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

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Getting around

Today was just one of those days.

The wife had to be at the UC Davis Medical Center pre-op room in the main hospital at 6:30 a.m. She's not a morning person. We got there at 6:40 a.m. I drove.

I'd like to say it hurt to put aside my transitarian dedication to leaving the car at home and relying instead on Sacramento Regional Transit. But it didn't.

By noon, the wife was back in her bed at home, the surgery declared a piece of cake -- images of slices and knives and party hats. Final word on whether all of the cancer was removed this time won't arrive until next Thursday.

At 12:37, I was standing at my bus stop waiting for the No. 82. I had a 2 p.m. appointment with the opthalmology clinic back at the UC Davis Medical Center.

Here was an example of when the bus is actually a good thing. I have tried to drive with my eyes dilated. It's torture. Obviously, the wife couldn't drive me, and the kid was caring for the wife. The bus was a perfect option.

Which brings me to an odd lesson. Every time I've taken transit to the Medical Center, I've taken the bus to 65th Street and then the train down to 39th. From there, you can either wait for the hospital shuttle or take a short walk to the campus.

It wasn't until I was leaving the Ellison Building at 48th and Y streets after my appointment that it occurred to me that I didn't have to walk all the way to 39th and R. There's a light rail stop on 48th Street. Duh!

Of course, no good fortune goes unrewarded. I walked to the station and arrived just in time to see an inbound train arrive and depart. And I waited. And waited. And waited.

And then I watched another inbound train arrive and depart the station.

Of course, the only way to get the outbound trains to start running again in a situation like this is to call 321-BUSS. By the time you get a live person on the phone, the faint headlight of the train will be just visible in the distance. And so it was.

Which leaves the final puzzle: At each of the light rail stations I visited today, RT had set up signs with notices about the new fares. Each was chained to a nearby structure.

I suppose experience has taught RT that everything not tied down will walk away. After January 1, those people chained to transit will still be there. But what about those who have a choice?

Monday, December 29, 2008

Infusion of infamy (coda)

On Oct. 2, the wife was in the midst of her every-other-week chemo infusions at the UC Davis Cancer Center when her path crossed that of Ellie Nesler. I wrote about it in the "Infusion of infamy" post.

"Ellie Nesler, the Sonora woman who made international headlines after she shot and killed her son's alleged molester in a Jamestown courtroom ..."
The news yesterday that Nesler had died after years of battling cancer clearly upset the wife.

Today, the wife and I were at the UC Davis Cancer Center for a pre-op consultation and last-minute tests. Tomorrow the wife will be back in surgery at the UC Davis Medical Center for a "re-incision," the do-over required because the first lumpectomy failed to get all of the cancer.

With an average cure rate of better than 85 percent for the wife's type of cancer, it's not difficult to be optimistic as each step in the treatment progresses -- chemo, surgery, radiation -- even with do-overs.

But then you are reminded that on the other side of that coin are the 15 percent who are not cured. Some battle for years. In the case of Nesler, she told the wife she had been under treatment for cancer for 15 years.

At the time, when the wife was in the midst of coping with the side effects of the chemo, to imagine a decade of the same was a deep cut. To learn that death still awaits even after so many years of fighting is a painful re-incision.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A world without personal autos

Much has been said about America's almost religious conviction to the right to bear arms. (Not to be confused with the other religious debate over the right to bare arms.) This Wild West mentality is ingrained in the national psyche. It's second only to our devotion to personal automobiles. For a real, red-white-and-blue American, it is hard to imagine places where guns are as foreign as, well, as personal automobiles.

If personal autos are outlawed, only outlaws will have getaway cars. Or maybe we could have this outcome:

Of course, in real life it's even easier to capture trolley-riding criminals. See this story.

A stimulus we can believe in

President-elect Barack Obama recently promised to create the largest public works construction program since the inception of the interstate highway system a half-century ago. As Congress works to put this package together, it is important to remind our representatives that investing in transit is key.

