I'm a big fan of Les Misérables. I just couldn't resist posting this:
At American River College, I'm taking a short, one-unit class of making web sites accessible to the handicapped. I'll have to share this with the class.
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
If you are interested in improving transit and moving our nation away from its car-centric development focus, visit Transportation for America at t4america.org.
Transportation for America is made up of a growing and diverse coalition focused on creating a national transportation program that will take America into the 21st century by building a modernized infrastructure and healthy communities where people can live, work and play.Work is ongoing in Washington to develop a real stimulus package that would generate jobs by accelerating the construction of transit projects around the country.
An investment in public transit is – the single “best bet” that we can place as a nation.
Drip. Drip. Drip.
The race to the end starts with a single drip today. Five hundred milliliters later, the last of the wife's chemotherapy will set to work to finish its job. The drug speeds along at a blinding 195mL/hour. Today's leg of the race will take three hours.
This is the eighth time we have been here at the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center at the UCD Medcenter campus in Sacramento. The nurses have been great, but we won't miss the every-other-week trips to the infusion center.
The wife's oncologist says the treatment appears to have been effective in reducing the lumps. Now the surgeon takes over. The surgeon's office is attempting to arrange a meeting today, but there has been no word.
Posted by John Hughes at 11:15 AM
With The Bee still unable to find space for a story about Sacramento Regional Transit ending free fares for some disabled riders and hiking fares for everyone else, it's nice to see The Bee can still afford to be its movie reviewer to travel on Amtrak and BART to gather that important movie news that sells all of those newspapers.
I'm in San Francisco at Rail-Volution and Carla Meyer rode along on Amtrak and then boarded BART at Richmond. I left her on BART when I got off at Embarcadero to go to the Hyatt Regency.
Posted by John Hughes at 10:07 AM
So this morning I'm on the train back to Oakland. I'll be in San Francisco for part of the day at the Rail-Volution convention. Transit has become an even bigger deal for me since I was laid off by The Sacramento Bee.
Yesterday, I left work early so that I could attend part of Sacramento Regional Transit's board meeting. I arrived in Sacramento at 6 p.m. and caught a No. 30 bus to 28th and J Street. I arrived at the RT headquarters at 28th and N a little after 6:30 p.m., just in time to catch the discussion about the measures that would be needed to fill the hole torn in the budget by the state's theft of money RT had been counting on.
Big news. Or not.
The Sacramento Bee had its regular transportation beat reporter at the meeting. RT had given him a stack of paper several inches thick of background information -- paperwork not given to me or any of the others in the audience. He followed along in the material as the presentation was given. He had everything needed for an excellent "news" story and access to anyone on the staff if he had a question. The vote was over by 8 p.m.
Having watched all that on my own time as a private citizen, I was curious what The Sacramento Bee would publish in today's paper.
The Sacramento Bee is available for free on Amtrak trains in the morning. I don't know if Amtrak is treating or The Bee is giving the paper away. This morning I picked up a copy and paged through it looking for the story about the fare hike in January and how the handicapped riders would lose their free rides in December.
I paged through the paper a second time. I started this blog post. Stopped and paged through the paper a third time. I searched for "Regional Transit" on sacbee.com.
On the front page, The Bee announces the early results are in on The Bee's comics poll. "In the early returns, 85 percent of voter's lists include "Zits," with "Luann" and "Pickles" in a tie for second."
And on the "front" of the Business news, deep inside "Our Region," was the headline "Bee's paid circulation declines 4.2 percent."
Posted by John Hughes at 8:31 AM
I took my new toy to the Sacramento Regional Transit board meeting Monday night and came away with these audio highlights.
County Supervisor Roger Dickinson wins high marks for trying, if not for his elocution, as he attempts to make the case that the increased ridership RT has been seeing so far this year will more than cover the hole in the budget that the fare hike will fill.
RT expects to raise $2.5 million between Jan. 1, 2009, and the start of the new fiscal year in July. The staff explained that the $2.5 million total takes into account the "deflection" that will occur when people who have a choice vote with their wheels and drive to work rather than pay the new fares. I bought gas for the kid tonight. It's now under $2.80. Sure, it's unlikely to go much further, but when that fare hike hits, I wouldn't be surprised if the "deflection" is a lot more than the 2 percent that staff predict, especially on light rail.
