There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Turning RT lemons into whine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I settled into a seat and started reading.

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

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

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

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

The guy nodded appreciatively and sat down.

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

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

He got up and followed her off the train.

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Farm animals on light rail

In the novella Animal Farm, George Orwell famously explains, "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others."

Seems this holds true at the 65th Street light rail station.

I arrived from midtown on the 6:19 outbound train. I walked over to the No. 82 bus stop and pulled out my book. I had almost 10 minutes to wait for the next scheduled departure. At least the weather was nice.

Eventually, the bus pulled into the transit center and made its way to the stop. When the bus doors opened a handful of people got off, and then the driver invited people to board. I showed my pass and took a seat.

As I returned to my book I heard the driver welcome a replacement driver. She then left the bus.

I looked up and noticed that the 6:33 inbound train was in the station. I then saw the bus driver crossing Q Street to catch the train. She didn't exactly fly. It was more an awkward lumbering. Jogging was obviously not something this driver did regularly.

Meanwhile, the light rail operator was finishing up boarding a handicapped rider. He was pulling up the ramp in preparation to close the door.

Just as the bus driver reached the train, the doors closed. She pressed the door button, but the door didn't open.

Well, I thought to myself, that seems fair. After all, that was exactly what happened in November to the two blind Sacramento State students I wrote about here. Trains wait for no one.

And then the door in the front of the train opened. The operator leaned out and waived to the bus driver and then went back inside. The door next to the bus driver then opened and she boarded the train.

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

Sunday, February 24, 2008

More Bus Pirates

More about Bus Pirates

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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Wishful thinking

Sometimes the truth hurts. Or it is at least inconvenient. I was checking to see if I could get from midtown to a location in Oak Park just off Broadway on the bus. Piece of cake, said Google Transit.

But you will be throwing money away.

I am not going to suggest that Google Transit modify its programming for the convenience of fanatical transit advocates who want to ignore, or at least downplay, any trivial, inconsequential details that might detract from the glorious truth of transit's enduring value.

I am not going to suggest that when the program multiplies the distance times the IRS-allowed auto mileage expense, that it then check that sum against the fare. Shame on me for even imagining that when the fare is more than the cost of driving, that the program cough and knock that piece of superfluous parenthetical data on the floor, never to be missed.

No, it would be wrong to suggest that.

* * *

And in another example of wishful thinking, I checked the same destination and arrival time with Sacramento Regional Transit's online wizard at and discovered that RT offered a shorter, more convenient route to my destination.

Where Google Transit suggested I walk four minutes and then take two buses for a 22-minute trip, infoweb suggested I just catch light rail to 29th Street and hop on the No. 68 or 67, which both eventually go down the portion of Broadway near my destination. Total travel time: 10 or 12 minutes, depending on when I left.

When I checked the details of RT's suggestion I think I figured out why Google didn't offer that choice. The train is scheduled to get to 29th Street just three minutes before the bus is scheduled to leave.

The chance of that happening? Not something I would want to bet my plans on.

This does raise an interesting idea. While I will agree that trains can't be expected to wait for buses to make connections, what's to prevent buses from waiting for trains?

Why not have the bus departure at bus transit centers set to the arrival of a specific train (plus a couple of minutes for people to walk to it)? Sure, that would delay the bus departure several minutes on occasion, but not always.

Promising that the bus will meet the train would be a nice piece of customer service that wouldn't cost a penny to implement.

Don't mind me. Just wishful thinking out loud.

Dreams from My Father on the bus

Finished "Dreams from My Father, A Story of Race and Inheritance." This is Barack Obama's first book, which was written 13 years ago in 1995. This book is every bit as inspiring as his later book, "The Audacity of Hope," but it is also more personal, at times raw, dealing as it does with his own struggle with the meaning of racial identity.

The son of a Kenyan scholar and a white teenage college student, growing up in Hawaii and Indonesia, raised for long periods by his loving maternal grandparents, going on to college and deciding to pursue the unglamorous job of community organizing and finally going to Harvard Law School and becoming the first black president of the Harvard Law Review -- it is obvious that Obama is anything but ordinary.

Since Obama lately has been accused of cribbing points he made in recent speeches, I'm not going to try to create my own narrative to wrap around what Obama wrote. Instead, I'm just going to give you the passages that I marked to save as I read the book. I think these provide a useful summary. They also illustrate the deep foundation on which the words Obama speaks today are built.

