Transit Talk with the General Manager

October 03, 2008
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Welcome to the first edition of "Transit Talk with the General Manager," RT's live online monthly chat. The first session will address your general transit questions with future sessions focused on more specific topics, such as the Transit Master Plan. Please, feel free to ask away. This is your opportunity to learn first-hand about the transit issues affecting you and the Sacramento region.

I look forward to strengthening my connections with the community by providing answers in real-time, and continuing this open line of communication each month.

-- Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO

Sacramento, CA:  When will the bridge at Watt/Manlove be done?

Reply:  The bridge is scheduled for completion in November.

CA:  Will RT be raising fares in the near future? If so, when?

Reply:  We will return to the Board for final approval to raise fares on October 27, to be implemented on January 1, 2009.

Sacramento, CA:  Why is there a void in communication to the riders waiting for the train. When I call RT and ask where my train is because it is at least 10 minutes late and the operator has not been informed the train is late and has no clue?

Reply:  RT is in the process of developing a complete communication system for our bus and light rail riders. This includes the installation of automated message signs at stations, web-based system updates and a subscription service for each bus line and light rail service. We are automating these functions as much as possible. We expect to begin rolling out these new services within the next year, which will take approximately three years to complete.

Citrus Heights, CA:  I heard a rumor that RT was looking into the possibility of charging for parking as some of the stations. Is this true and if so have you looked at the financial impact it will have on RT as I know myself and others that have talked about this will discontinue our use of RT.

Reply:  Yes, we are evaluating charging for parking at RT's park and ride lots. We are concerned about the impact on ridership. State budget cuts of an additional $11.3 million have prompted RT to explore cost-cutting and revenue-generating opportunities. We presented a menu of possible ways to fill the void to the RT Board. They asked us to further explore charging at our parking lots. At this point, we have not been directed to move forward.

Sacramento, CA:  How is it determined where and when security personnel are assigned to the light rail?

Reply:  We take a number of considerations into account. These considerations include crime statistics, passenger complaints and input from employees and local law enforcement. We also look at location, time of day and day of the week. RT Police Services meets weekly to discuss problems and redeploy as necessary.

Antelope, CA:  So how come our area is ignored except for the monday friday downtown workers with high school out here..

Reply:  RT is in the process of developing our Transit Master Plan, which will help us to identify new service areas. The presence of a school is likely to increase transit use, so we want to be aware of developments like that. Any new service would be based on numbers of residences, commercial centers, and other activity areas that might be served by our system. All that said, we are currently under a severe budgetary constraint, so it is unlikely that we could consider new service in your area any time soon.

Sacramento, CA:  I noticed a group of three policeman on light rail earlier this week, checking for tickets/passes. I've been riding LR for years but this was a first for me. Are they making spot checks or are they going to be a part of the overall security mix? Thanks, Paul

Reply:  Hello Paul. Beginning this past summer, we began an aggressive campaign across our service hours to have our Police Officers, Transit Officers and Security Guards, work our system. They are watching for inappropriate behavior and checking passengers for fare payment. We are trying to be very visible and also have undercover officers. This program has been very successful and you should continue to see our security team patrolling the system.

Folsom, CA:  How about more frequent service or at least the limited stop service to Folsom?

Reply:  RT contracts with Folsom for the service to the city of Folsom. We are currently having discussion with the city about more frequent and longer hours. Because this is paid for by Folsom, Folsom residents may want to weigh in with the city to express their desire for greater service. Starting next fiscal year RT will be running limited stop trains during the peak periods between Folsom and Downtown Sacramento.

Sacramento, CA:  Can you make the 80 and the 84 every 30mins? Can you put covers on all the bus stops for when it rains? Thank you very much for your service to the sacramento county.

Reply:  Unfortunately we are unable to increase service at this time. The adopted State Budget will require RT to trim $11.3 million from our operating budget. Fortunately we have identified steps to take without trimming our service. We will be adding additional shelters within the next several months.

