15, finds himself totally annoyed with me for moving us all the way to the other end of Truxel (near Club Center & Natomas) from where we once were. It is too far to ride his bike and I won’t let him cross over the Interstate anyway because he would be killed dead by the crazy non-pedestrian respecting drivers in Sacramento at the entrance/exit ramps for I-80.
I told him he could take the bus from Natomas Blvd and be dumped off by Natomas High School, but then realized I have no idea how to do that. I can’t make any sense of the schedule. How would he go about this? How much would it cost? And, can he always take his bike and have it loaded on the front of the bus? Help me Oh Great Transitarian.

Let's put the bottom line up front: Dumb move on your part.

Sacramento Regional Transit is rightfully criticized for having failed to expand bus service as residential development has spread. Since RT took over for the old Sacramento Transit Authority in 1973, all of its "expansion" has been focused on light rail.

Today, RT has one bus route serving residents north of Del Paso Rd. in Natomas. That's the No. 11. And the No. 11 would be perfect for connecting your kid with Natomas High School -- if he wanted to ride during regular commute hours and didn't mind staying home and helping you around the house on the weekends. The No. 11 ride from Club Center and Natomas to Truxel and San Juan takes 16 minutes and costs $1 with a student ID.

If your son wants to get to Natomas High School on the weekend, he'll have to ride his bike down to Truxel and Arena Boulevard, where he can catch the No. 14 east -- which runs hourly between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. -- and then transfer to the No. 86 west at Northgate and San Juan. The trip will take 39 minutes and cost $1.10 with a student ID.

As for taking the bike, buses can carry two bikes. If a third bike rider shows up, he's out of luck.

RT's Web site at and Google Transit at can help with specific times. But pay close attention to what Google offers for weekend options.

I've blogged before about its suggestion that the wife walk across Highway 50 for the final leg of her commute to work. If you ask Google for suggestions for leaving Club Center and Natomas at 12:02 p.m. next Saturday, May 31, Google Transit says the best option is to wait until Monday, June 2, and catch the first bus of the morning at 6:07. Bring a sleeping bag and a camp stove.

If anyone at RT is listening, the plight of the No. 11 bus in Natomas is still another good example where a little improvement -- evening and weekend service -- would go a long way to improve RT's image as a transportation service of choice.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Fix is In

The Big I-5 Fix starts on May 30 and the official Web site is open at Lots of information, including a handy calendar showing expected work schedule.

Sacramento Regional Transit finally has its info up as well. The Web page is here. RT will be adding three extra light rail trips on each line during 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. The extra Gold Line trips only go as far as Sunrise.

The extra bus service is apparently going to be "on-the-fly" and not scheduled. According to RT:

Ten buses will be on standby and dispatched to various routes as needed during peak commute hours.
RT promises that detour updates will be posted at RT's Rider Alert page.

I am glad the wife and I live on the other side of the world and won't be affected by this mess.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Dying from the common cold

I have new appreciation of what must have been the most painful and agonizing death of the Martians who invaded Earth. Only generations of genetic selection for tolerance to pain and snot and the painful combination of snot and deep rumbling coughing could have brought me through this week. That and generic NyQuil and ibuprofen and the patient ministrations of the wife.

Imagine you are the captain of an invincible machine in the War of the Worlds, busily destroying everything (in the 1953 movie version I grew up with), when you start to feel that first hint of a constriction in your breathing and that slight drip at the back of your throat. Nothing serious. Allergies, perhaps. There's been plenty of wind and airborne dust, what with all the explosions and such. Surely, it's nothing to keep one from the work of eradicating the pestilence of human existence.

And then you die.

Well, maybe the Martians got the better end of it. More than once this week I considered it a cruel twist of fate that I had every reason to anticipate survival of my cold and flu symptoms.

I tried working Thursday after staying home Tuesday and Wednesday. I expected to work Friday as well. But it just didn't work out. By 7 p.m. Thursday I surrendered. It was all I could do to make it to the outbound train. As it turned out, the wife was in Rancho Cordova for her election training that evening (she works as a precinct inspector). That training finished up at 6:30 or so and she was able to catch a train to 65th, where we met for the ride home.

In my misery, I appreciated very much not having to drive home.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sick out

I've been off sick the last two days and now I'm heading back to the office on the two worst days of the work week. Blog posting will be light until next week.

Monday, May 19, 2008


On the first day the wife took the bus to work, her only complaint was that there were no benches at her stop. When I blogged about that, an anonymous commenter said a bench was on order.

And so, today, there was the bench.

The wife, who has now been riding Sacramento Regional Transit to and from work for more than six weeks, is a much more sophisticated rider now. When she saw the bus bench this afternoon, she said, "There's no shelter."

RT's communications deficit (cont.)

