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

Monday, June 30, 2008

A change in vacation plans

"It's like packing for a trip to Alaska and finding yourself on a plane to Hawaii."

That's how the wife was explaining the news she received today from the surgeon at the cancer center at the University of California, Davis, Medical Center.

We didn't take the bus or the train today as we did three weeks ago. We could have. The appointment was at 8:20 a.m. and the wife needed to be there by 8 to fill out paperwork. RT offered a bus at 6:56 a.m. that would connect with the inbound train at 65th Street and deliver us to the 39th Street light rail station at 7:23 a.m. From there we could have caught the UCDMC shuttle. We would have arrived at 7:45 a.m.

Instead we left the house at 7:30 and drove. I missed the bus ride, the way it allows your thoughts to settle and anxiety to subside. The wife, however, is not a morning person and didn't see the hour-long trip in the same light.

At the cancer center, the surgeon recommended that the wife have a few months of chemotherapy before she has surgery. With luck, the chemo will reduce the size of the lump as it kills any other cancer cells.

This changes the whole schedule of anticipated time off and recovery. I'm not sure why, but I found the news unsettling. I suppose I had prepared myself for the cutting first and the chemo after. Or maybe its because of my job situation. But the wife is very happy with this turn of events, and that's what's important.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Bus sponsors

So I'm wandering around the news feed from the Northern California Bus Fans discussion group and come across this photo:

I've blown up the part that intrigues: A bus with sponsors -- Exxon, City of Lompoc, California Energy Commission, Southern California Gas company, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District.

Do you suppose they have any money left over to wrap a couple of Sacramento Regional Transit buses?

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Bus wraps

The Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority wrapped a bus for the June 26, 2008, Spare The Air Day. I love the idea of using buses as rolling billboards to promote transit's value. What does it cost to wrap a bus like this?

Friday, June 27, 2008

Crushed by success

Sacramento Regional Transit is out with more good news:

As rising gas prices continue to fuel the perfect ridership storm, the Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) hit another transit milestone -- three all time highs in the month of May. RT experienced its highest total ridership ever, setting system ridership records with over 3.2 million passengers. This record month for RT is the fourth in a row of total ridership being higher than last year, increasing by 8.5 percent, compared to the same period last year.

Last month, total monthly light rail ridership was 1,669,000 -- up 22.4 percent from May 2007. Light rail ridership has steadily increased over the past year and has now surpassed bus ridership for the second month in a row. At 69,000 average weekend light ridership is also at it's highest ever, this positive surge is most noticeable at RT's 18 free light rail park-and-ride lots where heavier use has many lots filling up earlier in the day. Commuters should not be daunted, as there is an abundance of parking spaces available at the Florin, 47th Avenue, Hazel, Swanston, Marconi/Arcade and Watt/I-80 light rail stations.
And then they drop a car.

Today, I was standing in the muggy heat at 16th Street waiting for the next Folsom bound train. There had to be nearly 100 people lining the length of station. Just after 5 p.m. I could see the train turn the corner into the 13th Street station. I counted the cars. Three! Not good.

I was standing at 15th Street, planning to ride the very last train. As the train approached 16th Street I walked to where the end of a three-car train would stop. As the train passed me I looked inside and stopped. There was no way I was going to get on that three-car train. It was already full. The doors opened near me and I watched as the crowd attempted to squeeze on.

That wasn't going to be fun. Since I didn't need to get anywhere soon, I waited for the Sunrise train. Peole waiting for Folsom were out of luck.

If RT is going to cut back trains, the half-hour service to Folsom doesn't seem like a good choice at the height of the commute.

Bus fans

Now I thought I was a big fan of buses, but I'm just a piker compared to the Northern California Bus Fans. Their motto: "Dedicated to having fun with buses!"

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Looking for work (writing samples)

To go with my résumé, I now have all of my writing from my years at The Sacramento Bee available online here. These include editorials (unsigned), editorial notebooks (signed) and commentaries.

This site (hosted inside ipsoSacto) is part of an online Letters To The Editor Manual I created to help the letters editor who took over where I left off after 18 years on the job.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Transit beyond commuting

An afternoon trip from home to midtown on the bus always feels different. It's just not the same as commuting to work in the morning.

Who are these people riding the bus at 2 p.m.? On the No. 82 today they were mostly younger. In fact, I was noticeably skewing the average age for most of the trip. At one point after a retired couple left the bus I was the oldest rider. I was thankful when, a short while later, another retired couple joined the bus.

