Transit Talk with the General Manager

November 07, 2008
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
Transit Master Plan
Opening Remarks:
As part of its planning efforts for the future of the region's transit system, RT is updating its long-range Transit Master Plan (TMP). This will provide a new Transit Vision for the next 25 to 30 years, and set out an updated set of policies, projects and program for delivery.

Over the last six months, RT received valuable input from over 2,000 community members who overwhelmingly agree that the vision for the Sacramento region includes a high quality and high frequency transit system. More than 80 percent of people who responded have said they are in favor of significant transit improvements.

The TMP will make a difference to everyone in Sacramento … young, old, students workers, retirees, everyone. So it's important that you have a chance to make your views known. With this in mind, today's chat session will focus on the TMP, and I will address any questions you have about the plan and how it may affect you.

Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

An efficient transit system is critical to the ongoing growth, prosperity and sustainability of the Sacramento region. By looking to the future, we hope to identify the transit services and amenities that are most important to the residents of Sacramento County, and construct a fully-integrated Transit Master Plan (TMP) to deliver what is needed. The Transit Master Plan (TMP) is being developed over an 18 month time period. Work is already underway assessing past transit performance and gathering data to help inform our discussions as RT formulates a final plan. RT began the process of developing the TMP in early 2008 and presented the public with three possible transit scenarios. "Scenario C" was overwhelmingly supported by the many respondents to our survey and it has served as a guide for our current community workshops. The community workshops have focused on the funding elements of the TMP and will determine transportation investment priorities, which are critical to the success of the plan. So it's important that everyone has a chance to make their views known. We highly encourage you to attend our last scheduled workshop, which will be held at the City of Elk Grove Council Chambers on Thursday, November 13 from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. If you are unable to attend, you can participate online by visiting The TMP needs your input to be "The People's Plan."

Rocklin, CA:  I've enjoyed the TMP game and the outreach Regional Transit is doing to prepare thier master plan. Roseville and Rocklin remain huge service gaps for the Light Rail System. What are the plans for these extensions and how can this extension be moved forward?

Reply:  The Transit Master Plan will include a light rail extension to Roseville and beyond, but this remains a very general plan at the present. The extension might be moved forward if our planned ballot initiative is successful. Of course, this extension competes with other extensions such as the Downtown-Natomas-Airport project, or the South Line to Elk Grove. Consequently we haven't developed the detailed schedule for this project. The implementation of light rail to Roseville will also be dependent on the City of Roseville and Placer County developing a funding plan that provides their fair share of the resources.

Folsom, CA:  The long range plan, does it include double track to Folsom? If so, when? Thanks

Reply:  Double tracking to Folsom is in the Transit Master Plan, however, the actual construction is contingent upon discussions between the City of Folsom and Regional Transit. The discussions are underway, but is dependent on identifying funding for it. RT is actively pursuing funding for this project, in the hope of completing the double-tracking in 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  What are some of the biggest differences between European Street Cars and light rail? They look similar in pictures.

Reply:  The primary difference is that streetcars (both modern looking ones and historic looking ones) operate in the street. European trams operate in the streets but are a larger vehicle than the streetcars that we have seen in Portland and Tampa. European trams are longer and can be connected with other cars, similar to light rail vehicles. They also generally operate at higher speeds than light rail. The advantage that European trams have over light rail that we have in Sacramento is that it is less expensive to build.

Sacramento, CA:  What we can do to expedite the downtown natomas light rail? Sooner the better.

Reply:  The Downtown/Natomas/Airport light rail project is a priority for us. In spite of budget hurdles we have been facing, we are in the process of expediting the first phase of the project, that we call Minimum Operational Segment #1 (MOS 1). We have hired a consultant to conduct the engineering and environmental analysis of the first mile from 7th and H Streets to 7th Street and Richards Boulevard. The intent is to have this first leg built by November of 2010. The remainder of the extension will follow as funding becomes available, hopefully by 2017.

Sacramento, CA:  How current economy and new mayor will impact TMP? I see opportunities for the city to create new jobs and bring back growth to the Sacramento region.

