Transit Talk with the General Manager

February 06, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Thank you for logging on to February's session of "Transit Talk with the General Manager," your monthly opportunity to submit transit related questions directly to me, Mike Wiley, RT's General Manager/CEO. Today's session is open to general transit questions.

I look forward to addressing your inquiries today at noon.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Before we start today's chat, I would like to apologize to everyone who was inconvenienced by the defective $2.25 Basic Single Fare pre-paid tickets (June 30, 2010 expiration date). More than 100,000 of the new pre-paid tickets would not validate properly in the light rail fare vending machines and had to be recalled due to a manufacturer's error.

The problem was discovered on January 1, 2009 by RT staff who immediately set out to remedy the situation. It was their diligent work and understanding of passenger needs that kept this setback in check. In under two weeks the problem was assessed; the defect identified; the public notified; and new tickets were tested, printed, shipped and the exchange process was started.

The defective $2.25 Basic Single Fare pre-paid tickets, manufactured by Electronic Data Magnetics of North Carolina, were sold in packets of 10 at the RT Customer Service and Sales Center, and at other RT public and private outlets across the region. All other tickets, including daily and monthly passes, and tickets purchased at light rail fare vending machines, were not affected by the manufacturer's error.

Customers can continue to exchange $2.25 Basic Single Fare pre-paid tickets (purchased from December 15, 2008 through January 7, 2009) at:

RT Customer Service and Sales Center
1225 R Street (adjacent to the 13th Street light rail station)
Weekdays: 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturdays: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Closed Sundays and most holidays

RT Administrative Building
1400 29th Street
Weekdays: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Saturdays and Sundays

Effective Sunday, February 15, 2009, light rail fare vending machines will no longer validate the pre-paid tickets with a serial number below 600000. Bus passengers can continue to use the pre-paid tickets on buses.

Please check RT's Web site at for ticket exchange updates and additional locations.

Your patience regarding this issue has been greatly appreciated.

Sacramento, CA:  Signage: All signage at downtown lightrail stations still reflect the old system, before expansion out to Sunrise and Folsom. (They still only reference Mather Field) Will signage at 8th and Capitol be updated?

Reply:  Most of the signs have been changed with a few remaining signs to install in the downtown area. To save money, this project has been accomplished with internal resources so it has taken a little longer. I expect the project to be complete before the end of March.

Sacramento, CA:  Will your offices be closed due to the furloughs??

Reply:  No. Furloughs only save money for Regional Transit if they are in concert with service reductions. We want to avoid an additional service reduction. The transit system is seeing huge increases in ridership. Cutting service when we are having these great ridership gains, doesn't make sense. Our goal is to trim everything else in an attempt to avoid service reductions and layoffs.

Sacramento, CA:  Has RT ever thought of furloughing it's employees to help stem it's budget crisis?

Reply:  Yes, we looked into this option. Furloughs create a shortage of drivers, which means service cuts on furlough days. The vast majority of employees at Regional Transit are drivers and mechanics. We have just enough people to provide the service we operate. If we furloughed employees, we are indirectly cutting service for those trips that would not operate. In the case of our mechanics, buses and trains not safely maintained are not operated. This would result in sporadic service cuts throughout the system. We don't think service cuts are the answer to our budget problems. We are looking for budget savings everywhere they might be found. This included a detailed analysis of potential furloughs. Those that pencil out are being brought forward to our board for their consideration. Some, like a hiring freeze for most positions, have been in place for nearly two years. We are totally focused on keeping our costs under control and finding savings where we can. We will avoid service cuts as long as possible. With the ridership numbers we are seeing, service expansion is what's needed for the underserved communities in the region.

Sacramento, CA:  Light Rail Door Alarms: The current buzzers that sound when doors open and close are really annoying. Can't we get a chime or tone that's a little less harsh on the ears?