As the Washington Post said in a recent editorial:

Lawmakers should give priority to projects that are environmentally friendly and that encourage smart growth. They also should adjust the federal government's disbursement formula to direct more money to mass transit and to other projects in underserved metropolitan areas.
Transportation for America is coordinating a grass-roots effort to promote a smart stimulus package that does more than just pour more highway lanes. Use the "Take Action" link in the right column of this blog to help the cause.

Friday, December 19, 2008

A California VMT Quiz

Question: Before reading the document embedded at the end of this post, put these 10 California metropolititan areas in order based on per capita vehicle miles traveled -- from most VMT per capita to least.

  1. Bakersfield
  2. Fresno
  3. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
  4. Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA
  5. Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA
  6. Sacramento-Arden Arcade-Roseville
  7. San Diego-Carsband-San Marcos
  8. San Franscisco-Oakland-Fremont
  9. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara
  10. Stockton
Bonus Question: In light of my ranting about Phoenix as a model for Sacramento here, who has a higher per capita VMT -- Sacramento or Phoenix?

This quiz is prompted by the Brookings Institution report released this week entitlted "The Road...Less Traveled: An Analysis of Vehicle Miles Traveled Trends in the U.S." Brookings found "driving, as measured by national vehicle miles traveled, began to plateau as far back as 2004 and dropped in 2007 for the first time since 1980." The decline has played havoc with the national transportation funding.
"The recent drop in total VMT leaves federal and state governments shortchanged for current projects and potentially bankrupt for future ones. This situation will only get worse as these trends continue and as the demand for transportation dollars continues to rise. It also suggests that projections of revenue increases are off base, regardless of whether the primary revenue stream is the gas tax or other mileage-based systems."
But there is a silver lining to this decline in VMT:
"The entire transportation sector accounted for 33 percent of all U.S. CO2 emissions in 2006—the single largest contributor to total emissions of all end-use sectors.12 The lion’s share of the sector’s GHG emissions—82 percent—comes from passenger cars, sport utility vehicles, freight and light trucks. And though emissions from other pollutants—such as volatile organic compounds (VOC) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)—have fallen over time as a result of engine and fuel policies, emissions of CO2 continue to rise almost lock-step with VMT.14 Any change in VMT of such vehicles, therefore, corresponds almost directly with changes in GHG emissions."
The twin issues -- paying for transportation costs from a tax generated by vehicle miles traveled and the need to reduce those miles traveled in order to slow global warming -- present a conundrum.

What can be done to secure funding for expanding -- not just continuing, but expanding -- our transit options? If California Gov. Arnold "The Transitator" Schwarzenegger and the no-tax-hike-now-or-ever Republicans in the Legislature hold sway, California transit operators and Sacramento Regional Transit in particular are in for unbearable pain.

Brookings VMT Cities Ranking

Answer to quiz: 10,1,5,7,9,6,8,3,4,2
Bonus: Sacramento

Thursday, December 18, 2008

November ridership statistics

After the fiasco of my efforts to analyze the ridership statistics for October and September, I'm going to play it safe and let this document speak for itself.

Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Nov08

The statistics came with this added note:
Please note that November 2008 had fewer weekdays this month than it did last year, so the monthly figure looks a little lower than you might expect.
Even with that caveat (and my general lack of skill in analyzing these statistics) it certainly appears that the days of double-digit increases in ridership are drawing to a close. With fare increases on the way in two weeks and the threat of further state funding cuts, the clouds building on the horizon are troubling.

A matter of perspective

The No. 82 rolled into Sacramento State a couple of minutes early. The end of the school year has that effect on this route. When the crowd thins from standing-room-only to simply full, the bus makes better time.

When we turned off J Street into the campus, we followed a No. 30 bus. That in itself was a bit unusual, but it is not uncommon to find a No. 30 parked on a break when the No. 82 arrives.