The Sacramento Bee is trying to do a good deed by providing information about options for commuters when The Big Fix starts on Interstate 5 in less than two weeks. They've set up a special page Today's article on the plans for coping with the disruption repeats the general info about Sacramento Regional Transit's plans:

The agency will add three trains each on the Folsom and Meadowview light-rail lines. They'll also position 10 extra buses around the county.
For more information, the story then suggests visiting, where we find . . .


Well, nothing about The Big Fix or RT's fix for the fix.

Is RT just going to place the 10 extra buses randomly around the county to be found by riders like Easter eggs?

Later in the day, I learned that RT and three local hospitals have launched a shuttle service. According to the press release reprinted on the Sacramento Business Journal Web site:
The Sacramento Regional Transit District and three area hospital providers started the Capital City Hospital Shuttles on Monday, a free weekday transportation service for patients, employees and the general public.

The shuttle, introduced during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Monday, connects passengers to the 29th, 39th and the University/65th Street light-rail stations.

Mercy General Hospital in east Sacramento connects to the 29th and 39th street stations; Sutter General Hospital in midtown moves passengers to the 29th Street station. Sutter Memorial Hospital in east Sacramento connects to the University/65th Street station and Sutter General Hospital, while UC Davis Medical Center on Stockton Boulevard offers the service to the 39th Street station.
FREE public transit to and from area hospitals. What a great idea. The press release reprinted by the Business Journal says:
For information about the Capital City Hospital Shuttles, call 321-2877 or visit
Where we find . . .


Well, not exactly nothing.

There's the flier for the RT Summer Student Intern Program. When you click on the link, you discover that applications must be submitted to the "Human Resources Department no later than Wednesday, May 7, 2008, at 5 p.m." And, just to underline the point, "Late applications will NOT be accepted regardless of postmarks or FAX transmission times."

Today is May 19. Is there a reason why RT is tormenting high school students who failed to apply before the May 7 deadline? It's probably the same reason why RT includes on its front page that May 10 was National Train Day.

In fairness, I suppose I should point out that if you know to look under "RT Newsroom" and then under "Press Releases," you can find the original RT press release, which includes this info:
For Mercy General Hospital shuttle information, call 916-453-4722 or visit For Sutter General Hospital and Sutter Memorial Hospital shuttle information, call 916-361-5466 or visit For UC Davis Medical Center shuttle information, call 916-734-8630 or visit For RT route, schedule and fare information, call 916-321-BUSS (2877) or visit
And RT's is not the only dysfunctional Web site. I could find no information about a new FREE shuttle service on any of those Web sites.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The wife's comfortable routine

The wife offers this update on her transformation into a transitarian

* * *

Riding transit is settling into a comfortable routine. it's not hard to change one's mindset when planning the day: you think about where things are in relation to the bus/train route. It turns out, lots of places are accessible that way, with a little walking. And especially downtown, you don't have to hassle with finding a parking place and feeding the meter, or paying an exorbitant fee. In an ideal week, I forgo the 84 home from Starfire and relieve my son of the burden of having to pick me up. I continue on the train and meet the husband at 65th Street, where we board the 82 and ride home, chatting and reading. (OK, I'm chatting, the husband is trying to read.) I love it!

A big plus when riding? Using the cell phone is not dangerous, you can yak all you want, look up numbers without getting into an accident, and no one will give you dirty looks. OK, if you talk too loudly, people might get mildly annoyed, but usually the bus is rather noisy and you can't hear much.

Sure could use those cup holders.

Work has been grueling and having to leave at 5:30 to catch my bus helps to keep things sane and in perspective. The ride home is still relaxing most of the time, except for a tinge of anxiety at the Starfire stop, wondering when the 80 will arrive. However, all you have to do is think about driving in rush hour traffic, and you get over it. After riding for six weeks, I can't say I find fault with any drivers as far as system shortcomings. The shortcomings lie with the limitations of the routes and times.

Today I had an appointment downtown and decided to take the day off. My goal is to make this a day off without having to drive. My husband shooed me out the door and I waited a few minutes at the stop for my coach to arrive. He cannot be content without my calling to tell him I'm on the bus. In 1/2 hour I was at the 65th Street light rail station, and from there I took the train to 23rd and R, then walking to 20th and O After my appt., I indulged myself by walking up 21st to the Lucky Cafe and had a rare breakfast. From there it was a block and a half to J Street, where I had just enough time to sit down and take my bus pass out before the 31 arrived to take me to Sac State. At Sac State, I had to wait about 15-20 minutes for the 82, but how nice it was to read, watch people, and listen to music.

You realize that driving in a car shuts you off from the world and practically imprisons you in a little metal box. You are not in control; the road and the traffic are in control of you and your experience.

Later this evening, I will again walk out of my door and get on the bus to the new Chipotle's at Watt and El Camino to pick up dinner. The husband, who works later, will be taking the 82 home and will either meet me at the restaurant, or I will get on his bus for the return home together. Silly as it may seem, I think this sounds fun and I'm looking forward to it!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

What Others Say

Uneasy Rhetoric, another local blogger, has posted an appropriately scathing criticism of Sacramento Regional Transit's failure to reach out to commuters who will be inconvenienced by the Interstate 5 rebuilding project at the end of this month. Read his report here.