Page 11:

Miscegenation. The word is humpbacked, ugly, portending a monstrous outcome: like antebellum or octoroon, it evokes images of another era, a distant world of horsewhips and flames, dead magnolias and crumbling porticos. And yet it wasn't until 1967 -- the year I celebrated my sixth birthday and Jimi Hendrix performed in Monterey, three years after Dr. King received the Nobel Peace Prize, a time when America had already begun to weary of black demands for equality, the problem of discrimination presumably solved -- that the Supreme Court of the United States would get around to telling the state of Virginia that its ban on interracial marriages violated the Constitution. ...

Sure -- but would you let your daughter marry one?

The fact that my grandparents had answered yes to this question, no matter how grudgingly, remains an enduring puzzle to me. There was nothing in their background to predict such a response, no New England transcendentalists or wild-eyed socialists in their family tree.

Page 50:
My mother's confidence in needlepoint virtues depended on a faith I didn't possess, a faith that she would refuse to describe as religious; that, in fact, her experience told her was sacrilegious: a faith that rational, thoughtful people could shape their own destiny. In a land [Indonesia] where fatalism remained a necessary tool for enduring hardship, where ultimate truths were kept separate from day-to-day realities, she was a lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace Corps, position-paper liberalism.

Page 79:
By the time I reached high school, I was playing [basketball] on Punahou's teams, and could take my game to the university courts, where a handful of black men, mostly gym rats and has-beens, would teach me an attitude that didn't just have to do with the sport. That respect came from what you did and not who your daddy was. That you could talk stuff to rattle an opponent, but that you should shut the hell up if you couldn't back it up. That you didn't let anyone sneak up behind you to see emotions -- like hurt or fear -- you didn't want to see. ...

My wife will roll her eyes right about now. She grew up with a basketball star for a brother, and when she wants to wind either of us up she will insist that she'd rather see her son play the cello. She's right, of course; I was living out a caricature of black male adolescence, itself a caricature of swaggering American manhood. Yet at a time when boys aren't supposed to want to follow their fathers' tired footsteps, when the imperatives of harvest or work in the factory aren't supposed to dictate identity, so that how to live is bought off the rack or found in magazines, the principal difference between me and most of the man-boys around me -- the surfers, the football players, the would-be rock-and-roll guitarists -- resided in the limited number of options at my disposal. Each of us chose a costume, armor against uncertainty. At least on the basketball court I could find a community of sorts, with an inner life all its own.

Page 133:
In 1983, I decided to become a community organizer.

There wasn't much detail to the idea; I didn't know anyone making a living that way. When classmates in college asked me just what it was that a community organizer did, I couldn't answer them directly. Instead, I'd pronounce on the need for change. Change in the White House, where Reagan and his minions were carrying on their dirty deeds. Change in the Congress, compliant and corrupt. Change in the mood of the country, manic and self-absorbed. Change won't come from the top, I would say. Change will come from a mobilized grass roots.

Page 197:
"It's about blood, Barack, looking after your own. Period. Black people the only ones stupid enough to worry about their enemies."

That was the truth as Rafiq saw it, and he didn't waste energy picking that truth apart. His was a Hobbesian world where distrust was a given and loyalties extended from family to mosque to the black race -- whereupon notions of loyalty ceased to apply. This narrowing vision, of blood and tribe, had provided him with a clarity of sorts, a means of focusing his attention. Black self-respect had delivered the [Chicago] mayor's seat, he could argue, just as black self-respect turned around the lives of drug addicts under the tutelage of the Muslims. Progress was within our grasp so long as we didn't betray ourselves.

But what exactly constituted betrayal? Ever since the first time I'd picked up Malcom X's autobiography, I had tried to untangle the twin strands of black nationalism, arguing that nationalism's affirming message -- of solidarity and self-reliance, discipline and communal responsibility -- need not depend on hatred of whites any more than it depended on white munificence. We could tell this country where it was wrong, I would tell myself and any black friends who would listen, without ceasing to believe in its capacity for change.

Page 406:

(Barack Obama's half-sister Auma, who was educated in Germany and has returned to Kenya to teach, is tsk-tsking their grandmother's acceptance of the old rituals that gave women little say in their lives.)
"Much of what you say is true, Auma," she said in Luo. "Our women have carried a heavy load. If one is a fish, one does not try to fly -- one swims with other fish. One only knows what one knows. Perhaps if I were young today, I would not have accepted these things. Perhaps I would only care about my feelings, and falling in love. But that's not the world I was raised in. I only know what I have seen. What I have not seen doesn't make my heart heavy."