Reply:  The current economy has more to do with what happens to future development of transit than the changing of mayors in Sacramento. The economy is not supporting transit at the moment. However, as time progresses, our circumstances will change. We as a region have to continue our planning to be in position to obtain state and federal grants when they become available. Yes, new jobs, and support for expanded development will come with new improvements. The City of Sacramento is a great partner and advocate of public transit. I am looking forward to working with Mayor Johnson to deliver expanded transit service as the City of Sacramento recovers form the current economic downturn.

Sacramento, CA:  Besides a sales tax hike, what NEW revenue source does RT plan to seek to pay for the expansion?

Reply:  This is a good question that is being asked by many of our community workshop participants. As part of the TMP process, we have a panel of transit financing experts who are assisting us as we evaluate both traditional and innovative sources of funding. A wide range of funding sources have been presented and reviewed including public grants and subsidies and private revenues such as developer fees and benefit assessment districts. You are correct in assuming that the sales tax is one funding source that is being evaluated, but it is only one of more than a dozen, including gasoline sales taxes, benefit assessments districts, and public-private partnerships. More information will be available on the TMP web site as we complete our technical work. The TMP will contain recommendations on how to fund future services and projects.

Sacramento, CA:  Good Morning Mr. Wiley, what are your thoughts about the passing of the High Speed Rail proposition at a time when the state can't even afford to pay for its transit systems? What affect do you think High Speed Rail will have on transit operation funding statewide, and on RT in particular?

Reply:  I am encouraged by the passage of Proposition 1A. It demonstrates that the voters of California are willing to support alternatives to the automobile to enhance our mobility. I believe that this bodes well for us in Sacramento as we begin to implement our TMP and seek to greatly expand our service.

Sacramento, CA:  The new Obama administration and the Democratic majority in Congress plan to craft a jobs stimulus package that includes funding for transit projects that could be under way within 90 days. Are there any elements of the Transit Master Plan that could be started if new federal money were available?

Reply:  There are several aspects of the Transit Master Plan that could be implemented very quickly without raising operating costs unduly. For example, RT would seek funding for hybrid-electric vehicles for our community bus service division, and for our non-revenue vehicle fleet (Police and maintenance). This would both improve our environmental profile and lower our fuel costs. RT would seek funding for an automated passenger information system, which would tell our riders when the next bus or train was due to arrive. We could also seek funding to enhance the Gold light rail line in order to operate limited stop express trains and to extend the trains that currently turn around at the Sunrise station to the Hazel station. RT could also seek funding for our next major projects, such as the South Line Phase 2 - every year that we can save on construction reduces our cost by 5 percent or more.

Roseville, CA:  I appreciate your desire to plan for the future, but can you tell me what your immediate plans are to secure a funding source that will keep you from having to continue raising fares and cutting service?

Reply:  Regional Transit has been the victim of the state funding crisis recently. As you clearly understand from your question, we are dependent upon multiple funding sources that are not consistent or as reliable as they should be for our budgets to be stable. We are looking to bring forward a measure to the public in 2010 that stabilizes our funding and sets future service levels based upon the Transportation Master Plan results. In the mean time we are actively bringing in additional resources through selling ad space on our buses, in our light rail stations, and other areas. We are also looking into the possibility of charging for parking at our park and ride lots. In addition to identifying additional resources we are consistently looking at ways to control costs.

Granite Bay, CA:  In this long range plan, is there option to extend Light rail to the Placer County? Which places would it go up to?

Reply:  There is an option to extend light rail at least as far as Roseville. RT's service area does not reach into Placer County at present. Thus, any such extension will depend upon ongoing planning and conversations between RT and Placer County transportation officials.

