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

Monday, February 24, 2014

Making Bus Transfers Work

I don't ride transit much. Technically I work from home. Then again, technically I'm also retired. None of that is by design. It just happened.

So this morning I decided to take the No. 82 bus that stops near my home to a Starbucks that has a nice working area. When you work from home any place with Wi-Fi can be your office.

The driver, a younger (I'm 62; it's all a matter of perspective) black women gave my senior pass a quick glance as I stepped into the bus and welcomed me aboard. Her uniform included shorts and knee-high black boots with rows of metal studs around the top and across the toes.

At that point in the driver's route I was only the second passenger. I settled in for my short ride, getting out my Nexus 7 tablet to read. I wasn't really paying much attention as the bus stopped and started, picking up and letting off riders.

When we stopped at Marconi several riders boarded. There was a delay after the last of the new riders took their seats. This isn't a timing stop, so the delay drew my attention. And then the driver asked, "Did anyone get on from the 25?" The woman across from me raised her hand and several riders behind me said, "Yes."

And I thought to myself, that's cool. Commuting on buses on routes that require a transfer can be incredibly frustrating. The 25 runs east-west on Marconi every half-hour. My bus crosses this stop on Watt every half-hour. A half-hour 25 to 82 trip could easily turn into an hour ordeal without that connection.

I don't know whether all drivers on the 82 wait for the 25 when they reach Watt, but I and everyone who got on from the 25 appreciated that the driver wanted to be sure no one was left behind.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Regional Transit's Connect Card Testing

From the General Manager's report to the board at Monday's meeting:

Last week on February 18th, 19th and 20th, RT and SACOG employees tested the ConnectCard (our smart card system) on the Route 30 buses, and at the 29th Street and 13th Street Light Rail Stations. The tests were conducted to test the hardware at stations and on buses and the controlling computer systems. During the tests, employees acting as riders boarded buses and trains using the Connect Cards. Employees logged their transactions for later comparison to the system data. Employees tested various types of passes and the cash purse. The system performed as expected. This test will be followed by the customer pilot which is planned for April/May. Staff expects to roll out the system for the general public use this summer.
 Will "Smart Cards" Make People Want To Ride Sacramento Regional Transit?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Will "Smart Cards" Make People Want To Ride Sacramento Regional Transit?

So today I gave The Kid my car and used my senior pass to take my local bus down to Wendy's on Watt for lunch. Made me feel sort of transitarian again.

It was when I was waiting to get off the bus 10 minutes later, that I was surprised to see a Connect Card fare reader on the pole just inside the front door of the bus.

"Wow," I said to the driver. "When's this going to start?"

"You'll know before we do," the driver replied. "Probably another five more years."

I've written before about the coming of "smart cards" and my concern that all of the convenience of tapping your card to board the bus will mask major fare increases. What I had to say back in May 2008 deserves rereading -- Smart Cards and Dumb Fares -- and a response from RT.

After lunch at Wendy's I walked next door to Starbucks and fired up my laptop to do a little research.  Turns out the coming smart card, to be known as Connect Card, has its own website -- -- and a YouTube channel that was created three months ago.

The Sacramento Area Council of Governments is the lead agency bringing this innovation to the region, with six (or seven if Placer joins) transit agencies in addition to RT signed up to participate. (Here's a slideshow outlining SACOG's efforts.)

According to SACOG's Overall Work Program Fiscal Year 2013-14 Amendment #1 -- December 12, 2013,  the 14-004-06 Connect Card Implementation line item total expenditure is budgeted at $10,876,751, of which $5,015,000 this year is for equipment and software. Most of the $10 million funding comes from the Federal Highway Administration's Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program ($5,172,078) and Proposition 1B matching funds ($4,321,057).

The system pilot program is scheduled to start next month, with Phase 1 of the system roll out in May and system roll out of phases 2-5 in July. The final acceptance of the new fare system is scheduled for September.

Here's SACOG description of the project: "This project is the implementation planning, procurement, and deployment of a regional universal transit fare card system (Connect Card). A new electronic fare system is expected to simplify transit system operations, improve system connectivity, contribute to regional air quality goals, and increase the attractiveness of transit to new patrons."

Sometime between now and September a big media campaign is supposed to launch, but there's nothing at Sacramento Regional Transit's website.

In January, General Manager Mike Wiley, was asked during his monthly "Transit Talk with the General Manager": "Has RT thought about decreasing fares during commute times to encourage transit ridership? Or otherwise varying the fare depending on the route? For example, charging a little more on the routes that tend to be overcrowded, and charging a little less on those that struggle to retain riders?"

Wiley's response: "RT staff has a number of ideas regarding fare structure and pricing. However, in order to consider any changes we must first successfully implement the new Connect Card, our new electronic fare card. It is scheduled for implementation July 1, 2014. Once that is accomplished we will be able to consider numerous fare changes to both the structure and pricing."

So I ask the question again: Will adding Sacramento Regional Transit's dumb fares to the proposed "smart card" make the system stupid?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Celebrity Transportation

Can't resist:
The fastest way to reach your destination in a crowded city is usually public transportation, especially when traveling between boroughs or neighborhoods. It may smell and a few people may breathe or sneeze on you, but at least you won't have to worry about traffic jams. 
Celebrities can't resist the convenience of the bus or subway, and despite the luxury of a private car, the rich and famous often hitch a ride on mass transit.
Photos and more here.

Now if only Sacramento had transit that was so extensive that it actually made traveling between neighborhoods an appealing alternative to traffic jams.

Sacramento Regional Transit is planning to update its strategic plan. In theory the plan "will provide a framework to guide change and progress for transit service in the Sacramento region over the next five years."

More about the Strategic Plan can be found here.  Here's an illustration of the process and timeline.