Transit Talk with the General Manager

March 06, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Thank you for participating in our monthly online chat "Transit Talk with the General Manager." This is already the third session of the year and, as always, there is plenty to talk about. You can submit your general transit-related questions two hours in advance, and I will address them during the chat.

Mike Wiley
General Manager/CEO

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Good afternoon, The State Legislature finally passed California's new budget and it doesn't look good for transit. The new plan officially eliminates State Transit Assistance funds, cutting $3.9 million from RT's FY 2009 operating budget, in addition to the $18.3 million raid this fiscal year.

RT continues to explore every possible revenue source to mitigate these losses and those caused by the downturn in the economy. One of the proposals being considered by the RT Board of Directors is a plan to charge a $1 per day user fee to access RT's park-and-ride lots. The move could help RT generate approximately $1 million annually in revenue.

In recognition of individuals, businesses and public agencies championing transit, RT will debut the TransitAction Awards at the Sacramento Metro Chamber's 2009 State of RT Breakfast on Thursday, March 19 at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento. The TransitAction Awards will recognize the Business/Organization/Agency of the Year, Transit Oriented Development of the Year, Elected Official of the Year and Individual/Transit Advocate of the Year.

The State of RT Breakfast will highlight the Transit Master Plan (TMP), which will create a vision for transit in the Sacramento region for the next 30 years. Christopher B. Leinberger, nationally renowned metropolitan land strategist and developer, will be featured as the keynote speaker. For more information about the event, please visit and click on the TransitAction logo.

I would also like to thank all of you who support transit and take the time to participate in our monthly dialogue. Let's get started.

Folsom, CA:  As our population ages, the need for restrooms weigh heavely on our minds. Are there some lightrail stations that have restrooms near by and/or have your business considered providing some a some stations?

Reply:  Regional Transit has explored means of providing public access restrooms. The cost of servicing them and the criminal activities they generate have been the big stumbling blocks. Many of the transit properties around the country with restrooms are closing them because of criminal activity they attract. Our efforts of late have focused with the cities and county. This is a service they are better equipped to provide. As we look for opportunities for developments at our stations, we are looking to incorporate restrooms in those developments as well.

Folsom, CA:  I have noticed that the 16th station is very busy and that many people smoke while waiting for the train. I use the scooter ramp so when i transfer, I must endure a long path of smoke (which makes breathing difficult) getting to the other side and it continues while I am on the ramp. Would it be possible to have a smoking section towards the center of the waiting area instead of the whole area? Many thanks.

Reply:  Just over a year ago, the RT Board of Directors approved a smoking policy that prohibits smoking in the bus shelters and light rail station shelters. Smoking in the open areas is permitted under this policy. Since implementation, we have been evaluating the policy's effectiveness. Our plan is to return to the RT Board of Directors with a report to update them on the effectiveness of the new smoking policy.

Sacramento, CA:  Does RT have a wish list of plans concerning transit and the possible new arena? What would they entail?

Reply:  We have been working on updating our long-range Transit Master Plan, and short-range transit plan, over the last year and one half and are getting close to completing the work (around June). These plans include proposals for several layers of new service plans including streetcar service, European Tram service, additional light rail extensions, and a significant increase in bus service. Presuming our Board of Directors will approve the plan, the amount of service will be equal to the amount of funding we, and the region can apply to transit over the next 30-years. One proposal is for a European Tram, or streetcar service that would connect downtown Sacramento, Sacramento State, Cal Expo, Arden Fair to a light rail station (possibly Swanston). If an arena is built at Cal Expo, it is our plan to deliver the proposed tram/streetcar service.

Sacramento, CA:  Now that Watt ave crossing is complete will a Folsom Express Train be started

Reply:  Yes. There are system changes and safety modifications (upgrades to our signal system and grade crossing protection) needed to support the express service. Those changes are scheduled over the course of the next year. When they are complete, Regional Transit will begin the new express service. As we get closer to an actual kick off of the service, we will be doing outreach and marketing to promote this service.

Sacramento, CA:  I saw RT will be taking part in a job fair today at Sac State for engineering and computer science grads. Are you hiring in these areas?

Reply:  At this time, RT has frozen most of our job recruitment due to cuts in our funding. We do, however, have some critical positions we are still recruiting for, including engineering and IT staff. Check our Web site regularly to see what is available. Other agencies you might check are SACOG, Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District and SMUD.

Sacramento, CA:  I've seen a lot of police at the matherfield light rail stops on a couple of occasions in the past few months. Do you know what's going on with this?

Reply:  Regional Transit is performing fare and security blitzes across the Regional Transit system. You've probably seen some of the focused activities that were at Mather-Mills. We are performing these focused drills to enhance our level of public security at many of our stations.

