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, December 10, 2008

Between Portland and Phoenix

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sort of vision does Kevin Johnson have for transit?

1 comment:

Mattie said...

Portland has been using this technology for seven years, and we have to wait another year just for RT to figure out how to post agendas and reports to its website??? At this rate, they'll get the GPS thing up and running by 2095.