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, April 30, 2008

Just another unremarkable morning on the bus.

A man in a summer-weight brown suit, beige shirt and dark tie boards the bus. He has a black bag over one shoulder and a backpack. In his arms he carries an infant girl with wispy blonde hair wearing a pink dress. He expertly manages the maneuver required to simultaneously unload and reposition his baggage while seating himself and his daughter as the bus jerks and starts down the street.

A young boy wearing a backpack and carrying a cell phone boards the bus. I hear a woman give the driver instructions as the boy feeds coins one at a time into the fare box. The boy takes a seat just inside the door and the woman walks away pushing a stroller. She waves. The boy, however, is intently focused on his cell phone.

A Sacramento State student wearing a Manchester United shirt loads his bike on the front of the bus and boards. He takes a seat. On the back of his shirt is Wayne Rooney's name. No doubt the student is celebrating yesterday's victory by the Red Devils over my favorite team, Barcelona. Now it will be an all-English Champions League final in Moscow on May 21. I prefer Chelsea over Liverpool. The two meet this afternoon to decide who will play Manchester United.

A young couple are cuddling in the seat in front of me. I'm in the first elevated row in the back. This is where I was seated last night with the wife. The cuddling couple were on that bus as well and also in the same seat. Transit symmetry of sorts.

A man in a security guard uniform sits across from the boy in the front. There's nothing to guard.

A forty-something man with an expensive looking polo shirt, immaculate hair cut and stylishly trimmed mustache takes a seat. As he shifts his weight one of his bags falls into the aisle with a loud thud. He makes no move to pick it up. I notice then that he has a hearing aid buried deep in his ear. Eventually he notices the missing package and finds it in the aisle.

A guy behind me and across the aisle is loudly talking on a cell phone. His feet are up and over the back of the seat in front of him. He wants someone to burn a CD for him.

Rumbling and bouncing. Speeding up and slowing down. Stopping and starting.

I hear a motherly female voice tell the boy in the front of the bus that the next stop is his. It sounds as if the voice is coming from behind me. The bus makes the turn onto Morse and pulls to a stop in front of Kaiser Hospital. "This is where you get off," the female voice says. Only then do I realize it's the driver. The boy says "Thanks" and leaves.

The towheaded girl is quiet in her father's lap. The Manchester United fan is manipulating buttons on his phone using only his thumb. It's a very big thumb and a very small phone. The security guard gets up to get off and realizes he's one stop early. Not a problem. The driver continues to the next stop. The guy on the cell phone now has his feet on the floor of the bus. He is talking quietly to his cell phone customer service representative. He is asking about text message pricing. "Fifteen cents each?" he asks. A pause. "You can do that?" A lengthy pause.

The bus is entering the realm of off-campus student housing. Each stop adds another Sac State rider and the odd extra passenger heading to points between.

The guy in the polo shirt has his arm draped along the back of his seat. He studies the scenery as we roll along. In front of him, the little girl is making little girl noises and her father is making comforting father noises and otherwise giving her his attention. The father and daughter are regulars on the No. 82. He has another daughter, a few years older. Perhaps she's in preschool now.

We arrive at Sac State and the man in the suit with the infant girl gathers his two bags and leaves the bus. On the sidewalk, he raises his daughter and places her on his shoulders, her legs wrapped around his neck. Off they stride into the campus. Behind them the Manchester United fan has retrieved his bike and rides off.

A half-dozen passengers ride with me to 65th Street where we have an accident -- shortly after I get off the bus, the inbound train arrives, shaving 15 minutes off my morning commute.

Just another unremarkable morning on the bus.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Coupling on the bus

The wife has discovered the joys of transit meet-ups. Now if I just had reliable work hours. Monday we were able to meet at 65th Street and take the No. 82 bus home. Tonight, she had to kill a half-hour when I got delayed by work. Luckily, she managed to loiter in Office Depot without buying anything.

This will only work on Mondays and Tuesdays, but it adds a new dimension to the transit experience.

Actually, the day was a grand success from a transit perspective. The wife wanted me to pay our supplemental property tax bill at the county offices downtown. A quick check of revealed that I had two or three options depending on how lucky I was feeling. And when I missed the early option because I wasn't paying attention, the backup plan worked just as well.

I suppose that people who live in cities with real transit systems will find my day unremarkable. But here in the domain of Sacramento Regional Transit, it is plenty surprising to find running errands a convenient transit option.

Sacramento Regional Transit should print up some bumper stickers that say "My Other Car Is RT" and hand them out to regular riders as a promotional gimmick. I could put it on the car the wife is leaving at home. We've gone a month now on a half-tank of gas.

Monday, April 28, 2008

RT's new, improved TMP Meeting Schedule

Sacramento Regional Transit has apparently had a change of heart about its schedule of open houses and forums to discuss the district's Transit Master Plan.

Back on April 12, I posted RT's schedule for Open Houses and Forums:

And commented: Who is going to be available between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday? Look at the calendar: Not one weekend date. Granted, everyone appreciates why RT doesn't want to hear from people about its weekend service, but this calendar is unlikely to attract anyone except the "professional" interests -- mobility associations, groups representing the elderly. No one speaks for the "choice" riders, the people who have other options, the people who are the key if RT wants to increase its ridership.

Well, today I received a notice that RT had modified one of its Transit Master Plan site pages. When I checked, I discovered that, lo and behold, RT has revised that schedule.

That's certainly an improvement, even without any weekend meetings. The complete list of meetings is available here.

But apparently the focus of the meetings has also changed.

The Web site for the TMP used to say (Thank you, Google cache):

To help us update the Transit Master Plan, we are engaging our communities to gain their input through a wide ranging outreach program. Activities will include interactive workshops throughout RT's district, community meetings and events and a plan to reach out to the media. ...
Now it says:
Everyone is invited to get involved! Your ideas and comments will help shape the future of transit in the Sacramento region. Please join us at an open house to learn about the TMP and provide your input.
And when you check out that meeting schedule you discover a new, more limited purpose of the meetings:
We’ve developed three scenarios that will help RT test a mix of land use and transit options. These are available at our public open houses and on our TMP web site for review and comment. We look forward to hearing from you or seeing you at one of the following open houses or public presentations ...
The wife says it would be unfair to say, Now more people will have an opportunity thanks to the schedule change to have less input into the formation of RT's Transit Master Plan.

Instead, the wife suggests that you can still take RT's survey here. Remember, she says, the answer to Q2 is "Cup holders on the bus."

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Ambush Alley on the bus

Finished reading British journalist Tim Pritchard's "Ambush Alley: The Most Extraordinary Battle of the Iraq War."

This is the story of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, who were tasked with the job of securing two bridges at Nasiriyah, the Iraqi town made famous for Americans when an Army maintenance convoy made a wrong turn and ran into an ambush and a young private named Jessica Lynch was captured.

The story covers a single day, March 23, 2003, from the discovery of the smashed Army convoy to the completion of the mission to open the road to Baghdad for the main Marine force.