Folsom, CA:  Furlough Fridays . . . PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE add more cars to peak hours on furlough Fridays. The last two fridays you only had two cars running during peak hours. By the time we got to 16th street the cars were packed and tensions were running hot. Almost had two fights break out. There may not be many State employees, but there were plenty of students to make up the difference. So please ,for this afternoon, have at least three cars on the 3:30 Folsom bound train.

Reply:  In response to a significant loss in state funding, we are trying to save energy and equipment where we can. One way is to reduce the number of cars on light rail trains in response to the state furloughs. We did an initial survey to determine where to make those cuts. We are now adjusting the service where there is a need for more cars. Actually, we are hearing that the number of state furlough days are being reduced to one per month, and that they may go to a floating day off, which will change our operations accordingly. Please be patient with us, we certainly want our customers to be as comfortable and safe as possible. Thank you for being such a loyal rider.

Folsom, CA:  At the Iron Point lightrail station many people use the north enterance (on Natoma Station Drive) and the driveway is not really set up for pedistrians but it beats having to go all the way around the outlets. Are there/can there be plans to put in a sidewalk? Most of the residence live off of Natoma Station so that route is often used by them. Thanks Mike.

Reply:  We have previously addressed this with the City of Folsom. There is clearly a need to provide pedestrian access to the boarding platform from Natoma Station Dr. We are currently working to identify funding to make this improvement.

Sacramento, CA:  Can all bus drivers be informed not to leave the light rail station until the light rail train has departed and know for sure that no one from those trains are going to get on their buses? This is a complaint we have had for years now and it is still occurring. Drivers are still leaving before these trains even arrive at the stations in order to leave early or on schedule with. "Shouldn't they be waiting at least two minutes to see if the train arrives?"

Reply:  Our bus operators are instructed to wait up to three minutes for late arriving trains. Also, when our dispatch center knows of late running trains we radio our operators to wait longer if necessary. Unfortunately, there are occasions when buses leave prior to the train arriving. Please make sure to call our customer advocacy department when this happens.

sacramento, CA:  Hi Mike, Why are the brand new bus engines misfiring already? Last week on the way home on Line 11 in Coach 2812, the engine was misfiring terribly. Why is a brand new bus doing that? Are they under warranty? Is someone at RT paying attention to the misfiring new coaches so they can be fixed under warranty as opposed to RT having to "eat" that cost? This is important to me. The brand new buses are so nice otherwise, it is ridiculous that the engines misfire! Thank you, David V.A. P.S. I have a conflict over the lunch hour for the live blog, but I wanted to at least get my questions in and answered.

Reply:  We have a number of minor engine issues with the new buses. All are being handled by warranty. For the most part, the new buses are running very well, with better fuel economy and performance than the previous model. The buses also have a newly released motor which exceeds the year 2011 emission standards. The engine manufacture is working on the issues with us and we are comfortable with the efforts they are making.

Sacramento, CA:  With the latest storm this week, I've noticed that the newer bus models on the lines (with numbers 2600 and up) leak from the interior side panels making it an uncomfortable ride on these buses. This occurred on separate occasions on two different buses and on different routes so I've assumed that it's not a coincidence. Is this something that can be looked into?

Reply:  I have consulted our supervisor of bus maintenance who tells me that he has been made aware of water intrusion issues on the 2800 series buses. He has been working with the bus manufacturer to correct the problem. We implemented one repair that proved inadequate to solve the problem. We are continuing to work to identify the proper fix. Thank you for checking into it.

sacramento, CA:  How can I get bus and lightrail direction to a location?

Reply:  You have a number of choices, online trip planners, call our customer service center at 321-BUSS (2877), and using the RT Bus and Light Rail Timetable book. We have two online trip planners available. The first is available from . This trip planner provides trip planning within the Regional Transit District. The second online trip planner is available through our partner Google. It is available at . In addition to Regional Transit, this trip planner includes other transit providers in the area. Calling 916-321-BUSS (2877) will connect the caller with one of our Customer Service Representatives (CSR). The CSR's will plan your trip for you and offer alternatives to arrive and return. They have the ability to e-mail, fax or mail the trip details if this is needed by the traveler Our Bus and Light Rail Timetable book is another tool that allows the customer to plan their own trip. It shows the details of our service at stops and stations.

carmichael, CA:  On Weds at about 5 pm three heavily armed sheriff's deputies got our car in the Watt/I-80 train at Royal Oaks to check tickets, passes, etc. They even carried tazer guns (I asked one and she said "yes") I think they wore bulletproof vests which said SHERIFF in BIG yellow letters on the back. The only thing missing was a dog. Please tell me how such a show of force in a single peaceful RT car makes sense and is good use of RT resources (since, as I understand it) RT pays both the Sac Sheriff and the Sac Police to "help" with checking tickets. Thank you!

