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

Friday, April 10, 2009

An agenda to kill trees with

Sacramento Regional Transit board members will have a long evening Monday, when the board takes up a number of items sure to generate stormy debate:

  • Authorizing charging $1 per day to park in the district's park-and-ride lots.
  • Release of the Transit Master Plan -- now renamed the more hip TransitAction Plan -- for public comment.
  • Certifying the final environmental impact report for the district's Downtown-Natomas-Airport -- DNA -- light rail extension.
  • Adoption of amendments to the district's current budget that include cuts of more than $3 million in operating costs and, on a separate item, start the discussion of the 2010 budget.
Amid all this Sturm und Drang is a brief window into all of the neat technological feats RT has planned. Here's the slideshow outlining what's on tap:

Slide No. 2's summary is enough to make you wish we lived in an alternate universe where simply saying something made it so -- next bus/train info via telephone and station signs, real-time location mapping, reloadable universal fare card.

But the reality we live in is mired in the need to charge for parking and budget rebalancing schemes. And even the technological feat that RT has managed to pull off already -- Online Documents -- is experiencing major snafus as the system of production is refined.

This is a screen shot of a page from the agenda packet for Item 13, the discussion of the TransitAction Plan.

Obviously that's not going to help anyone. RT realizes the problem and while I was writing this, staff were re-creating the agenda package.

Once upon a time, before the World Wide Web had been invented back when e-mail was all the rage, a co-worker of mine was famous for printing out every email he received and then passing the paper copies around. The concept of leaving electronic media in electronic form and just passing the email around just never occurred to him. The email wasn't real if it wasn't in physical form.

Something similar appears to be throwing a wrench into RT's efforts to save a tree by putting documents online. Each document is first printed on paper and then scanned back into electronic format and finally output as a PDF document.

Printing directly to PDF is not rocket science. What's causing the problem here is obviously the old "We've always done it this way" inertia.

If you were to print out Monday's agenda package -- which RT has done more than once -- you would have 500 pages.

I really like the big next-bus information sign shown on page slide No. 10 above, but I'm afraid we'll end up with the tiny, unreadable display that was installed at 16th Street and some other light rail stations as part of an earlier demonstration.

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