I'm meeting the No. 31 for my ride to the Amtrak station. When I first started this two-bus routine for getting to the Amtrak station, I once boarded the parked No. 30 thinking it would leave before No. 31 arrived. The driver was mute as a dozen No. 31 passengers boarded, each imagining arriving early at his or her destination. Then someone had the sense to ask the driver when he was leaving. The driver said he didn't leave for another 15 minutes, long after the No. 31's scheduled departure. All of the No. 31 passengers left the bus. Another lesson learned.

So today when I left the No. 82 seven minutes early and walked to the No. 30/31 stop and found not one, but two No. 30 buses, I allowed myself just a little hope.

The crowd of regular riders who each morning make the transfer to the No. 31 approached the lead No. 30 bus. "When do you leave?" I heard each rider ask. "Right away," the driver replied. I took a step inside the bus and stopped. "When do you leave?" I asked. "Right away," the driver said.

I took a seat. I was still suspicious of my good fortune. I waited until the bus was well on its way down J Street toward downtown before I got my book out. Outside Mercy General Hospital we overtook an empty No. 30 that was parked with its lights flashing. We overtook and passed another No. 30 on L Street.

Seeing all the No. 30s, I imagined a bunch of disgruntled Sacramento Regional Transit riders whining about the fact that their scheduled No. 30 bus didn't arrive or arrived late. But from my perch in the back of the bus rumbling down L Street, it was all good fortune.

I arrived 7 minutes before the No. 31 is scheduled to arrive, giving me plenty of time to buy a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

One person's late bus is another person's early bus.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Go Elf Yourself 2008

Send your own ElfYourself eCards

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Evil Transitator (continued)

I made a mistake. I admit it. I voted for Arnold Schwarzenegger. Twice. So I guess I am to blame.

Bad, John. Bad.

After two straight years of successfully stealing money from transit, it is not at all surprising that governor considers transit riders an easy mark.

Sacramento Regional Transit has joined several transit agencies protesting the governor's latest foolishness:

During the past two years, the Legislature and the Governor have diverted nearly $3 billion in transit funds to address the state budget shortfall, which in turn has impacted RT’s ability to provide the necessary service to our growing region. The Governor’s most recent proposal has occurred as transit ridership has increased in record numbers, in part because of high gas prices, traffic congestion and the public’s desire to fight global warming. Cutting transit programs is detrimental for California just as historic laws such as Assembly Bill 32 and Senate Bill 375 urge people to use public transportation to meet greenhouse gas mandates.

If this proposal is approved by the Legislature and the STA funding is eliminated, the result will be an additional $5.6 million hit to RT’s current budget and a 16% reduction in RT’s annual operating budget going forward. RT will be forced to cut productive bus and light rail service at a time when people are turning to transit more than ever before.
The California Transit Association offered this explanation on Nov. 6, the day the governor's proposal was announced:
The Administration’s revised budget proposal released today includes diverting another $230 million in State Transit Assistance (STA) program revenues, which accrue primarily from a portion of the sales tax on gasoline. Under provisions of the September budget, the account contains a $215 million contribution from Proposition 42 funds. The net result of the governor’s newest proposal is a 75 percent reduction in funding for public transportation operations compared to the budget plan adopted in September.

In addition, the new plan would result in the elimination of STA payments for the remainder of the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The governor’s proposed increase of the state sales tax rate from 5 percent to 6½ percent would generate $626 million in transportation revenues, of which 20 percent (approximately $125 million) would be allocated to public transit.
RT and the other transit agencies are promoting a letter-writing campaign.
Another transit advocacy group, TransForm, suggests calling direct and giving legislative leaders a piece of your mind:
  • Senate President pro Tempore Darrell Steinberg: 916-651-4006
  • Senate Republican Leader Dave Cogdill: 916-651-4014
  • Speaker of the Assembly Karen Bass: 916-319-2047
  • Assembly Republican Leader Mike Villines: 916-319-2029


That was better.

This morning the wife went off to the dentist and then to work. I stayed home. I made a half-hour call to a web developer in Vermont who I'm working with and then spent an hour and a half on a conference call for work. I finished just in time to take a quick shower and catch a bus.