Page 437:
The study of law can be disappointing at times, a matter of applying narrow rules and arcane procedure to an uncooperative reality; a sort of glorified accounting that serves to regulate the affairs of those who have power -- and that all too often seeks to explain, to those who do not, the ultimate wisdom and justness of their condition.

But that's not all the law is. The law is also memory; the law also records a long-running conversation, a nation arguing with its conscience.

We hold these truths to be self-evident. In those words, I hear the spirit of Douglass and Delany, as well as Jefferson and Lincoln; the struggles of Martin and Malcom and unheralded marchers to bring these words to life. I hear the voices of Japanese families interned behind barbed wire; young Russian Jews cutting patterns in Lower East Side sweatshops; dust-bowl farmers loading up their trucks with the remains of shattered lives. I hear the voices of the people in Altgeld Gardens, and the voices of those who stand outside this country's borders, the weary, hungry bands crossing the Rio Grande. I hear all of these voices clamoring for recognition, all of them asking the very same questions that have come to shape my life, the same questions that I sometimes, late at night, find myself asking the Old Man [his father]. What is our community, and how might that community be reconciled with our freedom? How far do our obligations reach? How do we transform mere power into justice, mere sentiment into love? The answers I find in law books don't always satisfy me -- for every Brown v. Board of Education I find a score of cases where conscience is sacrificed to expedience or greed. And yet, in the conversation itself, in the joining of voices, I find myself modestly encouraged, believing that so long as the questions are still being asked, what binds us together might somehow, ultimately prevail.
* * *

Below is Barack Obama reading from the introduction to his book.

Perhaps he will write that book about his mother. I will read it if he does.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I love Google Transit and its developers!

The Derek at My 'Not' so Ordinary Day alerted me today to a cool new feature at Google Transit, the world's absolutely best, most wonderful, innovative new concept in helping people get around on transit. And, best of all, get around on transit in Sacramento using Sacramento Regional Transit.

Here's a screen shot of what's new:
Instant gratification for taking the bus! Sure, it's $2.25 for the bus, but it would cost $4.85 to make the same trip in a car.

When you think about it, this is the sort of "easy" thing that you can do once you get the basic information. Google already knows the distance of the trip. All it needs to do is multiply that by the per-mile cost of owning a car.

As Google Transit explains:

How do you estimate the cost of driving in the US?

Cost of driving is based on the average mileage for the shortest route between your start and end addresses, multiplied by the cost per mile that the IRS allows businesses to deduct.

According to the IRS, these rates "are based on an annual study of the fixed and variable costs of operating an automobile." Runzheimer International, an independent contractor, conducted the study for the IRS. However, this is only an estimate and doesn't consider tolls, parking fees, or variations in gas mileage for different types of cars.
Simply too cool!

The Bus

"I changed as a result of that bus trip, in a fundamental way. It was the sort of change that's important not because it alters your concrete circumstances in some way (wealth, security, fame) but because it hints at what might be possible and therefore spurs you on, beyond the immediate exhilaration, beyond and subsequent disappointments, to retrieve that thing that you once, ever so briefly, held in your hand. That bus ride kept me going, I think. Maybe it still does."

--Barack Obama, "Dreams From My Father," Page 242
Yes We Can . . . be transitarians

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

But first, this commercial break . . .

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Saturday, February 16, 2008

Thank you, very much (continued)

I'm not a big fan of the driver who has the 7:28 p.m. run on the No. 82 route from 65th Street to American River College on Thursday and Friday. She's the one I wrote about here. She has taken to parking her bus away from the stop and turning off the lights during her break. But the weather has been gorgeous and even with the night chill the wait for the bus is at least tolerable.

Friday evening I read my book under the street light at the No. 82 stop at the 65th Street transit center. People would come up and check the schedule, and more than once I explained that the bus parked with its lights off on the 65th Street side of the bus lot was ours. The driver was on a break, I would tell them. She won't be here early, I explained. In fact, she's usually a minute or two late. I'm Mr. Know-It-All.

The driver was indeed a minute or two late. About a half-dozen people boarded with me.

By the time the bus got to Sacramento State, I was already deep into my book. In my peripheral vision I noted several people getting off and a much larger number boarding.

And then I noticed the smell. Oh, well, I said to myself. It wouldn't be the first time that a member of the unwashed hoards rode with me on the bus.