Reply:  Actually, the buzzers are intended to be somewhat irritating so that people do not ignore them. They are a safety requirement, and they have to be audible even to persons with certain hearing impairments, so they know when the doors are preparing to close. It is actually a small irritation if it prevents someone from being injured by a closing door.

Sacramento, CA:  Since the inception of this chat, your responses have been, for the most part, canned and simplistic. (Questions about the fare increase: "We have to do this, the State left us in the red." Questions about service improvements: "We can't do that, we've lost too much revenue." Questions regarding the Gold Line delays at Watt/Manlove: "They'll be over when the bridge is built.") As riders, we expect to receive comprehensive answers to our questions, particularly since we're now paying more to ride the system. I would kindly suggest to you that you be a bit more thorough in your responses, and provide us with an opportunity to follow up with you if we need additional information. I realize your time is limited, but we need to be assured that our concerns are important to you. Speaking of the new bridge at Watt/Manlove, I'm baffled by a few things: 1) Why the 20 mph speed restriction? I thought one of the goals of this bridge was to speed up operation of the trains. Please assure us that the Gold Line will no longer be plagued by delays as a result. 2) If RT is continually lamenting further losses in funding, where exactly did the money to build this bridge come from? 3) Will all Gold Line trains (including the future "express" trains) use this bridge? Please assure us that the return on this project will eventually outweigh its cost.

Reply:  The speed restriction on the bridge is temporary as there is more work to be done before the project is complete. We fully expect this work to be completed by June 2009. The bridge will allow RT to improve the reliability of the Gold Line. All trains we operate will utilize the bridge. The bridge will also allow us to implement Limited Stop Express trains once we complete upgrades to the signal system and grade crossing protection. I expect this to be accomplished by June 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  Folsom Express (Limited stop) service: Do you have an estimated date for when this service may begin?

Reply:  In order for this service to start we must first upgrade the signal system and grade crossing protection on the Gold Line. We will be receiving $3.9 million from Caltrans to pay for these improvements as part of their project to construct a car pool lane on Highway 50. I expect our improvements to be complete by June 2010. This will also allow us to operate trains every 15 minutes to the Hazel Station.

Sacramento, CA:  is LR operating during Lincoln's birthday or President's day?

Reply:  On Thursday, February 12 (Lincoln's birthday) and Monday, February 16 (Presidents Day), RT is operating on a weekday schedule. Trips marked with an "H" will not operate. For details, visit .

Sacramento, CA:  You say that you are working on better communications with the people which is great but the question that never gets answered is the communication between the driver and the passengers (on the train). For instance we are sitting at a stop for several minutes with no explanation or the train is 10 minutes late with no explanation. The drivers need to communicate to us.

Reply:  During an incident that interupts service, our operations personnel are very focused on specific safety and operational duties. However, RT is aware of the need for ongoing communication with the passengers. We are exploring how information can better be relayed to the drivers, and how they may pass on that information to passengers, when an incident requires it. This capability has to be balanced with the train operators' primary responsibilities of safety and train operation. One of the features we hope to implement is providing information automatically to our riders through announcements, text messaging, and electronic rider alerts. We hope to begin this service during 2009.

Sacramento, CA:  When will Manlove construction be completed. Yes the bridge is running but the construction still continues. It is becoming more inconvenient everyday.

Reply:  The station work will be complete in June of 2009.

Sacramento, CA:  What updates will be made to the Alkali Flat station? I've seen the A-frames but want to know what will be improved

Reply:  We are doing a light remodel which includes shelter painting, landscape changes, new furniture and additional lighting. We tried to maximize the impact of the improvements on a limited budget. The lighting improvements will provide better illumination and the furniture will be like that at our newer light rail stations. We engaged the Alkali Flat and Mansion Flat communities for their input into the design. After ithe work is complete, we would like comments on what you think.

Natomas, CA:  Mike: Can you please add north natomas tma to your trip planner and google trip planner. Thank you.

Reply:  I agree. We will contact the North Natomas TMA to work with them to accomplish this.