Dickinson came back to the topic again and then forever won my gratitude by bringing up the topic of making people pay for transfers, a system that began in the 1980s when RT redesigned its routes to make the central role of buses feeders for light rail rather than stand alone services.
Regular riders will whine come January, but the disabled community took the biggest hit.
Today, RT provides free rides for people qualified to use Paratransit and their care givers. There's no secret why: It costs more than $40, perhaps as much as $60, for every door-to-door trip by Paratransit. By law, RT can charge no more than twice the regular bus fare for this service. Some time ago, RT figured that the money saved by getting people to use RT's fixed routes instead of Paratransit would more than cover the free rides.
That was then. This is now. And RT lusts after the $1.3 million it thinks it will collect from charging $1.10 for the 200,000 trips each month that they currently give away for free.'
The problem with charging the regular disabled fare for riders who qualify for Paratransit service wasn't lost on this blind woman:
RT staff argue that paying $1.10 vs. paying the new $4.50 Paratransit fee (double the new $2.25 basic fare) will keep these people on fixed route buses. But its not hard to imagine what would happen if half of those 200,000 monthly trips were taken on Paratransit.
Rubbing salt in the wound, RT will end the free rides in December, a month before regular fares increase. Staff argued that they didn't want news of the change to be lost in the noise of the regular fare hike. No one on the board expressed any sympathy for this additional insult to the disabled.
Still, the prize for callousness doesn't go the staff who brought this proposal or to the board members who approved it. No, that prize goes to this guy:
Here are the new fares:
Details are also available here.
Posted by John Hughes at 9:55 PM
Oil prices have gone down, and gas prices are going down. In spite of this, RT’s ridership for the month of September continues the District’s exceptionally positive increase. Although gas prices have gone down to the same levels as last year, many commuters that tried transit when fuel was at $4 a gallon are now realizing they save much more then $20 a tank. Compared to September 2007 system wide ridership increased over 23% and rail ridership increased 22%. This month also saw a 23% increase in bus ridership despite a 5% bus service reduction implemented in January 2008.The thing I like the most about this is the strength of bus ridership. Bus ridership is now higher than at any point in the last 12 months. (See chart above) Light rail, on the other hand, lags well behind its previous peak.
Posted by John Hughes at 3:17 PM
Back on Oct. 13, I mentioned a late-night party bus service that takes customers from the Detroit suburbs to downtown nightspots. Wow, I thought, that would be a real boon to midtown nightlife.
Reader Mattie agreed (October 17, 2008 6:05 PM):
While your idea of the businesses’ benefitting from this service subsidizing its operation is quite possible, RT is precluded by Federal law from operating charter services. However, you may want to pursue this idea with the various associations of downtown and central city establishments who could hire a private bus company.Let's assume for argument sake that there really is a law that prevents RT from operating charter services. That's certainly a law we could do without.
Posted by John Hughes at 10:37 PM
Sacramento Regional Transit is inviting people to play the "Willingness-to-
Unfortunately, this online game most likely has the same relation with reality as all the other online Sim games. It's just too hard right now to imagine a time when RT can do any of this stuff. They can't even fund today's operation. And next Monday, the board will vote to raise fares just to climb out of the hole that the governor dug for them.
UPDATE: The results of RT's online survey have been posted here. Given the way RT phrased the options, it is surprising that only 61 percent thought Scenario C should be RT's long range vision.
Posted by John Hughes at 11:26 AM
I've been given my very last option: If I can't start catching a bus by 5 p.m. from 9th and J, or at least the convention center, I have to start driving again. And I love being a "transitarian." My husband says he wants me alive, and that's it's not safe being downtown alone in the dark, waiting for a bus. I've got the mile walk home also. Financially, my company offers free parking or free RT pass, but I love trying to do my part to lessen my carbon footprint and the downtown traffic congestion. If others would also, I wouldn't be the only one at the bus stop after 6 p.m.Between the chicken and the egg stands the ever weakening resolve of good intentions.
