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, January 28, 2009

United States of Transit Cuts

This is really shocking. Below is a map of all of the transit districts, including Sacramento Regional Transit, facing fare hikes and budget cuts due to reductions in support for transit:

Yellow = Service Cuts Green = Fare Increases Purple = Service Cuts and Fare Increases Red = Service Cuts and Job Losses Turquoise = Fare Increases and Job Losses $$ = Service Cuts, Job Losses, and Fare Increases.

View Larger Map

For more information on these cuts, and the response from Transportation For America, visit T4america.

Before you go, use the Take Action link at the top of the right rail of this blog and send a message to Congress that it's time to invest in transportation solutions with real accountability.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Rolling with Sacramento Regional Transit

Sacramento Regional Transit finished 2008 with total ridership 8.68 percent higher than the year before, according to the general manager's report to the board tonight. And, of course, the bus ridership increase of 3.88 percent comes despite a 5 percent reduction in service at the beginning of the year. Here's hoping this year's fare increase doesn't hurt ridership.

There are a number of interesting tidbits in the report, which I've embedded below. The settlement in the Highway 50 HOV suit is going to speed improvements to the Folsom line. I especially appreciate that the settlement covers the operating costs for three years. The way the governor keeps taking money away from RT as he attempts to bail the red ink out of the sinking ship of state -- perhaps RT can sue the state and get Caltrans to cover operating costs for the rest of the system.

Sacramento Regional Transit GM Report for Jan. 26, 2009

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Edwin Lawson Hughes, Aug. 11, 1924-Jan. 10, 2009

I did not grow up with my father, and today the memories of those earliest years are only shadows. I remember games of catch that never lasted long. I couldn't throw and Dad got tired of chasing the ball. He did teach me to swim, though, taking me to different public pools on weekends. And there were trips to Disneyland and the zoo. But we grew apart and eventually the distance between my father and me was measured in more than miles.

It was only later in life that we found common ground. We were first brought together two decades ago when my father battled prostate cancer. Then there was my divorce and my remarriage. And then my own fatherhood.

Henry Ward Beecher wrote, “We never know the love of our parents for us till we have become parents.” The truth of that message arrived with my son, Richard Edwin, in 1991.

In recent years, I tried to bridge the distance between my father and me -- both physical and emotional -- with Sunday telephone calls, conversations on wideranging topics, from family and work to the latest technology. And we did become closer. I'm grateful for the time I had with Dad in his later years.

I converted to Buddhism many years ago. I have found deep satisfaction and, in a sense, enlightenment in Buddhism's theories of self-responsibility. I laughed out loud the first time it was explained to me that in the Buddhist view, I chose my father. Something I did before. Something I needed to resolve. A karmic alignment clicked in place. And everything else followed. I still chuckle at the thought.

Looking back today, I have greater appreciation for that choice. And I will miss my Sunday conversations with my father.

Edwin Lawson Hughes
Milestones in Computer Science and Information Technology

University of Illinois, Urbana
In January of 1948, the Board of Trustees approved the purchase of a computer from the Reeves Instrument Co. Unfortunately (or fortunately as it turned out), Reeves was unable to deliver the machine, and John von Neumann suggested we build our own. Thus started a long tradition. In January 1949, the proposal to build a copy of von Neumann's Princeton machine was approved and in February, one month later, the Digital Computer Laboratory was organized. Ralph Meager was named chief engineer. Joe Wier, Ed Hughes, Jim Robertson and others participated in the design.

Update: This post was deleted and is now restored with the same post date. The text is unchanged, but the photos in the slideshow have been edited.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Miss Manners on Transit

Here's something else that San Francisco has that Sacramento could use. (HT TransitIntelligence)

Bloggers take on ill-mannered transit users
Greatly annoyed by breaches of etiquette aboard public transportation in San Francisco, two women decided to create a blog that would instruct and enlighten commuters in common bus and rail courtesy. Their blog, called Muni Manners, has developed a strong following in its first year. "This new kind of etiquette guide picks up where Miss Manners leaves off," they say. Read the blog>>

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Where's John?