Pritchard writes:

"On March 23, 2003, eighteen marines from Charilie Company were killed in action between the southern Euphrates Bridge and the northern Saddam Canal Bridge. Over thirty-five were injured. It was the single heaviest loss suffered by the U.S. Military during the entire combat phase of Operation Iraqi Freedom."
I don't know where the "most extraordinary battle" aspect is supposed to play into this. Nothing went according to plan. Tanks became mired in a sewage bog. Commanders had no idea where the various units were on the battlefield. And, worst of all, as many as 10 of the 18 deaths suffered by Charlie Company were caused by two Air Force A-10 jets who were mistakenly told there were no friendlies around the northern bridge.

Pritchard interviewed the marines and tells the story from their perspective, from the boredom of the journey from Kuwait to the horror of battle. If anything, the "extra" of the "ordinary" in the "battle" on March 23 was the way that the individual marines put their training to work.
"From the TC's hatch (Alpha Company commander Capt. Mike) Brooks watched his marines dismount (from the AAV, lightly armored amphibious assault vehicles) and scatter into a 180-degree perimeter. He was heartened at the way they reacted. He'd seen many of them in action at the combined arms exercise over the summer when they'd practiced as a helo-borne company. Several had struggled through training, getting things badly wrong because they were either out of shape, lazy, or just slow. He knew some of them had checkered backgrounds, were troublemakers, and carried a whole lot of baggage with them. Now, amid the flying metal, the explosions, and the swirling dust, he saw all that stuff go away. Individually, they were nothing special, but when they came together they were amazing. They were moving together, reacting to what was going on around them, taking the initiative. There was coherence, which gave him an enormous sense of pride. He was surprised that the marines who had struggled with training were now the ones who seemed to be taking control."
But in the end it is the individual who fights the war, and it is the individual who lives with the consequences.

Lance Corporal Edward Castleberry was an AAV driver whose vehicle crashed in Ambush Alley during an effort to evacuate wounded. Castleberry and the marines in his vehicle were able to evict an Iraqi family from a house and take up defensive positions. Without a functioning radio, they held off Iraqi fighters, not knowing if they would all die in their Alamo. But eventually Castleberry and the others were rescued. In the evening, as he was digging in to a defensive position, battalion commander Lt. Col. Rick Grabowski came up to him and said, "You did a great job."
"The more Castleberry thought about that day, the more wound up he became. I'm going through some sort of religious meltdown. His mom had wanted him to go to church. But that night he was losing all sense of religion. He thought about the women and children he shot. He remembered one kid in particular. They'd shot an Iraqi dead from the house in the middle of Ambush Alley. This little kid, maybe the dead man's son, who couldn't have been more than ten years old, ran out and picked up the abandoned AK-47. He lay on the ground and started firing it. Castleberry and some of the others shot the young boy, punching bullet holes right through him. The kid did a sort of combat roll, stood up, and then fell down dead. Castleberry knew that he would shoot hundreds more kids like that to save the life of just one marine. That's how fucked up this job is. How could God let this happen? He tortured himself with the vision of (Lance Corporal David) Fribley's broken body. And then you look in the troop compartment of your track and there is a guy there with his entrails pouring out of him, his body blown to pieces and completely desecrated. And yet the day before he was laughing at you because someone had taken a photo of you while you were shitting. That's what had turned him against God. And now he didn't know how he was supposed to find any sort of faith. Trouble is, if I believe in God, I'm really screwed because I killed a lot of people out there."

Postscript: There's something of a local angle in this. Major David Sosa, the operations officer of the 1st Battalion, 2nd Marines, became commander of Recruiting Station Sacramento after he returned from Iraq.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wayne's world

The Bee has a letter today from a guy named Wayne Bruns. Wayne is an unhappy former Sacramento Regional Transit customer.

"During my rides, I encountered spaced-out drug addicts, boisterous gangs of youths, ticketless riders, fresh vomit and an overall lack of security presence that became unnerving."
As someone who feels compelled to defend RT, my first response is to disregard Wayne's hyperbole. After all, what magic power does Wayne possess that allows him to know when he is in the presence of "ticketless riders"?

But regular readers of this blog will appreciate why I can't deny that sometimes -- not always, not often, but sometimes -- riding transit can be "too intimidating" -- even for a guy who would be loath to describe himself as an "older person."

Yesterday, I worked at home for the first half of the day. (Go Barça!) At around 2 p.m. I was standing at the 65th Street light rail station waiting for the inbound train. Nearby was a man who was yelling.

At first the guy wasn't yelling at anything in particular. But after a few minutes he started yelling at a guy all dressed up in a cycling outfit who was eating a sandwich next to his bike. The more the cyclist ignored the guy, the louder the guy got. He was hoping up and down and back and forth and gesturing, but he wasn't approaching the cyclist or making any other hostile moves. He was just yelling. (I suspect he's the same guy I met here.)

Eventually, the cyclist finished his sandwich and walked across Q Street to where a guy wearing a security guard uniform was waiting for a bus. The guard wasn't one of RT's contract Wachenhut guys. This was just some Joe heading home. But he was willing to help out the cyclist. He walked over and calmed the yeller down.

The train arrived and I didn't get a chance to see the end of the story. But that night on my bus ride home I got to share the ride with a boisterous guy who let everyone know he was from Detroit. He was seated with a woman. In the seat in front of him was a sleeping bag and backpack. He wasn't in the same league with the teen girls from Friday, but I think Wayne would have had an issue with riding with this guy.

The Bee uses Wayne's letter to segue into a discussion of Sacramento Regional Transit's efforts to get a law passed that would give them the authority to ban habitually misbehaving riders for as long as a year.

The Bee explains that RT's legislation was derailed by "civil libertarians, who feared it would be used by transit districts to target the mentally ill or homeless."

I consider myself a liberal guy, the sort of person who feels the homeless and the mentally ill deserve a break. Generally, I feel those "uncomfortable" riding with people different from themselves should just get over it. But as a daily rider of buses and light rail I don't see why disruptive behavior must be tolerated as some sort of civil right.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Off to work

Got to hurry. Time to go. What are you doing? Stop that. No time. Go! Go! Go!

It's a good thing I'm not a polygamist because getting the wife to her bus stop is a lot like herding cats. More than one wife just wouldn't work.

Today, the wife had a meeting downtown at 4th and P at 8 a.m. And because she was headed downtown instead of Rancho Cordova she was able to take the No. 82 that stops next door.

But she had to be on the curb by 6:28!

While the kid slept in, I made the wife's tea (remember, the answer to Q2 is "cup holders on the bus") and generally fretted. I'm one of those people who enjoys today's requirement that you get to the airport two hours before your flight. Before 9/11, everyone gave me grief about getting to the airport that early.

This morning, I'm worried that I'll have to drive the wife to an alternate stop if she misses the No. 82. From a transitarian point of view, I consider that cheating.

But thanks to my pushing and prodding and griping and agonizing, the wife made it out the door on time. Whew! (The wife disputes this account of events.)