This is just one more example of RT's failure to communicate. A huge planned traffic tie-up and there's nothing on about it. Why?

I know from the RTDriver guy that RT is working on options for handling the extra load, including running more frequent light rail trains. And yet they insist on keeping this information to themselves.

The Natomas Buzz has info on the Natomas shuttle service during the I-5 construction.

This is one area where The Bee might actually be of some assistance. Check out The Bee plans to offer one-stop shopping online for info on the status of the work and ways of coping.

Yes, even on The Bee web page there's nothing about RT's plans other than references to vague plans to expand bus service. But if RT ever does announce something, one assumes it will end up there.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Smart Cards and Dumb Fares

Will adding Sacramento Regional Transit's dumb fares to the proposed "smart card" make the system stupid? I think it's a fair question, but no one at RT is willing to discuss the topic.

Back on April 14, the Marysville Appeal Democrat announced that the Yuba-Sutter Transit District had been awarded $80,000 in Proposition 1B funds to pay for its participation in the universal fare card being developed by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

"It saves a whole lot of time," Matt Carpenter, manager of SACOG's transportation and planning, told the Appeal Democrat. "If someone comes down from Yuba City to downtown, they won't need to carry cash."

Yuba-Sutter Transit Manager Keith Martin told the newspaper that the smart card would automatically deduct the necessary amount of money from an already established account, much like a debit card.

In theory, this could have some nice benefits, especially for people who commute across transit district boundaries. Just tap the card on the fare box and debit the card.

Here's how the system works in Hong Kong:

But just a cursory look at RT's fare structure raises a number of big, waving, red flags.

Take, just as an example, the wife's daily trip to and from work.

She boards the No. 84 bus -- tap the card, debit the account -- and rides to the Starfire light rail station. She boards light rail -- tap the card, debit the account -- and rides to Mather Field Station. She gets off the train and boards the No. 73 bus -- tap the card, debit the account -- and rides to work. And then at the end of the day, it's tap the card, debit the account; tap the card, debit the account; tap the card, debit the account, all the way home.

What's all that tapping of the card going to cost?

According to RT's fare structure, the price of all that tapping will be $4.25 each way, or $8.50 for the day.

Of course, no one who is paying attention today pays that fare. Instead, such a rider would buy a $5 all-day pass, which allows unlimited rides for the entire day. And if a rider regularly needs daily passes more than 17 times a month, a monthly pass good for unlimited rides can be purchased for $85. (Some employers offer discounts on the monthly passes. The state reimburses 75 percent of the price.)

So how would a smart card work with RT's dumb fares?

Over at SACOG, they are better about answering questions from the public. When I asked about how the “Smart Card” might work with Sacramento Regional Transit’s fare structure, I was told:
The governing boards of each transit operator, including RT, are the sole determiners of their respective fare policies, and how those policies are implemented. The Smart Card will not in anyway substitute for or replace those prerogatives. . . .
Somewhere in the bowels of the Sacramento Regional Transit administration are the green eyeshade types and their bean-counting abaci. These are the people who decided they could squeeze extra cash out of any trip that required more than one transfer. Keep in mind that no one would deliberately arrange their trip to require two transfers. No, this $2 penalty is only paid by people who are being poorly served by RT already. Anyone want to hazard a guess why bus ridership in not keeping pace with light rail?

The person at SACOG did offer this suggestion:
If RT chose to impose a ceiling on daily fares (for example, the price of a Daily Pass), the Smart Card will be smart enough to implement that policy.
But is RT smart enough?

In some imaginary perfect world, RT would say upfront -- now, before the system is in place -- that the smart card will not be used to hide the real cost of riding the bus. Instead, RT will promise that the smart card will max out when it reaches the daily pass value on any calendar day and stop charging during any calendar month when charges exceed the price of a monthly pass.

And while I'm holding my breath waiting for that, I will suggest that the increased fare revenue RT is currently raking in should be returned to riders in the form of discounts. How about free Sunday service? It's certainly not worth any more than that.

Here's another video example . . .

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Surprise and disappointment on the bus

I worked from home for the first part of the day. I can access my work computer from home and do my job just as if I were at my office desk. The only difference is that someone has to walk the paperwork around.

At 12:30 p.m. I decided to take the bus in to the office. I was standing at the curb recognizing that the weather is going to be getting real warm real soon when the bus pulled to a stop and the doors opened.

I stepped aboard the bus, showed my pass and turned to find a seat.

I stopped and stared.

I've never seen so many people on the No. 82 bus. In the morning when I normally board -- 9 a.m. or 9:30 a.m. -- it's not unusual for me to be the only passenger for the next two stops. This bus route starts just a couple of miles away at American River College. On most days, there are maybe four passengers -- Sac State students and people headed to Wal-Mart on Watt.