If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all. That's at least how things look from this side.

I raced to Florida to watch my father die on Jan. 10 and then returned immediately to work. By the end of last week, my nifty full-time job had been transformed into a part-time gig. If I have a job at all. I won't know until next week.

So I'm reworking the resume. I'm building a Flash animation demonstration site to show off my skillz (old dog's new tricks) and scouring craigslist for ideas. It doesn't leave much time for blogging.

It's not that I'm without hope. When stuff happens, I distract myself. Yesterday, I turned in the cable boxes and the DVR. Tonight, I'm sitting in a recliner in the family room typing on my laptop. The wife is in another recliner watching Obama's inaugural address streaming on her laptop. When I finish here I'll get back to work on my Flash site and another project I'm working on for a customer of my little home-based web development company.

Eventually I'll get back on the bus and I'm sure I'll have more to say. But for now, I need to focus on other stuff.

Monday, January 12, 2009

San Francisco's example

The San Francisco StreetsBlog Web site has a discussion with District 3 San Francisco Supervisor and newly-elected Board President David Chiu. Will Sacramento ever have a supervisor who can be introduced with these words:

Supervisor David Chiu doesn't own a car and walks, bikes and takes public transportation.
I can't even imagine a day when Sacramento Regional Transit has a director with those credentials. You can't even get them to make a commitment to ride transit just one day a week.

The dictatorship of California

When Democratic lawmakers presented their proposal for balancing the state budget, there was one little thing they didn't mention: It would have all but eliminated funding for public transportation -- not just next year but in perpetuity.
That’s how the Los Angeles Times opens an editorial in today’s paper. Of course, the Legislature’s perfidy pales in comparison to the governor’s.
The governor's plan is even worse for public transit; the Democrats want to keep distributing about $150 million the state receives from a tax on diesel fuel to transit agencies, while the governor aims to get the state completely out of the business of funding transit.
The governor being a jerk isn’t really new. I had a post about it when Sacramento Regional Transit joined the protest of his proposal. At least the Democrats can argue that the no-tax-hike-ever Republicans forced their hand. As the Times explains:
It takes a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to pass a budget or raise taxes, and Republicans refuse to consider tax hikes to fill the state's $41-billion budget hole. So Democrats found a clever way around that rule: eliminate the gas taxes, replace them with a user fee that's 13 cents a gallon higher than the current taxes, then raise sales and income taxes by an amount equivalent to the old gas taxes. They can claim that they can raise taxes with less than a two-thirds vote as long as they reduce other taxes by an equal amount. The problem with this shell game is that user fees have strings attached: They can only be spent on things that directly benefit those who pay the fee. So a gasoline fee could only be spent on roads, highways and other systems used by drivers -- and not on public transit.
California will remain ungovernable as long as we have a minority dictatorship. But that dictatorship survives because the majority of voters put self-interest (low taxes) ahead of shared responsibility. What catastrophe will have to befall our state before enough voters wake up to the realization that majority rule is the only solution?

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Going home

I'm writing this as the Amtrak train crosses the Carquinez rail bridge. Eighteen hours ago I was sitting alone in my father's hospice room at the Wuesthoff Rockledge hospital in Florida. The room was dark except for the light from the hallway and the glow from my computer monitor.

I was typing quietly when I noticed I could no longer see my father's chest rising and falling with each breath. He had been sleeping with his eyes and mouth open, unmoving after a second dose of medication to ease his breathing.

I walked over and felt his chest. The red in his lips was fading to an ashen blue. I walked down the hall to the nurse's station. "Can you check my father? I think he has died," I said.

The nurse followed me back to the room. She took out her stethoscope and listened to his chest.

"You should make your calls now," she said. "He'll be gone soon."

My brother and his wife and my stepmother and half-brother had left just a half-hour before. I started calling.