Sacramento, CA:  Furloughs time. I want to use route 11 to save money. Any plan to increase the service on non furloughs days from 7 to 9pm.

Reply:  In fact, the Route 11 is under review for just such an increase. We have been aware for some time that Natomas is increasing in demand for transit service, and that some residents and job-seekers there would benefit from having later service. Unfortunately, the State budget crisis and the continuing reductions in State transit assistance are raising uncertainty in our own budget. I still hope that if the State can reach a balanced budget in the next few weeks, we can return to our consideration of improvements to the Natomas transit service area.

Natomas, CA:  Will RT get fundings from the stimulus bills for Public Works project?

Reply:  Yes, RT has been working closely with our funding partners, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments, other transit agencies, and Caltrans, to identify projects that will benefit from the economic stimulus program. These projects are intended to provide improvements in our light rail and bus operations, improve transit user information systems, and help us accelerate service improvements such as limited stop (express) services. We are still unsure about how much funding will be provided, but RT is ready to "hit the ground running" when the funding becomes available. We anticipate that the stimulus package will be signed by President Obama before February 15.

Folsom, CA:  Is there going to be any change in the RT Light rail service due to the State Furloughs?

Reply:  No, we've looked at running holiday service on the State Furlough days, but since they only reduce the number of bus runs during the day, and only 26 additional days in a year, the cost savings are minimal. On light rail especially, many more people than state workers would be inconvenienced if we reduced light rail service. We may be reducing the length of the trains on those days as demand could be some what less.

Folsom, CA:  A few months ago I read about a bill to kick riders off RT. What is the status with this?

Reply:  You are referring to SB 1561 (Steinberg) Passenger Safety Act (Chapter 528 Statutes of 2008). This law allows the Sacramento Regional Transit District and the City of Fresno Area Express to exclude passengers from using transit for limited periods of time, depending on the nature and the frequency of offenses committed while on transit district property and for which they have been cited. The law also provides for an appeals process should an individual who is transit-dependent be cited, and for training of transit personnel to recognize and facilitate the needs of those experiencing homelessness or who may have psychiatric disabilities. The law outlines the composition and duties of an oversight committee to monitor the number of citations and exclusions issued by RT. This committee would also oversee the training of transit personnel in dealing with those passengers with special needs. In recent years, the RT Board of Directors and staff have received increasing numbers of complaints from riders regarding the safety of RT vehicles, parking lots and passenger waiting areas. By allowing transit districts to exclude passengers cited for certain offenses, RT seeks to reduce the number of passenger disruptions and improve overall service. To encourage ridership and to reduce emissions associated with daily commuting, potential passengers need to feel that RT is a safe alternative to driving. This law resulted from meetings of a task force whose membership included persons with experience in the areas of mental health, homelessness, public safety and transportation, as well as a review of current state and local laws pertaining to rail and bus transit. This law relies in part on the provisions of the State of California's Public Utilities Code to define those actions or behaviors which passengers see as disruptive and defines the number of offenses for which a passenger may be cited. The law defines the period for which a rider may be temporarily excluded from accessing public transit based on citations for certain behaviors that are deleterious to the safety and comfort of other transit riders. Specific language in the bill outlines an appeals process for those who are transit-dependent and who may have been cited. Transit personnel would receive special training on recognizing and accommodating the needs of persons with psychiatric or other disabilities, or those experiencing homelessness, and would be trained in referring such passengers to available services. RT is currently taking the necessary prerequisite steps in order to implement this law within the next several months.

Midtown, CA:  Can you clarify the basic single fare pre-paid ticket exchange?