Today was just incomprehensible. Two wheelchairs took up the front of the bus. That elminated seven seats, which made the bus look more crowded that it otherwise might have been. Even still, there was only one seat that didn't have at least one rider and nearly all of the seats had two riders.

I took the open seat and soon after a woman joined me. We kept stopping to let people off, but we were boarding more than were getting off. It wasn't long before we had people standing in the aisle.

Today, Sacramento Regional Transit posted a press release about increased ridership:

With gas prices at an all-time high, the Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) is experiencing a dramatic surge in bus and light rail ridership. Overall system ridership has increased by 20.2 percent, compared to the same period last year.
While this is all well and good, I'm concerned that RT's bus service continues to do poorly. RT reports that light rail now carries more passengers than RT's fleet of buses. While light rail ridership is up more than 43 percent over last year, bus ridership is up just 2.5 percent. Granted, that bus increase comes despite a 5 percent reduction in bus service, but clearly buses remain a poor cousin of a system focused on rail corridors.

RT is happy to announce, "The park-and-ride lots at the Historic Folsom, Iron Point, Glenn and Meadowview light rail stations are typically at capacity during the weekday commute." But if RT were really meeting the needs of these riders, they would be able to leave their cars at home, not at a park and ride lot.

Yes, parking and riding is better than driving all the way downtown. But commuters who find lots full end up driving anyway and pretty soon they give up trying at all. Clearly, leaving cars at home should be the goal. For that to be even be a remote goal, however, requires that RT offer better bus service.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The end of civilization as we know it!

New York Times columnist Paul Krugman discusses the rising price of oil and the likelihood that it's hear to stay.

After all, a realistic view of what’s happened over the past few years suggests that we’re heading into an era of increasingly scarce, costly oil.

The consequences of that scarcity probably won’t be apocalyptic: France consumes only half as much oil per capita as America, yet the last time I looked, Paris wasn’t a howling wasteland. But the odds are that we’re looking at a future in which energy conservation becomes increasingly important, in which many people may even — gasp — take public transit to work.
The end of civilization as we know it!

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Second Saturday on the bus

Today was National Train Day and Second Saturday, the perfect storm for things to do in downtown Sacramento. Unfortunately, I completely forgot that the train festivities only ran until 2 p.m. The wife and I didn't board the No. 82 bus for downtown until 1:30. By the time we arrived on light rail at the Amtrak Station there was no sign of National Train Day.

So we were too late for National Train Day and early for the Second Saturday festivities, which run from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. Nevertheless, we wandered around and the wife found all together too many excuses to buy things. By the time we headed out of town on the No. 30 bus heading for Sac State we had two full bags of stuff.

We had an interesting experience on that ride to Sac State. The No. 30 was running late, and I asked the driver if he expected to get to Sac State by 8:18, when the No. 82 was scheduled to depart.

"Not a chance," he said. And then he picked up his radio and called dispatch and asked to have the No. 82 wait for us. I've heard drivers do this before, but I've never requested it myself.

After checking with dispatch, the driver let us know the No. 82 would wait for us. We were very happy with that news. If we missed the connection, we would be sitting at Sac Sate for an hour until the next No. 82.

As it turned out, the driver was able catch up with his schedule enough to get us to Sac State before the No. 82.

Here are some pictures from the day:

We've come to consider the No. 82 as our personal bus, taking us from our front door to points across the great suburban wasteland of unincorporated Sacramento.

The wife waiting for the train.

You know you are old when you go into a "vintage" store and keep saying, "I remember that . . ."

I was fascinated by the wedding party I saw walking across L Street to take pictures on the Capitol steps.


Once we reached Midtown, we ran into a parade with floats . . .

And marchers . . .

And mayoral candidates . . .

And even group of drummers from Sacramento High

The wife and I are going to do this again. The weekend bus schedule requires that we leave before 8:30, but that still leaves lots of time to see some art, hear some music and have dinner. And, of course, the ride down and back on RT is "free," courtesy of our monthly passes. Not a bad deal.

Friday, May 9, 2008

Bike to work May 15 and ride RT for FREE

Sacramento Regional Transit's "Next Stop News" May flier announces that RT is celebrating Bike to Work Day next Thursday, May 15, by offering FREE rides to all bicyclists."

I was puzzled a moment wondering why RT was doing this for bicyclists and doing nothing for National Train Day tomorrow (May 10). After all, if RT is going to celebrate something, you'd think it would make more sense to offer free rides to the festivities at the Sacramento Valley Station on Saturday. But then I realized the free rides for bike riders is a very limited offer.

The bus racks can carry only two bikes at one time. The bus drivers don't let people bring their bikes inside the bus. On light rail, the rules say you can have only four bikes on a car -- two in the front and two in the rear -- and only two bikes in the rear of the lead car. I wouldn't be surprised to see RT start enforcing this rule on Thursday.

