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, January 31, 2014

Scoring Sacramento Transit Service

Walk Score, a valuable resource for identifying great places to live and work, has released its 2014 City & Neighborhood Ranking, which includes the ranking of transit service in 141 cities with populations of more than 200,000 in the US, Canada and Australia. Sacramento comes in 39th with a Transit Score of 33.4.

In a “the glass is half-full; the glass is half-empty” examination, one can point out that 85 of those 141 cities were not ranked for their Transit Score, which makes Sacramento’s 33.4 score 39th of 56 rated cities. (The fact that Fremont, Calif., is not ranked even though it is served by BART should underline that unscored does not necessarily mean unserved.)

The people of Walk Score have a detailed methodology and some tough rankings. For instance, no US city makes the top category, “Rider’s Paradise – World-class public transportation.” The top four US cities – New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. -- just reach the second tier, “Excellent Transit – Transit is convenient for most trips.”

Sacramento, at least the city, falls into the “Some Transit—A few nearby public transportation options.”  And that really is an accurate description of the city. Within the city, Walk Score breaks the Transit Scores by neighborhood.  And, as expected, top scores do to Downtown 65, Alkali Flat 64, Mansion Flats 61, Southside Park 60, and Richmond Grove 59. At the other extreme is 11 Transit Score given to the  Westlake neighborhood west of I-5 where it splits with Highway 99.

Of course, if you took the entire Sacramento Regional Transit service area or, worse yet, the Metropolitan Region, it is unlikely the score would stay in the “Some Transit” range, which encompasses scores from 25 to 49.  My home, which is less than 100 yards from the No. 82 bus stop and less than a mile from the No. 1 bus, ranks just 30 on the Transit Score. (We won’t even discuss the dismal 28 Walk Score. As Walk Score points out, “This location is a Car-Dependent neighborhood so most errands require a car.”)

Where Sacramento really shines is its bike score. Sacramento’s 68.3 places the city 7th, behind Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, Arlington, Denver and Philadelphia. And that score, I think, would stand up well outside the city limits. Three neighborhoods – Midtown, Marshall School and Newton Booth – get 100 Bike Scores. Another six get 99 scores.

On the other hand, it can be pointed out that Sacramento’s overall 68.3 only makes the city “Bikeable – Some bike infrastructure.” But then no US city makes the “Biker’s Paradise – Daily errands can be accomplished on a bike.” The top US cities are just middling “Very Bikeable – Biking is convenient on most trips.”

Thursday, January 30, 2014

A survey of Sacramento transit needs

You can take this survey here but after you've taken it you can't review or discuss. So here are the questions. I've added some links to related content.  Tomorrow I'll offer some commentary.

Proposed Downtown Arena1. The future arena in downtown will be an important project in the coming years. How critical is public transit to the success of the future arena plan?

  • Critical
  • Very important
  • Somewhat important
  • Not very important
  • Not sure (no opinion)
2. Are you familiar with the plan for a street car system in downtown Sacramento?
  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure (no opinion)
    3. If you are familiar with the proposed streetcar project, do you feel the construction of a streetcar line would be an improvement to the transit system?
    • Yes
    • No
    • Not sure (no opinion)
    4. In your opinion is public art an important component of light rail station design and construction (does it enhance the public transit experience)?
    • Yes
    • No
    • Not sure (no opinion)
    5. In your opinion, what are the highest priority public transit projects in Sacramento County? (Rank the following 1-6, 1 being highest priority)
    • Light Rail Expansion
    • Bus Service Expansion
    • Light Rail Station and/or Bus Stop Improvements
    • Streetcar projects
    • Transit Oriented Development Projects (development around stations)
    • Other (please list project with ranking)

    Tuesday, January 28, 2014

    With friends like this . . .

    For years I've relied on Watch That Page to let me know when Regional Transit changes the content of its front page.  It is a free service and works well on pages such as RT's that don't offer RSS news feeds.

    Anyway, the other day I was alerted to a new link on RT's home page.