The afternoon crowd, while young, has a distinct blue-collar feel. You seldom see suits on the bus, but office attire is common. But in the afternoon even office attire is rare.

* * *

At Sac State I transferred to a No. 30 for the trip into midtown. With No. 30's mostly 15-minute service, it has a much more relaxed feel, and it's a very different crowd from the No. 82. Today it was very much an older crowd.

At one point, the bus had two motorized chairs and a woman with a walker. It was a tight fit up front. Then as the bus approached Sutter's Fort I heard the driver say, "This one's going to have to wait."

The bus stopped and the driver told a waiting motorized chair rider that there wasn't any room for a third wheelchair.

As the bus pulled away, leaving the guy to wait for the next bus, I was struck by the thought: What's riding the bus going to be like after the majority of the baby boom generation has retired to their motorized chairs?

* * *

To finish my trip I rode out of town on a four-car Folsom-bound train. From experience, I know that at 6 p.m. this train will have many empty seats in the fourth car, even with the recent increase in ridership. But today at 4:30 p.m., all four cars had people standing in the aisles. I've never traveled with that many people before. It felt like I was riding a real transit system.

But as I rode with this crowd of office workers headed home, I wondered how many would happily drop riding the train if the price of gas fell below $3 again. I don't see people forced to ride transit really embracing it. And people who begrudge their reliance on transit are less likely to support increasing taxes to support the system.

Riding to meet the wife for the ride home, I wondered: How do you convert these necessitarians into transitarians? It's a puzzle.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Looking for work (version No. 2)

Well, I'll admit I thought attending a daylong session in résumé writing and job interviewing would be a waste of time. Instead, I found the class a real eyeopener.

So marvel now at the "new" job seeker:

The recent downsizing at The Sacramento Bee has afforded me an opportunity to explore new ways to put to use my twin interests of communication -- editing and writing -- and emerging Web technologies.
And what makes that "exit statement" even more valuable is that it is true. I have wanted to try something new for years, but I felt tied to my job with golden handcuffs. Now the handcuffs are off, and the sky is the limit.

I also learned that my first effort at a résumé is actually an excellent example of everything you shouldn't do with a résumé. So now I offer the new, improved résumé:

Now I need an opportunity to practice my new interview skills.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Looking for work (continued)

I've finished the first draft of my résumé. Take a look. If you know anyone who could use my talents, let me know.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Looking for work

Now that I don't have a job, a world of opportunity opens before me. I want to be Matt.

Moment of Truth In Iraq on the bus

Reading free-lance journalist Michael Yon's slim volume "Moment of Truth in Iraq" after reading Ahmed Rashid's richly sourced "Descent into Chaos" underscores the difference between professional journalism and blogging as news.

Michael Yon is a former Green Beret who boasts of having spent more time embedded with troops in Iraq than any other journalist. He has certainly walked the walk in order to tell the story of Iraq from the perspective of the boots on the ground. But reporting by anecdote isn't necessarily the same as journalism.

I picked this book because I wanted to read something about the Iraq occupation after President Bush declared the end of major combat operations.

Yon is critical of the original mistake of not bringing enough troops to Iraq, and the resulting failure to stop the spiraling chaos that allowed the insurgency to take hold.

As a former special forces soldier, Yon was trained in counterinsurgency tactics. This clearly influences his outspoken cheerleading for the current efforts of Gen. David H. Petraeus.

Much of Yon's anecdotes tell the story of soldiers who must switch from war-fighting to nation-building and back, often in the same day. These are the efforts, Yon explains, that could have won the war in 2003, when Petraeus first demonstrated in Mosul how to wage counterinsurgency warfare.

Yon sees the U.S. soldiers today pulling Iraq back from the abyss as the next "Greatest Generation." Our soldiers have done a masterful job. They deserve all of the praise Yon lavishes on them. But this war cannot be compared with the war fought by the "Greatest Generation." Yes, we may yet pull a victory of sorts from the jaws of defeat we nearly suffered at the hands of a terrorist insurgency, but to what end? The only real winner here is Iran, and that doesn't help anyone.

* * *

I wanted to include some quotes from the book, but I'm afraid I left it on the No. 82 bus in my confusion after losing my job. I was within a few pages of the end, and I was looking forward to writing a fuller review. I've checked RT's lost and found, but apparently someone else is now reading the book. It's worth reading. I've ordered a signed copy to replace the one I lost.