"What is that smell?" asked a woman with long gray hair who had taken a seat across the aisle from me. "That was the same smell on the bus I just got off."

The answer to the question was obvious: urine. It smelled like someone had left a diaper well past the saturation point. The lady's suggestion that the smell was on all buses -- or at least all buses that she rides -- reminded me of the children's fart rebuttal: A fox smells its own hole first.

But everyone could smell it, and it was getting noticeably stronger my the minute. Several people who had boarded at Sacramento State left the bus. After the woman across the aisle asked again what the smell was, the driver got up and walked to the back of the bus. The last half of the bus was now deserted except for a short, heavyset black woman of indeterminant age. She was seated on the back bench in the corner, surrounded by a collection of small packages and paper bags. She was wearing several layers of clothing appropriate to the weather. She wasn't obviously filthy, but she was clearly the source of the smell.

The driver, who is equally heavyset and equally black, walked up to the woman and told her to get off the bus. It was not a request.

There was some additional discussion between the driver and the woman that I didn't catch, but I was left with the impression that the woman didn't really understand what was happening.

The driver went back to the front of the bus. The woman gathered up her packages and, without protest, left via the side the door. Immediately, several people who had left the bus reboarded and everyone next to a window was reaching for the latches to open the small top windows.

The driver started the bus and drove a few yards away from the bus stop and then stopped the bus. She got up and left the bus without explanation.

A guy who had boarded at Sac State and then left and then reboarded explained that the woman had indeed been on the bus from downtown. He said he wasn't going to ride with her again. He could take the No. 87 to get where he was going, he said.

Several minutes passed. It was too dark outside to see what was happening. Eventually, the driver returned. She popped the hatch in the ceiling above her seat and then sat down. Soon we were on our way, the breeze from the open windows quickly removing the smell.

I'm not a big fan of this driver, but I did greatly appreciated not having to ride the next 30 minutes with the smell of urine soaking the air.

When I got home and retold the story to the wife, her first question was, What happened to the woman?

I had to admit I didn't know. Four more No. 82s passed through Sac State on their way to ARC on that Friday night. Maybe one of those drivers had a higher tolerance for the smell. Maybe she tried to sleep in the Sac State bus shelter, waiting for the campus police to roust her and tell her she had to leave.

It would be nice if we as a society had the compassion necessary to fund adequate mental health treatment for the less fortunate among us. At least then we could pretend to care.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Today's vocabulary lesson: APP AR

I want to write in the morning. All last year I was able to steal a half-hour or so before I started work and knock out something about the day's ride in. Now I can't, and I'm having some trouble adjusting.

Trying to be creative or at least coherent late at night just doesn't have the same feel.

Today, for instance, I jotted down some notes riding to work. Something like this:


Sometimes you get so deep into your personal world, so immersed in a book, that you forget where you are. And then you realize something is out of place. It is like waking from a dream. What's real, and what's the dream? A fog slowly lifts.

The bus isn't moving. That was what was wrong. I looked up from my book and quickly identified where we were stopped. It wasn't one of the route's timing points. There was no one getting off the bus. It was just me and the three other people who had been on the bus when I boarded. I tried looking outside, but I didn't see anyone.

Several anxious minutes passed with each actual second. Is the driver even on the bus? I couldn't see the driver from my vantage point in the back of the bus. Did she walk across the street to get a cup of coffee? Not likely, I decided. We were on the wrong side of Watt Avenue. Damn, this was weird.

But then, without a word, the driver put the bus in gear and pulled back into traffic.

I think I know what happened, and I'm quite impressed.

The other day I was reading RT's Glossary of Transit Terms and discovered something new. I was already aware of the concept of "Time Points":
A designated location and time that a bus or LR vehicle can arrive before -- but not leave earlier than -- the stated time as indicated in the route schedule.
Often in the evenings, the buses will spend several minutes at timing points, waiting to catch up with the schedule.

What I discovered in the glossary was the concept of APP AR
An abbreviation for "approximate arrival" time point. RT's operating policy permits driver discretion to depart these time points up to three minutes earlier than specific time noted in the schedule.
This rule, of course, explains why RT drivers and the 321-BUSS people warn riders that you have to be at a stop a minimum of three minutes early if you want to be sure to catch the bus.

In the little more than a year I've been riding to and from work, I've never had a driver invoke the APP AR rule. I've had a driver stop outside a Starbucks and rush in and out with a coffee. I've had more than one driver stop and rush into a convenience store to get a snack or a soda. I've had drivers take potty breaks. But never have I experienced waiting to catch up with the APP AR.