While she walked to the bus stop I harnessed up the dog for her morning walk. The dog and I were a half-block past the stop when the bus arrived and carted off the wife. I waved. The dog found more interesting scents in a bush.

The wife's trip wasn't exactly perfect. Regional Transit's fixation with the Capitol and downtown proper creates a void in the region of 4th and P. The wife had to walk from 5th and L streets. (And why is it that the No. 38 doesn't go all the way to the end of P and back out Q?) But I reminded the wife that a proper transitarian diet, which she professes agreement with -- in principal, requires mixing walking with riding.

After the wife's meeting, she called me, and I did my 321-BUSS impersonation, telling her when the next train to Rancho Cordova would align with the bus she needed to take to reach her office. The bus connection delayed things, but I pretended that was good since it meant she had plenty of time to walk to the light rail station at 8th and O streets.

The wife caught the train and made the bus connection. It was like she was living in a city with a real transit network. She called me from the bus. She said she was happy she had taken the bus to the meeting. She has years of experience attending meetings downtown. She knows how annoying it can be trying to find a parking space.

Watching the scenry roll by the window of her bus, she enjoyed not driving.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The good and the bad

"Rain tomorrow," greeted the bus driver.

"Thanks," I said. "Guess I'll have to wear a coat."

It was chilly, and my shirt jacket wasn't doing its job. I welcomed the warmth of the bus as I settled into a seat and took out my book.

As we continued down the route, the driver greeted each regular rider with his weather forecast. More than one rider didn't know how to return his kindness, giving him a double-take before moving on into the bus.

Soon the bus was nearly full. Most of the passengers were either Sacramento State students or white-haired retirees out running errands.

If only all bus rides could be like this. But they are not. Some are hell on wheels.

That's what Friday had been like. It was the worst evening bus ride I have ever experienced. Well, maybe second only to this night or this night.

When I boarded the bus at the 65th Street transit center Friday evening, a group of black teens, mostly boys, were noisily loitering outside the No. 82 bus. Inside, four high school age girls, all black, were loudly holding court in the back rows.

Sharing a bus with teens is so common as to be unremarkable. But there was something odd about this group. It was as though they were feeding off each other, and the effect was both loud and troubling.

As the bus left the station, a wadded up piece of paper bounced off one of two white boys seated in the first row of the elevated seats in the back of the bus, followed by a round of snickers from the girls. One girl could be heard to say, "White boys to the front of the bus." When a plastic water bottle hit the back of the boys' seat and clattered on the floor I turned and looked at the girls. One of them ducked behind a seat, peaked out from the aisle side and then hid again.

The boys ignored the girls, despite the periodic bombardment. When the boys left, the girls turned their attention to a quiet Latino guy seated behind me. This is the guy I've tagged as the gentleman on the bus.

The girls pretended to be prostitutes, offering favors in exchange for money -- "big money."

"You want some of this pussy?" one girl taunted.

The guy remained silent.

The girls were too ignorant to know any Spanish, and their effort at pidgin Spanish was more insulting than their sexual taunts.

In the course of this running abuse, the girls missed their stop. When they realized this, one girl pulled the stop request cord and they all gathered around the side door. The bus stopped at the light at Fulton and Northrup, and the girls asked the driver to let them out there. They even had the gall to say, "Please" in innocent little girl voices.

The driver said the stop was across the street. They'd have to wait.

When the bus finally crossed the street on its way to the stop, one of the girls got a can of Silly String out and gave it to another girl. She then pushed the girl with the Silly String in front of her to the front of the bus, where the two waited for the bus to stop.

When the doors opened, the girl with the Silly String sprayed the driver and then both girls dashed off off the bus.

We sat at the stop for a while, and then the bus continued on its way.

Later, when my stop was approaching, I walked to the front of the bus and asked the driver if the camera in the bus had recorded "all of that."

"Sure," he said.

"Do you turn it in to someone later?" I asked.

"Wouldn't do much good," he said. "But if I see them at that stop again, then I can do something about it."

I tried blogging about that ride when I got home, but I didn't like what I wrote. I was also feeling guilty for not having come to the gentleman's aid or at least going to the driver and suggesting he toss the kids off the bus.

Sacramento Regional Transit has been trying to get legislation passed that would allow it to ban persistent troublemakers. I'm surprised they don't have that authority already. But after state legislators balked, RT has decided to convene a community task force.

According to an article in The Bee:

"Encouraged by the bill's author, state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, RT said it will pull together local mental health officials, homeless representatives and law enforcement officials.

"We're looking at what we can draw consensus around," RT official Mark Lonergan said.

"But we are still saying being able to keep people off the system who are a continual problem is a tool we'd like to have."
Tonight, the wife worked late and took the train to 65th Street. I met her there, and together we rode the No. 82 home. It was a very nice, relaxing ride. No troublesome teens, just Sac State students and workers taking the bus home at the end of the day.

Some days are like that.

Some days are not.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Bush's Law on the bus

Finished reading New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau's book, "Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice," which tells the story of the excesses of the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks.

This book is part memoir. Eric Lichtblau covered the Justice Department for the Los Angeles Times from 1999 to 2002 and then moved over to the New York Times. It was Lichtblau and New York Times intelligence reporter James E. Risen who won the 2006 Pulitzer Price for National Reporting for their articles on domestic spying. Much of the story revolves around the exigencies of reporting the story of the Justice Department's effort to switch gears from capturing criminals to capturing people thinking about committing crimes. In telling the story, Lichtblau recalls the high ideals that drive the best journalism and reveals the base competition for a scoop that governs judgments of newsworthiness all too often.

It was interesting to compare Lichtblau's perspective to that of Amy B. Zegart's academic study of the transformation -- or failure to transform -- described in "Spying Blind." Lichtblau focuses the blame at the top of the Justice Department.

"In May of 2001, Ashcroft's budget people began putting together their proposals for the next fiscal year. The preliminary listing of the department's top fiscal priorities made no mention of counterterrorism. ... The FBI had asked for an extra $58 million for 149 new counterterrorism field agents, two hundred analysts, and fifty-four more translators -- all critical areas in the fight against terrorism. Ashcroft's people at Main Justice nixed the increases in their budget plan. ... Ashcroft's budget package went over to the White House, minus the requested increases sought by the FBI for tracking terrorism. The date was September 10, 2001."

And on Sept. 11, 2001, everything changed.

Lichtblau spends much of the early part of the book somewhat breathlessly describing excesses of the post-9/11 effort to make sure there were no other terrorist sleepers cells planning another attack. I found myself sympathetic with the FBI. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, I think a case can be made that the nation was at war and certain rules needed to bend.

That, however, doesn't excuse the way the Bush administration went about bending those rules. Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush and the sycophants in the White House such as senior national security adviser David Addington clearly felt no law applied to them. The NSA effort to mine vast amounts of electronic communications could have been done within the law or, as was eventually done, the law changed. The use of SWIFT banking transaction information to trace the financing of terrorism could have been modified to answer legitimate privacy concerns.