Making do with one car (the kid has taken what was once our second car) really is possible -- even in Sacramento. Yes, you have to work at it, but it is possible.

Today I rode from my house to the 65th Street light rail station. I enjoyed the time reading. I just don't read if I'm not on a bus. From 65th I took the train to 39th Street. I was on my way to meet the wife at the UC Davis Cancer Center for an appointment with her oncologist. Yesterday the surgeon, today the oncologist -- I'm seeing altogether too much of Cancer Center.

I called the wife when I got off the train.

"Are you on your way yet?" I asked.

"The appointment isn't for another 45 minutes," she said.

OK. So maybe I should have checked before I rushed out of the house. I walked to the Starbucks at T and Stockton, had coffee and bought a gift for the wife, and then walked to the Cancer Center. I still arrived before the wife.

The visit with the oncologist went well, or as well as these things go. The wife likes her doctor, and by the end of the visit she was feeling better about everyone saying she should have a second surgery. No big deal, everyone says. The surgeon wants to scoop out a little more just to be sure nothing bad is left behind. Play the odds, the oncologist says. With the surgery, there's a 10 percent chance of cancer returning in the breast. Without the surgery, the chance of a recurrence rises to 30 percent. So the wife will chat Friday with the radiation oncologist to make the verdict unanimous.

With such clarity came a odd tolerance for traffic congestion as the wife and I drove home together.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The dark cloud over my car

President-elect Barack Obama and his vice president, Joe "Amtrak" Biden, will add one more Lincolnesque touch to their inauguration as they travel by train on the Saturday before their Jan. 20 swearing-in ceremony.

President-elect to Travel by Train to Inaugural Weekend
Monday, December 15, 2008

President-elect Barack Obama will board a train in Philadelphia on January 17 to make his way to Washington in the final leg of his incredible, nearly 2-year journey to the White House.

This inauguration belongs to the American people and President-elect Obama is interested in including as many people as possible in the inaugural celebration, whether you can make it to Washington or not. Before he begins his daylong trip, he’ll be doing an event in Philadelphia, then heading to Wilmington, DE to pick up Vice President-elect Joe Biden and his family to do an event together in Baltimore.

The trip follows in the tradition of past inaugural journeys that included events along the way and pays homage to America’s rich history, beginning in the city where the Declaration of Independence was signed and the Liberty Bell rung out.
All this change in the air was nice. Hearing about it lightened the cloud that hung over my car all day as I drove first to UC Davis Cancer Center, where the wife learned she may need a second surgery; and then to Rancho Cordova to drop the wife off at work; and then to American River College, where I had a final in my Flash animation class; and then back to Rancho Cordova to pick up the wife; and then -- finally -- home. Not a bus trip all day. All very untransitarian.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Spousal abuse

I got up this morning at 5:45 a.m., took a shower and got dressed. I then checked the web site I'm responsible for maintaining. Still dead. It had been more than 12 hours since workers performing an unannounced upgrade of my server had stepped on, first, the mail server and then the web server configuration files. The system admins for the owner of the dedicated server we rent were able to restore the mail server. When I went to bed last night, they promised the webserver would be fixed real soon now.

So I called the company at 6 a.m. and talked with technical support. The call dragged on and on. At 6:36 a.m. I was again assured that system admins were working on the issue and would have a resolution shortly. I hung up the phone.

And then I realized that I had missed my bus.

If I'm to catch the 7:40 a.m. Amtrak train to Oakland, I need to be outside my house at the bus stop at 6:28 a.m. The bus is never early, and it is never more than a minute or two late. I'm only two stops from the start of the route.

My only choice? Spousal abuse.

I woke the wife and told her I missed my bus and needed a ride to the Amtrak station.

"Now?" she asked.

"Yes," I said.

She got out of bed and started dressing.

"When does the train leave?" she asked.

"7:40," I said.

"What time is it now?" she asked.