Sacramento, CA:  Hi Mike, thanks for taking the time to chat. I just wanted an update on possible fees to park at light rail stations - I would prefer to have higher transit pass fees than parking fees just for convenience.

Reply:  We are still working through the evaluation process and working with the RT Board. At this point, we are evaluating a number of models. The Denver RTD model is charging $2 at high use stations, $1 at medium use stations and no charge at low use stations. Another model we are looking at is reserved or premium parking charges, with the normal spaces for free. As we move forward, the public will have opportunities to weigh in. Any decision will be made by the RT Board of Directors.

Sacramento, CA:  Why doesn't RT offer free rides on Spare the Air days during the summer like other transit entities in the area?

Reply:  Other transit systems utilize federal CMAQ funds to cover the fare revenue that is lost on these free ride days. This past year, RT requested funding from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments to provide free rides on Spare the Air Days. Unfortunately SACOG elected not to approve our request.

Folsom, CA:  When someone is being overly loud and obnoxious on a bus or light rail, what can passengers do to feel more comfortable when security isn't around?

Reply:  We are often near people who make us uncomfortable by their behavior and appearance. Although, this may be annoying, this is not a criminal activity. It is important that we don't confuse nuisance behavior with criminal activity. If you feel you need assistance, you can communicate with the train operator via the intercom. Just press the button, speak to the operator, and we will send the appropriate response. Additionally, we recommend that passengers move away from the annoying individual or even into an adjoining light rail vehicle.

Sacramento, CA:  Why 4 out of 5 days is the gold line always late in the afternoon? Please do not say because of the construction of the bridge because the lateness started before the construction.

Reply:  There are many reasons that can cause a train to be delayed, traffic blocking our tracks, signal, train malfunctions and passenger problems. The biggest problem on the Gold Line is the temporary single track at Watt/Manlove. The real question for RT is how do we let passenger know when we are running late. To better inform passengers, we are installing a number of new real-time features. There will be large signs, web updates and a text messaging component going on line over the next year. Please watch for these improvements.

Sacramento, CA:  Two-part question: 1. The availability of transit services increases the value of nearby properties. Has the district considered options for capturing the value of transit in order to create a more stable source of funding? Examples of value-capture include an assessment district within the service area; tax-increment financing for new projects such as the DNA and south line extension; joint development efforts similar to the Greenbriar DNA station; assessing fees against development projects with sprawl-inducing projects paying more. 2. The Regional Transit board contains representatives of each local government in RT's service area. What is the board doing to coordinate local government efforts to explore and implement value-capture ideas such as those mentioned in question one.

Reply:  RT is developing a financing plan as part of our Transit Master Plan, which includes value capture mechanisms to provide funding for both capital and operating costs. We already benefit from developer fees in such areas as Natomas or Elk Grove-Vineyards (for capital purposes only), and other areas of Sacramento County. We are actively pursuing joint development opportunities at many of our light rail stations. Our Board is actively engaged in these funding and financing discussions, and will be adopting the financing plan as part of the Transit Master Plan in spring of 2009.

Sacramento, CA:  How do you notify someone If ticket machines are inoperatives or equipment in general is not operating properly

Reply:  You can notify any RT employee or Wackenhut security officer. Additionally, you can call RT Customer Service at 321-BUSS(2877). If none of the ticket machines are functioning, you may board and purchase a ticket at your destination station. If your fare is checked during your trip, advise the officer of the malfunctioning machines. They will have the machine checked.

Sacramento, CA:  Will transit riders soon be able to access the system with a Blackberry-type device so that if you need to know whether or not your bus is late or early, you can click on and see where it is? This would be very useful to the no-car riders who need to know when they are between two different bus lines, which one to walk to. Just putting a device in the bus stop areas would be a beginning, but not nearly as useful as the customer access approach. I asked an RT rep about the possibility of customers tracking busses when I first saw the times automatically shown on the busses. The RT rep said it could not be done "for security reasons." Please make public transit as user friendly as possible, especially for full-timers who are non-car by necessity or by choice. "It's the right thing to do..."