I've decided this is one really dedicated driver.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An alliance for transit funding

A court ruling Jan. 31 said the state's raid last year on public transportation funds to help balance the state budget was illegal. Well, $409 million of the $1.18 billion taken from the state Public Transportation Account was illegally diverted, the judge ruled.

But since it will likely be an easy task for the state to shift accounts around to make the remaining $409 million theft pass legal muster, representatives of transit agencies are considering taking their cause to the public. According to an editorial:

Transit officials are discussing the possibility of going even further, perhaps forming an alliance with other state transportation interests to back an initiative that would put a gas tax or carbon fee on the ballot, with the funds earmarked for public transit.
This is fine. But an effort that focuses only on public transit isn't going to get the majority support necessary for passage in a statewide election.

Sure, people say transit is important. In heavily urbanized areas such as the Bay Area, transit is recognized as a essential service. But in areas such as suburban Sacramento or any of the outlying communities, transit is viewed as something only the poor and disabled folk use. Deserving folks, yes, but additional freeway lanes and road maintenance are viewed as a higher priority.

So transit needs some allies outside the highway lobby.

The purpose of a carbon tax would be to encourage a reduction in our global warming footprint. Therefore, the benefits of the tax should go to all of those transportation options that meet this goal -- not just transit, but funding for improved bikeways and making communities more walkable.

Transit people need to join forces with bicycle advocates and people who promote walking. Such an alliance could get majority support, even in Roseville. Well, OK, in my dreams. But statewide, a carbon tax, or an increase in the fuel tax -- a global warming tax -- that raised money for transit and bikes and walking would go much further than a transit-only proposal.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Books and buses

It's 7:40 p.m. on a Friday night. I'm waiting for an outbound train that is supposed to arrive at 7:41 p.m. The question occurs to me: Am I the only person in the world who is happy to have an hour-long ride home in which to read and unwind?

This seems odd. Certainly it is at odds with the every-second-is-precious philosophy that consumes most commuters. I could drive to work and forgo the books. It's not like crowded highways are an issue in Sacramento when I go to work at 11 a.m. or travel home after 7 p.m..

No, it's the books. I crave the reading time, and I just don't have the discipline to set aside the time to read at home.

Tonight I didn't even mind -- well, OK, just a little -- when I arrived at 65th Street and realized I had been blocked into an extra 15-minute wait for the next No. 82 bus. I sat down at the base of a street light and read my book. The bus arrived 10 minutes early, and the driver allowed me and two other passengers to wait inside while he went off somewhere.

Dog-tired from the grind my job has become, seated in a warm, well-lit bus, the ride home reading my book was just fine with me.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

RT's blind customer service (continued)

And then you witness something and you realize how good you have it, and you feel embarrassed to have even mentioned the trifling inconveniences of block bus schedules and the lack of late-hour service. That's how I feel tonight.

Back in November, I wrote about an incident where a light rail operator forced the train doors closed while one blind Sacramento State student waited for another to make his way to the train. The two blind students, a young woman and a young man, were left at the station by the train operator.

Then on Feb. 2, a woman named Kate stopped by and added a comment to my post:

Hey, its really funny that i happened to find out about this posting because we are positive this was us. The 82 line always seems to be late, I've almost gotten used to having to run for light rail which i was supposed to have 10 minutes to wait for.

They want more people to take RT rather then drive but they make it inconvenient. Why ride a bus that will probably be late, because they are SO often, which could cause you to miss a connection and be late, when you can just drive. As a blind person since birth RT has always, unfortunately, been apart of my life.

Also so many of the drivers don't have a clue where they are going. I tell the driver where I am going since i can't see the stop and so many times they have no idea, some straight say they don't know and others seem to just kind of pick a stop and tell me I'm at my stop, that is the most annoying and frustrating. Complaining to RT does nothing,they don't ever seem to care about their riders. Ok I'm done on my RT rant.
As I explained to her in my follow-up comment, I'm pretty sure the guy she was with that night rides my No. 82 bus home from Sac State in the evenings. He boarded the bus tonight at Sac State and told the driver where he wanted to go. He then took the seat behind the driver.

The bus left the campus. This was one of the older buses. It doesn't have an automated voice that announces each stop like the newer buses. The bus rattled and bumped along Fair Oaks and turned onto Howe. The driver didn't bother with announcing the stops. He turned east on Northrop. A couple of people got off at Northrop and Howe. The bus then made its way down Northrop until a rider pulled the stop request cord.