I admit it. I didn't believe I could count on a bus schedule with connection windows of less than 10 minutes. Not once, but twice the buses must run on time or I'll miss my final Amtrak connection.
So four days a week I board the bus and settle into a seat and read a book, each day growing more comfortable with the routine.
Oh, how I wish the return trip were as seamless. When the wife is available, she picks me up at the Amtrak station. That pretty much wipes out the gasoline savings from taking the bus to Amtrak in the morning. Still, we're managing to get by with just one car and that in itself is a significant savings.
My problem in the evening is that the trains and the J Street buses that could meet my No. 82 bus home start running on 30-minute schedules about the time I arrive on Amtrak from Oakland. If my morning connections are too close to be believed, my evening connections are too far apart to be tolerated.
So when the wife is not available my best option is to walk to where I can catch a Watt-1-80 bound train. If the Amtrak train is a little early, which does happen, I can catch a light rail train at St. Rose at 7:44 p.m. If Amtrak is on time or a little late, it's 8:14 before the next light rail ride. Worse, from the perspective of the wait, is having to watch the empty out-of-service trains roll by.
Once on light rail, I ride to the end of the line and then board the No. 1 bus. That's a fairly nice connection, as connections go, but the closest the No. 1 gets to my house is a little more than a half-mile. That walk wouldn't be too bad, except that the streets in that neighborhood have no sidewalks, which means walking in the street in the dark. It can be done, but only if it is the very last option.
Come to think of it, that could easily be the Sacramento Regional Transit rider's motto: It can be done, but only if it is the very last option. And with fare increases on the way, the picture is just going to get less appealing.
Former Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill coined the phrase "all politics is local." It works the same with news.
The Wikipedia article on O'Neill's quote explains that the phrase "encapsulates the principle that a politician's success is directly tied to his ability to understand and influence the issues of his constituents. Politicians must appeal to the the simple, mundane and everyday concerns of those that elect them into office. Those personal matters not big and intangible ideas are often what voters care most about, according to this principle."
The same is true for news organizations and others who would serve the needs of their community. It's the mundane and everyday concerns that matter most. That's why I welcome the addition of Sacramento Press to the local news scene.
Georff Samek and Ben Ilfeld have a vision for a micro-targeted neighborhood reporting that could revolutionize the meaning of community news.
I wish them good fortune.
Posted by John Hughes at 9:32 PM
Four mornings each week I board a bus near my house and then another at Sacramento State, and I end up at the Amtrak Station in time to board a train to Oakland. It's a long trip to the Amtrak station -- about an hour -- but there are no long waits or walking, and I like to read on the bus.
Each evening when I return to Sacramento on Amtrak I mutter curses about Regional Transit and its unwillingness to provide a reasonable level of bus service after 7 p.m. Rather than attempt to make lemonade from the bitter fruit left on RT's schedule, I hang my head in shame as I wait for the wife to pick me up.
Somewhere there must be an entrepreneurial spirit who could fill the need. Even if it were only on weekends to bring people to the night clubs in downtown and midtown. Once that proved successful, it could expand to other nights.
This all comes to mind after reading about the Night Move bus service in Detroit.
The Night Move is no ordinary bus. Fueled by a biodiesel engine and decked out in starry decals over a metallic-gray body, the bus will streak along Woodward carrying nightlife seekers at all hours of the night every weekend. The creator, 26-year-old Chris Ramos, said his bus is the green answer to mass transit in a metropolitan area desperately in need of it. The bus started rolling Friday night. Unlike the SMART bus system, the Night Move operates only on Fridays and Saturdays from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m., offering round-trips to and from Detroit, Royal Oak and Ferndale for $12. The bus provides maps of restaurants and bars and information on attractions and events in Detroit's reemerging social scene.It sure would be nice if Sacramento Regional Transit had a little entrepreneurial spirit of its own and aggressively pursued opportunities for public-private funding to extend service. This certainly sounds like something midtown and downtown businesses ought to be willing to consider. Imagine Second Saturday crowds every Saturday?
Posted by John Hughes at 10:12 PM
Everything is comparative. Sacramento Regional Transit is a marginal service with a myopic focus on downtown commuters when compared to, say, transit options available in the Bay Area. But RT is a progressive visionary when compared to the new Texas City Connect bus service that will debut at 9 a.m. Oct. 20 outside the Texas City City Hall.