Reply:  The deputies to which you are referring were probably assigned to RT under contract. They were probably randomly checking trains at the time. The equipment they carry is the same as that carried by all deputies. But they may have been assigned to some other part of the Sheriff's Department. RT Police Services has a good working relationship with all local law enforcement agencies in the area. Sometimes we ask them to assist us with RT issues and sometimes they ask us to assist them. You may see members of the Sheriff's Department and Sacramento Police Department, not assigned to RT, on trains and at stations even more in the future. We have had many concerns expressed by both our riders and the public in general regarding safety and security on the system. We take these concerns very seriously. One of the levels of security service we provide include the use of police officers and sheriff deputies. This has proven to be very effective.

carmichael, CA:  I just submitted a question but suspect it didn't go since I got no receipt. So this is a test to see whether to expect a receipt.

Reply:  The software does not send out receipt. We did get this one, so watch for a response in the next half hour. Thanks

sacramento, CA:  Where is RT at with the improvements promised for the Folsom line tied to construction of the additional Highway 50 carpool lanes?

Reply:  I think you are referring to the agreement the State of California reached with the Environmental Council of Sacramento to provide the $3.9M in funds for improvements to the Gold Line. Our engineering and operations staff are currently developing the designs to accomplish these improvements. I expect these improvements to be complete allowing us to operate the enhanced service by July 2010.

sacramento, CA:  I’ve heard the state will no longer give funding to transit districts to help them run their operations? Is this true, and if so, how much does RT stand to lose this year and next?

Reply:  The state has been using transit funds to help reduce their budget deficit for a couple of years now. Because of this, our funding has been reduced by $14 million in 2008, $22.2 in 2009, and the projected loss in 2010 is about $ 26.2 million. The reduction in State funding next fiscal year amounts to approximately 20% of our operating budget. Needless to say, we are hurting. We had to cut service in January 2008 and raise fares in January 2009. We have also initiated a number of internal measures to reduce our costs including: a hiring freeze, no increases in salaries, reduction in outside consultant contracts, and furloughs for employees until the end of 2010 to name a few. These are difficult and drastic responses to reduce our budget, but our goal is to not reduce service any further. We are hopeful that federal stimulus funds will be available to assist ($7 million in 2009, and another $7 million in 2010). We are hoping that our overall economic position improves by the end of next fiscal year.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  A memo/request was submitted in October 2008 reqesting the possibility of starting Route 28 approx 3 to 5 minutes early for bus leaving Sunrise Mall at 5.18 AM. I haven't heard any response back from sacrt. The request was made so that people could catch the light rail at Cordova Town Center. Currently the bus and the light rail train both arrive at the same time, often people are seen running to catch the train which can be dangerous. Your attention in this matter is greatly appreciated. Having the Route 28 bus leave 3 to 5 minutes early for 5.18 AM departure from Sunrise Mall will allow people to catch the train and alleviate any accidents.

Reply:  I will forward your request directly to our Director of Scheduling for review. Sometimes what seems like a quick fix - like having a bus leave a few minutes earlier, causes a chain reaction in the system. My preliminary discussion with our Scheduling department staff indicates that there may be a need of more than just 3 to 5 minutes for the Route 28 bus to meet the train at Cordova Town Center before it leaves. It is a balancing act. That said, I will ask them to look into it further. Thanks for you comment.

Sacramento, CA:  How much does it cost to attend the state of RT breakfast?

Reply:  The ticket price is $45. RT, in partnership with the Sacramento Metro Chamber, will host the State of RT Breakfast on Thursday, March 19 at the Sheraton Grand Sacramento. The TransitAction Awards presentation and the keynote address by Christopher Leinberger, a land use strategist and developer, are some of the highlights. For ticket information, visit and click on the TransitAction icon.

Sacramento, CA:  How will federal funding for high speed rail help RT?

Reply:  The $9 billion bond issue in the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act provides $900 million dollars to be allocated specifically for transit connectivity to high speed rail facilities. The high-speed train service will link Southern California counties, San Francisco Bay Area and the Sacramento/San Joaquin Valley. RT would be eligible to receive $30 million in funding from the High Speed Rail Authority through the California Transportation Commission. With an additional $30 million in High Speed Rail funding, RT's DNA MOS-1 project, the light rail expansion project to the Sacramento Airport can extend the construction out an additional ½ mile to Sequoia/Pacific Blvd. which will include a station. Expediting this construction would allow direct Gold Line service to the Amtrak Station on the downtown circulator service making this project a showcase for CTC/HSR Authority while also connecting to the new Greyhound Station at Sequoia/Pacific scheduled for the year 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  Will RT be laying off and/or fuloughing its workforce due to the recent state budget?

