Transit Talk with the General Manager

June 03, 2016
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:

There are many exciting changes in the forecast for RT. As you may know, the RT Board of Directors announced yesterday the appointment of Henry Li as the new General Manager/CEO, effective July 1, 2016, making this my last official session hosting Transit Talk with the General Manager.

Henry is already an Executive Management Team member at RT. He joined RT in March as the Assistant General Manager of Administration, overseeing the Finance, Human Resources, Procurement and Information Technology departments.

Henry came to RT with 20 years of leadership in the transit industry with a variety of transit agencies across the country. Most recently before arriving at RT, he served as the Vice President of Finance and Technology/Chief Financial Officer for the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) in Jacksonville, Florida.

During his career at the JTA, Henry played a critical leadership role in various strategic initiatives, including a successful dedicated transit funding campaign, innovative cost control and aggressive performance management to improve service quality, and a comprehensive route overhaul initiative resulting in a significant ridership increase.

I feel confident that Henry will be able to successfully lead RT and continue the goal to improve service quality, safety and security, and overall customer experience. To help make the transition smooth, I will move into the role of Special Assistant to the General Manager/CEO on July 1 through December of this year, when I officially retire after 39 years of service.

Since the first session of Transit Talk with the General Manager in October 2008, it’s been a tremendous opportunity to make stronger connections with all of you by keeping an open line of communication each month. I want to thank you for participating and hope that you will continue to engage and support RT to create a world-class system that benefits the entire Sacramento region.

North highlands, CA:  Is there anyway as a region can vote to scrap RT and transition to a system that works

Reply:  Regional Transit was created by State legislation. Any change to RT's role or responsibilities can be addressed through State legislation.

sacramento, CA:  dear mike: I am 78 yrs old and will be hurt bad if the #38 bus line is changed or discontinued.I go to doctor, store or bank 2 to 3 times a week.

Reply:  Thank you for your comment. I will make sure that our Planning Department receives your comment as we developed our recommended changes for our Board's consideration.

sacramento, CA:  we've been having more prbs w/the light rail causing "bus bridges" to be used - why don't the drivers have pre-printed routes given to them so they don't have to keep calling in to dispatch to figure out where to go? also, are these emergency situations practiced, because every time it's enacted, it's utter chaos; and appears like rt doesn't have a plan on what to do? it doesn't put you in a good light, and is very stressful on your staff-

Reply:  First and foremost, I would like to apologize for the inconvenience that the disruption had to your commute. Dispatchers and Light Rail Road Supervisors stayed in close contact with one another and did their best at updating stations with updates to the electronic message boards. RT did put replacement buses in service and all available personnel were on scene answering riders questions. Unfortunately, this occurred at the start of the afternoon commute and the majority of RT's resources were committed to service. As a result, we were unable to place a sufficient number of buses into service to handle the number of passengers impacted by the service interruption and there were many more passengers with questions then we had staff available to answer them. The Customer Service Staff was available to take calls and answer questions about alternative routes and schedule information during this time. While, we know that the above efforts may not be enough, we always try and do the best we can with what we have. We will continue to look for ways to improve information flow. I'd like to thank you for sharing your comments with us and we apologize for the inconvenience that this interruption in service may have caused.

sacramento, CA:  we are all getting tired of the waste you do. then you raise fare and cut service & we suffer. can you admit the green line was a waste of time and you & the last Gm shouldn't have been hired?

Reply:  The Green Line was constructed and placed into service in advance of the redevelopment of the River District. The development of Township 9 and the remainder of the River District has been much slower that previously expected. Consequently the Green Line is only carrying approximately 350 riders per day. It is important to know that additional construction is now underway. In addition the line will serve our new MLS stadium with a new station in the Rail Yards when it opens between now and 2020. Finally, the existing line is the beginning of the future light rail line to Sacramento International Airport. When the economy has recovered sufficiently to support this improvement we will be thankful that the current line has been constructed and is in place.

Carmichael, CA:  If the tax measure in November passes will we see a major increase in service?

Reply:  Measure B is designed primarily to address urgent and significant state of good repair and "fix it first" issues during the first five years of collection and distribution rather than system expansion. It may, however, directly allow for service level increases in subsequent years and may allow more flexible revenue sources to be applied to service expansion in early years. The proposed measure will have limited resources available for light rail expansion, including service to the airport, Elk Grove and enhanced service to Folsom.

South Sacramento , CA:  In regards to the proposed service changes, I am worried about Route 65. Are there any possible realignment options with the route?

Reply:  At this stage, there are not any alternatives. We have had a lot of comments about this route and wanting to preserve it and the prospect of it going away would be particularly problematic because it was less than a year ago that we added most of the current service on the route. It's been our hope that we could find savings elsewhere so we could avoid having to cut this route, but it may be that we have to look at cutting just part of the route or cutting part(s) of nearby routes in a somewhat drastic way to avoid completely eliminating the route. You should expect to see some discussion about this in our next report to the Board. I cannot promise that the route will not be recommended for elimination, however, as there will be no avoiding having to cut some of our routes.