The Bush administration didn't so much invoke emergency powers as it denied Congress its rightful, co-equal responsibility. And if left alone, it would have continued. Imagine the Bush administration without an unfettered free press. That's a scary, very scary, thought.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A summer with RT

Sacramento Regional Transit District is soliciting applications for its high school summer intern program.
Application packets must be received by RT by 5 p.m. on Wednesday, May 7, 2008.

Mulled on the bus

The bus groaned to a stop and the doors hissed open. The bus driver greeted me with a hearty guffaw.

"In that Hawaiian shirt you look just like Martin Mull," he laughed.

I took it as a compliment.

Yesterday I boarded the bus wearing one black shoe and one brown shoe. No one noticed. At least no one let me know they noticed. I got all the way until 2 p.m. before even I noticed. That cost me $25, the price of getting the kid to drive out to my office with one shoe. "No," I told him. "It doesn't matter which one." He brought the black shoe.

I was sure to look at my shoes several times this morning before getting on the bus, but I completely missed the Martin Mull look.

Yesterday, a member of the sea of anonymous visitors to this blog commented on my profile picture.

I like your blog and applaud your civic-mindedness in writing it, but geez Louise, you need to get a better picture of yourself dude! The one you have makes you look like a cross between E.T. and a turtle. I'm sure you're much handsomer than that!

To which I felt compelled to reply: OK, now you've insulted my kid. (See this post.)

Since the kid did that drawing, I've grown the beard back. Just couldn't stand the nakedness. I considered going back to the Simpson's look but decided to go au naturale. One of the nice things about the Internet and blogging is that you can pretend to be just about anyone -- even yourself.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The glass half full

Don't forget: Q2 is cup holders on buses. And while the cup of Sacramento Regional Transit is in mind, we puzzle over the half-empty, half-full question and raise one cup half full. Cheers.

The wife is tormented in her wish to ride transit by the fact that she cannot ride the bus that goes by our house, the No. 82. Instead, the kid must drive her to Watt and Whitney, where she catches either the No. 80 or 84, which when combined provide half-hour service. In the evening, the kid must pick her up and take her home.

In the morning, the No. 82 bus arrives at Watt and Whitney after the No. 84 bus. The next Watt bus, the No. 80, comes along in 39 minutes. (Yes, she even gets a block penalty -- the extra 15 minute wait on what is supposed to be half-hour service.) In the evening, the 80/84 buses run behind the No. 82. Thus, for the wife to catch the No. 82 requires a wait of 23 minutes.

But one person's wait is another person's opportunity, and the half-empty bus service suddenly looks half-full.

Yesterday, the wife decided she needed to make a grocery store run for a couple of items. She took her regular No. 80 bus from the Starfire light rail stop and then got off at Watt and Kings Way, a short walk from the Raley's market at Marconi and Watt. She found her items and was out standing at the Watt and Marconi stop in time to catch the No. 82 home.

The wife got to ride the bus home, the kid didn't have to interrupt his skateboard filming to chauffeur his mother, and transit as an option to run errands looked, for one brief moment, actually useful. The wife plans to make the same stop tonight. We need milk for the kid.

Serendipity is that place between half empty and half full.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The bus to the hospital

Yesterday, I poked at Sacramento Regional Transit for its fixation as a mobility service of last resort and specifically for detouring every bus on Watt to Kaiser Hospital's Morse Avenue facility. Karma requires its due.

As the No. 82 pulled to a stop in the left turn lane on Whitney this morning, I looked up from my book, curious to see if anyone was waiting at the stop on Watt that the wife uses to catch the 80/84 buses. The only person in the vicinity was a young woman in a calf-length tan denim dress and black long sleeve sweater blouse. She was walking away from the bus stop toward Whitney as I returned to my book.

When the bus turned the corner I expected it to continue past the empty bus stop, but instead the driver pulled to the curb and opened the door. I looked up again. In the doorway to the bus I could see the woman who had been walking away from the stop.

"Do you go to a hospital?" I heard her ask the driver.

"Which hospital?" the driver asked.

"Any hospital," she said.

"I go to Kaiser on Morse," he told her.

The woman then stepped onto the bus. Holding a single bill in her hand she asked how much it would cost to get to the hospital.

"That's enough," the driver said. There was some more discussion apparently about her need to get back. After she inserted the bill, the driver gave her a daily pass.

"How long will it take to get to the hospital?" the woman asked.

The driver explained his route. The woman listened and then took the first seat inside the door. Clutching her daily pass in one hand, she watched intently out the bus windshield as we rumbled down Watt Avenue.

"Thank you," she said. The driver didn't hear her. She got up and stood next to the driver. "Thank you," she said.

At Kaiser, the woman got off, and the bus went on its way, most of the passengers heading off to school at Sac State, a couple attending the Winterstein Adult School. I got off at the end of the line in the 65th Street transit center.

As I was leaving the bus, I could hear an arriving passenger ask the driver, "Do you go to Kaiser?"

"Yes, I do," he said.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The short reach of Regional Transit outreach

In the summer of 1984, an assistant to the general manager of Sacramento Regional Transit had an idea. He suggested to his boss, who had been on the job for a little more than a year and a half, that he should spend a week riding the district's buses.

In July 1984, RT General Manager Dave Boggs and his assistant went from bus to bus handing out questionnaires to riders and inviting their in-depth comments and suggestions, promising to respond personally.

At the time, Boggs told The Bee: "I've really enjoyed it. I'm in the drivers' room and with the mechanics a lot, but until you get out on the buses you don't really see the system or know what the riders are thinking."

Twenty-three years later, Boggs' assistant, Mike Wiley, is now general manager, and today Wiley and the district are engaged in a comprehensive revision of the Regional Transit Master Plan, a document that seeks to outline a vision for the future of transit over the next 10, 20 and 30 years.

The other day, RT and its consultants, Steer Davies Gleave, launched an online survey that seeks community input to help the district prioritize improvements in the transit system. (Take the survey.) Wiley also plans to take part in monthly online chats, according to the Web site for the Regional Transit Master Plan at

All of this high-tech outreach is fine, but Wiley should consider handing out that survey in person while riding around the district for a week.

On July 30, 1984, The Bee commented on Boggs' outreach effort in a short editorial headlined "Busman's holiday."

The Bee noted at the time: "RT needs to sell itself to the commuting public, to make riders partners in its success and to demonstrate anew the advantages of public transit. When the boss takes a personal hand in that effort, the result can be salutary for both customers and RT workers."

That is as true today as it was in 1984, perhaps more so. Unfortunately, there's little indication that RT is listening to actual riders. Look at the grand schedule of the TMP review and look where "Public Outreach" fits in.

Last year, we see, TMP planners held "Initial Staff and Stakeholder Meetings." Who were these "stakeholders"? Who represents the riders who have a choice, who choose to leave their cars at home? In theory, the online survey might reach these people -- I'm certainly doing my part to promote it -- but what effort is RT making to bring attention to the survey?