According to a small piece in the Houston Chronicle the new bus service will run weekdays, except holidays, at 45-minute intervals from 6:15 a.m. to 6:10 p.m.
Now if this sounds a bit crazy or, at best, not well thought through, consider this: "The service will be operated by Connect Transit, owned by the Gulf Coast Center, which provides mental health services for Galveston and Brazoria counties."
Posted by John Hughes at 1:37 PM
Just a reminder that Sacramento Regional Transit "continues its outreach effort for the Transit Master Plan (TMP) -- a new Transit Vision for the next 30 years -- by hosting eight community workshops throughout the Sacramento region."
The first one is tonight at Rusch Park Auditorium, 7801 Auburn Boulevard, Citrus Heights, from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
These seminars are supposed to focus on "funding elements" of the plan. It's hard to imagine anything realistic coming out of this when the district hasn't been able to find a way to fund its current limited operations. The impact of the economic downturn, which cut sales tax revenue, and the governor's theft of transit money two years in a row will force RT to raise fares. The question of when fares will increase will be decided at the board meeting Oct. 27.
Can RT think outside the box on funding? Can it see beyond another sales tax hike?
I'd like to see the district and its board -- a board, by the way, composed of representatives of every local government in RT's service area -- adopt what I'll call the "Park District" approach to funding.
Sacramento County residents will be familiar with the idea of funding parks and recreation with benefit assessment districts. People served by the parks pay an annual fee to pay to maintain and improve parks. That's what RT needs, but with a special twist.
Instead of raising money from an assessment to property taxes, as a park district does, RT's "Park District" should assess a fee on each parking space in its service area.
Businesses would be expected to pass this fee on to people who use the parking lots. In fact, businesses should be encouraged to do so. Don't want to pay the extra cost to park? Ride the bus.
Unlike sales tax revenue, which rises and falls with the economy, or state funding, which can't be guaranteed, a fee applied to parking spaces would establish a firm foundation from which to plan a transit system worthy of the name.
The remaining meetings are scheduled for:
City of Rancho Cordova,
American River North Room
2729 Prospect Park Drive
Wednesday, October 15
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Samuel Pannell Meadowview Community Center
2450 Meadowview Road, Sacramento
Tuesday, October 21
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
City of Folsom Community Center
52 Natoma Street
Thursday, October 23
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
South Natomas Community Center
2921 Truxel Road, Sacramento
Tuesday, October 28
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Tsakopoulos Library Galleria,
East Meeting Room
828 I Street, Sacramento
Thursday, October 30
5 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
5750 Grant Avenue
Thursday, November 6
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
City of Elk Grove Council Chambers
8400 Laguna Palms Way
Thursday, November 13
6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
I took part of my lunch to participate in Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley's first "Transit Talk with the General Manager." The conversation is billed as a chat but it's more a Q&A since there's no opporunity to reply Wiley's responses.
Here's my questions and Wiley's answer:
Sacramento, CA: Two-part question: 1. The availability of transit services increases the value of nearby properties. Has the district considered options for capturing the value of transit in order to create a more stable source of funding? Examples of value-capture include an assessment district within the service area; tax-increment financing for new projects such as the DNA and south line extension; joint development efforts similar to the Greenbriar DNA station; assessing fees against development projects with sprawl-inducing projects paying more. 2. The Regional Transit board contains representatives of each local government in RT's service area. What is the board doing to coordinate local government efforts to explore and implement value-capture ideas such as those mentioned in question one.My unsent reply: I chuckled at the idea that RT takes capital funding money from Elk Grove, which it doesn't serve, and Natomas, which it poorly serves. That's probably the best argument opponents of additional funding for RT could make. The availability of transit, just as with the availability of public parks, is a community benefit and the community should pay a fee for that service. A districtwide fee similar to a park district is not unreasonable. As for "Our Board is actively engaged in these funding and financing discussions," I'd like to see some actions to match the words.
