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, July 30, 2008

Credit where credit is due

Between the fear-mongering and the unnecessary panic at Monday's meeting of the Sacramento Regional Transit board was an assessment of the district's management that deserves some publicity.

"Year-to-date revenues exceed expenses by $6.4 million due to total revenues being above budget by $4.3 million and operating costs being below budget by $2 million," according to the Key Performance Report.

For the eighth month in a row, the amount of money brought in from fares to cover the cost of the service exceeded the district goal. General Manager Mike Wiley told the board that the 29.5 percent the district recovered in June is a number the district hasn't seen in many, many years. June's fare recovery was 8.9 percent higher than budgeted. Total June fare revenue -- $3.3 million -- was the first time the district took in more than $3 million in a month. The 2008 fiscal year ended 5.5 percent over budget. That increase will come in handy. About $1.1 million will be available to back-fill any lost state money.

For the 2008 fiscal year, total ridership was up 3.14 percent. June light rail ridership was up 15.7 percent over last June, and ended the fiscal 2008 year up 8.07 percent. June bus ridership was up 4.3 percent. But the bus numbers for the fiscal year weren't as good. RT's bus service took a 5 percent cut in January. By the end of the fiscal year, bus ridership was 1.1 percent below the year before.

These figures helped RT cut costs. The district's cost per passenger mile was below budgeted goals for both rail and bus service. Rail service was 11 percent below the goal and bus service 1 percent less. Viewed in terms of passenger productivity, bus service was 2 percent above and rail productivity 5.15 percent higher.

One other bright spot was news about crime. June's crimes per 1,000 passengers -- both felonies and misdemeanors -- was 0.016. For the fiscal year, the rate was 0.017.

About the only area where RT missed its goal was in bus on-time performance. The district missed that goal by 3.5 percent. As the report points out, the district was a victim of the very reason buses are so valuable: traffic congestion. As the report said, "This will likely continue to challenge RT and affect our on-time performance."

"Meeting a greater demand for transit service in the face of a three-sided economic squeeze that includes the Governor's proposed raid of dedicated transit monies, the rumored suspension of Proposition 42 funds and losses from declining sales tax revenue, RT will continue to maintain strict cost containment measures into fiscal year 2009," declares the Key Performance Report's management notes.

Clearly management at RT is doing its part. It's time for state lawmakers to get on board and keep their funding promises.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not even once a week

At last night's hearing, a speaker asked how many Sacramento Regional Transit board members actually use the transit system they govern. Only one board member was willing to respond. Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn said he "occasionally" uses it. Even when prodded by a crank in the audience, none of the other board members spoke up. Instead, Board Chair Roberta MacGlashan said the question was out of order.

I can sympathize with the board. It must be hard to sit in judgment of a service they don't use and won't promise to use, even for just one day a week.

Back on Feb. 17 I sent the following e-mail to Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo and each of the RT board members:

On Feb. 12, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa boarded a bus to work with a gaggle of press following along. He was promoting a local drive to get people to make a commitment to ride transit once a week.

"If I said to everybody, `Get out of your car and take public transit,' the likelihood of people doing that isn't great," Villaraigosa told the Los Angeles Daily News.* "So the goal is: Get out of your car once a week. I want to model that."

According to the Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District**, "If you leave your car at home one day a week, you prevent 55 pounds of pollution each year from being emitted into our air."

Would you be willing to make a public commitment to leave your car at home and ride transit at least once a week?

John Hughes
* Story is available at
** see for SMAQMD stat
And what response did I get?
from Patrick Hume
date Sun, Feb 17, 2008 at 6:53 PM
subject Re: Riding transit once a week

Mr. Hughes,

Unfortunately, even once a week isn't feasable for me. I live in Elk Grove and work in Galt, so there is no convenient public transit alternative. You may suggest the same idea to Mayor Davis, he works at Sac State, so it would take some transferring, but it could be done.


Patrick Hume
Councilmember, City of Elk Grove (916)201-4091
(I responded: "Thanks for replying. Perhaps you could look into the Highway 99 e-Tran service from Elk Grove to Galt City Hall.")
from David M. Sander, Ph.D.
to John Hughes
date Mon, Feb 18, 2008 at 6:09 PM
subject Re: Riding transit once a week


I'd be happy to make such a pledge, but living in Rancho Cordova, I don't have much in the way of bus service -- none to my current neighborhood.

Also, I work from home, so by definition I don't drive that many miles, nor do have any regular commute.

So, I could take such a pledge, but I'm not sure what it would mean in the end. I already use transit when I can use light rail to get to and from occasional meetings downtown.

All the Best,

(I replied: "Thanks for the reply. It does make it difficult to take transit when you work at home. I was thinking of expanding the pledge idea to promising to take transit OR ride a bike OR walk. The goal, after all, is cut down on the single-occupant auto trips. You'd have it made with pledge to walk to work." And he said, " Yeah. It's about 25 ft from bedroom to office! I've had fun with that concept -- appearing at bike to work events and the like over years I've always explained that I'd like to bike to work, but that hallway turn near the bathroom is tough to navigate.")
from MacGlashan. Roberta
to John Hughes
date Tue, Feb 19, 2008 at 4:42 PM
subject RE: Riding transit once a week

John, Thank you for emailing me regarding Mayor Villaraigosa’s efforts to increase transit ridership. I wish my response could be as clever as David’s.

Public transit works very well for people whose jobs follow a regular schedule. I grew up in a single-car household with a mother who did not drive, so I relied on transit, walking and bicycling to get where I needed to go as a child and young adult. In fact, I did not even have a drivers license or own a car until I was in my 20s. When my husband was in law school, we also had just one car and for those three years I rode public transit to work (that was the old Southern Pacific line on the San Francisco peninsula – now CalTrain).