"He's dead," the nurse said. "The heartbeat I heard was just an echo. He hasn't been breathing."

I watched as she took the pillow out from under his legs.

"Can you leave him as he is until the family returns?" I asked.

"I'm sorry," she said. "It helps, you know. To have them lie flat. You know, before they get stiff."

The nurse apologized to my father each time she moved his body to remove the extra pillows and lower the bed.

I asked her if she could close his eyes. She tried but the lids wouldn't stay. After she left I tried.

The sheet was left where it had been when he was sleeping. I watched my mother die in a hospice room in 2003. The nurse covered her head with the sheet after confirming she was dead. After the nurse left, I pulled the sheet back down to where it had been when she was asleep. Something about covering her head bothered me. It seemed inappropriate. At least until my brother and my mother's sister could get to the hospital.

Last night when my half-brother arrived he suggested covering my father's body. I told him to leave the sheet alone until everyone had returned. Later, after everyone had said their goodbyes, he asked his mother if he could cover him now. She agreed. It still seemed wrong to me, but I held my tongue.

Eventually we all left my father's hospice room -- my stepmother to her cat, and my half-brother home to Orlando. My brother, his wife and I ended up keeping our prearranged departure plans. We had a midnight meal at the airport Hyatt and then a three-hour nap before packing up and walking over to the United check-in counter to get our seat assignments for our nonstop flight to San Francisco.

The plane ride home was as uneventful as Wednesday's flight out. The BART ride required a single transfer where I walked off one train and immediately onto the train to Richmond.

At Richmond I walked from the BART station to the Amtrak station -- down one set of stairs and up another. I worked on my computer a little, read a little. I was there a little more than an hour. The weather was nice.

The Amtrak train to Sacramento arrived on time and I boarded for home -- a full circle of my trip.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009


The phone rang at 5:15 a.m.

Nothing good makes a phone ring at that hour.

"Your father is being rushed to ICU. He is unconscious. He has a breathing tube and a DNR. I'm bringing the DNR up there now. I can't reach Scott or Andy. I have to go now."

The call wasn't exactly a surprise. The raw emotion of my stepmother's voice was. I wanted to reach out and help, but the phone was no help in bridging the distance between my bed and a hospital in Melbourne, Florida.

A half-hour later, my brother was on the phone offering to pay my way out to Florida. I took his offer. I packed and the wife took me to the train. I'll be getting off at Richmond to ride BART to the San Francisco Airport. I'll meet my brother there, and we'll fly together to Orlando, where he's got a car waiting.

We're not a particularly close family. I seldom talk to my brother. I talk to my half-brother even less often. I've made an effort, however, to call my father once a week. My father has been in decline for several weeks. He was hospitalized for pneumonia several days ago. His last words to me were, "Don't call again. It's too much bother."

It's rather fitting to the broader context of our relationship.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

The 100 yard dash

Everything was going just fine with my morning commute until my No. 82 arrived at Sacramento State.

As I left the bus I noticed that the No. 31 was just starting on its way into Riverpark. The No. 82 was a little early, but not that early. The No. 31 was running several minutes behind schedule.

A New Year, a clean slate. No need to panic.


And then the No. 30 arrived. Not unusual in itself. Often it is parked waiting for its 7:14 scheduled departure when I'm waiting for the No. 31.

But then the No. 31's 7:09 scheduled departure time came and went. My schedule is tight. The No. 31 is scheduled to arrive at the Amtrak station at 7:31 and my Amtrak train to Oakland leaves at 7:40 a.m. I've never missed that connection, but it has been close.

Chatting with other riders waiting for the No. 31, we marveled at how finely tuned the connections are. A couple of minutes here, a couple there and you're in heart-attack mode. It is a wonder it works at all.

Then a No. 31 arrived, but it wasn't the one heading downtown. It was the next bus scheduled into Riverpark.


Not yet.