Friday, June 20, 2008

The doctor on the bus

I was standing at the bus stop near my home at 11:52 a.m. and by 11:54 I joined about a half-dozen other midday riders heading to Sac State and the 65th Street light rail station. I sat down and took out my notebook.

The wife will leave her office at 12:30 and walk to her regular bus stop to catch a ride to the Mather light rail station. I will arrive at 65th Street at 12:39 and walk to Starbucks. I'll be back at 65th in time to meet the wife's train at 1:18. We'll ride together to 23rd Street and then walk to the doctor's office.

I put the notebook away and returned to my book. The bus ended up arriving at the 65th Street transit center a couple of minutes late. I was standing at the corner of Q and 65th streets waiting for the light to cross the street when the wife called to say she was on the bus.

At Starbucks I took out the notebook and scribbled some more. I was back in the station in plenty of time to meet the wife's train. We rode to 23rd Street and then walked six blocks to the doctor's office.

"Tell me again why we're walking?" the wife asked.

"It's a bus thing," I lamely said. It was hot -- really hot, like more than 100 degrees hot -- and midtown's famous shade was missing from our route to the doctor's office.

At the doctor's office we waited. The nurse eventually called the wife's name and we were escorted to a regular exam room. And then we waited some more.

And then the wife heard the words "infiltrating lobular carcinoma grade 1" and the explanation and prediction that this is curable.

We left the doctor's office and walked to J Street to catch a bus. A half-hour after arriving at Sac State we were on our way home on the No. 82.

The wife has already scheduled her meeting with the surgeon. We haven't decided if we'll drive or take the bus.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The surviving transitarian

The wife is one very impressive transitarian. She can absorb the slights of buses she misses when the drivers fail to follow their schedule and still return to the bus. Yes, she gets mad. She storms. But the next day she returns.

She survives. And now she will survive breast cancer. Count on it.

The wife tried to hide the news. I called her to tell her I was heading to 65th Street to meet her. Monday, I was sent home after I was told I am being laid off. I returned to 65th Street that evening to meet the wife to ride the bus home with her. Yesterday, I went to work and was told to go home and not to bother coming back. I went home and returned to 65th Street that evening to meet the wife's train. I enjoy these trips. It's a transitarian thing.

After I told the wife this afternoon that I was getting ready to catch the bus she said we could take the train to midtown together Friday to consult with her doctor. It took some prying to get the news: The lump in the breast and the lump in the nearby lymph node are cancerous.

"100 percent curable," she said. But it will require some cutting.

I drafted this blog post at the Starbucks and 65th and Folsom while waiting for the wife's train.

When everything goes bad at once it seems somehow more manageable. It certainly puts my job loss in perspective.

Time to pack up the computer and walk across the street to meet the wife.

Coastal visions for a transit future

I was raised in California, and I grew up in Southern California in a time when the West Coast was the exciting cutting edge of our vast American enterprise. That's not the feeling I get today, and that's not just because I lost my job.

California suffers from a leadership deficit. That's certainly the case with the Evil Transitator and his efforts to eviscerate transit services in a day when transit is more vital to residents than ever. Instead of state support for adding capacity to meet today's growing demand, we see transit agencies forced to hold Capitol rallies to convince legislators the error of the governor's budget proposal. Will bake sales be next?

Meanwhile, on the other side of the country a more enlightened governor, John Baldacci of Maine, is encouraging transit ridership with "Free Fare Fridays."

"As an incentive to ride public transit for the first time or to maybe start riding again, transit systems across the state will be FREE on Fridays through the month of July. Auburn and Lewiston are taking it a step further by extending the FREE Fare Friday program though the end of August."
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's pseudo-green vision for California's future features bio-diesel-fueled Hummers idling on gridlocked freeways. That's not the future I want. It's not the future Californians with a real concern for the environment want. More money for transit. Now. It's an investment in California's future that will pay dividends for everyone.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Between a recession and a depression

Last Monday, the wife and I rode together to the University of California Medical Center. Ever since, I've been waiting for a phone call telling me the results of the wife's biopsy. When my cell phone rang this morning as I rode to work on the No. 82 bus, I had several seconds to worry as I fished the phone out of my pants pocket.

When I opened the phone I was relieved to see it wasn't the wife or UCDMC. Caller-ID showed the generic Sacramento Bee number. OK, I thought to myself, the office is calling.