Reply:  We are working on a number of passenger information systems. We are building a real-time vehicle tracking systems that will be available to passengers in the near future. We will also be implementing a notification system for service disruptions and delays that will take advantage of e-mail and SMS devices. Watch for the updates on RT's Website.

CA:  Unfortunately I cannot participate will a summary of the chat sessions be placed on the web page

Reply:  All of our sessions will be archived on the RT Website.

Sacramento, CA:  October 3, 2008 RT – On-line with the boss Some time ago I purchased several $1.00 tickets for rides on rt and light rail. I didn’t think much until it was pointed out the ticket expired 8/31/08 and could be renewed until 9/30/08. I was informed by customer advocacy supervisor that after 9/30/08 “The tickets would hold a zero value after 9/30/08. this would mean the rt collected the $1 and the customer would lose the $1 after 9/30/08. Fair? Can any identity collect money and not return or honor in California? I remember the legislators passing a bill (1749.5) to address companies giving an expiration date and then not honoring future obligation and keeping the money. The law indicates they can not have an expiration date. This seems similar of what rt is trying to do. Your customer advocacy supervisor indicated rt “not covered by the law – 1749.5” How can rt not return or honor future obligations? I’m suggesting you remove the expedition date on future passes and inform the public that before 8/31/08, 9/30/08 and future tickets will be honored by rt.

Reply:  RT fare media is not considered to be a gift certificate as defined by State Law. Expiration dates on tickets and passes allow RT to take old merchandise out of circulation. We provide an ample amount of time for our customers to exchange their old tickets for new ones.

Antelope, CA:  Why are you running a public meeting at a place and time my closest bus route and times can't get me there and back and on a religious holiday?

Reply:  We scheduled the meetings to allow as many people as possible to participate, recognizing that all meetings would not be available to everyone. Please feel free to attend any of the other meetings, as the agenda and the information presented will be the same at each meeting. We have been gratified in our prior outreach to see that some people attended more than one meeting.

Carmichael, CA:  Does there really need to be a Light Rail stop at the airport as purpose in Scenario C? Its just that it has the makings of a ‘white elephant’ (cost, maintenance, and want exceeds usefulness) giving the uncertainty of the airline industry and peak oil speculations just who will be able to afford to fly let alone want to take a light rail to the airport.

Reply:  The extension to the airport has been part of the regional planning efforts since the mid 1980's and is a high priority project based on public polling. The project will be phased based on future ridership, cost effectiveness and available funding. Other cities that have rail service to their airports report strong utilization to the Airport Station. Our own expectation is that our rail line to the airport will be heavily utilized.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  At the Mather Field station parking lot, the variety of trees that RT planted are sappy messes. At certain times of the year, the parked cars get coated with sticky sap dropping from the trees. After a week of parking each day, an RT riders car is quite a mess. Also, the asphalt surface of the lot becomes very sticky to walk on. This is a disservice to your customers and is evidence of poor planning. Please do better.

Reply:  We have planted trees that do drop a bit of sap during the fall. They are beautiful when they flower during the spring and summer. They also require low amounts of water and are sturdy. We attempt to choose the best compromises when we are selecting trees and bushes.

Sacramento, CA:  What is the status of the state budget regarding transportation? I'm still concerned about its effect on RT especially looking at the pending fare hikes/Paratransit cuts that may or may not be in effect in the future.

Reply:  I regret to say that although the budget for fiscal year 2009 has been passed, it was also "blue penciled by the Governor, removing transit funding that had been replaced by the legislature. In the end, RT faces a deficit of State funding of just over $11.3 million. This is forcing us to implement the fare increase that was discussed in the public hearings in July and August. We have identified a combination of revenue enhancement and cost cutting activities that will allow us to balance our budget without cutting service.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you ride transit to work?

Reply:  I ride transit to work occasionally, when my schedule permits. I ride buses and light rail trains to various meetings and appointments on a regular basis, usually several times a week. I enjoy riding the system so that I can talk to customers and employees and gain first hand experience on how our service is accommodating your needs. Many of RT's employees ride the system to work, with many more using the system to get around during the day.

