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.

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.