I get calls in the morning from the letters editor when something goes wrong with the database I created for tracking letters. For 17 years, I was the editor responsible for selecting and packaging letters for the daily newspaper. During that time, I created a number of time-saving Web-based applications. This is a self-taught skill set well beyond the current letters editor.

But it wasn't the letters editor on the phone or my immediate supervisor, David Holwerk, the editor of the editorial and opinion pages. Instead, it was Joyce Terhaar, the managing editor of the newspaper. I had no idea why I would be getting a call from Terhaar. Had something happened to Holwerk? My confusion only grew when she asked if I had seen the announcement that The Bee's publisher had released that morning.

"No," I said, not appreciating how this could possibly have anything to do with me.

Terhaar explained that the publisher had announced that there would be a 10-percent reduction in the work force through layoffs.

I started at The Bee in 1980 as a night shift part-time copy editor while still working full time days as the news editor for the Lodi News-Sentinel. I worked my way into a full-time job at The Bee and then earned a job as an assistant city editor. Not long after that, I moved to the Capitol bureau, where I did similar work as the bureau news editor. As a bonus I got to work for McClatchy Newspapers at the Democratic National Convention in San Francisco that saw the Mondale-Ferraro ticket crowned in July 1984. In 1987, I moved back to 21st and Q to take the job as production editor for the editorial page, which included responsibilities for letters. At the time, there were three production editors. A staff reorganization reduced that to two editors a few years ago and then another reorganization following buyouts left just me as the lone production editor responsible for all of the editorial and Op-Ed pages and the weekend Forum section.

The job is a bitch, but as the last surviving editor responsible for the production of that many pages, I figured I was buying myself some job security.

"Your position is on the list of layoffs," Terhaar told me over the phone.

That didn't register at first.

"There's a meeting today at 10:30 that you need to attend," Terhaar said. "People there will explain what is happening."

Still unclear on what was happening, I asked, "Are you saying I'm being laid off?"

"I can't tell you that," Terhaar said. "You have to go to that meeting."

In 1980, Ronald Reagan, while running for president, would quip: "A recession is when your neighbor loses his job. A depression is when you lose yours." Of course, his punch line was, "And recovery is when Jimmy Carter loses his."

I must admit I see the difference between a recession and a depression, but I doubt that even George W. Bush losing his job will help this time.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Second Saturday on the train

So the wife and I took the train downtown this time. Last month, we rode the bus from home. But taking the bus means leaving midtown for home by 8 p.m. to catch the last bus home. By driving to the Watt and I-80 park-and-ride lot (about four miles from our house) and taking the train, we were able to stay much later. In fact, the last train leaves downtown after midnight.

I love the art on the side of the Convention Center at 13th and K streets. The late afternoon sun provided some dramatic lighting.

The Convention Center was hosting the 7th Annual All American Tattoo Festival. And, of course, that means a lot of bikes. I loved this bike.

The Second Saturday Free Shuttle was a neat idea. The shuttles ran in a circle around J and L Streets between 29th and 16th streets. Suggestion: RT should offer "free" rides in its "Downtown" service area.

Now you can't have an art walk without art that walks.

And, of course, Second Saturday isn't complete without live music. Here's a band playing next to the News and Review building on 20th Street.

Imagine that -- Hare Krishna without the saffron robes and shaved heads.

And right next to the Hare Krishna band were several Obama supporters registering voters. I found the juxtaposition amusing.

On the way to the train home, we walked past the Memorial Auditorium. This photo nicely captures the recent renovation work.

The wife and I had amazing good fortune with the train. We drove to the Longview Road exit on Interstate 80 without knowing when the next train would arrive. We parked our car and walked to the station and sat down. I got out my schedule and discovered the train would arrive in two minutes. The same thing happened on the way home. We walked to the Cathedral Square stop and sat down. Again, the next train was due in just two minutes.

When the wife and I were in midtown, we ran into a friend of the kid. He and his date had driven down. He said it took 45 minutes to find a parking spot. Even with the extra walk to get to and from the train, light rail certainly beats trying to park in midtown during the Second Saturday Art Walk.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Descent into Chaos on the bus

Finished Ahmed Rashid's new book, "Descent into Chaos." This is the book to read to understand why the Supreme Court's decision today to stand up to the Bush administration's lawlessness in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, is so important. This is the book to read to understand the consequences of our failure to finish the job in Afghanistan and the terrible cost that the Iraq distraction has extracted.