The reality of my schedule as a County Supervisor is that my schedule requires me to be at many different meetings throughout my district and downtown in the course of the day and often into the evenings (with unpredictable schedule changes) – making transit an impractical option for me most of the time. However, 2 of the 4 members of my staff use public transit daily to commute to and from the office; it is very rare that they drive to work. I am very proud of the high utilization of public transit by my staff, and believe that my office probably has the highest transit use of any of the Sacramento County Board offices.

Good luck with your new job.*

Roberta MacGlashan
(* When MacGlashan first responded she asked: "John, Did we meet at a Bee editorial board meeting on the Transit Master Plan? Am I remembering correctly?" To which I replied, "John the blogger is not the same as John at the editorial board, at least not any longer. Cutbacks at The Bee have moved me to a new job. My e-mail to you is strictly a personal query related to my rtrider blog. The e-mail was in no way work related. The best response so far comes from David Sander, who works at home. He's willing to promise to walk to work, but riding a bike is problematic -- "hallway turn near the bathroom is tough to navigate.")

from Lauren Hammond
to John Hughes
date Tue, Feb 19, 2008 at 8:26 PM
subject Re: Riding RT once a week


You're behind. I suggested this eight years ago when I was Chair of
the Sacramento Air Quality Board.

Frankly, I don't drive once a week. I live more than 3/4 of a mile
from light rail and 1/2 mile from the nearest bus stop.
If the public doesn't mind me not attending two thirds of the meetings
and functions I'm currently scheduled for.


(I never did really understand what "If the public doesn't mind me not attending two thirds of the meetings and functions I'm currently scheduled for" meant since it followed "Frankly, I don't drive once a week.")
from Dickinson. Roger
to John Hughes
date Tue, Feb 26, 2008 at 7:00 PM
subject RE: Riding RT once a week

Thanks for your email, John. Prior to my election to the Board, I was a regular transit rider, generally two to three times a week. I still use transit when I can; however, that is not as frequently as I would like. Since I often take a large amount of material home at night to read and have numerous daytime and evening meetings, it makes it difficult to use transit on a regular basis. Nonetheless, I will take a look at my schedule in the upcoming months to see if I can increase my use of transit, even if I can't get to a routine of once a week.

Supervisor, District One
Sacramento County
None of the other board members felt that it was necessary to respond. There silence speaks volumes.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Scared silly

Anita Adams is old enough to earn one of Sacramento Regional Transit's lifetime passes. "They wait until you have one foot in the grave," she explained as we waited for tonight's hearing to start.

I met Adams on 29th Street between Q and P streets. I was heading toward RT's auditorium at its headquarters at 29th and N streets. Adams was shuffling slowly toward the light rail station. She looked frail and unsteady with her cane.

As our paths crossed, she asked me, "Where's N Street?"

"It's behind you," I said, pointing.

"There's a big hearing at RT about service cuts and fare hikes tonight," she said in answer to my unasked question. "Lots of people are going to be there."

Fifty-two people signed up to speak before the board. When the hearing started at 6 p.m., it was standing room only in the small auditorium, with at least four television stations represented. Of course, the TV cameras were long gone by the time folks in the audience got their chance to speak.

RT Board Chair Roberta MacGlashan called out, "Anita Adams." When MacGlashan didn't see any movement, she called the name again. "I'm coming," Adams said. She waved her cane as she struggled to get up from her chair in the audience.

Adams suggested to the board that perhaps they were moving too fast on the plans to cut back service and increase fares.

"We're going to have a new administration in Washington soon," she explained. "It's going to get better."

But when she suggested that perhaps the planned extensions of light rail be delayed just until the federal government starts sending more money, Mr. Light Rail, Roger Dickinson, was quick to get staff to explain that money set aside for capital improvements can't be used for operating expenses. Many in the crowd found the distinction between capital and operating expenses hard to understand.

Of course, the crowd was already suffering from a certain handicap. It seems that Paratransit gave several customers free rides to the meeting after telling them that RT was planning to increase Paratransit fares to $6.

After the third or fourth speaker mentioned the "planned" Paratransit fare hike, the board was clearly confused at where this was all coming from. The board stopped the testimony and had RT General Manager Mike Wiley explain that the staff suggestion was to eliminate the free ride Paratransit-qualified riders get on buses and trains, not to increase the $4 Paratransit fare. In the course of that explanation, however, Wiley mentioned that RT was prohibited from charging more than twice the basic fare for Paratransit.

Ah, ha! the Paratransit crowd murmured. And Wiley had to admit that the proposed increase in basic fares would open the door to consideration of a Paratransit fare increase. But when Wiley asked the board if they wanted staff to pursue that option, he was quickly told not to go there.

Unfortunately, the whole hearing, at least the public input portion of it, suffered from the scare tactics that RT had employed as it banged on pots and pans and tried to get everyone's attention. The July Next Stop News flyer's suggestion that ALL routes would be affected by service cutbacks had many people at the podium defending routes that would never be on RT's list of changes.

On the train ride home, I rode with a mother from Rosemont who had brought her two high-school-age children to testify in defense of the buses they take to school. She too takes the bus to work. She's a teacher, and she is a choice rider. She's even trying to take the bus to run errands.

RT had wanted to manufacture alarm in the hope of motivating riders to get involved, to write letters, to appreciate the severity of the threat. But somewhere a line was crossed.

RT faces real problems, and if the state were to adopt cuts on a level originally proposed by the governor, big fare hikes and real service reductions would follow. But the Democrats in the Assembly and the Senate have tentatively agreed to cuts of less than half what the governor proposed. Yes, there will likely be fare increases, but the horror tales of ending weekend bus service or shutting down the trains at 8 p.m. just aren't going to happen.