So, I give RT the sound of one hand clapping approval for free rides for bike riders on Bike to Work Day next Thursday.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Basic Brown on the bus

Finished Willie Brown's "Basic Brown: My Life and Our Times," part memoir, part graduate seminar for wannabe politicians, and all-around entertaining.

Willie Brown gets credit as the author, but the book owes much to P.J. Corkery, the San Francisco Examiner columnist who collaborated with Brown. As Corkery explains, the book is the product of a series of Saturday morning breakfasts during which Brown would hold forth.

In a leisurely fashion, he began to talk and spill out his observations of politics today, what makes things work, how money operates, who influenced him, how to handle scandals, and how flamboyance in a politician doesn't mean an avoidance of serious political issues. Over time, the material began to organize itself -- not as a standard biographical work, but as a set of related glimpses and flashes into the making of modern politics and a modern political life.

The book, especially the first part, reads as if you are seated at the breakfast table listening to Brown weigh in on such topics as "Consensus and Power," "Sex Scandals and the Socializing Politician" and, the most entertaining of all, "The Power of Clothes: Don't Pull a Dukakis."

Brown admits that before he became speaker he was at most a part-time legislator.
I agreed to take this watchdog's post and became chairman of the Revenue and Taxation Committee, or "Rev and Tax." It didn't seem like such a major deal. I didn't expect it would cut into my work at the time, which was building my private law practice.

Indeed, one condition I imposed on (Assembly Speaker Leo) McCarthy as part of the deal was that the committee would meet on Mondays. To give me the time to work on my law practice, I only came to Sacramento then on Mondays and Thursdays, when the whole house was in session and when you had to sign the roll to get paid. I needed the other days of the week for my private work, and I wasn't going to come to committees that met on other days.
Unfortunately for California, it was while Brown was chairman of the Rev and Tax committee that the the Legislature faced one of its biggest challenges -- how to respond to the growing anti-tax movement of the late 1970s -- and came up empty. The Legislature's failure to find a way to answer the anti-tax fervor and prevent passage of Proposition 13 cost California dearly. Brown's part-time focus no doubt contributed to the Legislature's inept response.

To critics who complain that he lacked a real agenda, a vision for where he wanted to lead the Legislature, Brown answers, "My guiding principle was to place myself in a position of power so that I could help people with good ideas see those ideas realized. I was the leader as facilitator, a facilitator you didn't want to cross because then I became a shark."

In a previous lifetime, I was married to a woman who worked for Patrick Johnston when he was in the Assembly and for Majority Services during part of Willie Brown's tenure as speaker. As a result I had something of an inside glimpse at the workings of the Legislature. I saw enough to know that the FBI's effort to ensnare Brown in a cash-for-votes sting was doomed to failure. Brown is nobody's fool. He is smart, very smart, and certainly smarter than his opponents.

"In the end," Brown says of the long FBI effort to entrap him, "it was only Patrick Nolan, the Republican member of the Assembly who went to the FBI in 1985 and suggested they try to get Willie Brown via an undercover sting involving phony legislation, who went to prison. Nolan served two years in federal prison for taking illegal contributions in the very FBI sting he himself suggested."

As Brown explains, the politician as leader is often viewed as a quarterback on a football team or a point guard in basketball -- the tactician, the strategist. "But a more appropriate comparison," Brown says, "is to, of all things, nursing."
Indeed, that's really how I've often thought of myself. You're doing vital work, necessary work. You get to use your brains, your people skills, and you get to help people. The physicians are specialists with highly specific knowledge, but the nurse is the facilitator, the real practitioner. And often you have to get people to take medicine they don't want. ... A real working politician these days isn't a prostitute, isn't a preacher, isn't a topic-specific expert, isn't a rabble-rouser. The good pol is a nurse for the body politic.
It would be nice to have a Legislature filled with such nurses.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

"How To ... " videos from RT

For some reason, Sacramento Regional Transit expects visitors to its new "Try Transit" Web pages to download 9.5MB and 7.9MB files in order to view RT's "How to . . ." videos. Perhaps the people running RT's site are unfamiliar with the concept of embedding videos.

Here's the "How to ride light rail" video embedded on YouTube.

Here's the same video on Veoh:

Here's the video "How to use the light rail ticket machines" produced by student interns Christina Gonzalez, Cassandra Estrada, Taylor Cain and Jackie Williams on YouTube.

Here's the same video on Veoh.

At the end of the YouTube video, the player will display the html code for embedding the video and URL to play the video at YouTube. On the Veoh videos, while the video is playing, hold your mouse near the top of the video to reveal links to embed and email the video.

This is a much better solution than suggesting people download huge files.

It's Time To Try Transit!

Sacramento Regional Transit is finally starting a campaign to attract commuters who are seeking relief from the run-up in gasoline prices. The SacRT web site includes a new link (right) to a new inside page (below).

There's nothing new here, but it might be useful for people who are exploring the option of riding transit. Inside the new "Try Transit" site is an amusing illustration of how to ride light rail . . .

. . . and another about how to ride the bus.