The driver pulled the bus to the curb and opened the door.

The blind guy stood up and faced the driver and asked, "Is this the Carro stop?"

The passenger who had requested the stop walked past the blind guy and exited. I didn't hear anyone answer the blind guy's question. I didn't know what stop we were at.

"Is this the Carro stop?" the blind guy asked again, a note of urgency creeping into his voice.

The driver said something, but I didn't hear what he said. A passenger next to the blind guy explained that this was the Northrop and Fulton stop, and the Carro stop was one stop back.

At this point the driver bounded out of his chair, grabbed the blind guy's arm and ushered him off the bus. The driver then walked the blind guy back to the Carro stop. It took a few minutes for them to make it to Carro and for the driver to return. Fortunately, it's only about a tenth of a mile between the stops. I heard just one person on the bus grumble about the delay. The rest of us, me in particular, were silently grateful that the driver helped the blind guy and didn't just let him off the bus to make his own way back.

I like this driver. He's friendly and cheerful. He's one of the drivers who leaves his bus open while he's on his break, allowing riders to stay warm while they wait. When he finishes his break, he counts heads and checks that everyone has a pass and off we go. And as I've said before, that's a piece of courtesy I wish every bus driver offered, even if it is against RT policy.

But when one of these old buses creeks and groans down the street there's no way to know which stop is coming, especially if you are blind. This was a dramatic demonstration of why drivers are asked to announce each stop on these older buses. Certainly when the driver knows he has a blind passenger, he has a special obligation to announce the stops.


My new job requires more flexibility on the hours I work. And that, unfortunately, keeps banging up against the inflexibility of Sacramento Regional Transit bus schedules.

Tuesday night, I was told to work a 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. shift. That eliminated any chance of leaving the car at home. The last bus connection home leaves 65th Street at 9:43 p.m. But the light rail trains to and from the Watt/I-80 station have two runs after 11 p.m. So I drove to the park and ride lot on Interstate 80 and left my car at the Roseville Road light rail stop.

The crowd on light rail in the early afternoon is not your average sea of gray bureaucrats ebbing and flowing as a tide into downtown office buildings. No, this was quite a lively lot -- and very colorful in appearance and language. And loud. And perhaps a bit intimidating. But I made it to work unmolested, walking from 16th Street rather than waiting for an outbound train to 23rd Street.

By 11:10 p.m. I was ready to head home. The walk back to 16th Street was quiet. The only people I encountered were coming out of Whiskey Wild, the new bar on Q Street next to the railroad tracks.

At the 16th Street station a half-dozen or so people waited for the next train. With the exception of a panhandler I felt compelled to tip a dollar, the wait was quiet. The wife, however, kept calling every 10 minutes to check on my well-being. That was not necessary.

I boarded the outbound Watt/I-80 train at 11:34 p.m. Inside was a burly security guard and three other riders. By the time I reached the park and ride lot, it was just me, the guard and the driver on the car. I was home by 12:15 a.m.

My regular shift is 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. A 9:39 a.m. No. 82 bus makes connections at 65th Street that get be to work at 10:45. That's pretty good. But today I wanted to take a 10:09 bus, which is what should be the next bus on a line with 30-minute interval service. But there is no 10:09 bus. The next No. 82 comes to my stop at 10:24 a.m.

I've written about being "blocked" before. After every four No. 82 buses, there's a 45 minute gap. I realize drivers are due their breaks, but I'm not convinced that disrupting the schedule is the only way to accommodate that.

Having to wait an extra 15 minutes on a line that already only runs every 30 minutes just feels like RT made the easy choice, ignoring or dismissing the interests of riders. It's just another cut from the blade of RT customer service. I lick my wounds and soldier on, ever the loyal transitarian, but I also understand why people with a choice ask "Why bother?"

* * *

As a follow up to my post about the RT sting operation, I realize now that what I thought were Sacramento Police Department black and whites were more likely RT police cars. Still, the effect was the same. The operation had moved down to 13th Street on Tuesday and was back at 23rd Street today. RT really should be publicizing this effort.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Party of One on the bus

Finished Daniel Weintraub's "Party of One: Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Rise of the Independent Voter." Weintraub does a fine job of crafting an admiring portrait of Schwarzenegger as governor.