Crying wolf got everyone's attention. But what happens when the real wolf shows up?

Transit-oriented planning in a car-centered world

I've been corresponding with a visitor who lives in an area of Santa Clara outside the convenient reach of transit. I certainly sympathize. Outside of certain corridors, that's the story of most of Sacramento.

In a perfect world, there would be more transit-oriented communities. That's not just better bus and train service. It's the ability to get around without a car, whether that's walking to a neighborhood store, biking to a regional park or taking the bus to work.

The problem, of course, is that we live in the world we created, not one we wish we had. The sprawl of the last half of the 20th century guarantees a painful future as we cope with the changing economics of $4-plus gasoline. But that same pain will move us toward the solution.

The first street cars were built by companies seeking to bring customers to their businesses or to the homes they had built on the edge of the city. The profit motive was the engine of change. Yes, it would be nice if the world were inhabited with people who willingly subsumed their personal needs to the greater community good, but, again, we live in a world we created.

Perhaps if we make the cause today to make the world less dependent on automobiles, we will reach that new world. Just wanting to go there is a start. As more people call for better noncar ways to get around -- better sidewalks, more bike lanes, improved transit -- the profit motive will start to attract the people who can build those communities where jobs and homes and schools and parks are all within reach without needing to drive.

In the interim, incremental improvements in service will be more likely if more people are clamoring for change.

Tonight, Sacramento Regional Transit will be discussing how it will cope with pending state funding cutbacks. Keeping the focus on the future will pull us through today's short-term problem. It is important that service reductions be avoided. Even if that means some people will have to pay more to ride.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Money and influence

Down in Elk Grove, the City Council is deciding what to do about the transit system it buys from MV Transportation in Fairfield. As The Bee explained back on July 19:

When the city of Elk Grove unveiled its new transit buses four years ago, it laid claim to the nation's only all-hybrid municipal commuter fleet.

Then came the bus fires.

Now the 21-bus gasoline-electric hybrid fleet costing $10 million is sidelined, and the city is suing the manufacturers and other transit-related contractors for breach of contract.

Among the complaints: at least four bus fires, some 30 catastrophic engine failures, noxious exhaust fumes inside buses and buses unable to achieve freeway speeds with full passenger loads.

Now it's clear that e-tran, the city's transit agency, is destined for change. Elk Grove City Council members say they need to raise fares and increase scrutiny of the city's transit contract.

In the next few months, they will consider cutting ties with transit operator MV Transportation Inc. of Fairfield when its contract ends June 30. MV is one of six defendants named in the city's May 20 lawsuit.
One course of action to be considered, according to staff, was returning to Sacramento Regional Transit. Given RT's current fiscal mess caused by state funding uncertainty, the idea does seem a stretch. And then there is Elk Grove's history with RT. There's a reason Elk Grove decided to go it alone rather than rely on a distant agency to meet its transit needs.

So it wasn't surprising at all when, on July 24, a majority of the Elk Grove City Council members said the option of returning to RT was a nonstarter.

"My point of view is going to RT is like going back to the Dark Ages," Councilwoman Sophia Scherman said. She was joined by Councilmen Jim Cooper and Michael Leary.

But is there something else involved? suggests maybe there is.

The Sunday, July 27, post reveals "Scherman’s 5,000 reasons not to return to the ‘Dark Ages’."

According to Scherman's campaign Web site, her top donors include MV Transportation, which gave a hefty $5,000.

Very interesting, indeed.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Transitarian comics

Found this in the July 26 paper:

It's not surprising that someone giving up a car and riding transit, all in the pursuit of going green, would be dismissed as someone hiding their true intentions. Still, the day will come.

First one, then another, and pretty soon . . .

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Making ends meet at Sacramento Regional Transit

The staff at Sacramento Regional Transit has set the stage for an important discussion Monday over how the district will absorb expected state reductions in operating funding. Among the proposals sure to bring crowds to the board meeting is the elimination of free bus and light rail rides for Paratransit-qualified residents. Instead, they would have to pay the same 50-percent discount as students and seniors.

Without a state budget, RT can't predict exactly how much it will have to cut to make ends meet this year. The cuts proposed by the governor had RT looking at a shortfall of $11.3 million. Thankfully, a compromise is in the works in the Legislature. According to RT General Manager Mike Wiley in his report to the district board, "If the compromise budget is approved as written, RT will experience an operating shortfall of $4.8 million in (state) revenue in (fiscal year) 2008-2009."

That $4.8 million is much better than $11.3 million, but it is still a big hole to fill. Making things harder is the fact that the easy cuts were made last year, when state funding was reduced $14 million below what RT had budgeted. Making ends meet last year required cuts in service. RT wants to do everything possible to avoid more service cuts.

"Staff firmly believes and agrees that RT is in the business of providing service and not cutting service," Wiley told the board.

The one spot of good news in the report is the estimate that the increase in ridership generated by higher gasoline prices and the Interstate 5 fix have brought in about $1.1 million more in fare revenue than the district had budgeted.

That will help, but something else will have to give and first on Wiley's list of options for the board is the elimination of the Paratransit Group Pass.

"The group pass originated to provide a lower cost alternative for Paratransit eligible riders and their qualified care givers," Wiley explains. "The cost of riders to ride Paratransit is now $4, although the cost to RT is $60 per ride."

Anecdotal evidence cited by Wiley suggests that many people apply for Paratransit eligibility just so they can get the free RT pass.

A staff survey of transportation agencies found the free ride option is unusual. "Of the 20 transit agencies surveyed," according to Wiley, "only two, besides RT, offer free ridership."