Today, RT does a fair job of getting state workers and others downtown and home again. That, after all, is why we have light rail. The remainder of the system is designed as a mobility service of last resort. Hence, the three bus lines that traverse Watt Avenue all detour off Watt to visit Kaiser's Morse Avenue hospital while job centers in Rancho Cordova cope with hourly bus service.

Regional Transit will need to sell expansion of its system to all of the people of its service area, not just to downtown commuters and the poor and the disabled. RT needs to make a strong case that it appreciates the needs of choice riders. RT must make a better effort to reach these people.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Adding up the savings from riding transit

I've written before about my own savings that accrue from leaving a car at home and taking the bus. And the penalty we pay for having the kid drive my old Dodge Caravan. Now we look at the wife's cash value from leaving another car at home.

The wife is something of a marvel on the phone, as I've explained before. Now she has worked her wonders on the California State Automobile Association, explaining to them that she is now riding transit. This allows the 1999 Dodge to be declared the car most often driven and places the 2006 Honda Civic Hybrid in a much less costly insurance bracket. The cost of insuring the Dodge went up, but the drop in the cost of insuring the Honda was so great that the wife saved $898 a year overall.

Granted, adding the kid boosted our insurance costs $1,900 a year, but the wife's decision to ride transit drops that cost to $1,000 a year or a little more than $83 a month. And then there is the savings in gas.

When the wife commuted to work in the Honda, she would fill the tank once a week, generally around 11 gallons. At today's average price of $3.60 a gallon, that's just about $40 a week, or $173 and change a month. Now, instead of filling up once a week, the wife expects to fill up once a month, saving more than $133 a month.

Ah, but what about the cost of riding transit? you ask.

The wife buys a monthly pass for $85, but her employer reimburses her for 75 percent of that, making her ticket to ride for a month just $21.25, or something less than $5 a week. Now, since we're using RT's marginal suburban bus service, the wife pays the kid $20 a week in gas to take her to and from her bus stop, for an overall weekly cost of $25 to get to work, or less than $109 a month. So, even with the penalty the wife pays because of RT's inadequate service ($20 a week or around $87 a month to the kid), the wife still comes out ahead about $24 a month over what she paid in gas.

The wife expects to cover much of the rest of the kid's increased premium by making him complete a teen driver training program. Once he passes the program, CSAA will drop his insurance cost 30 percent.

According to American Automobile Association, the cost of driving a car increased $300 this year.

The 2008 edition of AAA's annual "Your Driving Costs" study estimates the overall cost of owning and operating a new vehicle at 54.1 cents per mile, up 1.9 cents from 2007.
For the wife and I, that means if we both returned to driving, we could expect the cost of commuting to work (a combined 38.6 miles round trip) to be about $20 a day. That's an amazing number.

I suppose it shouldn't be a surprise that AAA doesn't see taking transit as an option.
"According to these results, consumers can save a lot of money by choosing smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles when it's time to buy a car," said Sean Comey, spokesperson for AAA of Northern California. "Another way to reduce costs is to shop aggressively for lower gas prices by using AAA's free Fuel Finder at"
It is really difficult to understand why Sacramento Regional Transit doesn't do more to advertise the value of leaving your car at home. Clearly, even RT's marginal service provides a significant savings over driving a car.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Take Regional Transit's survey

Sacramento Regional Transit is inviting people to help RT "prioritize improvements in the transit system." Click on the image above to take the survey.

The wife asks that on Q2 everyone put "cup holders." She feels this is the most compelling immediate improvement needed on RT buses.

This is all part of RT's master plan update effort. It all sounds good when RT says things like:

The TMP is your plan and we want to know what is important to you as we plan for the region's transit needs over the next 10, 20 and 30 years.
But then you look at the calendar for open houses and public forums and you wonder whether they really want to hear from people. I live out in the Arden Arcade area. And just when does RT expect to hear from my neighbors?

Who is going to be available between 5 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on a Thursday? Look at the calendar: Not one weekend date. Granted, everyone appreciates why RT doesn't want to hear from people about its weekend service, but this calendar is unlikely to attract anyone except the "professional" interests -- mobility associations, groups representing the elderly. No one speaks for the "choice" riders, the people who have other options, the people who are the key if RT wants to increase its ridership.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Eigh-tee-two skidoo

"Eigh-teeeee-twooo," said the driver in a booming voice as the doors to the bus opened.

A woman carrying a metal casserole dish in a paper bag boarded the bus.

"Pull up a chair," the driver said.

The driver and passenger exchanged pleasantries. From the dim reaches of the back of this old, single-level bus I can't make out the words, just the tone of friendly conversation and occasional laughter.

We move on down the road.

"Eigh-teeeee-twooo," the driver greets a passenger. "Warming up."

The passenger agrees.

"Going to be toasty," the driver says.

The passenger worries that it is too early in the season for hot weather.

"It's going to cool back down," the driver assures the rider and then summarizes the forecast for the next several days.

The driver is obviously enjoying greeting riders as his bus meanders across the unicorporated suburbs of Sacramento County.

The bus stops and the air brakes let out a load hiss as the doors open.

"Eigh-teeeee-twooo," says the driver.

He greets each arrival with "Morning" and says "Thank you" after they pay or show their pass.

The driver makes driving a bus look like fun. He certainly makes riding enjoyable.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the wife is gaining an appreciation for the finer points of using Sacramento Regional Transit or, more to the point, how to remain flexible in an elastic world.

Her bus turned the corner from La Riviera onto Folsom and she looked at her cellphone clock: 8:55 a.m. Should she get off at Norcade and cross Folsom to the Starfire light rail station or should she ride the bus to Watt and catch the outbound train there?

It's the odd choices like this that teach the finer points of riding transit in Sacramento. The wife decided to get off the bus at Norcade and go to the Starfire station. An outbound train arrived just seconds later and she boarded. But it wasn't the train that meets the bus she catches at Mather. As a result, she arrived 15 minutes early, only to find the bus parked and locked, the driver off on a break.

"I gained nothing by being early," the wife told me.

Quiz time: If the bus is on time (or, as in this case, a minute early) as it reaches Folsom Boulevard, the choice is: (a) ride the bus to Watt and burn up six minutes of the wait for the right train; (b) get off at Norcade and catch the early train at Starfire and have coffee at the new cafe at the Mather station; (c) get off at Norcade but miss the early train and wait more than 10 minutes for the next train.

Each day, the wife gets to take the quiz and each day the potential consequence of each answer is different. Eventually she will gain enough experience. The trick is to make it all a game. Otherwise, it can be one lone, frustrating ordeal.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Water hazard

Ah, spring! When the sidewalks run rivers of wasted irrigation water. And, of course, no bus stop would be complete without a thorough overspray.

The wife took this photo with the camera RT is going to pay me back for. She and another passenger ended up in the street waiting for the bus.

Perhaps the person in charge of ordering the bus stop bench for this location can contact someone about this. Maybe, perhaps.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Bus driver appreciation night

As I have said before, Sacramento Regional Transit needs to create a way for riders to nominate their favorite drivers for a customer service medal for duty above and beyond what RT requires or the union contract demands. And then RT needs to single these drivers out as examples to the other drivers.