"6:38," I said.

"Why do we have to go now?" she asked.

It was at this point that I realized just how disoriented I was by the change in my morning ritual. As I stood in the dark bedroom as my wife continued to get dressed, it took a couple of moments before I could sort out my situation. Finally, I told the wife she could go back to bed and I would wake her at 7 a.m.

I'm writing this from the train. When I arrived at the Amtrak station, the train was already boarding. Just after I stepped aboard, the doors closed and the train started to roll out of the station. The entire traffic-clogged drive from my home to the station had been one long, nail-biting affair as I watched the minutes tick on the car's clock.

Relying on the Sacramento Regional Transit bus driver to pick me up and drop me off in time for another bus driver to pick me up and drop me off at the Amtrak station is much less painful, even if it does take half-hour longer than driving in rushhour traffic.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Between Portland and Phoenix

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

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

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

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

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

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

What sort of vision does Kevin Johnson have for transit?

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Bus bike racks -- the musical

This video has been making the rounds. I saw it the other day on Streetsblog. It reminded me that I wanted to blog about a theft I read about recently. Someone had placed their bike on a bus rack and boarded the bus. Sometime during the trip, someone stole the bike off the rack. I remember that Sacramento Regional Transit was quoted as saying you can't lock your bike to the rack on the bus. Instead, the spokesman suggested locking the bike's wheel so that it can't be ridden if it is taken off the bus.

So now I can't find the story. There's only a couple of places I would have come across a story like that, including, but I can't find it now. I've tried Googling all sorts of combinations. I remember that the story made specific mention of the fact that it was an expensive bike that was stolen.

I'm beginning to think maybe I dreamed it. I've been thinking of doing more bike riding as an alternative to driving for errands that don't involve more than one shopping bag. With only two slots for bikes on buses, you're not exactly guaranteed to get a ride.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Documenting RT's customer service

I wasn't able to get to the Sacramento Regional Transit board meeting tonight, but I was able to get an electronic copy of General Manager Mike Wiley's reports to the board. I consider that a success.

This morning I sent an email to customer service at asking for an electronic version (PDF, Word -- whatever) of the general manager's report to the board and a PDF copy of the PowerPoint slideshow presented at the meeting.

The customer service rep forwarded my email to the "Reception Desk," the same place Wiley said I had to go during the online chat Friday.

I wasn't holding my breath as I waited so you can imagine my surprise when I received an email a little after noon from Cindy Brooks, clerk to the board and document coordinator for Sacramento Regional Transit. Attached was everything I had requested.

"If you need anything further, please feel free to contact me," Brooks wrote.

Really? So I asked, "Is it OK if I let others know that they can contact you for these documents? If not, is there an address I can offer to others?"

To which Brooks replied:

Yes, it is ok to give them my e-mail address. In fact, the bottom of the agenda tells people that they can contact the"Clerk to the Board" which is me, to get copies of documents from the agenda.

Our receptionist at the front desk has a complete agenda package for patrons to view, but unfortunately does not have the capability to make copies for anyone. If requests are made through her, she will forward them on to me for processing. Our receptionist does have the ability to give out copies of the agenda.

Ultimately our goal (hopefully sometime in the latter part of next year) is to get the agenda and all agenda reports/materials up on the website, so that patrons can download the information when it is available.
Well, it would be nice if I didn't have to ask, but this works. Brooks address is

Below is the Key Performance Report from the meeting. There's plenty of "good" news here. Still, it would be nice to know whether Roger Dickinson again raises the question of whether the RT really needs the fare increase that takes effect in January.

Dec. 8, 2008, Sacramento RT Key Performance Report

Friday, December 5, 2008

The logistics of talking with Mike

I'm sitting at a table on Amtrak trying to write this post while regular riders are partying. The "hosts" of the party have seated an attractive 19-year-old college student next to me and plied her with wine. She's nursing her second wine as she carries on a conversation with a woman across the aisle. This is all very exciting for her. It's all very distracting.