As Wiley points out, while charging $1 is a big hike from a free ride, it is still a substantial discount from the $4 Paratransit charge.

Making Paratransit-qualified riders pay the same fare as the elderly will generate about $1.1 million in new revenue.

Another proposal that many will find annoying is the addition of a parking fee at light rail park-and-ride lots. Wiley is proposing a $1 to $2 fee, with the $2 option his preferred choice. Wiley estimates the $2 fee would generate $1.1 million, assuming a midyear start.

Wiley and his staff have found some staffing cuts, areas that he admits will cause morale problems, and a couple of options for stringing out how the district funds its pension. (This will not affect the actual pension benefits.)

And, finally, there's proposed fare increases. The staff has put together four scenarios. At one end, riders would see basic fares rising to $2.25, daily passes to $5.50 and the monthly pass going to $95. At the other extreme, basic fares would increase to $2.50, the daily pass to $6.25 and the monthly pass to $106.

Putting all of this together, Wiley offers two examples of how this could play out.

If the district needs to raise $5.3 million, RT could do that with the extra money from increased ridership, the end of Paratransit free rides, reduced staffing levels, a modest shift in the pension contributions and the smallest of the proposed fare increases.

If the state doesn't come through and RT has to make up for a cut of $11.8 million, then the real pain will happen. In addition to the other stuff, RT would institute the parking fee, increase the fares to the highest option, make an even more drastic adjustment to the pension contributions and reduce bus and light rail service enough to scrap together $6.6 million per year to achieve $3.3 million in fiscal year 2009. Wiley provides a number of ways to cut service to raise this money. (See this press release.)

It's time for more of those letters to lawmakers telling them the importance of transit and the reason why it should remain a priority for the state. The alternative is just too bleak to consider.

* * *

The public hearing will be held July 28 at 6 p.m. in the RT Auditorium located at 1400 29th Street (at N Street).

An infusion of live blogging

Live blogging from the infusion chair at the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center. We've got our beanie baby, best of Maria Callas on CD, the laptop connected to the hospital wi-fi and enough anti-nauseous meds to invite a daylong ride on an amusement park roller coaster.

We'll be back here every other week for 16 weeks. This will likely be the last photo I'll be allowed.

Beyond the obvious challenges we face, the cancer treatment has also disrupted our joint efforts to leave our cars at home.

Today, the wife was expecting to take the bus and trian and use the Medcenter's shuttle, but I suggested we drive instead. We don't know how she will react to her first infusion of anti-cancer drugs. Getting there would be fine, but the hourlong trip home might have been problematic.

The wife's future use of transit is also in doubt. The treatment has the effect of lowering the body's immunity to ordinary illnesses. Riding around for an hour in an enclosed environment with a bunch of other people is not encouraged. It's not prohibited, but it is certainly not recommended until the wife knows how well her immune system is holding up.

By the time the wife is finished with the chemo and recovered from surgery, Sacramento Regional Transit should be finished with its latest round of service cuts and fare hikes. There may not be any service for her to come back to.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Walk about with Google maps

The fantastic folks at Google have added walking to the options when you ask for directions at Google maps. Now you can drive, take transit or walk to your destination.

Here's an example covering a trip I take often from my neighborhood to Watt and El Camino:

Google Maps Directions Car, Transit, Walk

Here's the directions that come with the map:



Pretty cool.

* * *

In an earlier post, I ragged on Google for its inability to show a transit option for the wife's trip to work. Google kept showing this:

Apparently Google is getting closer to figuring out how to represent the wife's bus-train-bus-walk daily commute.

Unfortunately, Google still sometimes stretches to make a connection where there isn't one:

Well, it's the thought that counts!

: Here's an example of how it's supposed to work when you have to walk:

Outrageous Hero on the bus

Finished Maureen Collins Baker's "Outrageous Hero: The B.T. Collins Story." This book is more a sister's remembrance than a biography.

"As a biographer, I make no claim of impartiality, although I have traveled the country, watched miles of videotape, and conducted over 300 interviews before completing my brother's story. I have written to let you know B.T. Collins. I have written to honor heroes, and to preserve our memory of his kind of American. I have written out of love for my brother and for my country."
B.T. Collins served two tours in Vietnam, first as an artillery forward observer and finally as a Green Beret. It was while leading indigenous forces on June 20, 1967, in a firefight that a South Vietnamese mercenary tossed him a live grenade. The resulting explosion cost B.T. his right hand and right leg.

Baker's description of B.T. during his time at law school works for any period of his long career in public service:
"He was both deadly serious and frivolous; things mattered terribly or not at all. His behavior was unthinkable, yet totally without pretense. Somehow, people knew immediately they had to take him exactly as he was. Among the many lessons learned in Vietnam was the necessity of being pure. In combat, all men are laid bare. In the terror of the moment they are stripped to the soul and beyond. He would remain faithful to that essential truth and, in so doing, became, according to one of his professors, 'One giant breath of fresh air in a bullshit world.' "
I particularly enjoyed the chapter on B.T. time working for Gov. Jerry Brown -- the yin and yang of the governor and B.T. who were so different and yet fit so well together.

My favorite example of B.T.'s style of leadership came during his time in charge of the California Conservation Corps. His "troops" were going to fight in a war on the Mediterranean fruit fly, which threatened to devastate California's agriculture industry. The CCC crews were tasked with harvesting infested fruit after it had been sprayed with Malathion. CCC workers became concerned about the health hazard they faced.
"B.T. chose a highly unusual method of allaying their fears. He drank a glass of Malathion. He drank a glass of Malathion, diluted to same strength used for spraying. He drank a glass of Malathion in front of them, after assuring them that he would never put them in harm's way.