Rashid's 403 page book is backed up with 48 pages of footnotes documenting his sources and five pages of suggested reading. This is a scholarly work written by a Pakistani journalist who is considered an expert on the region.

This book offers an excellent overview of the geopolitics that influence the Central Asia region and a detailed examination of the consequences of our actions -- or lack thereof -- in Afghanistan and neighboring Central Asia.

Take as just one example, the consequences of the Bush administration's decision to abandon international norms of conduct in warfare and to pursue a course of lawlessness.

"For the greatest power on earth to wage its 'war on terrorism' by rejecting the very rules of war it is a signatory to, denying justice at home, undermining the U.S. Constitution, and then pressuring its allies to do the same set in motion a devastating denial of civilized instincts. America's example had the most impact in Afghanistan, where no legal system existed; in Pakistan, ruled by a military regime; and in Central Asia, where the world's most repressive dictatorships flourished. By following America's lead in promoting or condoning disappearances, torture and secret jails, these countries found their path to democracy and their struggle against Islamic extremism set back by decades. ... It could well be argued that over time Islamic extremists were emboldened rather than subdued by the travesty of justice the United States perpetrated. The people learned to hate America."
After the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, the United States had an opportunity. The Bush administration failed that test, as it has failed so many tests.
"Bush promised a great transformation in 2001, and he has certainly transformed the world, but not in the way that any of us could ever have imagined. We now all have to live with the consequences, pick up the pieces, and help improve the world we are left with by tilting the earth's axis back to where it should be."
Read this book.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Whack a Pump for Dump the Pump Day

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Riding the bus

"Just you and me today," said the driver as I boarded.

I looked into the coach and was surprised by how big an empty bus looks.

Taking my regular seat in the first elevated row at the back of the bus I took out my pocket-size notebook and began drafting this blog post.

Yesterday the wife and I took the bus to the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. We boarded the No. 82 at the stop down the street from our house. The bus had a lot of people already and then, three stops later, two dozen middle-school-age kids and their chaperons filled every open spot. The bus was standing-room only until it stopped across from the bowling alley on Watt.

The passengers seemed to let out a collective sigh as the bus disgorged its bowlers.

Nothing like today's bus. It's summertime and the Sacramento State and American River College students who normally help take up space on the No. 82 are busy elsewhere. Still, by the time the bus reached Watt today, I had been joined by a half-dozen passengers.

On the trip to UCDMC yesterday, the wife and I rode to the 65th Street light rail station and then the train down to 39th Street. I had noticed the signs for the hospital shuttle at 39th Street before but never used it. On past visits, both the wife and I instead used the No. 38 bus. This time, however, I called the "parking" information number and learned that the shuttles run between the 39th Street station and the hospital every 20 minutes. Inside the hospital's complex, other shuttles run every seven minutes. And, best of all, they are free.

It was only after we boarded the shuttle and took the short ride to the hospital that I realized how close UCDMC is to light rail. We could have easily walked to the hospital that morning, but we were thankful for the ride in the afternoon after the wife finished her round of visits. We caught a shuttle from the Ellison Building to the main hospital. It was after 3:30 and we were hungry. We thought we'd catch a bite to eat across the street at La Bou. Silly us. La Bou closes at 3:30 p.m. And so does the diner just down the street. Not one but both eateries closed at 3:30? It's a conspiracy!

So we walked back to the hospital and caught the shuttle to light rail and light rail back to the No. 82. One of the "nice" things about having a weekday off and riding the bus on a monthly pass is the ability to get off, do stuff and catch the next bus. We got off at the Butano and Sam's Club stop and walked to the Michael's store. The wife bought some stuff and we walked to Panera's to buy some bread and, since we were now really famished, some sandwiches.

I digress here to give a cheer for the designer of the restaurant portion of Panera's. The shop offers free wi-fi and -- here's the treat -- power outlets at every booth. I set up my laptop and the wife and I checked our e-mail and had a relaxing and enjoyable break. Eventually we walked to Watt and El Camino to catch the next No. 82. ...

At this point, my notes from this morning's bus ride end. I had been busily scribbling while the bus stopped and started, letting people off and on. And then we stopped on Morse Avenue and I looked up to see a long line of elementary-school-age kids holding hands in single file, lined up next to the bus stop sign. After a brief negotiation between an adult and the driver, the hoard descended on the back of the bus, taking up every seat, including the vacant half next to me.