What I wanted to talk about was today's chat with Sacramento General Manager Mike Wiley. They really out to call it something else since chatting implies a conversation. This is really more a press conference for the masses: Ask your question, get an answer. No followup allowed.

Here are the questions I asked:

Sacramento, CA: Senate Bill No. 343, amending Section 54957.5 of the Government Code, was signed into law by the governor on Oct. 5, 2007, and took effect this year on July 1. "The act requires the body to post an agenda at least 72 hours before a regular meeting and provides that agendas and [my emphasis] any other writings [end emphasis], when distributed to all, or a majority of all, of the members of a legislative body of a local agency by any person in connection with a matter subject to discussion or consideration at a meeting of the body are public records subject to the public disclosure requirements of the California Public Records Act." This law also specifies that local agencies can post these documents on their web site. I would like to see RT post its entire board report package (minus excluded items) at the time the package is delivered to the board. Any chance of getting the material from this Monday's board meeting?

Reply: Let me address each of the issues you raise: 1. Regional Transit has met the public disclosure requirements. We believe in creating as much transparency as possible, which is the intent of the code. 2. The government code does not require online posting of these documents. It does, as you noted allow online posting. We've been working out the technical issues for posting our board meeting information online before the board meetings. I asked Regional Transit staff to have this up and functional before July 09. As this has moved forward, many of the issues we've addressed have been more about the logistics of this work, than technology. 3. We are also working to bring the board meetings live via the web. Sometime next year this should be available. 4. If you contact our reception desk, they will assist you with obtaining Monday's package.
While I'm sure RT's lawyers are confident that the district meets the letter of the law, that's not necessarily the same as meeting the intent. As Wiley admits, making this material available on the web isn't a technology issue; it's a "logistics" issue. And that logistics issue is simply a matter of telling someone to make it so. That's all that's lacking. As for broadcasting the meetings live, that doesn't in any way make up for the lack of supporting documentation, although it would be useful if the meetings were archived and available online.
Sacramento, CA: Sacramento Regional Transit sends press releases to mainstream media but provides no vehicle for timely distribution to others who are interested in these announcements. Yes, they are posted on the web site, but the web site does not provide RSS feeds that would alert people to changes in the site. I have attempted on more than one occasion to have my email address added to the press release distribution. Nothing has come of these requests. Is this official RT policy? If so, please explain the rationale. In my view, RT should offer a way for anyone interested to subscribe to an email mailing list for RT announcements. There are plenty of web-based free services that could be utilized if cost is an issue.

Reply: Yes, I agree with your assessment. We are working with an automated notification system for riders. The pilot test was limited to about 5,000 people. Our next level of testing will be for the Community Bus System and will be open to all Regional Transit riders.
More logistics problems.

The blonde is working on her third glass. She's just amazed that these old guys party on the train. It's just so cool.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Chatting with Mike again

Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley will be taking questions at his monthly online chat Friday from noon to 1 p.m. at

The press release announcing the event says this month's session will be open to general transit questions. No registration is required to participate and questions will be accepted two hours before the session, up to the conclusion of the chat.

Perfect foolishness on my part

I should just take down yesterday's post, but I will leave it up as an object lesson for myself in the dangers of sloppy work. It also serves as a cautionary tale for anyone who visits here who hasn't figured out yet that not everything you read on the web is necessarily true.

For too many years I was surrounded by editors who protected me from myself. Now I'm left alone without an excuse.

I added strike-out text to yesterday's post to mark where I carelessly swapped September for October data. That was simply sloppy. But worse than that, at least to me, was that I misread the two monthly reports. Somehow I completely missed the "Average Daily Ridership" header.

Commenter Anthony said:

Just a quick note to your comment, "All of the increase in bus ridership came from weekend riders." This is not quite true. When comparing monthly ridership, you should also check the number of weekdays in the month. Your tables show that October had 23 weekdays while Sept had 21. Because ridership is much higher on weekdays than weekends, most of the increase in monthly ridership is because October had two more weekdays in it than September. ...
To which I replied and in the process showed my total foolishness by attempting to divide the average daily weekday ridership by the total number of days. Huh?