"Soldiers understand: Never ask your troops to do what you wouldn't do yourself."
B.T. Collins served in both Democratic and Republican administrations in Sacramento. It was one of the compelling things about him. He came to serve. It didn't matter which party was in power.

B.T. Collins died on March 19, 1993. He was 52. Are there any men like B.T. alive today?

I highly recommend this book. It's a fine read, especially if you are already familiar with B.T. Collins.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Live blogging from the UCD Medical Center

The wife is undergoing a series of cat scans and echocardigrams today in preparation for the start of chemotherapy next week. While she's being poked and imaged, I'm taking advantage of the free wi-fi access available throughout the main hospital. This is quite a luxury after yesterday's long day at the Ellison building, waiting for the wife's MRI. The Ellison building doesn't have wi-fi.

Today, I've been able to finish a free-lance article, check my job offers and monitor my blogs. Now, if Sacramento Regional Transit could figure out a way to add wi-fi to every light rail station and bus stop, perhaps the wait between buses and trains would be more bearable.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

What will it take to get you out of your car?

The current issue of the Sacramento News and Review has an excellent article What will it take to get you out of your car? The cover article does a nice job of merging the current situation with Sacramento Regional Transit's ongoing work on revising the Regional Transit Master Plan. Although there's nothing really new, the article is a valuable in-depth assessment of the local transit scene.

The transit glass half-full

Today, The Field Poll released results of a survey of how Californians are coping with higher gas prices.

"The steady unrelenting rise in gasoline prices is seen as an increasingly serious problem in this state and has caused two in three Californians (68%) to cut back on their spending in other areas," according to the poll. "Many motorists are employing a variety of gas saving measures, such as driving less (78%), buying lower grades of gasoline (67%), and using their more fuel efficient vehicle (59%). Smaller proportions also say they are carpooling more (28%), employees are taking jobs closer to their home or moving closer to their worksite (28%) or adjusting work hours so they are not commuting to the worksite as often (25%). Others report having replaced a car or truck with a more fuel-efficient vehicle (27%)."
And the least popular answer to the pinch of high gas prices: Riding transit.

At least that's how The Bee and pollster Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, pitched the results.

According to The Bee:
But most Californians say they’ll remain in their own cars. Only 17 percent say they take public transit more often and 28 percent say they are carpooling to work.

"We’re pretty much a society that was built around the automobile," DiCamillo said. "If Californians had their druthers, they would like to change the mix to hybrids or electric cars or something else. But I don’t see any evidence Californians really want to get out of their vehicles. It’s just too impractical."
So the glass is half-empty, maybe more if you are really attached to your Hummer or convinced that driving yourself everywhere is the very definition of independence. But from a tranistarian perspective, the poll results can just as easily be cheered.

The glass is half-full, or more precisely nearly a third full.

The Field Poll compares today's responses to those from 2005.

In 2005, the Field Poll found 13 percent of respondents riding transit. Three years later, 17 percent are riding.

In 2005, the number considering using transit was 9 percent. Today, 14 percent are considering using transit.

Where 22 percent were riding or thinking about using transit in 2005, we now have 31 percent.

Of course, it's the half-empty crowd that is ruining the party this year as record gas prices prompt record transit ridership. This is especially true in California's capital.

Today should be the best of times for Sacramento Regional Transit, a golden opportunity to convert more solo drivers into eco-friendly transit riders. But instead, RT is banging on pots and pans in an effort to wake current riders to the perils of proposals in the state Legislature to reduce state funding.

Earlier this year, RT started a letter writing campaign in opposition to the governor's proposed cuts. RT held a rally at the Capitol with other agencies interested in transit's availability. And this month, RT is finally trying to scare some response out of riders by announcing that every bus line and even light rail could face cuts in January 2009.

On Monday, July 28, at 6 p.m., RT will hold a public hearing at the Regional Transit auditorium at 1400 29th St. The topic of discussion will be proposed service changes to be implemented in January 2009.

"These changes may include possible reduction, discontinuation or realignment of ... routes on various service days," the July Next Stop News reports. "Due to anticipated State budget cuts, RT is forced to consider these cost-saving measures."

Regional Transit has already had to absorb state cutbacks from the previous year and a decline in the sales tax revenue caused by this year's economic downturn. If the Legislature agrees to the governor's suggested reductions in funding, RT will have no choice but to cut.

"This is your opportunity to provide input before recommendations are adopted by the RT Board of Directors on Monday, August 25, 2008," RT warns.

Anyone who ignores this warning won't have a leg to stand on when they find themselves next year waiting at the stop for a bus that never arrives because it was a victim of the cutbacks.

'What should I do?'

The wife walked the short distance from the bus stop to where I was parked. She leaned down and asked me, "What should I do?"

Each morning, I drive the wife to Watt Avenue, where she catches the No. 84 bus. She rides the No. 84 to the Starfire light rail station. She takes light rail to the Mather station and then hops on the No. 73 for the final leg of her commute to work.

In a perfect world, the wife would walk less than 100 yards each morning to the No. 82 stop on our street and then transfer to the No. 84, but the schedules don't align. Before I started dropping off the wife, I was more annoyed with this misalignment. Now I realize that several passengers on the No. 84 get off at the wife's stop when she boards and then wait five minutes and board the No. 82 when it arrives at the same stop. Of course, if the No. 80 and 84 ran on half-hour schedules instead of hourly . . .

Today, the wife had been standing at the stop for several minutes when the No. 82 came into view. There was no sign of the No. 84, which at this point was more than five minutes late.

"Take the 82," I told the wife. "You'll get to work a little later, but if the No. 84 never arrives you'll be even later."