Reply:  During the process of reprogramming the fare vending machines to accept the new pre-paid tickets and passes (Basic Single Fare, Discount Single Fare, Basic Daily Pass, Discount Daily Pass) due to the fare increase effective January 1, RT staff discovered that a significant number of $2.25 Basic Single Fare pre-paid tickets (June 30, 2010 expiration date) were defective and cannot be properly validated in light rail fare vending machines. RT worked with the ticket manufacturer to quickly replace the shipment of $2.25 Basic Single Fare pre-paid tickets and issued a recall of the defective tickets. Customers can exchange defective tickets at the RT Customer Service and Sales Center at 1225 R Street (adjacent to the 13th Street light rail station) on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Ticket exchanges (for the $2.25 Basic Single Fare pre-paid tickets only) are also conducted at RT's Administrative Building at 1400 29th Street (at N Street) on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The ticket recall does not affect bus passengers who can continue to use these tickets until the expiration date. Effective Sunday, February 15, light rail fare vending machines will no longer accept $2.25 Basic Single Fare pre-paid tickets with serial numbers below 600000. The manufacturer's defect has created an inconvenience for our passengers. Thank you for your patience and understanding.

Sacramento, CA:  What specifically still needs to be done to finish construction at the Watt bridge?

Reply:  The work that remains to be done is restoring the station and landscaping. As part of the bridge construction, the station was reconfigured temporarily. Now with the bridge complete, the crews are working to rebuild the station. The work is primarily concrete restoration, detectable warning tile, safety barriers and installation of amenities. All of this work is scheduled for completion this June.

Sacramento, CA:  When will RT recieve the money from the Highway 50 compromise? When will construction begin on the double track?

Reply:  RT should receive the money from the Highway 50 compromise this summer, which will allow us to begin procurement of parts and equipment. There is no track construction as such, because we are talking about having limited stop (express) service from the Historic Folsom Station and 15 minute frequency service from the Hazel Station to downtown. The funding from Caltrans will actually fund signalling, safety, and grade crossing improvements to make the limited stop service operational.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you think RT can operate three-car Light Rail trains in the middle of the day? It seems the current two-car non-peak operation between rush hours results in overcrowding, especially around lunch time.

Reply:  We monitor the conditions on the light rail and buses, and have noticed that there has been an increase in crowding during the midday. We have to plan well in advance to change the number of cars in the consist on a recurring basis. If crowding persists, we will consider increasing the number of midday cars. This is limited, however, by the maintenance requirements on the fleet. Some cars must be removed for routine maintenance, to make sure they remain in good condition throughout the service period. There is a cost to increase the number of cars. With the State of California still considering an additional $3.9 million raid on our budget we may not have the funding to add service.

Sacramento, CA:  I was given a ticket for having an expired student pass. I wasn't able to obtain a new pass until the day I was given the ticket. I had already paid for my pass, I just had to pick it up. While I understand my old pass had expired (by two days), I would like to know if in future transit officers will be told use a little more common sense when giving out tickets. I am not asking you to make judge ruling on my ticket, just want to know if transit officers should use a bit more courtesy in that sense. Thanks a lot!

Reply:  Transit officers are given a certain amount of latitude in enforcing RT laws and ordinances. I will pass along your scenario to the Transit Officer Supervisor. However, it is aways a good idea to purchase a single ride ticket if your pass has expired.

CA:  WIll RT benefit from the economic stimulus package? If so, how?

Reply:  RT will receive an as yet undetermined amount of funding under the stimulus package. We have worked closely with our regional partners to identify "ready to go" projects that can help us improve service to the public without drastically increasing our operating costs. As you may have read, the stimulus package does not provide any new resources for operating costs. However, we have requested funding for projects that allow us to implement limited stop services, continue to work on a second bus maintenance facility, rehabilitate some of our stations, refurbish 21 light rail vehicles, upgrade our work trucks and equipment, and implement an electronic information system for our riders (automatic vehicle location, next stop announcements, electronic signs). We will know more about how much money we might receive when President Obama signs the stimulus package into law. The current projection is that he will do so before February 15.

Citrus Heights, CA:  Do you intend to make any updates to your website. It has a very user 'unfriendly' feel about it, with what seems like limited information. Bus schedules and routes are very hard to figure out, especially for those who are new to the area. The light rail times should include all stations.