Natomas, CA:  How can we improve Bus service to Natomas Area in short tem by your Master Plan

Reply:  Unfortunately, as a result of funding cuts from the State of California (so far this year the State Raid has amounted to $ 18.3 million) we have been unable to add service even though it is greatly needed. The Natomas area is one of our highest priorities for service enhancement. RT is in the process of evaluating our bus services in Natomas, both in the context of the Transit Master Plan and with regard to our plan to expedite delivery of the Downtown-Natomas-Airport rail project. RT will be working with the residents and businesses in the Natomas area to reorganize the existing service and develop new services that might be implemented as we secure additional funding. RT's plans currently are to do an integrated Transit Master Plan implementation strategy for Natomas, Arden Arcade, and Rancho Cordova between now and June of 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  Can you please briefly explain the three transit scenarios mentioned at the TMP workshops?

Reply:  The first scenario is a baseline, assuming that no additional funding becomes available. Projects we have already planned and funded would be completed, but no major new projects can be completed. Thus, South Line Phase 2, and the first mile of the Downtown-Natomas-Airport project would be completed, but not much else. This scenario includes a minimal increase in bus service to reflect population growth. The second scenario is essentially the Metropolitan Transportation Plan 2035, which assumes a 1/4-cent sales tax ballot measure in 2012. This scenario increases RT bus service by 150 percent (i.e., more than double) as well pursuing light rail extensions to the Airport and to Elk Grove. The third scenario is what the public has asked us for so far. It includes a 250 percent increase in bus service, light rail and streetcar projects, and extension to the far edges of Sacramento County. We are still working on how much this scenario will cost, and how willing the people of Sacramento will be to support a ballot initiative to pay for this level of improvement.

Sacramento, CA:  We use our car not only for work but for the day to day chores including trips to grocery store, weekend entertainment. How will TMP address those needs and provide the complete alternate transport solution.

Reply:  Part of our challenge is to create a network that provides service to the majority of places that people need to go. Another part of our challenge has to do with land uses. The reason you need to use your car for so many chores, is that they are widely separated and not likely to be served by our transit system. RT is in the process of designing our transit network so that people will be able to not only commute to work easily on transit, but also do chores by using transit as well. This would include quick errands before getting to work, quick trips at lunch, and so on. That only works, however, if we get land uses such as those described in the SACOG Blueprint for the Sacramento Region. The level of service as currently envisioned would include very frequent service. Most major routes (rail and bus) will operate on 5 to 10 minute frequencies. The goal of our plan is to make public transportation a viable transportation choice for everyone with expanded service, more frequent service, improved quality of transit stops and vehicles, and having more residents and business located closer to transit stations. "Putting the passenger first" is our motto. As such, the plan provides a level of transit service that allow residents to access transit from their homes using community transit service or by accessing high frequency service directly. Service levels proposed in the TMP are 5 or 10 minute frequencies during peak hours and 10 and 20 minute frequencies during off peak service. Frequencies are high enough so that a time table is not necessary. In addition, we are working with cities and counties to encourage transit-oriented development so that more residents are within a comfortable walk or bike distance to a major transit station. There are also a number of amenities that are being proposed to make the transit riding experience more attractive. When considered as a package of improvements, We hope that everyone will find transit easy to use, safe, accessible from their homes and destinations, and a convenient way to travel.

Natomas, CA:  We saw you at sacramento works. Will your Transit Master plan bring new jobs to sacramento.

Reply:  The Transit Master Plan is a 30 year plan. RT hopes to expand transit to serve the growing population. If we're able to implement this plan to its fullest, the transit system will be very attractive to businesses (and their employees) looking to locate in the area. In addition, with the expansion of service RT will be providing new jobs to the area. In addition, any new construction projects provide new jobs to the area.

East Sac, CA:  How are smart cards (Universal Fare Card) and Google Trip Planning part of the Transit Master Plan? What is the vision for a more modern passenger information system and a fare system like Bart? This seems like a huge void.

Reply:  The Transit Master Plan (TMP) update includes looking at the future modes of transit (light rail, streetcars, etc), but it also includes a myriad of other transit improvements including modern passenger information systems - easier access to information, smart cards, etc. We agree that there is a large range of improvements that can be made. If you go to the SACRT.COM website and look at the TMP site, on-line game, you will be given a variety of passenger amenities to consider for our future planning. By doing that, you will see a number of amenities that we are planning to include in future plans.