As the No. 82 made the turn from Whitney onto Watt, the wife gathered her stuff. A half-dozen people were waiting to board.

The wife was the last to board. I watched her take a seat and then started home. As I pulled out of the shopping center parking lot I saw the No. 84 finally arrive. I called the wife to alert her. At the next stop, she got off the No. 82 and boarded the No. 84.

Back at the Watt and Whitney stop, two women now sat at the bus stop, waiting for the No. 82, a bus that wouldn't arrive for another half hour.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The end and the beginning

The wife and I are enjoying a leisurely breakfast at LaBou, across the street from the University of California, Davis, Medical Center. We are meeting the wife's oncologist to discuss her coming chemotherapy.

We took the No. 82 bus from our house to the 65th Street light rail station and rode the train to the 23rd Street station. Today I turned in my Sacramento Bee ID card. I am now officially unemployed.

I've decided this is good. I had been unhappy at The Bee. The lack of opportunities to do new things -- I'd been on the job for nearly 28 years -- combined with the increasing workload as staffing cutbacks took effect left me little reason to stick around.

But it took The Bee to cut the golden handcuffs that held me to the job. Now the opportunities are unlimited.

It also has been helpful that I have been free to travel with the wife as she prepares to battle breast cancer.

This all looks better today than it did June 16, 2008.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Go on the bus

It is as though I've been cut loose, set adrift after years at anchor.

I'm sitting on the ground, leaning against the No. 82 bus stop light pole at the 65th Street transit center. I've just arrived on the outbound train and I have 20 minutes to kill before the next bus home.

Years ago -- I am unable to say exactly how long, perhaps a decade or more -- I regularly played the Asian board game Go. Every night I played a game or two on the Internet and then each week I would drive to Davis and play with members of the Davis Sacramento Go Club at Cafe Roma.

Don't recall exactly why I stopped playing. The trips to Davis were the first to end. That was just too much of an indulgence, even in an era of pre-$2 gasoline. And then I stopped playing on the Internet. It was taking up too much time.

And then I found myself without a job and playing Go again.

When I checked the Go club's Web site, I discovered that not only do the members now gather Mondays in Sacramento, but they meet from 6 to 10 p.m. at the Natural Foods Co-Op at Alhambra and S streets. From a transitarian perspective, that couldn't be better.

Tonight I took the No. 82 to the 65th Street light rail station and then rode the train to 29th Street. It's hardly two blocks to the co-op.

It was fun playing games in person, rather than on the Internet. I embarrassed myself in my first game, won the next two and then was schooled by a young 7-don player who was kind enough to tell me I played well, but a little too cautiously.

At 9:06, the No. 82 rolled into the transit center. I put away my notebook and boarded the bus for the ride home. It was a nice outing and it didn't require a car.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Second Saturday on the train (continued)

For the second month, the wife and I drove to the Watt/I-80 light rail station and boarded the train at the Roseville Road station to go to Second Saturday festivities in midtown Sacramento.

Yes, it would be better if Sacramento Regional Transit ran its buses late enough to allow us to leave the car at home, but riding the train is certainly far better than trying to find a parking space. (And it gives me an excuse to blog about the trip.)

The wife and I walked from the 8th and I light rail station to J Street and then spent the evening walking the length of J Street with the occasional detour or two to K and I.

We had a wonderful dinner at Chicago Fire. The thin crust "traditional" pizza was great. The Greek fries and the baked artichoke appetizers were excellent.

Second Saturday may officially be an art walk -- and we do enjoy the galleries -- but what's really great are the bands. We particularly enjoyed these two:

Project Hideout

XMR, the Xavier Altimiras Blues Band

I'm taking these videos with a Nikon Coolpix camera. The sound sucks. Both bands deserve better.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Live blogging from Panera Bread on Chipotle night

Of all the places where I have used free wi-fi, nothing compares to the Panera Bread shop, at least the new store at 3328 El Camino. Every booth and table that touches a wall has a power outlet. Somebody was really thinking when they designed this place.

I'm here waiting for the wife. Friday is Chipotle night. It's been a tradition that predates the wife's conversion to a transitarian lifestyle. During her early transitarian days, she would ride the bus home, and then drive to Chipotle. Then Chipotle built a store at the other end of the building from Panera Bread. Now she gets off at the Butano and Sam's Club stop, walks to Chipotle, picks up a to-go order and then walks to Watt and El Camino in time to catch the next No. 82 home -- an edible transitarian adventure.

While I'm waiting I'm checking my "jobs" lists. Both Monster and CareerBuilder send me e-mails alerting me to job postings that meet my general interests and experience. I've sent off two, three, sometimes more, résumés and cover letters every day in response to Monster and CareerBuilder's suggestions. In the days since June 16, when I learned that I was going to be laid off, I've submitted dozens of applications.

It's amazing how the system works. I would have never imagined that more than 28 years in newspapers, a decade building Web sites and all of my various interests could be so aptly summarized in today's top job recommendation from CareerBuilder:


Subway pole dancing! Light rail next?

The naked guy who hijacked the Las Vegas bus can stay in Vegas, as the saying goes. But now we have Monserrat Morilles, 26, who decided to protest Chile's generally prudish ways by stripping and doing poll dances on Santiago subway trains.

Being a child of the '60s and all, this really does bring back the memories.

"This is just a beginning. We are starting an idea here that will grow and be developed further," she told Reuters as police and subway guards surrounded her.
You can find the complete Reuters story here.

Perhaps she could be invited to America by the people who sponsor the No Pants Metro Ride to add a little purpose to their annual rite.