Rather than embarrass me publicly, Anthony sent me an email that explains:

I agree that taking into account the number of weekdays strengthens your argument. My point was that the increase in weekend ridership was not sufficient to result in an increase in monthly ridership, given the reduction in average weekday ridership. If there had been an equal number of weekdays in the month, monthly ridership would have declined in spite of the increase in weekend riders. So even though average weekday ridership declined by 6% (from 69,700 to 65,400), with the extra two weekdays in October, total weekday ridership increased by 3% (from 1,463,700 to 1,504,200). And that increase of 40,000 explains most of the overall monthly increase.

In your reply, it looks like you are dividing the average daily ridership by the number of days, which I don't follow.
The next time I ask for statistics from RT, I can imagine the response I'll get.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Perfect storms -- good and bad

The Washington Post had a story Tuesday headlined "As gas prices fall, transit still popular," which reports that Metrorail in Washington, D.C., and other transit agencies around the country are seeing no falloff in ridership as gas prices decline.

Transit officials attributed much of the ridership increase earlier this year to skyrocketing gasoline prices. But despite falling pump prices -- from a national average of $4.11 a gallon in July to $1.82 yesterday -- transit ridership is setting records in some parts of the country, officials said.
One of those parts of the country setting records in ridership is here in Sacramento. While Metrorail in Washington, D.C., reports ridership increases of up to 5 percent over of the last four months ending October, Sacramento Regional Transit has seen double-digit increases during that period.

That fact probably says more about RT's historic underperformance in the community than any comparison with Metrorail, but it is still worth celebrating.

In October, according to the latest statistics from RT, overall ridership increased 23 percent compared with October of last year. The year-to-date total at the end of October was 13.6 percent higher than at this point last year.

October 2008 to October 2007 comparisons show increases across the board. Total bus ridership is up 23.5 percent and light rail is up 22.5 percent. This was even better than RT did in September, when bus ridership grew 10.3 percent over September 2007 and light rail increased 19.3 percent.
(See comments below.)

I originally started trying to get the latest statistics from RT back on Dec. 1 after reading a story in the Contra Costa Times that reported "Unemployment slows BART ridership gains, officials say." I expected lowering of gas prices to push down ridership, but the impact of the increasing unemployment was a surprising turn.

Earlier in the year, RT officials and others talked about the "perfect storm" of high gas prices and increasing environmental sensitivity pushing more people to leave their cars at home and take transit. Could an equally big "perfect storm" of lower gas prices and joblessness drive the numbers in the other direction?

For Sacramento, the pending rate increases add something even more troubling to that question.

So when I finally saw the October results I was at first relieved. More record increases. Bus service, which suffered a 5 percent service cut in January, had made up that and was still leading light rail ridership.

But I found a little fact in the statistics that raises a caution flag. It is in the breakout of ridership between weekday, Saturday and Sunday.

While total ridership for both light rail and buses was up for the previous month, the 65,400 weekday bus riders represented a 6.2 percent decline from September's 69,700. All of the increase in bus ridership came from weekend riders. See further discussion in comments below.

Is the rise in joblessness in Sacramento starting to bite? It will be interesting to see what the November ridership statistics reveal.

Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Sep08

Sacramento Regional Transit Monthly Ridership Report Oct08

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Street-level commerce

When I started my job in Oakland, I was getting a ride to the Watt/I-80 park-and-ride lot and taking light rail to St. Rose. From there I would walk a half-mile to the Amtrak station.

It was a lonely walk along empty sidewalks past closed buildings. Each day I made that trip I was reminded of how far Sacramento still has to go to be a real city, alive outside office hours.

Today I bypass that walk by taking the No. 82 and No. 31 buses. But each day when I arrive in Oakland I'm reminded of what Sacramento lacks.