Weintraub is upfront about where he comes from in writing the book:

For the past four years, I've watch Schwarzenegger do his job as closely as anyone. And I've watched with a special interest. Like Schwarzenegger, I am not wedded to the views of any one political party. I have been a registered Republican and a registered Democrat, and I am currently registered with no party at all. I consider myself to be a fiscal conservative with a bit of libertarian streak. I believe in individual responsibility. When it comes to social policy, I think government should act only as a last resort, and mainly to ensure equal opportunity, not equal results. I am an old-school liberal, a live-and-let-live person who believes government should generally leave people alone to do their own thing. And I am an environmental progressive, because when you blow soot in my lungs or dump toxins into my water, you are no longer just doing your own thing. You're messing with my life. As it turns out, these beliefs are a pretty good match for Schwarzenegger's.
And while Weintraub does criticize some of the governor's actions, his personal disappointment is clear.

Of course, I'm not a disinterested observer any more than Weintraub. I'm a yellow-dog Democrat raised by a woman who was inspired to become politically active by the Adlai Stevenson presidential campaigns. And I'm also a Democrat who was so disappointed by Gov. Gray Davis' performance in office that I voted for the recall, and I even voted for Schwarzenegger on the off chance that maybe he was something different.

Weintraub explains the Schwarzenegger's difference, how his ideas are not limited by partisan ideology. Weintraub argues that Schwarzenegger's success, at least in terms of popularity among voters, derives from this nonpartisan focus. This, Weintraub says, meshes well with the desires of Californians to have government officials working to fix problems rather than scoring ideological points.

Unfortunately, Weintraub has written the book before the story is over. Substantial portions of the book deal with issues -- health care, school reform and legislative redistricting -- that have since fallen victim to the economic downturn that has struck California. While his criticism of the governor for failing to attack the structural budget issues is prescient, it doesn't compensate for the way the book leaves these issues hanging.

Weintraub explains in the introduction:
I hope this book serves as a guide to readers of all political persuasions who want to better understand the Schwarzenegger phenomenon, its effect on California, and its potential application to the rest of the nation.
This he has done. Writing the book a year later -- or, better yet, when the governor left office -- might have provided the opportunity to hammer home the tragedy of the governor's failure to get a handle on budget reform. Still, Weintraub has written a valuable book. I imagine it will be one of several contemporary works used by future historians as original source material.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The light under RT's bushel

Light rail operators don't routinely interrupt the recorded voice that announces each stop. So when the driver came on the public address system this morning it was obvious something was out of the ordinary. Unfortunately, it was not at all clear what the operator said. Even after he repeated the message, the best I could make out was that it had something to do with the 23rd Street station, the next stop on the inbound train.

As the train approached the station, everyone got a pretty good idea of what was coming next. Parked on the sidewalk next to the inbound tracks were two Sacramento Police Department black and whites. At the rear of one car was a man in handcuffs. Another man appeared to be receiving a ticket.

When the train stopped, one passenger tried to bolt but was quickly convinced to stick around by waiting police officers.

Soon the Sacramento Regional Transit fare inspector and a couple of police escorts made their way through the light rail car, asking each rider to produce a ticket or pass. Besides the guy who tried to run, I didn't notice anyone else caught not paying.

One of the criticisms repeatedly leveled against RT is that not enough is done to keep people who don't pay from riding the trains. This was a clear, unequivocal response by RT.

So I looked at RT's Web site to see if it offered some further explanation, a notice that would let people know that RT was making an effort to improve.


Nothing under "Service Status Updates."

Nothing under "Safety Information & Crime Prevention Tips for RT Passengers."

Nothing under "RT Newsroom."

Monday's Sacramento Bee had a story that began, "Federal anti-terrorism agents with guard dogs and cameras showed up at the downtown train depot briefly last week, then just as mysteriously disappeared, leaving passengers at the normally sleepy depot scratching heads."

More Visual Intermodal Protection and Response today? Didn't seem likely.

Why does RT insist upon hiding its light under a bushel? A few dozen people who witnessed today's sweep know about it. Maybe they will tell a friend or two. But people who don't ride transit, who don't think it is safe, who fear riffraff they imagine fill each train -- those people will remain ignorant.