Carmichael, CA:  Is there any effort between RT and PG&E to run the light rail only on solar power? If so why hasn’t it been mention in any of the scenarios put forth? It would only be practical and beneficial if we start to make our public transportation more carbon friendly.

Reply:  SMUD supplies RT with electricity for our light rail system. We are working with SMUD and the City of Sacramento to use both the cheapest and most environmentally friendly power sources. We have applied for grants for solar projects, as well as other alternative power sources. This is one of those areas we are constantly watching because of the cost of power and the impact on the environment.

Sacramento , CA:  What do you do when someone is blasting their music on the light rail ? who do you call?

Reply:  If you feel comfortable doing so, you can ask the individual to turn the music down. If you don't feel comfortable doing that, you can contact any RT employee or Wackenhut security officer. You can also push the intercom button and speak directly with the train operator. You can also move to a different part of that light rail vehicle or to a different light rail vehicle. Additionally, you can call RT Customer Service at 321-BUSS(2877) and they will contact RT Police Services who will send appropriate personnel to check the train.

Sacramento , CA:  Can you tell everyone why RT purchased 20 or so VTA (white light rail parked off the service station) and it is not being use in Sacramento? Can the white light rail run the tracks in Sacramento? How much did RT paid for the light rail? Was it paid by tax money? Is the white light rail too long, too big, too wide to run in the tracks in Sacramento? Whose idea was it to purchase the light rail and who should be responsible for purchasing the light rail that cannot operate in Sacramento? What plans do you have and what do you plan on doing with them? Thank you.

Reply:  The 21 VTA cars were purchased to supplement service on the future South Line Phase 2 project and to add express service on the Northeast Corridor. RT purchased the vehicles at 1/10 of what a new vehicle cost at the time. RT is currently expanding our maintenance facility to rehabilitate these vehicles and vehicles are tentatively schedule to be in operations in 2012.

Natomas, CA:  Can route 11, only route to north natomas, be served every 15 minutes and up to 8pm.

Reply:  This is one of the options being considered, along with other potential improvements, as part of our Transit Master Plan. Our Board of Directors will be adopting the TMP in spring of 2009. Unfortunately, due to an additional loss of $11.3 million with the adoption of the State Budget and the Governor's blue lining we are not able to add any service at this time.

Sacramento, CA:  Why the RT employees park their vehicle on passenger platfom at 13th street?

Reply:  13th Street is the center of the RT Rail system. It is the hub for security, rail vehicle storage, information systems and our call center. These activities generate a lot of RT vehicle traffic through the area. Most of these employees are stopping for a few minutes and leaving. We ask them to stay out of the parking lot for the sales center, so that our patron can use those spaces.

Sacramento, CA:  I live in South Sacramento off of French Road. Are there plans to provide a Shuttle bus service to the bus terminal on 65th St?

Reply:  There are no such plans at the moment, but this is likely to be addressed in our Transit Master Plan, which our Board will adopt in spring of 2009 and could be added with the availability of additional funding.

Natomas, CA:  What role RT is playing in the west sacramento street car project?

Reply:  We are acting as a pass-through agency for the funding to prepare the streetcar plan. The City of West Sacramento has been leading the project, as well as seeking additional funding to define the right-of-way and pay for streetscape improvements and engineering to prepare for the streetcar alignment. RT is extremely active in the planning process. The plan also identifies RT to be the operator of the streetcar.

Sacramento, CA:  When will lightrail expand to Antelope/Roseville?

Reply:  The Antelope/Roseville expansion is part of the Transit Master Plan Scenario C that we are currently developing. The Transit Master Plan Scenario C can be viewed on RT's Web site under the TMP.

Sacramento, CA:  Why can't the doors on the LT open automatically at the stops?

Reply:  The doors open on demand. The train operator pushes a button to unlock the doors when the train comes to a stop at a station. In order to open an individual door, customers just need to push the button located on the outside of the door or on the pole mounted next to the doors on the interior of the car. They do not open without a request for safety reasons.