My walk from the Jack London Square Amtrak station to work takes me through Oakland's Chinatown, an urban mixed-use area of street-level commercial with residences and offices above. By the time I arrive at 9:30 a.m., the sidewalks are filled with shoppers.

To me, the most remarkable are the many sidewalk markets with their produce stacked on boxes on the sidewalk. Each morning I stop and buy fresh fruit.

Sacramento really needs to open up the ground floor of downtown buildings to street-level commerce that could meet the needs of residents, not just office workers. You get a feel of what this would be like in parts of midtown, but Sacramento's central business district is just that: all business -- sterile and lifeless.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Free wi-fi on the train -- sort of

I’m writing this blog post while riding Amtrak train 542 from Oakland to Sacramento. Nothing unusual in that except the connection to the Internet. For the month of December, the joint powers authority that operates the Capitol Corridor trains is testing an in-train wi-fi service. According to the Capitol Corridor rep, the goal is to offer free wi-fi on every train. Details of the Capitol Corridor program are available at

The test is being conducted by Hobnob, which specializes in enterprise mobile wi-fi. The CEO of the company, UC Davis grad Aron Hall, is sitting at a table with all of the apparatus necessary to aggregate the cellular signal and feed it to about 30 people in the car.

I’ve been using a Sprint mobile broadband connection provided by my employer. Unfortunately, the coverage is spotty. When you get to Rodeo and around the refineries of Martinez the signal fades in and out. It really puts a crimp in my work time if I’m online.

I’m hoping Hobnob can find a solution. So far the connection speed has been impressive. I’d guess it is better than I get on my Sprint modem. But I noticed the dead zones still take a toll.

Hobnob currently provides wi-fi services for corporate shuttle buses. Wouldn't it be fun if Sacramento Regional Transit could find an excuse for adding that service? Yes, yes, I know. RT doesn't have enough money to run buses, let alone pay to add wi-fi service. Still, I can wish. I just won't hold my breath.

Rosa Parks and civil disobedience

Sacramento Regional Transit is marking the anniversary of Rosa Park's refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Ala., bus for a white rider with a three-month campaign that includes a 40-foot bus wrapped in a special tribute to Parks and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

According to the RT press release:

RT will reserve a seat on every RT bus and light rail vehicle in honor of Rosa Parks on Monday, December 1, on the same day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Rosa Parks refused to obey a bus driver's order that she give up her seat to make room for a white passenger.
There was no sign of this celebration on my morning commute. Neither the No. 82 nor the No. 31 had any mention of Rosa Parks. Both buses, however, had prominent displays of notices that, as of today, disabled Paratransit Group Pass holders can no longer ride free.

Learning about the civil rights movement has been something of a hobby of mine for many years. Whenever I read about Rosa Parks and her elevation as the icon of the civil rights movement, I'm reminded that it wasn't strictly by chance.

On March 2, 1955, nine months before Parks' civil disobedience, a handful of white people sought to board a Montgomery city bus. The white section was full and the driver asked blacks seated in a no-man's section between the front and back of the bus to give up their seats. All but one of the blacks made room for the whites. The lone holdout was a 15-year-old girl named Claudette Colvin, who, according to Taylor Branch's "Parting the Waters: America in the King Years 1954-63," "defended her right to the seat in language that brought words of disapproval from passengers of both races." Colvin was eventually arrested. "She struggled when they dragged her off the bus and screamed when they put on the handcuffs," Branch recounts.

Colvin was found guilty after a brief trial. But Judge Eugene Carter, realizing that E.D. Nixon and Clifford Durr and the NAACP were exploring making Colvin's arrest a federal case against segregation, dismissed the segregation charge, thus removing the opportunity.

By the time the trial was finished and the NAACP was considering whether to try to rally the community around her case, Colvin had become pregnant. A pregnant, volatile teenager with a penchant for swearing just wasn't the icon the black middle class could rally around.

During RT's three-month celebration of the civil rights movement, perhaps a seat can be made available for today's Claudette Colvins.