Sacramento Regional Transit needs to do more to tell people about these efforts. People who have a choice whether to ride transit or take their car need to understand and appreciate the efforts RT makes to create a transit system inviting to everyone.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Yes We Can -- Vote Feb. 5

I just love the "Yes We Can Song" by of the Black Eyed Peas and director and filmmaker Jesse Dylan, Bob Dylan's son. The music video, which was inspired by Barack Obama's "Yes We Can" speech, includes appearances by Scarlett Johansson, John Legend, Herbie Hancock, Kate Walsh, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Adam Rodriquez, Kelly Hu, Adam Rodriquez, Amber Valetta and Nick Cannon.

According to an ABC News story,"Dylan and say they did not coordinate the production or release of this video with the Obama campaign and the filmmakers say they don't even know if Obama is aware of the video."

Bus Pirates!

Bus Pirates -- The Movie

HT rtdriver and Buses, Trains and the Media

Friday, February 1, 2008

A one year blogversary

Friday, February 2, 2007
A Regional Transit diary: Day 1

I've decided to start a second blog in order to write about my latest self-improvement project.

I've decided to leave my car at home and use RT to get around. I have a bus stop less than 50 yards from my front porch and my employer offers half-price monthly passes. The gas saved by parking one of the family cars should more than cover the monthly pass. And I'll have all that commute time to spend catching up on my reading.

Why do this?

My New Year's resolution was to walk every day, and I've been doing it every week day and most weekend days. Since there are four Starbucks within a half-hour walk from my office, I've got the entire midtown grid to wander about.

With my walking resolution success it occurred to me that I didn't need to drive. My son is now in high school, and I no longer have to drop everything and ferry him around. I also have been wanting to do more reading, but finding I'm unable to set the time aside. Since my workday runs from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. or 6:30 p.m., I don't have to compete with the morning crush of commuters.


I'm looking forward to the challenge of focusing on the benefits of riding transit and letting go of the concept that time is money and every second that isn't productive is somehow wasted.
That was then. This is now. And while it hasn't been a perfect year, it has been workable and at times even enjoyable.

Best of all, I was able to read 39 books while riding to and from work on the bus.
George Crile's "Charlie Wilson's War" (Jan. 27)
Joseph Cummins' "Anything for a Vote" (Jan. 8)
Bill Boyarsky's "Big Daddy" (Dec. 30)
Valerie Plame Wilson's "Fair Game" (Dec. 16)
Bob Drogin's "Curveball" (Dan. 7)
Marcus Luttrell's "Lone Survivor" (Nov. 29)
William Burg's "Sacramento's Streetcars" (Nov. 22)
David Halberstam's "Coldest Winter" (Nov. 19)
Terry Jones' "Douglas Adams's Starship Titanic" (Oct. 23)
William Burg's "Sacramento's Southside Park" (Oct. 16)
Kirsten Holmstedt's "Band of Sisters" (Oct. 12)
Paul Dickson's "Sputnik" (Sept. 28)
Seymour Hersh's "The Dark Side of Camelot" (Sept. 19)
Robert "Diesel" Kroese's "Antisocial Commentary" (Sept. 5)
Mariane Pearl's "A Mighty Heart" (Aug. 26)
Barbara W. Tuchman's "Bible and Sword" (Aug. 16)
Philip Caputo's "Means of Escape" (Aug. 3)
J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" (July 26)
P.D. James' "The Children of Men" (July 19)
Genichiro Takahashi's "Sayonara, Gangsters" (July 17)
Walter Isaacson's "Einstein" (July 8)
Ethan Rarick's "California Rising" (June 21)
Richard Brautigan's "So the Wind Won't Blow It All Away" (June 10)
Richard Brautigan's "The Abortion" (June 6)
Richard Brautigan's "Revenge of the Lawn" (June 4)
R. Harris Smith, "OSS" (May 30)
Richard Brautigan's "In Watermelon Sugar" (May 19)
Richard Brautigan's "The Pill versus the Springhill Mine Disaster" (May 17)
Richard Brautigan's "Trout Fishing in America" (May 17)
Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr.'s "The Crisis of the Old Order" (May 13)
Ishmael Beah's "A Long Way Gone" (April 30)
Rick Newman and Don Shepperd's "Bury Us Upside Down" (April 22)
Keith Lowell Jensen's "Oh Holy Day" (April 5)
Joe Mathews' "The People's Machine" (April 5)
George Black's "No Other Choice" (March 19)
Eva Rutland's "When We Were Colored" (March 4)
John Barron's "Breaking the Ring" (Feb. 28)
Barack Obama's "The Audacity of Hope" (Feb. 24)
John Le Carre's "The Mission Song" (Feb. 8)