Lincoln, CA:  As part of the Regional Transit Master Plan, what areas are included and is this an expansion of the service area?

Reply:  We have taken a broad look at Sacramento County as well as adjacent counties with suburban populations. We do not plan for areas outside of our service area and are coordinating with jurisidictions if service expansions go beyond our current boundaries. We are not proposing an expansion of service area as part of the TMP process.

Gold River, CA:  What are the considerations for implementing a multi-layered fare (depending on distance travelled, for instance). Also have you considered --such as BART to have a higher rate for rush-hour (this would bring the burden of financing RT system) by those who work and have "good paying jobs" such as some friends I have--with a $90,000+ a year salary and who ride the bus.

Reply:  RT is in the process of designing a universal fare card system, which will provide seamless transfers between bus and light rail, as well as between RT and neighboring transit systems. However, once this is in place, it will also allow the implementation of distance-based fares, reflecting the higher cost of providing trips over longer distances, or peak versus off-peak fares. If RT develops "Premium" services, such as high-speed, express bus services, commuter services, and so on, these could also be implemented through the universal fare card system.

CA:  What are some of the most expensive options presented in the transit master plan?

Reply:  We have a long list of improvements which include expansion projects, increased service levels and improved amenities at stations. The best way to access cost information now is to go to our TMP Web site and play our willingness to pay game. This game shows the cost of various improvements and their related benefit to providing transportation choice, congestion relief and environmental improvement. Go to; click on the TMP -Moving You Forward icon to access our TMP Web site. Once on the TMP Web site, click on play our on line game.

Folsom, CA:  As part of this plan, are there plans to keep passengers informed like Display signs at LR station etc.?

Reply:  Yes, however we are working on placing display signs now. We have a grant of about $1.7 million to help pay for improvements that will allow us to deliver real-time information about the arrival of trains. You should begin to see these signs in the next 6 to 12 months.

Sacramento, CA:  Why does the online game start with all of the options checked? Why not let the person playing start from scratch adn build their own transit system.

Reply:  The game is based on the direction we received from the public during our first round of public outreach. Consequently, we felt that it was more appropriate to present the full plan as developed at this point. It could have been done either way. Both ways allow you to see the relative costs of the improvements.

sacramento, CA:  You mention bikes. Is there a plan to offer more secure bike lockers? Mine was stolen at a light rail station.

Reply:  RT currently transports a very large number of bicyclists on both our light rail trains and buses. We continually search for ways to expand our ability to carry more passengers, including bicyclists. Expansion of our bike locker program is a big part of the TMP.

Sacramento, CA:  In light of higher fees and potential parking costs, will RT be bringing back the neighborhood commuter buses that serviced areas prior to lightrail extensions? Lightrail has significantly complicated the commutes of many, requiring us drive out of out way or take buses to stations to wait in the elements when we previously walked 1-2 blocks to buses that took us downtown. Over the past year the number of people who now drive to my job site has increased significantly because of the inconvenience.

Reply:  As envisioned, the future transit service will be very different from what we experience today, or what we have experienced in the past. The plan's concept is to have a 250 percent increase in bus service. This bus increase would also provide very frequent, high capacity bus service along major thoroughfares. The plan proposes 5 to 10 minute service along major routes and 10 to 20 minute service on the minor routes. In additon, our studies have shown that 86 percent of the residential population and 90 percent of employees will have a 15 minute or less walk to a transit stop. With all this, future riders will have a variety of options in the routes they take. RT will provide feeder buses, direct, high-speed routes, and limited-stop buses that can provide more comprehensive service than the old neighborhood commuter buses.

Sacramento, CA:  I have been to Portland, and their transit system is WONDERFUL! Do you think California (and Sacramento in particular) will ever catch up (based on the budget issues California is experiencing)?

Reply:  Portland has an annual operating budget of $391 million compared to RT's budget of $149 million. To catch up with Portland, we will need a new revenue source. While we are looking at a number of methods to increase operating revenue, we anticipate that a ballot measure will be needed to generate this money locally. The current level of transit service contained in the TMP goes well beyond that provided by Portland. Our Scenario C is actually consistent with the service provided in Vancouver Canada.