Tonight I arrived at the 65th Street transit center on the outbound train at 7:19 p.m. and walked over to the No. 82 stop, where the bus was waiting with the door open. The driver was nearby talking to some people. Inside the bus were a dozen people waiting for the next departure. I took a seat and started reading. The bus wasn't scheduled to leave until 7:28.

Eventually the driver returned and walked the length of the coach, checking passes and transfers, and then he returned to the front of the bus.

At 7:28 p.m., as the driver prepared to get under way, a woman with one child in her arms and two or three more clutching her skirt walked up to the bus. The woman asked the driver in very halting English if the bus goes to Howe and El Camino.

"No," the driver replied. "I only go as far as Howe and Northrup."

The woman clearly didn't understand. Her oldest child, a girl of maybe 10, asked the driver if the bus went to Howe and El Camino.

"Take the Number 87," the driver explained. "Wait 30 minutes."

The mother again said something and the driver repeated that the woman needed to wait 30 minutes and take the No. 87 bus.

As this was going on a woman rider sitting just inside the door stood up to help and then thought better or it and sat down. The driver saw her and invited her to explain to the woman.

"Sorry, I don't speak Spanish that well," the woman said. "Besides, I'm sure the child understood."

Again the driver told the woman to wait for the No. 87 and then he closed the door and pulled away from the curb.

The bus hadn't gone more than 10 feet when the driver stopped and opened the door.

"I know that guy," the driver said to the woman rider in the front of the bus. "He can help."

The driver then left the bus and walked over to a nearby shelter where several people were waiting. He walked up to one guy. I couldn't hear what he said, but he pointed to the woman and obviously explained what he needed translated. He then returned to the bus while the guy walked over to the woman. The driver waited in the door of the bus to make sure the woman understood that the guy was there to help her, and then he closed the door and we were on our way.

"That was really nice," the woman in the front told the driver.

That was more than nice.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Drop rules

Children (and the men the wife marries who refuse to grow up) have a three-second rule for dropped toast. Sacramento Regional Transit has the APP AR rule for bus drivers. Either one is guaranteed to annoy the wife.

Tonight, the wife was standing at the corner of White Rock and Prospect Park in Rancho Cordova at 5:39 p.m., waiting to cross the street to meet the No. 74 bus.

As she waited for the light to change the No. 74 bus arrived at the intersection.

The wife waved. She waved excitedly.

The bus slowed at the corner.

The wife waved. She waved even more excitedly.

The light for the wife was red. The light for the bus was green.

The bus turned the corner and drove down White Rock Road, past the empty bus stop. The bus wasn't scheduled to arrive until 5:42. The bus was early. Not to worry:

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.

And the wife watched week No. 2 of her commute using Sacramento Regional Transit roll on. The next No. 74 arrives at 6:42.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Google Maps and Google Transit -- the video

A picture maybe worth a thousand words, but a video is worth an entire user manual.

Here's how to use Google Maps to plan transit trips.

Google Transit's new look

Google Transit is sporting a new look. Click on the big image below to go to their site. The other nifty feature Google Transit recently added is the ability to specify light rail stations. Here's an example that worked. Now if Google Transit could get a "feeling lucky" option, I could use this to help the wife. Unfortunately, the wife discovered today the pitfalls of relying on a teenager to deliver her to her bus stop. She missed her bus. Worse, she didn't realize she was late. Had she appreciated why no one was waiting at the bus when the kid delivered her, she and the kid could have driven to a point in the route where they might have caught up with the bus. Instead, the wife ended up at 65th Street waiting for an outbound train. Not a good start to the week.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Bus Pirates update

I'm working my way through my inbox and I ran across this exchange with Dave Lindsay, one of the creators of Bus Pirates, the Internet movie.

"Rumors of a robot's kiss in March have whithered and died," I said. "Is there a time frame for the next Bus Pirates episodes?"

"Our composer is ridiculously slow," Dave wrote back. "Picture is all done, waiting on music."

In case you haven't watched the movie yet, here are the episodes:

Episode 1: Bad Luck

Episode 2: Redbeard's Revenge


Episode 3: The Treasure of the Knights


Episode 4: The Robot Trials


Episode 5: Revenge of the Culver Revenge


Episode 6: The Robot's Kiss


Saturday, April 5, 2008

Between news and opinion

I am an unabashed fan of Google. The people who work there keep coming up with ways to make information gathering easier. One Google product I use is Google Alerts. As Google explains, "Google Alerts are email updates of the latest relevant Google results (web, news, etc.) based on your choice of query or topic."

One of my standing queries is the phrase "Sacramento Regional Transit."

Google Alerts, like Google Transit, is a beta service, which means it is still in the testing stages. Certain features are lacking. Google Transit, for instance, needs a "feeling lucky" option to allow it to see Sacramento Regional Transit's wishful thinking that masquerades as transit scheduling. Google Alerts, on the other hand, needs an "ignore that" option.

The most recent Google Alert draws attention to "Disappearing Buses, Disappearing Trains, Is It a Magic Act?" which turns out to be a "News" article in the Sacramento Union.

When I first moved to Northern California in 1978, the Sacramento Union was the oldest daily in Sacramento, proud to have once employed Mark Twain. I was working in Stockton at the time, and I enjoyed watching from afar the benefits Sacramento enjoyed from having two competing daily newspapers.

The daily newspaper called the Sacramento Union died on Jan. 14, 1994. A hole in the ground exists today at the Capitol Mall address once occupied by the newspaper's offices. I'm not sure what to call the weekly free-distribution publication that today bears the name The Sacramento Union. It is certainly not a newspaper.

Google Alerts needs an "ignore that" option.

The Power of the Vote on the bus

Finished "The Power of the Vote, Electing Presidents, Overthrowing Dictators, and Promoting Democracy Around the World," the memoir of Douglas E. Schoen, the pollster and political consultant who founded Penn, Schoen and Berland, a market research and consulting firm.

Schoen was a pioneer in political polling. He and his partner, Mark Penn, created the first overnight poll, using a microcomputer they purchased for $1,000 and manually keying in the information overnight to present the results the next morning to their customer, New York mayoral candidate Ed Koch in 1977.

Over the years Schoen and his partners were responsible for a number of innovations. For instance, they struck upon the idea of using shoppers at malls as a source for polling, thus mitigating the problems traditional phone polling experiences.

Most amusing for me was the way politics and marketing circled around. After all, Dwight Eisenhower's use of "Madison Avenue" advertising executives was considered avant-garde at the time .

"In the years that followed, however, most of Madison Avenue lost touch with the practice of politics. ... As a result, the big advertising firms and the corporate research departments had failed to develop the kind of quick research and response capacities that we had honed over the course of the preceding decade," Schoen writes. "There was an irony here: Mark and I were now coming full circle, bringing skills once thought to reside exclusively on Madison Avenue back to corporate America."