Reply:  The state has raided $22.2 million from RT this fiscal year. With the elimination of State Transit Assistance funds, the amount cut from the state will increase to $26.2 million next fiscal year. RT is responding by cutting costs and finding ways to generate revenue. There are no plans to lay off employees. Labor costs continue to increase and RT must contain these costs. RT will propose 12 furlough days through 2010 for management staff, subject to Board approval.

Sacramento, CA:  Mike, I've been hearing about a "universal fare card" system that is in the works. Can you share a little about this project?

Reply:  Yes. We are in the early stages of designing a regional fare card system that can be used on many of the transit systems in the region. We expect the fare card to function in two modes; as a purse, and as a pass. The purse mode acts like a starbucks card. The card holder deposits funds onto their card and as they use the card for trips, it deducts funds from their purse. In pass mode, the card holder pays for a period of time (monthly, weekly or daily). The fare card knows what the card holder has purchased and when the rider taps the card on the fare box, the card electronically tells the fare box that the rider (card holder) has paid. The driver sees a green light to allow the card holder to board, when their pass or purse is read during the tap process. If the card holder hasn't paid or has too little funds in their purse, the driver receives a red flag (red light with a message on the display screen) delineating the problem.

Sacramento, CA:  How will the park and ride fees work? Will you have to pay to get into the lot or will it be done some other way?

Reply:  The proposal is to pay on the platform, or via the Web site or at our sales outlets. There are no plans to install gates. The Regional Transit Board is considering charging $1 at the lots. This charge has not yet been approved. The board is expected to consider this during the board meeting on March 23rd.

Folsom, CA:  I heard that there was talk of allowing lightrail to extend its hours to come into Folsom at night. Has progress been made on this issue?

Reply:  Service is provided to the City of Folsom through an agreement. The City of Folsom recieves the level of service that they pay for. Consequently, if there is a decision to extend serivce later into the evening it will need to be paid for by the City.

Sacramento, CA:  Mike, Is your team working on improving your customer communcations systems. Being able to get email or SMS notices about service disruptions would be really helpful.

Reply:  We plan to roll out our pilot Transit Alert system on the 16th of March. This initial roll out is for the Neighborhood Ride routes. Customers will be able to receive text message alerts for the various routes of their choice. Over time, we plan to extend this service to light rail and regular bus service. Watch for this on RT's Web site.

Folsom, CA:  Parking Fees: Heard a rumor that R/T will begin charging for parking at light rail stations. Any idea WHEN this will be implemented?

Reply:  The Regional Transit Board is considering a $1 per day parking charge at RT's park and ride lots. At the March 23rd meeting, board members will be determining whether to approve this charge. Should they approve this change, the charge would not begin until the fall. The work needed to add the capability to charge requires changes at the stations and the installation of ticket vending machines.

Sacramento, CA:  Will RT be receiving any federal stimulus funds? If so, what projects will be funded?

Reply:  Yes we believe we will. The details are in work through SACOG and are not yet finalized. The SACOG board will approving a plan over the next few weeks.

Elk Grove, CA:  Hello, I am a special educator with EGUSD. We are trying to organize a transportation fair for disabled youth to encourage bus ridership and mobility. I sent an email over 3 weeks ago to RT's Speakers' Bureau explaining our desire to have RT attend and bring the digital bus card machine. I did not receive any response to my question so then called the Customer Service Rep and left a voice mail message with my request. That was over two weeks ago. Can you tell me who I can contact regarding this request? Thank you.

Reply:  I checked with Customer Service staff who recall receiving your second request. Your request was forwarded to Community and Governmental Affairs staff who coordinate the Speakers Bureau. I will personally follow up to make sure you receive a response today.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you have any plans to have Wi-Fi on Light Rail trains and stations?

Reply:  We are testing at three stations. Later this year we hope to make this available to the public. The trains have Wi-Fi in test mode at this time, but not yet available to the public. The trains data capacity is insufficient to support band width for the public. Our model for these services is keyed on their cost and ability to generate revenue. At this time, we haven't worked out the details.

Sacramento, CA:  I saw there there is a public open house next week at the Sacramento Valley Station. What is it all about?

Reply:  RT is hosting a public open house on Wednesday, March 11 to discuss the first phase of the Downtown Natomas Airport light rail extension. The "MOS-1" (Minimum Operable Segment-1) project is a one-mile extension north to Richards Boulevard and 7th Street. As we move forward, you will begin to see more information about the project, which is referred to as the Green Line. The Draft Environmental Impact Report was released for public review on February 10 and the 45-day public review period will end on March 27 at 5 p.m. We welcome your comments and hope you will attend the open house.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

That's all the time we have for today. Thank you for making our chat a success and please join us on Friday, April 3 from noon to 1 p.m. for the next session.