Missed but not forgotten

The No. 82 bus made the turn from Eastern to Edison and lumbered east on its way to American River College. Every half-hour to ARC; every half-hour to Sacramento State and the 65th Street light rail station. I wasn't a big fan of buses when the wife and I purchased our house in 2003. But even then I realized that the noise of bus traffic would be outweighed by the convenience of regular service.

This morning I was walking the dog. Well, I was waiting for the dog. She's a sniffer, a Shepard mix with a canine journalist's obsession with reading the neighborhood news. More than half the time spent walking is really just standing.

As the bus approached I looked up to see who was driving. Nearly all of the drivers I've meet have been nice people, courteous and conscientious. But a few are particularly fun to ride with and one in particular stands out.

He's a jolly fellow, big. His thick white hair and gray beard -- without a moustache -- remind me of old sea captains. Perhaps in another life.

I remind him of Martin Mull for some reason. I discussed that here. He's also been the topic of other posts. For instance, this:

"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.
Before I could make out who was driving the approaching bus I could see both hands waving.

I waved back and smiled.

As the bus reached me, the driver saluted and then waived again as he continued on his way.

Like I said, I miss my regular commute. I didn't go anywhere yesterday except the short car trip to take the wife to her stop.

When I finished walking the dog, I turned my attention to my morning prayers. Since 1989, I've been a follower of the Japanese Buddhist sect founded by Nichiren. At least I've got plenty of time right now to fulfill my morning and evening obligations.

The altar in the living room includes a book with "Daily Wisdom" from the writings of Nichiren Daishonin. For today, July 11, it says:
Neither the pure land nor hell exists outside ourselves; both lie only within one's own heart. Awakened to this truth, one is called a Buddha; deluded about it, one is called an ordinary person. The Lotus Sutra reveals this truth, and one who embraces the Lotus Sutra will realize that hell is itself the Land of Tranquil Light.
Yesterday was a bad day.

Today is better.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Bad air quality

I want to monitor many more Web sites than I have time to visit. For most sites, I subscribe to RSS (really simple syndication) feeds and monitor content changes in my news reader. I'm a big Google Reader fan.

For static sites that don't have RSS feeds, I've found a very satisfactory alternative. Registered users of can enter URLs to be monitored. The site allows users to specify when the pages will be checked. You can check as often as once an hour. You can then receive an email that details the change in the static page.

For instance, I received this when I returned home on the bus today:

Differences in page
Public transportation reduces pollution and helps promote cleaner air.
I had to laugh at this, not just because of the deadly air here in Sacramento, but because it wasn't true on my trip downtown today.

Smells on the bus are not that common, certainly not as common as one might expect for a public conveyance -- the great unwashed hordes, and all that. But overstrong perfume is much more likely than unwashed body odor.

But shit happens.

A whole bag of shit judging from the smell that drew me out of my book and sent several riders fleeing the front of the No. 82 bus early this afternoon.

At first I thought a guy who walked past me was carrying a load in his pants. But then I noticed several people moving from the front of the bus to the back. Others were squirming and covering their noses with the collars of their T-shirts.

Attention was focusing on a skinny guy seated near the front door. He didn't look dirty. His clothes appeared clean. But the unmistakable smell of shit was spreading from him to every corner of the bus. My guess was that the smell was coming from a white plastic shopping bag and black trash bag on the floor in front of him. He was clutching the bags as if they were his only possessions in the world. Before long there was no one within four seats of the guy, and every window in the bus was open -- 106-degree heat or no.

The driver eventually realized he had a problem. He exchanged some words with the guy that I didn't hear while the bus was between stops, but the guy was unmoved. At Kaiser Hospital the driver stopped the bus and told the guy to leave. He refused. The driver got out of his seat and said he would have the guy removed. The guy refused to budge. The driver picked up the phone to call for help and several passengers who remained in the front of the bus shouted for the guy to leave.

The standoff didn't last long. The guy may have been crazy -- no one in their right mind smells like that -- but he wasn't that crazy. He scurried off the bus using the rear door and then went around to the front to salute the driver with his middle finger.

Call me crazy, but I miss my daily commute.

What happens in Vegas . . .

From the file: What Happens in Las Vegas, Stays in Las Vegas -- please

Naked man hijacks bus

A naked man was arrested Tuesday morning after hijacking a Citizens Area Transit bus.

Las Vegas police said the man, 35-year-old Charles P. Sell, was first seen stealing a beer at the 7-Eleven on the corner of Lamb Boulevard and Washington Avenue about 8 a.m.

An officer arrived at the scene and the man fled, a police spokesman said.

Sell then climbed onto the back of a moving CAT bus traveling east on Washington, broke one of the back windows with his fists, and climbed in.

He threw the driver off the bus and drove it about 200 yards before jumping off, according to police. An officer climbed aboard and stopped it. ...

Spider's Web on the bus

Finished Alan Friedman's "Spider's Web: The secret history of how the White House illegally armed Iraq," a 1993 volume that documents, literally, the efforts of the Reagan and Bush I administrations, Britain and Italy to arm Iraq during and after the Iran-Iraq War.

I found this book on a shelf in my study when I went to put away Ahmed Rashid's "Descent into Chaos," which deals with the current Bush disaster. "Spider's Web" was one of those remainder books I picked up somewhere and never read. Reading it today gives a whole new perspective on U.S. involvement in Iraq.

For instance, take this from Friedman's "Endgame" chapter:

In the 1980s, at times in the name of anti-Soviet containment, and because of the obsessive drive to guarantee access to Persian Gulf oil, the Reagan and Bush administrations, with people like George Bush and James Baker in positions of primary responsibility, did virtually anything they wanted. The government's lack of accountability, either to Congress or to the public, was so egregious as to pose a silent threat to the principles of American democracy.
Who was the defense secretary in this period? Dick Cheney. And who was President Reagan's special Middle East envoy? Donald Rumsfeld. And then there's Robert Gates, today's defense secretary who worked for Bush I in the CIA and in the White House as deputy national security adviser. Is it any wonder that today's "war on terror" suffers from the same lawlessness?