I tried to finish my notes, but it was soon just too distracting. The "indoor voices, please" lasted about -- oh, maybe, a bus length down the street. The kids weren't screaming, but each one had to talk louder to be heard over the other kid who was talking louder to be heard over the other kid.

So I put away my notepad and pulled out my book. I was surprised by how small a full bus looks.

Fun with Google Street View

Back in November, I blogged about the inherent dangers in the way the buses arriving at the University 65th transit center from the north, east and west drop off riders and then expect them to cross Q Street to transfer to light rail. This discussion was originally prompted by what happened to a couple of blind bus riders. I came up with a handy map using Google Map's satellite view and drew some lines showing my alternative.

Now Google has added "Street View" to some of Sacramento's streets. Here's the street view of where Sacramento Regional Transit expects the blind to navigate when they are dropped off by buses.

Click on the image and hold the button down and then drag the view around. This is a 360-degree image. Click on the Q St. SE arrow and move to the cross walk that RT says is sufficient for the safety of its riders and then click on the Q St. NW and move back to the station. Obviously, the people who think this is a suitable alternative to having buses drop off people at the station and then entering the bus parking lot are not blind.

Not all of Sacramento has been mapped yet. When you are looking at a Sacramento area in Google Maps use the "Street View" button. This will display blue lines indicating where the street view is available.

You can drag that gold guy to any blue street and then click on him to see the view from that point.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Transit Rally

Transit riders and others who appreciate the value of being able to leave their cars at home are invited to rally at the State Capitol on June 17 at 10 a.m. to protest Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's proposed theft of transit funds. This $18 million raid on Sacramento Regional Transit's revenue could force RT to reduce service another 10 percent. With gasoline prices heading for $5 a gallon, now is when the state should be helping transit agencies meet the new demand.

UPDATE: See Sacramento Regional Transit's announcement here and RT's Next Stop News for June.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

A trip to the gas station

It has been five weeks since we last put gas in the wife's car. We only drive the car now for special errands, which most often happen on the weekend. The wife has become adept at arranging quick trips to the market or Michaels or Chipotle's on the way home. She gets off one No. 82, does her quick trip and catches the next No. 82.

Yesterday, the wife had to drive to South Sacramento for a state promotion exam and today she had a half-dozen errands to do while I watched the Euro 2008 games. Those trips drained the last of the gas.

During halftime in the Germany-Poland match I drove to our neighborhood Safeway to fill the tank. As I placed the hose in the car and opened the nozzle, a huge, black Lincoln Navigator pulled up to the pump behind me. By the time the hose nozzle clicked shut in my car, the driver of the Navigator hadn't even started pumping. It must be a very painful experience to fill up a Lincoln Navigator today. This guy was certainly in no hurry.

The total damage for 10.381 gallons: $45.56. Since the last fill-up, we had driven the Honda Civic hybrid 443.2 miles, or a shade more than 42.69 mpg.

Clearly, taking the bus and light rail saves a lot of money. The only remaining argument against using transit is the extra time it takes to reach your destination. Personally, the time I get to read books on the bus and the lack of stress from not having to deal with commute traffic has always more than compensated for the extra time. Today, with gasoline well past $4 a gallon on its way to $5 a gallon, people like the owner of that black Lincoln Navigator must be sorely pressed to justify continuing to drive.

Sacramento Regional Transit needs to press its advantage. Every bus that doesn't already have an ad on it, should have a "house ad" reminding drivers that they are missing a good deal.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Regime change (continued)

This is a lengthy video -- about 29 minutes -- but it's worth the time.

Onward to November . . .

Friday, June 6, 2008

Signs of the times

I rode to work today on the bus with a guy who works at a Shell gas station. Think about that. In the future, will the ability to buy a tank of gas be another measure of the growing divide between the haves and the have-nots?

CNN offers a calculator that lets you figure out how many hours you have to work to fill up your car's gas tank. For instance, a person making $9 an hour needs to work nearly seven hours just to pay for 15 gallons at $4 a gallon, according to's gas calculator. Sort of a gas freedom day.