If you find today's ubiquitous television advertisements for prescription drugs annoying, you can blame Schoen. One of his first corporate clients was Eli Lilly, which was looking for a way to market a new drug: Prozac.

"Although many experts (and television viewers) now decry the proliferation of prescription drug ads, the fact of the matter is that people suffering from depression were not getting the help they needed from the medical profession," Schoen writes. "We advised Eli Lilly to speak directly to this significant segment of the public."

And, of course, this good deed had its reward. As Schoen explains, "By the end of its first decade in the marketplace, sales of Prozac had earned Eli Lilly an estimated $28 billion." <-- note the "b" in that last word. Having recently read Amy B. Zegart's "Spying Blind" and earlier George Crile's "Charlie Wilson's War," I found particularly interesting Schoen's brief encounter with the CIA's analysts.

In September 1999, Schoen's company fielded a benchmark poll for opponents of Serbia's Slobodan Milosevic. The poll found Milosevic vulnerable. The conclusions were circulated in the White House and came to the attention of the CIA. Schoen was invited to brief the CIA on his polling in Serbia and his conclusion that Milosevic lacked popular support.

"My audience at the CIA wasn't just skeptical. It was hostile. The analysts questioned everything -- my assumptions, my methodology, my sample sizes, even my ability to conduct a proper poll. Needless to say, they also took issue with my conclusions. ... The good news was that the CIA was doing everything right -- spending millions to monitor public opinion, placing analysts in the region for long periods, and so on. The bad news was that it was coming up with findings that a reasonably intelligent political consultant -- one person -- could see were wrong after one week in the country. ..."

Having read Gust Avrakotos' opinion of the Ivy League boys club attitude inside the CIA, it was interesting to read Schoen's impression of his CIA interrogators. Schoen is a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard, a graduate of Harvard Law School, and earned his doctorate in philosophy from Oxford University in England.

"The hostility of the CIA ... seemed to reflect some kind of professional resentment. Instead of welcoming an unusual source of information, I was treated like an undergrad whose presentation was claiming time that would have been better given over to senior professors. ... It was only a brief encounter, but it gave me a disturbing insight about the U.S. inteligence community's analytic capabilities."

Schoen, who worked for President Clinton as a pollster and campaign consultant during and after Clinton's re-election campaign, also supports the suggestion in Steven Gillon's "The Pact" that the president was considering a proposal to shore up Social Security by directing a portion of the revenue into the stock market.

"As the second term begain, Mark (Penn) and I began working on a proposal that would simultaneously address the country's most difficult long-term financial problem and make Democrats the party of bold initiatives -- Social Security reform. ... Putting Social Security's finances on a safe foundation would be an historic achievement. It would demonstrate the president's zeal for nonpartisan reform and also appeal to young voters, who recognized that investing in equities was a better way to build wealth than government bonds. It would clearly have been a hard sell -- the liberal wing of the party was adamantly opposed to this idea; however, the surging stock market of the 1990s at least gave us a chance."

But, as both Schoen and Gillon point out, the fallout from the Monica Lewinsky scandal effectively killed any opportunity for bipartisan cooperation.

The book is not a history of polling and market research. But as a memoir of a man who spent 30 years in the business, it is an engaging book and well worth reading.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

The Internet rocks and Google Transit bubbles

Today, another guy named Anonymous added a comment to one of my posts. He said:

Uh, I seem to recall being able to get around on public transit -- in Sacramento and elsewhere -- long before anybody ever heard of the internet.
This prompted my snide rejoinder:
And at one time you could find streetcars in downtown Sacramento running so often that you didn't need a schedule.

At a minimum today you need the bus schedule book RT sells for a buck. RT's service is so sporadic and uneven -- half-hour service for awhile and then a 45-minute break; bus lines that only run during "peak" periods; bus lines that don't run on the weekend -- that someone who wants to use transit is REQUIRED to plan ahead. The Internet makes that easier.
Allow me to throw the wife under the bus as an example.

After having problems with late or missing buses two days in a row, I spent some time this afternoon trying to map out escape routes for the wife. I can imagine the conversation if I called 321-BUSS and explained that I needed help deciding what the wife should do if the train and bus don't meet.

"Get off the train at the Starfire stop and take the No. 80 bus."

"And if the train is late?"

"Then you will miss your bus."


The obvious escape route is to continue to 65th Street and catch the No. 82, which is the bus I ride home from work. Under the ideal scenario, the wife would get off at Starfire and if the bus did not arrive by the time that the next inbound train arrived, then she would board the train and go to 65th Street.

But, of course, nothing that involves Sacramento Regional Transit scheduling is that easy. The train that matches up at 65th Street with the No. 82 is the same train that is supposed to catch the No. 80. If the wife gets off to wait and the bus doesn't arrive, she might as well wait for the next bus, a No. 84, that runs a half-hour after the No. 80.

After consulting RT's, I decided the wife is going to have to decide each day whether to get off at Starfire or continue to 65th. If the train is on time, she can play Russian Roulette with the No. 80 -- bus arrives on time, empty chamber; bus arrives late, misfire; bus never arrives at all, bang!

If she knows the train is running late -- or she tires of playing the No. 80 game -- then she can just stay on the train. She'll get home a half-hour later than if she made her No. 80 connection, but she'll get a ride all the way to her front door.

Today, the wife watched traffic on Folsom Boulevard as the train approached Starfire, looking for the bus. The train was running six minutes late, which meant that if the bus was on time, it would have already driven past the station. But as she looked west on Folsom she could see a bus approaching. She got off the train and was able to catch the bus.

Tomorrow? Who knows.

* * *

Three cheers to the Google Transit guys and gals for restoring the next-stop bubbles to the Google maps. If you click on a bus stop icon now, you will see a bubble that shows the next two departures for each bus using the stop. As I have mentioned before, RT's trip planner offers the same information, but Google's map interface is unbeatable.

The accident

I was involved in an accident while riding Sacramento Regional Transit to work today.

The No. 82 bus I take to work is scheduled to arrive at the 65th Street transit center at 9:53 a.m. Today, it arrived at 9:46 a.m. It was an accident, and it caused me to be 15 minutes early to work.

The principal cause of the accident was most likely the absence of the Sacramento State students, who are on spring break this week. Without the considerable inconvenience of all the stopping to pick up students, the bus makes much better time on its lengthy route across the wastelands of suburban Sacramento.

But there were extenuating circumstances that contributed to the accident. There's the driver of the bus. It so happens, just coincidentally, that a new driver takes over at 65th Street. Once replaced, the old driver then takes light rail to 29th Street.

When the bus arrives on schedule, the driver has a 10-minute wait for the next inbound train. But if the driver can manage to arrive a little more than five minutes early . . .

Accidents happen.

As the bus pulled to a stop at 65th Street I could see a crowd waiting for the inbound train, a sure sign that there was a chance I wouldn't have to wait long for a train. As I crossed Q Street, I looked up the track. The rail crossing guard at Redding Avenue was flashing. By the time I reached the station, the train was rolling down the bridge over the freight rail tracks and racing for the station. I could count the seconds I had to wait for the train without using my toes.