Rancho, CA:  Are you planning bus service to Douglas road/ Anatolia, master planned community?

Reply:  The TMP includes a high level of service to this area. The TMP also includes a streetcar service to the Douglas Road/Anatolia master planned community. The TMP also envisions a Bus Rapid Transit Corridor connecting Rancho Cordova to Elk Grove and areas to the east.

Sacramento, CA:  What makes light rail so expensive?

Reply:  The biggest expense in light rail is the right-of-way, which usually has to be acquired from many owners. The next greatest expense is the construction itself. In the last few years, the cost of steel has gone up by over 70 percent, and the cost of concrete has nearly doubled. Nevertheless, light rail carries so many people that its operating cost per passenger carried is over $2.00 less than bus.

Sacramento, CA:  What is RT going to do with all the public input being gathered? What is the next step in the TMP process?

Reply:  RT is using the public input to help us refine the TMP investment scenario. As we complete our assessment of the prioritization of projects and the willingness-to-pay exercise, we will adjust the timing and sequence of capital investments, and re-calculate the total cost of implementation on that basis. Finally, we will adjust the total cost and develop a final financing plan. Public input is critical to completing this plan. We hope to have the RT Board of Directors adopt the new TMP by April of 2009.

Sacramento, CA:  Are you going to post the results of the meetings that are underway now? How willl we be able to see them?

Reply:  We will post the results of our willingness to pay game at the end of November. Check our TMP web site regularly for new information and game results.

Folsom, CA:  Does this plan cover the operation funding after all the new projects are completed?

Reply:  As part of the Transit Master Plan, RT will develop a funding strategy on how to cover the costs of all the new projects. We have brought together a panel of national financial experts to help us identify new funding sources that we haven't used in the past. We are hopeful that we'll be able to develop a strategy that will cover the comprehensive system the community is envisioning. However, if if the funding sources fall short of the vision, then we'll have to scale back the plan to be realistic.

Sacramento, CA:  I recently visited Santa Barbara. They have an electric shuttle for only 25cents ( Could an electric bus be an alternative to spending so much for a streetcar system to and from West Sac? Could they also be used to save money on transportation around Sacramento?

Reply:  The cities of West Sacramento and Sacramento have been studying a new streetcar project between the cities. They decided to go with the streetcars on rails. One of their considerations is that people find the rails to add a bit of security to their travels. The rails give a visual confirmation about where the route runs. More importantly, businesses that located near, or adjacent to a streetcar line see the rails as security for their investments in the neighborhood. The rails assure them that the line is going to be there for a long time. Bus service can change, and move away from a neighborhood, at any time. In Portland, they attribute $1.5 billion of redevelopment in some districts to streetcars. It becomes an important issue to them.

Sacramento, CA:  Why doesn't Sacramento's transit system provide better service? It seems like the service level and frequency are inadequate?

Reply:  I agree with you completely, our service in many cases is inadequate. However, RT has provided some service over a broad area, which has resulted in a number of routes with infrequent service. Part of the Transit Master Plan is the development of a strategy for serving major corridors with greater frequency and making connections with these corridors with more bus service. RT will create a distributed network that better connects the places people want to go to, with sufficient connections and frequency of service that riders will use the system in preference to their cars in many instances.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

It looks like it's time to close our session. I would like to thank everyone who participated. It's always a pleasure to interact with the community. I hope I was able to clarify some TMP issues and make the plan a more tangible subject in people's minds. Again, we encourage you to attend our last scheduled TMP community workshop, which will be held at the City of Elk Grove Council Chambers on Thursday, November 13 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. If you are unable to attend, you can participate by playing the Willingness-to-Pay game by visiting One last note, "Transit Talk with the General Manager" will continue to be held on the first Friday of every month with the next chat scheduled for Friday, December 5. If you have any comments and/or suggestions to help us improve your online experience, please click the link at the bottom of the chat front page to respond. Thank you again for your participation. I look forward to hearing from you next month. Mike Wiley General Manager/CEO