Sacramento, CA:  How can SacRt justify, that by next year they will be charging the highest fares in the nation? What is the end game for when ridership is driven down even further due to these fare hikes? I for one no longer ride SacRt unless I have no other options.

Reply:  Having to raise fares certainly is not what we'd do in a perfect world; however, there are a few reasons for the decision. First, the last time fares were increased was seven years ago. In the mean time costs for nearly everything have increased significantly. We are facing a very difficult budget deficit and there are limited means by which we can close it. We are maxing out our efforts to bring in grant money, but we are also going to be reducing our administrative staff, cutting service, and unfortunately raising fares as well. Second, the California Transportation Development Act requires us to cover a certain portion of our operating costs with fares. This doesn't mean we necessarily have to raise fares, but if we want to meet our requirements, from where we are now, again, we have to either cut low-ridership routes, raise fares, or cut administrative costs--all of which we are doing.

Sacramento, CA:  During the Memorial Day weekend in San Jose, I was able to use their Clipper Service and I thought it was interesting and I'm looking forward when Sacramento will get the Connect Card. When will it be available to the public?

Reply:  RT staff continues to commit significant time to work with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG), the Connect Card project manager, and the vendor to ensure proper functionality prior to implementation of the Connect Card. The vendor is currently working towards completing revisions to the software, as a result of preliminary testing. It is important that we fully test the system prior to implementation to ensure a successful launch. Although an implementation date has not been set, we should know more within the next 60 days. Stay tuned

Sacramento, CA:  I was not able to make your last governing body meeting, but watched it on television. It kind of caught my attention that one speaker mentioned that there is now a, as the speaker put it, "hard date" for a "soft launch" on the Connect Card. The date I heard was August 22nd. In the meantime, your website indicates that your customer service office will be open two Saturday's during the pre-paid ticket exchange, happening now. My question therefore is this: Will your photo identification equipment be changed by the August Saturday that you are open, which I believe is 10am-2pm on August 27th, to get a Photo Identification Connect Card, versus the general photo ID that I have issued from RT about 18 months ago? I am hopefully looking for some good news regarding your photo ID equipment when it eventually relates to the Connect Card for Students, Seniors, and Persons with Disabilities in late August. I do not work on Saturday's, and would like to come in then, between 10am and 2pm. Thank you.

Reply:  The August 22 date is not set in stone. We still need to determine a soft launch date and once that date is set, there will be a pre-selected test group. At this point I would anticipate a possible launch to the general public of January, 2017. Regarding the hours for the pre-paid ticket exchange, the Sales Center will be open on Saturday June 25th and Saturday August 27th from 10 AM to 2 PM and will extend our Monday through Friday hours to 8:30 AM to 6:00 PM on June 1-10, June 27-July 8 and August 22-31 to better accommodate our ticket exchange customers.

Rancho Cordova , CA:  Any updates on the Gold Line will have the UTDC cars running on it.

Reply:  There are still some construction modifications that must be made for the UTDC cars to operate. We need to reconstruct the mini-high ramp and platform at the Historic Folsom station. We have recently signed a contract to get the work done however, due to the significance of the work it may not be complete until the end of the calendar year. In the mean time the UTDC vehicles will operate on the Blue Line.

Sacramento, CA:  Will there be any bus service out to Gerber Road and Vineyard Road area? There's a new Walmart at Elk Grove-Florin Road and Gerber Road. Will the SacRT bus 5 extend to the new Walmart?

Reply:  We've looked at service to the new Walmart on Gerber Road. We're not looking at adding service there at this time. One reason is of course because we are currently having to cut back service across the system. Another reason is that the condition of the street and sidewalk on Gerber Road going out to Elk Grove-Florin Road is not adequate for bus service. There are very few spots where there is a sidewalk and a safe place to wait for a bus. And if you did get off a bus there and needed to cross the street, there are only a few places to cross for the whole two miles where there is a safe crossing. Traffic there goes very fast and is constant in the afternoons. Given our current budget problems and the fact that we are having to cut back service, new service farther out on Gerber Road is not something we anticipate doing in the near term.

Sacramento, CA:  With RT facing lay offs again, and a new GM why has the board decided to keep paying your salary through December?

Reply:  When I announced my "Transition to Retirement" Plan in October 2015, the RT Board was extremely appreciative that I was willing to work through the recruitment and selection of a new General Manager. This allows for the new General Manager to utilize my expertise and knowledge to assist him during this time of transition. Consequently, the RT Board unanimously approved a restructure employment contract with me.