Sacramento, CA:  Why are the folsom and or Sunrise trains frequently only utilizing three cars at peak commute times IE: 4:30PM - 5:30PM

Reply:  We generally run four car trains during the peak periods. Occasionally we operate shorter trains due to mechanical difficulties with individual cars. In these cases, we may operate a three or even a two car train, but we maintain the 15 minute frequency to Sunrise and 30 minute frequency to Folsom.

Sacramento, CA:  What is being done to beef up security? We are tired of our cars being burglarized.

Reply:  Most light rail park-and-ride stations have security officers assigned to protect passengers as well as their vehicles. Unfortunately, vehicles parked in our lots are occasionally burglarized. This is a big issue county-wide. RT tries to provide the best overall security we can. Additionally, we have sought and received grant funding to enhance our video surveillance system in our stations and parking lots. The cameras are monitored from our Video Control Center by security personnel. Please see the vehicle security tips on our website.

Elk Grove, CA:  any update on the possibility of recontracting with Elk Grove for Elk Grove service? HOPE SO, HOPE SO, HOPE SO!

Reply:  The City of Elk Grove has not yet decided how they will proceed. If there is an opportunity for the City of Elk Grove to return to the district, we will discuss options at that time. We are very open to providing service to Elk Grove and assisting them in any way to improve services to both our and their customers.

Citrus Heights, CA:  Are there going to be express buses from Citrus Heights to down town that no longer go directly to lite rail? Such as Bus #103?

Reply:  This is an issue currently being considered as part of our Transit Master Plan, which is going before our Board of Directors in spring of 2009.

Sacramento, CA:  Please get rid of the elevators and replace them with ramps for the following reasons. They are too slow and cause us to miss getting on the train or getting off to make a connection. They often don't work at all. I have been trapped inside on a number of occassions and even though I call for help I'm trapped inside with people thinking it is funny to spit on me, toss drinks and food on me and make frightening sexual threats to me. Also, they allow only one person at a time to move and again cause us to miss connections.

Reply:  We have three lifts in operations today. Two of them are being replaced as part of station upgrades scheduled in the next 10 months. The lifts at 16th Street Station and 12 & I Street Station will be replaced soon. The lift at 8th & Capital Station will be the only lift remaining in the system.

Sacramento, CA:  Why is there never any security on the number 51 bus, which is known for years to be a high problem route with rowdy mean threatening riders? Also, why are more bus drivers not proactive in making all trips safe by putting these awful people off the bus? IN 17 years I've only seen three bus drivers behave in such a strong authoritative manner. Thank you, Sara

Reply:  Hi, Sara. Thanks for your question. Actually, we have recently deployed our Transit Crime Reduction Team (T-CRT) on Route 51 to address a chronic problem. If you feel threatened while riding one of our buses, please contact the bus operator who has direct radio contact with the police. RT Police Services personnel also provide instructions to bus and rail operators, during their annual training, to assist them in addressing security issues.

sacramento, CA:  Why do you have to appear in court to pay a fine or can you instead pay by mail?

Reply:  Depending on the cititation, certain fines can be payed through mail. Others require mandatory appearance.

Natomas, CA:  How are we doing on the DNA project? Is federal/state monies approved for the DNA project?

Reply:  The Downtown-Natomas-Airport (DNA) project is finally moving forward. We have secured New Measure A funding for the first segment, and Federal grant funds to do early systems engineering for the entire alignment. We expect to issue a Request For Qualifications and Interest for design and construction in early 2009, with a view to building the first mile of the line (from 7th and H to Richards Boulevard) so that it can enter operation in November of 2010. Please feel free to visit our Web site to get more information:

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

We have just completed our first session. You all asked outstanding questions. I attempted to answer as many as I could. If I didn't get to your question I apologize. Please read through my responses because I may have provided the information by answering another question. Please join me for my session next month on Friday, November 7, 2008.