Times like this should be Sacramento Regional Transit's heyday. RT needs a proactive campaign to increase public awareness of the benefits of leaving your car at home and leaving the driving to RT. (Does anyone else remember Greyhound's ad campaign?) Such a campaign would go a long way toward building the pool of support necessary to push back against the Evil Transitator's effort to skim off transit money in order to backfill holes in the state budget. Helping people to appreciate the value of transit -- saving money, saving the planet, saving your mental health -- would also pay dividends when RT takes its expansion plans to the voters.

Now is the time to act.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Transit envy

Google has rolled out its new Google Transit for mobile devices at Sure makes me wish I had a Blackberry phone. But beyond that watch this video and pay close attention to the "Last available train" option.

Did you see that? The guy can go to a concert and party until 3 a.m. before the last train takes him home. Size matters and looking at the size of the Bay Area's transit options makes Sacramento Regional Transit look pitifully small.

This coming Second Saturday, the wife and I plan to ride the No. 82 bus from our house to Sacramento State and a No. 30 bus to midtown. We did a variation of this last month. Since we both have bus passes this is a freebie. Why hassle with parking?

The problem is that Second Saturday runs from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The last No. 82 leaves Sacramento State at 9:18 p.m. The closest connecting No. 30 bus outbound from midtown doesn't arrive at Sacramento State until 9:21 p.m. That's not going to work. And the next earlier No. 30 leaves midtown more than an hour earlier. So we would have to leave the festivities at 8 p.m. , when things are just starting to get going.

Yeah, I know, we could drive to the light rail park and ride lot at Watt and Interstate 80 and take light rail home as late as midnight, but that just illustrates the shriveled options that pass for transit in Sacramento.

Regime change (continued)

The DCist (sponsors of the No Pants Metro Ride) blog has a detailed outline of both Obama and McCain's position on transit issues. Read the post here.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Reporting on transit ridership

I found this report on a Seattle blog, where ridership has increased more than the national average of 3.3 percent. Here in Sacramento, the first-quarter ridership figures are less encouraging.

For the first three months, Sacramento Regional Transit's ridership was up just 2.04 percent, according to American Public Transportation Association's transit ridership report. Yes, April saw a big increase and no doubt the Big Fix on Interstate 5 will have at least a temporary impact, but neighboring Elk Grove reported a 20.20 percent increase in ridership during the same period. Down in Stockton, the increase was better than 18 percent.

With the state screwing transit and the economy putting a damper on tax returns, I suppose everyone should be grateful for what we have. Still, I would like to see RT do more to promote its service. It saves money. It saves the environment. And the trade-off in time is more than made up by the reduction in stress.

Train operator customer service

The train doors closed and immediately a woman arrived. She pressed the door button outside. I pressed the door button on the inside. We both pressed the buttons. Nothing.

"Oh, come on," she said. She threw up her hands and walked away.

I shrugged and mouthed, "Sorry." I tried the button one last time.

The train didn't start moving for what seemed like another full minute, plenty of time for the driver to have allowed the woman to board.

Just fine, I thought. This was just so fitting. Last weekend, representatives of Sacramento Regional Transit's finest were in San Francisco for the American Public Transportation Association's 2008 International Rail Rodeo.

How did RT do? First, keep in mind that the rules require that no supervisors, foremen or training instructors can participate. These are your Joe Operators. The operators were tested on appearance (perfect score, but then everyone was perfect), safety, train inspection, operating course and finally customer service. It was the customer service score that amused me.

The winning team from San Francisco scored a perfect 100. Second place Los Angeles scored 85. The Sacramento train operator team score for customer service? 45. Overall, the RT operator team finished the competition tied for fifth with that bastion of customer service, New York City's MTA, which scored 50 out of 100 on customer service.

Two stops later tonight, a guy with a bike arrived at the back door of the train just as the doors closed. The button didn't work. I tried to help. No luck. Fortunately for the guy, a passenger in the middle of the train stood in the door long enough for the guy to get on board.

When the train arrived at 65th Street station, I walked across Q Street to wait for the wife. A No. 81 bus was stopped at the light at 65th Street. A guy who had been on the train ran up to the door of the bus and pantomimed for the driver to open the door. "Please," he mouthed. The bus driver opened the door and let the guy board. As the door closed, the light changed and the bus and the lucky guy were on their way.