Reply: RT is developing a financing plan as part of our Transit Master Plan, which includes value capture mechanisms to provide funding for both capital and operating costs. We already benefit from developer fees in such areas as Natomas or Elk Grove-Vineyards (for capital purposes only), and other areas of Sacramento County. We are actively pursuing joint development opportunities at many of our light rail stations. Our Board is actively engaged in these funding and financing discussions, and will be adopting the financing plan as part of the Transit Master Plan in spring of 2009.
Sacramento, CA: Do you ride transit to work?My unsent reply: That is at least better than the members of the board. But "when my schedule permits" is just smoke to cloud the real issue: It's all about "When RT's schedule permits" and the sad fact is that RT's schedule outside commute hours is next to useless.
Reply: I ride transit to work occasionally, when my schedule permits. I ride buses and light rail trains to various meetings and appointments on a regular basis, usually several times a week. I enjoy riding the system so that I can talk to customers and employees and gain first hand experience on how our service is accommodating your needs. Many of RT's employees ride the system to work, with many more using the system to get around during the day.
Sacramento, CA: What is the status of the state budget regarding transportation? I'm still concerned about its effect on RT especially looking at the pending fare hikes/Paratransit cuts that may or may not be in effect in the future.After I read this, I tried to do a Google news search to read more about the governor's handiwork. Nothing. Why hasn't there been any discussion of the fact that the governor is solely responsible for the rate hikes and other damage that will be done to RT by his cuts in transit funding? As a yellow dog Democrat, I was relieved to find the Democrats didn't cave on this issue. Of course, I'm not holding my breath waiting for a veto override. That would be too much to ask.
Reply: I regret to say that although the budget for fiscal year 2009 has been passed, it was also "blue penciled by the Governor, removing transit funding that had been replaced by the legislature. In the end, RT faces a deficit of State funding of just over $11.3 million. This is forcing us to implement the fare increase that was discussed in the public hearings in July and August. We have identified a combination of revenue enhancement and cost cutting activities that will allow us to balance our budget without cutting service.
Posted by John Hughes at 4:58 PM
Posted by John Hughes at 4:37 PM
News from RT:
The Sacramento Regional Transit District on Friday conducts its first live online chat from noon to 1 p.m. with RT general manager Mike Wiley.That's not a lot of warning, but this is a good time to have a chat with Mike.
Wiley will host a monthly online “Transit Talk with the General Manager.” The chats typically will take place on the first Friday of the month at www.sacrt.com, giving the public an opportunity to interact directly with Wiley, ask transit-related questions and get immediate feedback.
“RT’s new online chat is another opportunity to communicate with our riders and to keep them informed,” Wiley said, in a news release.
The first session will cover general transit questions. Future sessions will focus on specific topics, such as the Transit Master Plan.
No registration is required to participate. Questions will be accepted two hours before the session, and through the end of the live chat.
RT stated all along that the Governor's proposal would reduce RT funding by an additional $11.3 million on top of the $7 million we previously assumed. That is exactly what happened. We lost a total of $18.3 million plus any additional spill-over from higher gas prices for FY 09. That amounts to approximately 12.2 % of our FY 09 operating budget. Yes we are going to our Board for final action on a fare increase and other things on 10/27, to plug the $11.3 million hole.Here are the questions I will pose if I have an opportunity to take part in this chat:
I realize that fare hikes are your only near-term option, but has the district considered some of the longer term options for capturing the value of transit: an assessment district for operating expenses; tax-increment financing for new projects such as the DNA and south line extension; joint development efforts similar to the Greenbriar DNA station; assessing fees against development projects with sprawl-inducing projects paying more?
A mix of those might help RT secure reliable operating revenue that isn't as easily disrupted by downturns in the economy. Of course, those options would require that RT's board return to their respective local governments and work to help RT. Why don't we see that happening?
The wife is napping in her infusion chair. I'm seated next to the soiled linen container at the foot of her recliner, tapping away on my laptop. There's a certain business air about the place as the nurses pace about the room, caring for patients and the attached machinery.
This is our sixth trip to the Infusion Center at the University of California, Davis, Cancer Center. The wife will have two more infusions, and then she'll be done. The sound you hear is the hollow gourd-like noise made when I rap my knuckles on my wooden noggin.