The first Gulf War was full of irony. As Operation Desert Storm was broadcast live on CNN:
Millions of dollars' worth of the military equipment that the West had covertly supplied to Iraq, and billions more in high technology that Saddam Hussein had illicitly obtained, were now being bombed by his principal suppliers.

The cluster bomb factories that Carlos Cardoen had supplied and built were among the very first targets. Those had arrived in Iraq with CIA knowledge and blessings. The radar-guided antiaircraft systems that resembled fireworks over CNN as they assisted Baghdad's defenses had wound their way to the Iraqi capital from James Guerin's companies in Pennsylvania. The computers from Hewlett-Packard, the trucks from General Motors, the satellite down-links from California, and a thousand more U.S.-supplied components of Saddam's huge military machine were being methodically obliterated.
The depth of the U.S., British and Italian involvement in supporting Iraq's weapons programs, including its efforts to build nuclear-weapons-capable missiles, is outlined by Friedman in detail and supported by 73 pages of documents and another 69 pages of notes.

At the time, President George H.W. Bush lamely excused this commerce as an effort by the world community to bring Iraq into the family of nations. A more glaring example of immoral government actions is hard to imagine. At least it was hard to imagine before the current administration's preemptive return to the region.

Regime change, anyone?

Friday, July 4, 2008

Noise-cancelling the wife

For the Fourth of July, the wife and I took the bus from our house to the shopping district at Watt and El Camino.

It's something of a challenge to travel during Sacramento Regional Transit's "Sunday/Holiday" service. Our normally half-hourly No. 82 bus slips to hourly, and planning a shopping trip around an hourly bus schedule requires a very relaxed attitude about when you will finally return home.

The wife started the shopping with a spree at Macy's in Country Club Plaza. Across the street at Office Depot, I answered with a purchase of noise-cancelling earbuds for my mp3 player. In between we stopped by Wal-Mart, Michaels and Bed, Bath and Beyond. We had planned to finish with some Chipotle to take home, but it was closed. We had to settle for La Bou.

It was while we were waiting for the bus home that I first experienced the hidden magic of noise cancelling technology.

The theory is easy enough to understand. Sound moves in waves with peaks and valleys. The earbuds have tiny microphones that sample the outside noise. By generating a counter wave, the outside noise is cancelled while, one hopes, leaving the music unscathed.

Seated on a curb in the shade behind the bus stop on Watt outside Woody's Restaurant, I tried the earbuds out. Sure enough, there was a big improvement. The earbuds promise 75 percent noise reduction. I have no idea if the results were that good, but the music was clear and the outside noise so far in the background as to no longer be intrusive.

When I looked at the wife I realized she was talking. I had to pull out an earbud to hear what she had to say.

The reason I wanted the noise-cancelling earbuds was for use on the bus. The few times I've tried to listen to music on the bus have been a real disappointment. The bus is just not a quiet place. This, of course, explains why it is so common to overhear what other riders are listening to. They have to crank up the volume.

When the bus arrived we took our seats and I stuck in the earbuds and turned on the noise cancelling. It was amazing how well it worked. I could still hear the bus noise, but again it was far enough in the background that I could easily focus on the music. And the more I focused on the music, the more the bus noise seemed to disappear.

When I looked at the wife I realized she was talking. I had to pull out an earbud to hear what she had to say.

We had planned to take the No. 82 bus to our house, but the No. 84 arrived first. The No. 84 gets us within a mile and a half of home, and we decided we could use the exercise of the walk to our house. In was after 6 p.m. and the weather was not too hot.

It was during that walk home that I finally realized the real magic of the noise-cancelling earbuds.

When we started walking, I put the earbuds in and turned on the noise cancelling.

When I looked at the wife I realized she was talking. I had to pull out an ear bud to hear what she had to say.

I put the earbuds back in, and when I looked at the wife I realized she was talking.

I tested this for a few more times. Sure enough: earbuds in, wife talks. Even after several minutes of silence: earbuds in, wife talks.

Isn't technology amazing?

Thursday, July 3, 2008

One more reason for regime change

A press release from the American Public Transportation Association says the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill on June 26 that "authorizes $850 million for both Fiscal Year (FY) 2008 and 2009 to help transit systems cope with rising fuel costs and to promote public transportation ridership as a means to reduce domestic fuel consumption."

Sounds wonderful.

But it won't happen.

"Further action by Congress on the bill is not certain. The Senate is not expected to consider a similar measure, and the Bush Administration has stated opposition to the bill based on the use of federal funds for the operating purposes outlined in the bill," according to Homer Carlisle of APTA's Government Affairs Department.

One more reason for regime change.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Honk if you love transit

From the Onion:

Another reason to ride the bus

I was heading downtown yesterday to buy the wife's July pass and then head back out to meet her at 65th Street. I've got to go somewhere to get my reading time in. I miss the regular commute.

Behind me in the bus was a woman completing some sort of business call, perhaps a sales call. Listening in I was reminded that July 1 marked the start of new law that says drivers must be 18 years old to use a cell phone while driving. In addition, drivers can't hold the phone while driving. There's no grace period. The fine is $20 for the first offense and up to $50 for subsequent convictions.

The woman behind me wasn't the only passenger using the time on the bus to keep in touch. Another woman in the front spent nearly the entire ride with her phone held to her ear.

So again the bus is better than driving alone. It's cheaper. You can read while you travel. And, now, you can legally chat on the phone, no matter your age.