I appreciate that the trains run on a tight schedule and can't wait for people who are a block away running. But a rider who is standing at the door of a stopped train should be allowed to board, especially -- as in both cases tonight -- when the train operator hasn't given his "The train is departing; please stand clear" announcement.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Regime change, please


Invest in Public Transportation: Public transit not only reduces the amount of time individuals spend commuting, but also has significant benefits to air quality, public health and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Barack Obama will re-commit federal resources to public mass transportation projects across the country. Obama will work with state and local governments across the country on efforts to create new, effective public transportation systems and modernize our aging urban public transit infrastructure.

Create Greater Incentives for Public Transit Usage: The federal tax code rewards driving to work by allowing employers to provide parking benefits of $205 per month tax free to their employees. The tax code provides employers with commuting benefits for transit, carpooling or vanpooling capped at $105 per month. This gives drivers a nearly 2:1 advantage over transit users. Obama will reform the tax code to make benefits for driving and public transit or ridesharing equal.

Strengthen Metropolitan Planning to Cut Down Traffic Congestion: Our communities will better serve all of their residents if we are able to leave our cars, to walk, bicycle and have access other transportation alternatives. As president, Barack Obama will re-evaluate the transportation funding process to ensure that smart growth considerations are taken into account. Obama will build upon his efforts in the Senate to ensure that more Metropolitan Planning Organizations create policies to incentivize greater bicycle and pedestrian usage of roads and sidewalks. As president, Obama will work to provide states and local governments with the resources they need to address sprawl and create more livable communities.

Require States to Plan for Energy Conservation: Obama will also reform current law which simply asks governors and their state Departments of Transportation to “consider” energy conservation as a condition of receiving federal transportation dollars. As president, Obama will require governors and local leaders in our metropolitan areas to make “energy conservation” a required part of their planning for the expenditure of federal transportation funds.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Squeezing transit dry

And while Londoners party, Sacramento is being squeezed dry. Can't we get a break here?

According to Brian RT is letting people know that state cutbacks could force RT into additional service reductions. (Send those letters in now!)

But things could get worse. Sunday's Bee has an editorial about a Sacramento County Board of Supervisors suggestion that a quarter-cent sales tax be added to fund juvenile gang programs. And if that goes on the ballot, what do you suppose will happen to plans for an additional sales tax increment to pay for expanding transit?

Of course, the hope of funding RT's expansion plans with a sales tax increment isn't a sure thing in any event. On May 23, the Institute for Social Research (ISR) at California State University, Sacramento, released the The 2008 Sacramento State Annual Survey of the Region. Among the findings: "55 percent of residents in the region stated they would not vote to raise gas taxes by one cent on the dollar to fund public transportation."

As Dan Walters explains, the survey question was ambiguous: "The question could have been confusing since gasoline taxes are collected on gallonage of fuel, while sales taxes are applied to the value of the fuel. A one-cent per gallon increase in the former would raise about $150 million a year statewide while a one-cent increase in the sales tax on all taxable commodities would raise about $6 billion a year."

Regardless of the question's ambiguity, the sentiment is clear: People don't see a need to pay extra to improve transit.

What can be done to awaken people to the benefits of leaving your car at home -- or at the very least at a park-and-ride lot -- and taking transit? Cutting back existing services because the Evil Transitator thinks stealing transit money will be easier than stealing from someone else's kitty isn't going to make transit more attractive or win support for increasing taxes.

The last drinking party in the London Underground ever

From The Independent: For thousands, it was the chance to be part of a Facebook-inspired "flash mob" – a spontaneous group of partygoers enjoying the last night of legal drinking on the London Underground.

But for sober Tube travellers, Saturday night's journey was the stuff of nightmares. ...

As the lead train made its way through the City and on towards west London, the atmosphere was boisterous but friendly, with three carriages full of people dancing on the seats and singing Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody". At Victoria station, a bemused, elderly, American couple hesitated to board the train before passengers grabbed them by the arms and pulled them on, pouring each of them a large brandy.

However, as the train progressed on its 22-stop circuit, some of the crowd began ripping maps and posters off the walls. With some drinkers pouring beer into their mouths through funnels, vomiting soon became common. One man dressed as a Star Wars character urinated between the doors to the adjoining carriage, on to the electrified tracks below, cheered by others.

At Notting Hill, shortly before 10pm, passengers broke the doors on one carriage, putting the train out of service. The Circle line was suspended soon afterwards. Elsewhere, Euston, Euston Square, Aldgate, Gloucester Road and Baker Street stations were also closed. ...

Somehow I don't see this happening in Sacramento. But maybe we could do this.