Now, is it at all possible that such accidents might befall the wife on her way home? I'd like to avoid the expense when her bus fails to arrive.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

RT owes me $248.31 and I expect to be paid

Sacramento Regional Transit owes me two hundred and forty-eight dollars and 31 cents, and right after RT delivers the wife's bus stop benches, I expect RT to use some of that cash stuffed in administration mattresses and pay me back. Perhaps I'll even hold my breath.

The No. 80 bus that the wife needs to ride home was late again tonight.

"I'm at Starfire and there is no bus," the wife complained. "I got here at 6:09 and it never came. Now it's been 15 minutes."

Yesterday, the bus was 15 minutes late. Tonight it never came at all. Well, it may have eventually arrived at Folsom and the Starfire light rail station, but I told the wife to take the next inbound train, and I would meet her at 65th Street. I promised to smother her frustration with pasta sauce at Strings Restaurant in the F65 shopping center at Folsom and 65th streets.

I took the next outbound train and met the wife's arriving train. As we walked across 65th Street and up to the restaurant, she recounted her call to 321-BUSS.

A half-hour after the No. 80 bus was due, the wife got a woman at 321-BUSS on the phone. The woman started off by telling the wife the No. 80 bus was scheduled for 6:10 and the No. 84 for 6:41. Her implication was that the wife had missed the bus.

"No," the wife explained to the woman. "That's when the bus leaves the Watt/Manlove station. I'm at the Starfire light rail station and the No. 80 is scheduled to arrive here at 6:14."

The RT customer service woman again tried to suggest the wife had missed the bus.

"I was at the stop at 6:09 and someone else had already been waiting when I got there," the wife insisted. "The bus never arrived."

The RT customer service woman tried a new tact: "There's a bus that's running 35 minutes behind schedule," she said. Before the wife could get a better explanation her cell phone lost the call. (I'll be charitable here and not suggest that the lady at 321-BUSS hung up.)

The Strings Restaurant is very nice. We think it's the best in Sacramento, at least the best of those we've patronized. Just don't get the coffee. It was bland and lukewarm.

Now, I would not have complained if all this adventure cost was the price of the meal -- $35 -- but RT wasn't going to let me off that easily.

As we were eating dinner I checked the schedule for the No. 82, which we would take home. It was 7:19 and we weren't finished, so the 7:28 p.m. departure was out of the question. The No. 82 runs every half-hour and so one would expect the next bus at 7:58, which would have been convenient. But, no, the next bus wasn't scheduled to depart until 8:13 p.m. Blocked again!

Across the parking lot from Strings is an Office Depot store. We finished dinner at 7:30 and the wife suggested we browse Office Depot.

And that is how I ended up spending $213.32 for a Nikon Coolpix L18 camera, an extra 1GB SD media card and a two-year extended warranty that came with a bunch of other camera accessories.

And it is all Sacramento Regional Transit's fault.

If the No. 80 bus had arrived at the Starfire light rail station, the wife would have boarded and the kid would have picked her up at her stop and taken her home. I would have taken the train to the bus stop and taken the bus home. That's how it's supposed to work. That's why we each have transit passes. We're supposed to be saving all this money by leaving our cars at home!

But, no. Instead we now have pasta leftovers and a new camera with a bunch of accessories.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008


The hardest thing to do is admit you goofed. Don't believe me? Just look at the Bush administration and it's "So?" sorry attitude.

I had not been waiting long at the 65th Street transit center when the No. 82 bus rolled to a stop in front of me. I closed my book and showed my pass to the driver and took a seat.

Almost immediately the driver closed the door and started to leave. This was unusual. Normally, there's a wait of several minutes before we leave. But I wasn't going to look a gift horse in the mouth, or a gift bus driver, for that matter.

As the driver pulled away from the curb I saw a regular rider wave the bus down. The driver stopped and let the guy board.

"You're leaving a little early," the guy said as he showed the driver his pass.

The driver demurred, saying something that included the word "approximate" and the word "schedule."

The guy disagreed, but he let the subject drop, satisfied to have his ride home.

Earlier in the evening the wife had called me at the office to find out whether she should get off light rail at Starfire or wait until her train arrived at Watt. I checked RT's and told her to get off at Starfire. The bus she wanted would be there in just four minutes.

Ten minutes later, the wife called back: "Where's my bus?"

I explained that she is not allowed to ask until the bus is 15 minutes late. (See this post.) I checked the schedule of the bus. Her train was on time, so she didn't miss the bus. "It must be late," I said. At that time I was not yet aware of the "approximate" nature of the "schedule."

"When the bus is 15 minutes late you can call 321-BUSS and find out what happened," I told her. "Or you can call now and wait on hold for five minutes. That'll work, too."

"Nevermind," the wife said, "here comes the bus -- 15 minutes late."

Better late than sorry, I thought at the time. Better late than early, I considered as my bus left the transit center and turned onto 65th Street.

"Well, I guess you were right," the driver said to the guy who had mentioned that the bus was leaving early. "Now I see we left three minutes early."

The driver then turned right on Folsom and then right again back into the transit center while he explained his confusion with the schedule of the No. 82.

"Maybe another train has arrived since we left and more people are waiting," the driver said as he worked his way to the No. 82 bus stop.

The driver parked the bus and opened the door and waited. No one was waiting to get on, and no one else arrived before we left again.

Better on time than early, I thought as I returned to my book.

No foolin'

Yes, we're now a two-pass family. The wife did four days last week, and even with the missed connection on Friday and the dash to make a train another day, she still wanted to continue. Over the weekend, the wife purchased a new over-the-shoulder backpack to better prepare for the inevitable run to make a connection. Sacramento Regional Transit should consider selling these essential transit user accessories.

The kid was hoping his mother would lose interest since he has to get her to the bus stop each morning and pick her up in the evening, but I think my whining over the last year has inoculated her against most of the minor annoyances that come with relying on Sacramento Regional Transit to get to and from work. Really, the drama of getting a teenager up and out the door in time to take the wife to the bus stop makes riding RT look easy.

Using the monthly pass rather than buying daily passes will significantly reduce the wife's commute expense while simplifying the experience.

RT really needs to rethink its bus transfer policy. Making people pay an extra $2 for a second transfer is unreasonable, especially since its RT's fault that people find more than one transfer necessary to complete their trip. The wife's situation is a good example: She takes a bus to light rail (because buses have been turned into light rail feeder lines). She takes light rail for a short hop and then she boards a second bus to get within walking distance of her office. (And, no, she's not going to test Google Transit's one transfer and walk across Highway 50 suggestion.)

Since RT allows riders to buy all-day passes for $5, there is no reason to charge more than $2.50 for a single trip. And if RT's budget is based on tricking people into paying $8.50 for a round trip when an all-day pass costs only $5, then it deserves the declining patronage that it is seeing on its bus routes.

In a perfect world, the fare would be something less than $2 with transfers during the next hour free. In the less than perfect world that RT operates, a rider should pay just 25 cents for each transfer.