While waiting in the reception area, the wife and another patient got into a conversation in the course of the which we learned that she has been undergoing breast cancer treatment for 15 years. She certainly acted the role of grizzled veteran. She was complaining about the time it takes after you arrive before you see the nurses. The wife sympathized. Her appointment was scheduled for 10 a.m. and it was now 10:35.
The woman made clear -- both in words and her manner -- that she wasn't going to let the staff get away with making her wait longer than absolutely necessary. She would go off to talk to supervisors and nurses and come back and continue her complaint. After so many years, I thought to myself, I guess you become something of a jailhouse lawyer -- the guy who knows all the rules and angles and makes sure no one takes unfair advantage.
Eventually an Avon sales lady sat down and started passing out samples to all of the women. The Avon lady explained that she was a breast cancer patient herself and was there today to deliver some stuff to one of the infusion nurses.
The other woman asked the Avon lady what her name was. The sales lady handed the woman a card and asked her name.
"Ellie," she said.
The Avon lady said, "Nice to meet you Ellen."
"No," the woman corrected. "It's Ellie. Ellie Nesler."
A short while later Ellie was finally called away by a nurse. Once the wife was settled and I had my laptop out it didn't take long to figure out why Ellie Nesler's name had seemed so familiar.
"Ellie Nesler, the Sonora woman who made international headlines after she shot and killed her son's alleged molester in a Jamestown courtroom ..."
Posted by John Hughes at 1:22 PM
The Amtrak train is rolling out of Sacramento and across the bridge as I write these words.
Thank you, Mr. Bus Driver.
I've mentioned before my anxiety over the limited nature of my bus schedule. I take two buses to reach Amtrak in the morning. If I don't make the connection between the No. 82 and the No. 31, I don't make the train.
This morning I was buried in my book in the rear of the bus, but not so immersed that I didn't hear the bus radio traffic. The bus had just finished picking up passengers at the Watt and Wal-Mart stop when I overheard radio traffic from a bus driver telling dispatch that he had a rider who needed to make a connection with the No. 82 heading for 65th Street light rail.
"Did you copy that, eight-two-oh-one?" asked the dispatcher. I didn't hear what the driver replied. I was hoping maybe another No. 82 heading in our direction was being asked to wait. No such luck.
We waited and I worried. I tried to focus on my book.
Two, maybe three minutes later, an elderly woman struggled onto the bus, wrestling with her rolling suitcase. Once she was aboard, the driver quickly closed the door. As the bus pulled away from the curb, there was loud knock on the side of the bus and a shout for the driver to wait. The driver pulled back to the curb and opened the door to board one final passenger.
There's a certain rhythm that a driver normally maintains to meet the regular schedule. It's a matter of pacing. Driving too fast just causes the driver to have to sit and wait at the timing points. But when a driver is working to make up lost time, passengers can tell. The hard breaking into stops and the quick acceleration leaving stops literally hold back the clock.
I wasn't at all convinced that this would be enough. We still had to pick up the crowds of Sacramento State students who fill the bus to standing room. And then as the bus raced to the finish line, the driver took one final shortcut that told me the bus had a real speed racer at the helm.
Between Fair Oaks and 65th Street station, the No. 82 and the No. 87 buses follow the same route and make the same stops. Normally, the No. 87 is behind the No. 82. When the No. 82 turned onto Fair Oaks, heading toward the J Street bridge and Sacramento State, the No. 87 was in front, stopped at Cadillac and Fair Oaks. Our driver opted to skip that stop and instead moved into the left lane, adding the time saved to the total of his effort to catch up.
I have no doubt that the extra effort of the driver made it possible for me to catch the No. 31 and make it to my Amtrak train on time.
Again, Thank You, Mr. Bus Driver.
Now I'll go get a coffee in the lounge car and get to work.
* * *
Postscript: When I purchased my coffee and bagel, the attendant took my money and gave me my change. When the cash register finally coughed up the receipt, the attendant looked at it and told me, "Give me back that money."
Turns out Amtrak has a lottery going. If your receipt has red stars printed on it, then your purchase is free.
Must be my lucky day. I'm going to purchase a Lotto ticket now.