Sacramento , CA:  The head sign on the bus, that shows the stops on the bus route, is to deemed to see, can something be done to make them brighter?

Reply:  It might be something easy to fix. I will forward your inquiry to operations.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  Can you explain why riders will soon be paying the highest fares in the nation? Especially for a system no one is happy with.

Reply:  There are many systems in the Country that have much higher fares than Regional Transit. The best example is in the Bay Area with BART fares. For some rides their fares are more than double RT's fares. The same is true for most all other systems that charge zone fares. RT's average fare of $1.10 is among the lowest in the Country. When evaluating and comparing regional and national fares, it is always important to examine what funding sources are available to fund operations. As you may be aware, transit agencies are unique in that the fares collected tend to be a small portion of the operational funds. Therefore in many cases, State or regional funds collect through sales taxes or other sources tend to be a significant revenue stream for an agency. In RT's case, we receive 1/6 of a cent from the local sales taxes for the region. When comparing RT's local support, we are on the lower end of the spectrum. Many agencies receive local funds of a full 1/2 cent and higher. This allows the agencies to keep fare prices lower. To address this problem, RT finds ways to be efficient and keep its operating costs down. Additionally, RT is always looking for opportunities to find additional revenue streams. One in particular is, RT is looking to seek additional Operating funds through a new sales tax measure, currently referred to as Measure B.

Sacramento, CA:  That doesn't answer the question, HOW CAN YOU JUSTIFY HAVING THE HIGHEST FARES IN THE NATION? Or is it possible that SacRt is so poorly run, that it needs a complete teardown?

Reply:  Please see the response to previous question.

Sacramento , CA:  I saw where RT was receiving almost $1.9 million from Caltrans, was this money already accounted for in this years budget?

Reply:  RT has budgeted for approximately $1.9 million in revenues from LCTOP (Low Carbon Transportation Operations Program). We have not received this funds as of yet, but we are working with Caltrans and hope to obtain this money soon. These funds were previously accounted for in RT's FY16 budget.

South Sacramento, CA:  With the Sacramento RT Transit now available on the Apple built-in Maps app, could there be a way to combine the RT Tracker with the Apple Maps?

Reply:  We are currently in the process of enhancing our current Mobile Fare App. The new app will allow a customer to purchase fares, track their bus, identify RT stations/bus stops and report safety concerns. Essentially all three of RT's apps will be combined into one for the convenience of our customers. We expect the app to provide convenience and flexibility when using RT services. Keep checking back for updates about the launch of the new Mobile Fare App.

Laguna, CA:  Regarding the upcoming tax measure in November, if I understand correctly, it's essentially a fix it first measure with funds over five years going towards road repair and virtually nothing going to transit? Or is "fix it first" just a fancy way of saying "road widening?" Also, for the measure to pass, does it need a simple majority or 2/3 majority?

Reply:  The "fix it first" dedication applies to all recipients in the first five year. If approved, RT will receive funding during the first five years, but it will be used primarily to address capital needs such as vehicle replacement and other necessary physical upgrades and safety and security issues. Other agencies will receive approximately 70% of the funding which will likely focus on the types of improvements that you mention. If placed on the ballot, this measure will require a 2/3 approval to pass.

Sacramento , CA:  Why doesn't RT sale some of the properties it owns to help balance the budget?

Reply:  We are currently in the process of doing just that.

Sacramento , CA:  Is it 2% or 20% RT plans on reducing its workforce? How much money will this reduction save RT this year?

Reply:  RT is looking to obtain savings of approximately $2.2 Million as a result of cost savings through payroll reductions. Some of these savings will be accomplished through vacancy savings, limiting salary increases, a reduction in work force, and retirements. With the Blue Line extension project and other significant projects coming close to completion, RT must find ways to lower its salary and benefit costs to keep its operating expenses low.

South Sacramento, CA:  Does SacRT still offer free rides when there is Spare the Air Days?

Reply:  No, RT has not been able to offer free rides during Spare the Air Days. Other transit agencies in the region have provided free rides as they receive CMAQ (Congestion Mitigation Air Quality). In the past when we applied for these funds our applications were turned down.

Sac, CA:  I am sure you tried your best to keep bus es running all the best to you

Reply:  We appreciate your feedback. We will share your kind comments with our staff.

Sacramento , CA:  I have to many co-workers who are unhappy with RT service and raising fares. I think riders need to educated on why RT has to raise fares. The answer you provided in one of your responses needs to be place on Facebook.

Reply:  We do communicate with riders on Facebook and Twitter, and will continue to provide more information regarding RT service and fare information. Thank you for your suggestion.

Laguna, CA:  When you sell off the property, will you lease it back?

Reply:  We will evaluate each property individually for it's highest and best use and make a determination at that time.

Closing Remarks:
Thank you for your questions. The next session of Transit Talk with the General Manager will be held on Friday, July 1.