In the distance I saw the No. 31 heading toward Sacramento State. But any happiness sighted when [my] bus comes along was dashed as the No. 30 pulled away on its trip downtown.

I didn't panic, but I wasn't hopeful. I resigned myself to my fate. Nothing I could do would get me to the Amtrak station any sooner.

The hope that perhaps the No. 30 would sweep up the waiting riders and clear the way for the No. 31 to make up some of its lost time faded quickly as riders requested stops along the way. By the time the No. 31 turned onto 5th Street for the final leg of the trip, the No. 30 was still in front of us.

As a final insult, the No. 31 was delayed turning into the station by the crowd of arriving Amtrak riders streaming out of the station. It was 7:39, the Amtrak train was boarding and I was standing next to the bus driver.

Back on Nov. 13 the No. 31 had been this late. But on that day, Amtrak had been late as well. No such luck this time.

When the door to my bus opened I started running to the Amtrak train. I was not the only runner. Two others ahead of me were dashing to the train. In the distance, I saw a conductor stick his head out of the one door that was still open. He disappeared again. I ran, hoping against hope that the door wouldn't close. The first of the runners boarded the train. The conductor peaked out again and again disappeared. The door stayed open. Then the second runner boarded.

The conductor peaked out just as I arrived at the door.

"Thank you, thank you," I said

Try that with light rail, I thought to myself as I climbed the stairs to the second level of the train.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Paying for free transit

I spent a half-hour at American River College this afternoon getting my Spring sticker on my student ID. For the sum of $10, I get $500 worth of unlimited rides on Sacramento Regional Transit over the next five months. Even if you add in the $140 for two classes and the $1 for "student representation," the $151 I paid is an obvious bargain.

The Los Rios Community College District says it has nearly 80,000 students. Each of them is required to pay $10 for the "Universal Transit Pass." That $800,000 is a nice chunk of change, a guaranteed pool of money that can't be stolen by spendthrift governors or profligate state legislators.

This brings me back to my post in August, when I purchased my Fall sticker. I marveled then, as I do today, about what having "free" transit means for me. Yes, I'd probably still ride if I had to pay the full fare, but not nearly as often.

Everyone pays for parks. Everyone pays for libraries. Everyone pays for public schools. Why isn't transit viewed as a public service in the same way?

Today, RT takes in something on the order of $2.6 million a month in fares. (At least that was what they brought in before the fare hikes went into effect this month.) That's less than $2 per person in the RT service area.

Would it really be so difficult to pay $2 a month to provide a free public transit system that everyone would benefit from? RT could use the savings from not having to sell tickets or collect fares to expand its services.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The New Year bill

RT Press Release

CONTACT: Alane Masui Wednesday, December 31, 2008

In response to an $18.3 million loss in state funds for Fiscal Year 2009, the Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) will increase bus, light rail and complementary paratransit fares effective Thursday, January 1, 2009.

The new fares will increase the Basic fare by 25 cents (to $2.25), the Basic daily pass by $1 (to $6) and the Basic monthly pass by $15 (to $100). Discount fares will increase accordingly.

The fare for complementary paratransit services operated by Paratransit, Inc. will increase by 50 cents (to $4.50). The Paratransit monthly pass price will not increase and will remain at $100.

Due to the fare increase, RT light rail fare vending machines will not accept pre-paid passes and tickets displaying 2008 pricing (June 30, 2010 expiration date) on or after January 1, 2009. Light rail passengers must exchange these Basic and Discount daily passes or single-ride tickets for new fare media. Bus passengers may continue to use pre-paid passes and tickets displaying 2008 pricing (June 30, 2010 expiration date) on buses only by paying the additional fare.

RT will conduct exchanges of fare media (June 30, 2010 expiration date only) with additional payment at RT's Customer Service and Sales Center located at 1225 R Street (adjacent to the 13th Street light rail station) in downtown Sacramento. The Sales Center is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For route and schedule information, call 916-321-BUSS (2877) or visit