Reply:  Thank you for your suggestions. The RT Web site was created many years ago and is in need of improvements. In many cases, the Web site is the first impression for a potential customer. We want to make sure that the Web site is customer-friendly and easy to use. Marketing staff has made this a priority and is working to upgrade the Web site. We expect to have it updated by fall of 2009.

Carmichael, CA:  Is it possible to run express service to Folsom on the tracks you have now?

Reply:  If by express service you mean limit stop, yes we can with the existing track. We are making changes to the signaling system to enable the limited stop service. Limited stop service is a service where we stop at only the major the stations. This saves time for the riders.

Elk Grove, CA, CA:  Many aspects of the stimulus bill seem to be under attack. Is there anything we as citizens can do to make sure transit gets a good share of the stimulus funding?

Reply:  Recent amendments to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) include funding for transportation infrastructure projects that suggest significant increases in transit spending including funding for "ready-to-go" projects. Should the stimulus package be passed, RT has several "ready-to-go" projects that would greatly benefit from stimulus funding. These amendments are up for debate in the Senate. Contact your senators today and urge them to support amendments to increase transit spending.

Sacramento, CA:  Has a deal been reached regarding the lease back issues arising from the lease-back deals brokered with AIG?

Reply:  RT is still working with our financial partners to minimize the risk surrounding the lease-leaseback transactions. Luckily, our partners have little incentive to force RT into pulling the transaction apart (which triggers a payment on our part), so we have been successful in negotiating an extension to resolution of the issue. However, we do not have any certainty about the outcome at this time. The last initiative at the Federal level, which would have restored market confidence in these transactions, failed in the Senate. We continue to work with the Obama administration and Congress to resolve the situation.

Rocklin, CA:  What is the biggest fare enforcement problem facing RT?

Reply:  Fare evasion is a problem but not to the extent one might think. All the data suggests the fare evasion rate is approximately 1.2%. Evasion of fares is the primary focus of the Transit Officers who ride all light rail service daily checking for fare. Fare checking is also done by the deputies and SPD officers assigned to Regional Transit Police Services.

Citrus Heights, CA:  Given that the State has now mandated Furloughs to its employees, has RT considered giving a further break in cost to its State employee riders to help out?

Reply:  The state subsidizes the cost of state employees' tickets. Since the subsidy is set at a maximum amount the state contributes, employees will be receiving a full monthly subsidy spread over fewer days. From RT's perspective we are loosing a large number of riders each day the state furloughs employees on top of the transit dollars the State is raiding to help balance the State budget. It's important to remember that the fare revenue we collect covers about 25% of our operating cost.

Sacramento, CA:  I read something in the Bee about transit getting money in the stimulus package... will that affect your ability to provide additional service, or restore previously cut routes? Does it allow you to lift the hiring freeze? Or is the money only for projects?

Reply:  RT has been anticipating the opportunity to receive stimulus funds, which would accelerate the South Line light rail extension and other key capital projects. These projects would have a positive economic and environmental impact on the Sacramento region, and could add new service and improve RT's infrastructure. All of the funding we expect to receive will be utilized for our capital program. At this point we do not expect to receive any financial support to cover our operating cost. Consequently, we will not be able to restore bus service reductions implemented in January 2008.

Portland , OR:  Any long term plans about getting LR service to the airport? Mike

Reply:  Yes. Only they are not so long-term. The RT Board of Directors directed staff to accelerate completion of the Downtown-Natomas-Airport (DNA) project as much as possible. We have therefore sped up planning for the project, with an anticipated completion date in 2017 for the connection to the Airport. This would coincide with the completion of the Airport's Terminal B expansion. As a "down payment" on this commitment, RT just this week released a Request for Qualifications for the design and construction of the first phase of the DNA, from 7th Street to Richards Boulevard. The projected revenue operation date of that segment is October 31, 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  What is the status of the DNA line?

