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

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trains, transit and choices

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

He offers:

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

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

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

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

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

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