    I'll discuss the survey later (click on the link and let them know your opinion) but since it has been several years since I paid attention to things RT, I decided to find out who, exactly, are these "Friends of Light Rail and Transit.

    A quick Google search located, but don't go there without wearing some protection.
    With friends like this . . .
    That's not fair. As a web developer I know what it is like to get hacked. It's like having your house burgled. You've been violated.
    I've had two sites I maintained suddenly sprout ads for prescription drugs. One of the attacks was impressively sneaky. The ads only displayed when a search engine bot visited. "Regular" visitors didn't see the ads. More than 20,000 individual pages were uploaded by the hacker and carefully indexed by Google (and I suppose other search engines). I didn't know the site was hacked until a guy contacted me to let me know.
    The Friends of Light Rail and Transit hack is more blatant. Those links at the bottom of the page are an obvious indication that something is amiss. I have to assume that the friends don't have a lot of friends visiting to let them know they have been hacked.
    I sent a note off to the contact email address last week. No response.

    Monday, January 27, 2014

    A graphic illustration of RT's management

    Tonight's "Management Notes" from Sacramento Regional Transit General Manager Mike Wiley includes these dry statistics (Agenda Item No. 6):

    • RT’s farebox recovery ratio in the month of December was 22.2 percent and year-to date it is 22.5 percent. It has decreased by 4.1 percent compared to December 2012 and decreased by 2.3 percent year-to-date. In relation to the District’s established goal for FY 2013, the RT’s farebox recovery ratio is 0.7 percent below the established year-to-date goal. For the month of December, fare revenue was $2.3 million and below budget by $174 thousand.
    • Systemwide ridership for the month of December compared to the same period last year increased by 7.4 percent, rail ridership increased 1.9 percent and combined bus ridership increased 13.2 percent. Year-to-date, systemwide ridership compared to the same period last year increased by 0.4 percent, rail ridership decreased 3.6 percent and combined bus ridership increased 4.6 percent. In relation to the District’s established year-to-date ridership goals for FY 2014, systemwide ridership was 0.1 percent below the established goal, rail ridership was 4.2 percent below the goal, and combined bus ridership was 4.2 percent above the goal.
    • Year-to-date, RT’s cost per passenger for bus service was under the District’s goal at $5.40, and cost per passenger for rail service was over the District’s goal at $3.97.
    • Year-to-date, RT’s other cost factors (cost per hour, cost per mile) are slightly under the District’s budgeted levels for bus and CBS, and over the budgeted level for rail cost per revenue mile.
    • Year-to-date, RT’s passengers per revenue hour is below the District’s goal by 5.2 percent for rail, bus is above the goal by 4.0%, and CBS is above the goal by 2.6 percent.

    Nothing exciting. Just solid management. The graphic nature of RT's success comes at the end of Wiley's scheduled slideshow when he tosses in sides composed of stats provided by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments. The slides speak for themselves:

    An average cost of $4.74 per rider across all RT transit may look like a lot in isolation, but compared with the other transit agencies serving the Sacramento urbanized area, it's a success worth acknowledging.

    Sunday, January 26, 2014

    Crime happens. Even on the train

    I have to sympathize with Sacramento Regional Transit's long-suffering general manager, Mike Wiley.  After all, what can you say when asked to comment on the first homicide anyone can recall in the history of the transit district light rail service?

    “You have two people who get into an altercation and it ends in a fatality – that’s a situation that could happen anywhere,”  The Sacramento Bee quoted Wiley.

    Two nights later, as if to prove Wiley's point, a man was shot and killed near Sacramento Executive Airport. The shooting didn't occur on airport property, which saved the airport's management from having to come up with a comment on the event.

    Monday night, Wiley is scheduled to deliver his Monthly Performance Report at the RT Board meeting, part of which will be the Regional Transit crime statistics for December.

    "The District’s security statistics from RT’s Police Services indicate a total of 26 reported crimes for the month of December. FY 2014 year-to-date trend for crimes per 1,000 passengers is slightly higher than last year. In the month of December, RT’s Customer Advocacy department recorded 6 security related customer reports, which is a decrease of 4 reports compared to November 2013."