I especially love the panel that says "Sit down, relax and watch for your destination stop." There's sooooo much more you get to do.

The RT site links back to the Sacramento Area Council of Governments's site (below), which offers links to a number of other transportation options.

First one, then another . . .

The wife is turning into a genuine transitarian. This is quite surprising.

Yesterday, she had a doctor's appointment. She figured out the bus and light rail combination she needed to get from Rancho Cordova to Midtown in time for her appointment. And, most important, she accepted the requirement that she walk a half-mile to her destination. After the doctor's visit, she walked to J Street and took the bus to Sac State, where she caught the No. 82 home. Today, she has a meeting downtown. She will carpool in with her boss and then go home on the bus.

When we were running errands last night after work, we found ourselves at one point behind the No. 82 bus on Watt Avenue.

"Want to park the car and get on the bus?" I asked. I was kidding, but the wife understood what I meant.

"Now that I have a bus pass, whenever I see a bus I want to ride it," she said.

She explained that this is something akin to what she feels when she is shopping and sees something on sale.

Yes, something like when she is shopping, but without the pain in the wallet.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bus Pirates!

The final episode of Bus Pirates.

To see the movie from the start, visit

The family that rides the bus together . . .

The No. 82 pulled into the Watt and Wal-Mart stop as the No. 84 was pulling away. I called the wife on her cell phone.

"Tag, you're it," I said.

Today, I had a dentist appointment at 8:30 a.m., which meant the wife and I would be on the bus at the same time, all be it different buses.

This morning, the kid took the wife to here stop and then drove to school. Meanwhile, I packed my stuff and put the dog out. I walked down the street to my stop. I had cut it close. The bus arrived less than a minute later.

From Watt until Morse and Arden Way, we traveled together on our separate buses.

The wife would love to take the No. 82 and transfer to the No. 84 in the morning, but the schedule -- both in the morning and on the way home -- has the buses running in the wrong order. Recently, however, we've discovered that on Monday and Tuesday, the wife can skip the reliably unreliable bus connection at Starfire and continue down light rail to 65th Street. Then I can leave work shortly after 6 p.m. and meet her at 65th. Together, we then take the No. 82 home.

The family that rides the bus together . . .

Sunday, May 4, 2008

A bird in the hand; a seat on the bus

"A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." By this we mean that the things we already have are more valuable than the things we only hope to get. (The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition.)

That's pretty much how I felt, seated at the bus stop Sunday, waiting for a No. 80 bus that should have arrived many long minutes before. A seat on the No. 82 bus I had been riding was certainly worth two connections that in theory might shorten my trip to Rancho Cordova.

This Sunday I was engaged in a piece of transitarian research. Google Transit continues to insist that the wife could walk to work from the Cordova Town Center light rail station -- would in fact be better off than relying on the bus routes RT suggests and their tight connection schedules.

In the weeks that the wife has been riding transit, she has had no difficulty getting to work. It's been the trip home and, in particular, the reliably unreliable No. 80 bus connection that has proved problematic.

When the wife drove to the office Sunday to catch up on work, I saw my chance to combine transitarian research with a transitarian diet of exercise.

Of course, I must add here that when talking about Sacramento Regional Transit's Sunday schedule, we're really pushing the definition of service. The No. 82 that runs by my house every half-hour during the week, runs just once an hour on Sunday. And only the No. 80 runs on Sunday. The No. 84 doesn't run at all.

When I decided it was time to start my trip, it was more than a half-hour before the next No. 82 was scheduled at my house. So I walked to Watt and Whitney. It is less than 2 miles to the Watt and Whitney stop the wife uses each morning. It was fine exercise, but it was something of a waste of time since the No. 82 was the first bus to reach the stop.

I boarded the No. 82 at 1:40 p.m. It was running five minutes late. As the bus rumbled down Watt, I considered my options. I could ride the No. 82 to 65th Street and then take light rail to Cordova Town Center station, or I could transfer to the No. 80 and catch the train at Starfire. Transferring to the No. 80 would save maybe 15 minutes overall, I estimated.

I was still considering whether the potential 15 minute savings was more valuable than the certainty of my seat on the No. 82 when the bus stopped to pick up passengers at Butano and Park Towne Circle. On the spur of the moment I decided to abandon my seat and wait for the No. 80.

It was 1:45 p.m. The No. 80 was scheduled to arrive at 1:51 p.m. This should have been an easy wait. It's Sunday, I thought to myself. There's no traffic that might delay things. I didn't even sit down. I stood.

And I stood and I stood and finally I sat on the bench and called 321-BUSS. After the 1:51 scheduled stop, the next No. 80 wasn't due until 3:06. It was beginning to look like I might catch the next No. 82, which was scheduled to arrive before the next No. 80.

When I finally got a customer service guy on the phone, I explained where I was and where I was trying to go. He mentioned something about checking e-mails, as if this was something new for him. "It's hard to read all of these," he said at one point. But he did find something.