Reply:  RT has made significant progress with the DNA line over the last several months. We are completing a project level Environmental Impact Report for the first segment from 7th and H to Richards Boulevard, and are planning to start the Federal environmental process on the rest of the line within the next year. This week, we published a request for qualifications for firms to bid on a design/build contract to design and build the first phase of the DNA. We are actively working with the City of Sacramento, the Railyards and Township 9 developments, and others, to clear issues along the right of way. Our goal is to complete the first phase, which we are calling "The Green Line", by October 31, 2010. We hope that we will have the funding to purchase and operate the Green Line using low-floor, universal access light rail cars, as a downtown circulator from our 13th Street Station all the way to Richards Boulevard.

Sacramento, CA:  In reference to the person's question about increased midday trains... the Bee said something about stimulus money for new buses (which I would hope extends to light rail trains). Can RT buy trains with the stimulus money?

Reply:  The stimulus money is intended to support capital projects that are "ready to go" within 90 days from the date of enactment of the law. Unfortunately, it takes about 18 months to order buses, and about 2-1/2 years to order trains, unless we can tack-on to an existing bus or rail car order. So, RT went through its capital program and specifically identified projects that we could both commit the funds to (get our Board approval for) and expend the funds on within two years, as required in the stimulus package. We are requesting funds to rehabilitate the 21 rail cars that we bought from Valley Transit a few years ago. These will provide us with the ability to improve our service with limited stop (express) operations on the Blue Line from Downtown Sacramento to the Watt/I-80 Station.

Sacramento, CA:  Does RT have plans to work on a dedicated sales tax percentage?

Reply:  The current voter mandated "dedicated" funding sources have been shrinking and have all but disappeared from the State Budget. Sacramento Regional Transit receives approximately one-third of the local Measure A ½ cent sales tax and these funds are used for both capital and operating expenses. A compenent of RT's Transit Master Plan (TMP) plans for a new local tax (possibly a sales tax) solely dedicated to fund transit service expansion in the region. I hope to present this measure to the voters for their approval by November 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  Why were there people singing Karaoke at Meadowview a few weeks ago?

Reply:  Fox40 was singing karaoke and broadcasting live from the Meadowview light rail station on January 27 to promote American Idol. It was a cold morning, but there were a few who volunteered to demonstrate their singing abilities. The last participant during the morning show was great!

Sacramento, CA:  When the City of Elk Grove’s contract is up with e-tran service provider MV Transportation Inc. on August 31, 2009, does RT plan to present a plan to once again provide service to the area?

Reply:  Yes. RT is confident that we can provide the service requested by the City of Elk Grove, on their terms, in a way that will provide the level of service their citizens have come to rely on. RT has the experience and the staff to leverage its operations to the benefit of Elk Grove. This should result in greater integration between RT and e-Tran services, some cost savings from unified scheduling, marketing, and other support functions, and more seamless trips by Elk Grove residents who use both RT and e-Tran services.

Folsom, ca:  About how often do RT police patrol the trains in plain clothes?

Reply:  RT Police officers ride the trains in plain clothes on almost a daily basis. We use a variety of policing techniques, plain clothes being one of them. Our officers ride the trains in uniforms and in "raid vests" as well.

Rocklin, CA:  I see the state and most of the cities in the region are struggling with their budgets. Most are furloughing employees, doing layoffs and cutting service. I imagine RT has similar problems. Are there service cuts planned, layoffs planned and fare increases on the horizon for RT?

Reply:  Due to previous state budget cuts, RT cut 5 percent of unproductive bus service in January 2008. The $18.3 million loss of state funds for this fiscal year resulted in a fare increase effective January 1, 2009. RT has implemented a hiring freeze and has avoided layoffs. The state has proposed additional cuts to transit funding this fiscal year, which could total $3.9 million. RT continues to explore cost-cutting measures and revenue-generating opportunities to avoid service cuts.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participating in today’s “Transit Talk with the General Manager” session. Next month’s online chat will be held on Friday, March 6 from noon to 1 p.m.