    As explained in the agenda handout for Wiley's report, "System crime data [are] based on [Regional Transit Police Services] reports and reports obtained in cooperation with surrounding law enforcement agencies that are felony and misdemeanor crimes and does not include citations for infractions. Examples of felony crime on RT system are assault, robbery, assault with a weapon, auto theft, false impersonation, felony vandalism, burglary, and misdemeanor crime examples are battery, petty theft, misdemeanor vandalism, trespassing."

    I suppose RT will be asked to add "homicide" to the "examples of felony crime on RT system."

    At times like this I wish I was better at statistics.

    For instance, if there is a 0.011 chance of being a victim of a crime for every 1,000 passengers, how does that compare with, for instance, the chance of being a victim of a crime in the city of Sacramento?

    Based on November year-to-date statistics, the city of Sacramento, with a population of 475,516, averages more than 1,775 major crimes each month. And that's just the homicides, rapes, robberies, aggravated assaults, burglaries, larcenies and motor vehicle thefts. That doesn't count "false impersonation, felony vandalism ...  and misdemeanor crime[s] ... [of] battery, petty theft, misdemeanor vandalism, trespassing."

    Somebody help me out here: Are you more likely to be a victim of a crime while riding transit or while standing on a sidewalk near Sacramento Executive Airport?

    Saturday, January 25, 2014

    Six degrees of separation on the bus

    Six degrees of separation is the theory that everyone and everything is six or fewer steps away, by way of introduction, from any other person in the world, so that a chain of "a friend of a friend" statements can be made to connect any two people in a maximum of six steps. Wikipedia
    And so, given Six Degrees of separation, I am introduced by The Wife to Lynnsey Evakarla Braun, the transgender woman accused of gunning down a fellow passenger on a Sacramento Regional Transit light rail train.

    It seems that Braun was, until recently, a regular rider of the Yolo Bus that The Wife takes most days from downtown Sacramento to her job in West Sacramento.

    Not long ago The Wife attempted to befriend Braun. She learned that Braun was originally from Texas. As far as The Wife could tell, Braun was homeless, living out of a suitcase she lugged around with her on the bus and using an all-day bus pass to stay out of the cold. Homeless transgender Texan. Can life be more difficult?

    But The Wife soon decided chatting up Braun might not be a good idea. The Wife doesn't recall exactly what Braun said that made her uncomfortable. Something mumbled that didn't make sense. Something clearly disconnected from reality. The Wife stopped talking to Braun. She avoided eye contact when on the bus. It became one of those uncomfortable public transportation dilemmas.

    And then Braun was no longer on The Wife's morning ride to the office and soon forgotten.

    Until Saturday morning and the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department's booking photo of Lynnsey Evakarla Braun.

    "I know that woman," The Wife said, looking over my shoulder at the news story on my computer monitor. "She had a gun?!"

    Homeless transgender Texan accused of murder held in Sacramento County Jail separately from male inmates because she identifies as a woman. So it seems life can get more difficult.

    Friday, January 24, 2014

    Test. Test. Sound check. Test One Two Three Four

    I need an outlet. Out of work since the start of the New Year and discouraged about prospects for finding full-time employment at age 62, I'm considering declaring an official end to  the job hunt and announcing my retirement. And since I now qualify for half-price rides on Regional Transit, I find myself back here.
    Speaking of senior passes, how does RT pick the expiration date on these things?  Let's imagine the year 2050 and a 99-year-old man hobbling on and off a bus or two and at least one train ride in order to make a personal appearance at RT's Customer Service office in order to renew his bus pass.
    Why not set the expiration at 2026, when I'll qualify for Regional Transit's SUPER SENIOR DISCOUNT, a saving of an additional $10 a month. At least at 75 I can imagine getting around well enough to make the trip to get the new pass.
    At one time not too long ago, RT offered free rides to the elderly. Ah, the good old days, so important to us old folks. 
    I remember when . . .