"At 2:10, the No. 80 reported it was running 30 minutes late," he explained.

"Thirty minutes late," I repeated.

"But its coming, though," the customer service guy reassured me.

The No. 80 was actually more than 30 minutes late as I hung up. And it was 43 minutes late when it finally arrived at 2:34 p.m.

As I boarded the bus I expected some explanation from the driver or at least some acknowledgment of the driver's tardiness. I don't know why. I guess because I've seen some drivers apologize when they get behind. But I got nothing from the lady driver. As far as she let on, there was nothing amiss.

I didn't press the issue. I just took a seat in the back row of the bus.

This sort of spoiled the transitarian adventure. I made it to Starfire at 2:45 and the train arrived on schedule at 2:55. I started my walk from Cordova Town Center at 3:07 and arrived at the wife's office at 3:39. The walk is not something the wife is likely to ever try. For starters, you have to walk in the bike lane on Folsom until you pass under Highway 50 because there are no sidewalks on the south side of the street.

Back home, having considered my adventure, I've decided that RT should simply stop charging full fare for Sunday service. They don't provide full service. At the most, RT should charge its discount fare -- $1 -- for everyone. And they should throw transfers in for free, especially if they can't keep to their terrible Sunday schedule.

It is only fair.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

National Train Day

Next Saturday -- May 10 -- is the first-ever National Train Day. The celebration honors the completion of the first transcontinental railroad on May 10, 1869, in Promontory Summit, Utah, where the “golden spike” was driven into the final tie that joined 1,776 miles of the Central Pacific and Union Pacific railways. More info is available here.

At the Sacramento Amtrak Station, commemorative postcards, stickers and other giveaways will be handed out from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Organizers are also offering something called "light refreshments."

As part of the festivities, you can get into the California Rail Museum for free with either a Capitol Corridor ticket stub or a River Cats game ticket. Tickets for the Capitol Corridor, Pacific Surfliner or San Joaquins are 25 percent off on May 10. You have to purchase your ticket before May 7.

It's too bad that Sacramento Regional Transit doesn't appear to be participating. Does RT have a budget for promotion? Sure would be nice if people who arrive on light rail got at least $2 off the museum admission price.

More info on the local festivities is available here.

Friday, May 2, 2008

The bus boy and the old man

When the No. 82 bus pulled to a stop in the left turn lane at the intersection of Whitney and Watt, I looked up from my book. On the corner I recognized the woman with her stroller and the boy who rides alone on the bus.

I know this intersection well, and I knew there was no way the boy would catch this bus. The left turn light will send the bus on to Watt before the light will allow the boy to cross seven lanes of Watt Avenue. I looked across the street to the bus stop and could see no one waiting. The bus would be long gone before the boy could reach the stop.

The light changed and as the bus turned on to Watt I looked back at the boy and the woman with the stroller. The kid gets off at Kaiser, I said to myself. All of the buses on Watt go to Kaiser. So at most the kid might have a half-hour wait for the next bus. Not perfect, but better than nothing.

And then the bus pulled to the curb and stopped. The driver opened the door and waited. I turned and watched as the boy, weighted down by a large backpack, ran across Watt Avenue and up to the bus.

The driver welcomed the boy aboard as he paid his fare. The boy then turned and realized that his seat just inside the door was occupied by an old man who not shaved in several days. He was sitting sideways in the seat, which meant there was no room for the boy.

The boy obviously wanted to sit by the door, where he had sat alone the other day. He approached the guy and silently indicated he wanted to share the seat.

The old man glared at the boy.

The boy pointed to the seat and the old man pointed inside the bus to where other seats were available.

The boy gave up. He looked at the faces of the other riders. He was clearly unsure what to do. And then a young Asian man who attends the Winterstein Adult School stood up and motioned for the boy to take his seat. He then moved to an empty seat farther back in the bus.

When the bus arrived at Kaiser Hospital on Morse, the boy stepped off and then turned and waved to the driver. The old guy was still sitting in the front, taking up the whole seat. The Asian student got off at Winterstein.

Reflections on a month of busdays

The wife offers this assessment of her first month relying on Sacramento Regional Transit to get to work and back:

I would not have been able to make the transition from car to bus without the support of the husband and boy, particularly the husband, who pioneered and paved the way, threw himself into the fray and found all the landmines first, making it easier for me to follow the cleared path. He not only planned all my possible routes and times, he's almost always oncall for last-minute schedule changes - much more reliable than RT. Out of three times calling, I only got to live person once on 321-BUSS. He gets everyone up, fixes the boy breakfast and lunch, boils my water, puts my XM Radio on my backpack, and waits anxiously to see if the kid will get me to the bus stop on time. He calls me or I call him just to say "I'm on the train," and it's interesting how satisfying that knowledge is, how secure and releived it makes one feel. Kind of like being on the plane: one is on the way, one is safely aboard, one can relax until arrival.

Except unfortunately, it's not always smooth sailing, either by bus or plane. In the month and four days since making the giant leap, I've been kicked off a train twice due to construction or an accident, had two no-show buses, been left at the curb once, and it's still pretty chilly on the mornings. But it's getting warmer, and there has been a hint of how hot it will be.

It only takes a couple weeks to figure out what to carry and where to sit. You easily develop your own comfort zone. I like the radio but between radio, tea, backpack, newspaper, shopping bag and a big raincoat that I keep stepping on, something had to go. I decided I didn't need the radio with the awkward headphones, but I must have my tea. I have a place for everything handy and bury my wallet deep inside my bag. I sit by the back door to get out faster. The bus will wait for you to gather your things when getting off; the train will not.

Everytime you sit in the front seats reserved for the elderly and handicapped, a wheelchair is guaranteed to board. I don't begrudge at all, I just get embarrased because I'm either reading the paper or looking out the window listening to the radio, oblivious to all, and the bus driver comes and politely asks me to vacate the seat.

One needs to sit on a bus or train next to a freeway or street of wall-to-wall cars to truly appreciate the absurdity of the basic commute. Being in traffic is maddening and frustrationg when one is not otherwise struck speechless at the human condition. Regardless of the bloopers and shortcomings of the transit system, I would not say that they exceed the insanity encountered on every foray in a car, whether it's one mile or 25. Let's face it: we've made our cars into family rooms with leather heated seats and surround sound, and the kids are watching TV while the wife is on the phone, maybe the laptop, but dad is stuck behind the wheel working. He's not watching TV although he may be eating, and he can't relax in his mobile living room because he can't take his eyes off the road or let up on the gas for a second. He has to pass someone and curse the annoyance of the driver doing the speedlimit, or get passed by someone and curse the effrontery of the driver cutting in front of him doing 85 mph.

In other words, to those who wonder about the "kind of people" one might encounter on public transit, I suggest that the kind of people encountered on the street and highway are much more dangerous and threatening. No one has bothered me, said anything, or even looked at me (gee). Many of the drivers are very nice and friendly. I have a great admiration for them and the difficulties of their job.

I bought my second monthly pass. I had to drive on several errands today, but at least I was able to consolidate trips efficiently, ending my day with my old drive up Sunrise Blvd. Sure, at 6:30 the traffic has thinned out a bit and I get home in half an hour, but who wants to work until 6:30 just to drive home? I have to walk out of the office at 5:30 to catch the bus - oh punish me more. I'm looking forward to riding the train, and even the bus, again.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming . . .

Thursday, May 1, 2008

A real puzzle: Making buses more attractive

Scientific American has a puzzle I want someone to solve for me: How to Make Buses More Attractive Than Cars?

Actually, I want someone to solve this for Sacramento Regional Transit, but I'd settle for someone figuring out the answer to the puzzle and telling me. I'll be the first to admit that math wasn't my strongest subject in school.

Just another unremarkable evening on the bus

Last night, I met the wife at 65th Street and we rode home together. Her bus never showed at Starfire and rather than wait for the next bus she came down to 65th Street. The wife never has trouble getting to work, but the ride home -- at least the connection with the bus at Starfire -- has proven to be very hit or miss. Since the bus route starts just down the street at the Watt/Manlove station, it is really hard to understand what the problem is. The only thing reliable is the unreliability of the bus.

Anyway, we were joined on the bus yesterday by the father I mentioned in the previous post, sans infant daughter. As he was packing up his laptop computer and preparing to get off the bus I mentioned that I had seen him on the morning bus.

"You've misplaced your daughter?" I asked.

"No," he laughed. "She's with her mother." In the course of a brief conversation I learned that his girls are 1 and 5.

Tonight, I was riding home alone. At Sac State the guy boarded again, this time accompanied by his 5-year old daughter. They settled in the seat behind me. I tried to read my book but I wanted to see what was going on behind me. Finally, I said hello and we ended up talking until he and his daughter left.

To show you just how socially backward I am, this was the first conversation of any length that I've had with a fellow rider. (Not counting the wife, of course.)

He's a political science student; his wife is a substitute teacher. Once he graduates she'll go back to school to get her master's in cultural anthropology. His interest is in the third house -- lobbying. The kids attend the preschool on campus. Beyond the simple convenience, he says the kids benefit from the enthusiastic volunteer support of Sac State students applying what they're learning about early childhood education.

Ah, to be young again, with everything ahead of you.

The Manchester United soccer fan from the morning before was riding home tonight, this time boasting support for the St. Louis Rams. Having been raised in Los Angeles when the Rams were the hometown team, I've never been able to transfer my allegiance to today's Midwestern edition of the team. When I was in high school I had an after-school job delivering furniture. I remember delivering a sofa to the home of Roman Gabriel, the Ram's quarterback. It was a nice neighborhood. I remember wondering at the time if Gabriel's neighbors knew he was the Rams' quarterback.

Random thoughts strung together.

Just another unremarkable -- and enjoyable -- evening on the bus