Transit Talk with the General Manager

April 03, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Thanks to your interest and participation, "Transit Talk with the General Manager" continues to be a successful and engaging online chat. To increase the likelihood that your question will be addressed, I encourage you to take advantage of the two-hour window (10 a.m. to noon) that is open for you to submit questions prior to the start of each chat.

Thank you for your continued support and I look forward to chatting with you today.

Mike Wiley
General Manager/CEO

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

On March 19, RT and the Sacramento Metro Chamber co-hosted the inaugural State of RT Breakfast and TransitAction Awards. During the transit symposium, I had the opportunity to introduce RT's TransitAction Plan - the vision that will shape the future of transportation in the Sacramento region over the next 25 to 30 years to nearly 400 attendees.

The first-ever TransitAction Awards ceremony followed, honoring four outstanding nominees who have made significant and positive impacts in support of public transit in the Sacramento region. The Sacramento Metropolitan Air Quality Management District was named the Agency of the Year; the Globe Mills Development was named the Transit Oriented Development of the Year; Dain Domich was named the Transit Advocate of the Year; and Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui was named the Elected Official of the Year.

There is no shortage of topics to discuss this month, with RT moving forward on numerous critical system improvement projects. RT's Board of Directors meeting on Monday, April 13, will be of particular importance as RT staff requests certification of the Final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the first phase of the Downtown Natomas Airport light rail extension; releases the first draft of the TransitAction Plan for public review; and presents passenger information and technology projects.

The board is also scheduled to provide direction to RT staff regarding possible park-and-ride lot fees.

RT is also in the process of testing a real-time notification service-referred to as Transit Alert - with positive results. Transit Alert is a free subscription service that quickly notifies Neighborhood Ride bus passengers by e-mail or mobile phone if their route has been affected by a schedule change or service disruption. If successful, this notification service may be implemented for all other bus routes and light rail.

In regards to transit funding, the Sacramento Area Council of Governments recently approved more than $22 million in federal stimulus funds for preventative maintenance of RT vehicles and the retrofitting of light rail cars to be used on expansion lines. These funds will work as a stop-gap to help fill shortages in RT's budget created by the elimination of State Transit Assistance funds.

Questions about these or any other transit topics are welcome. Let's get started!

Sacramento, CA:  What is going on out at Arden/Del Paso light rail station. I read the signs there and it said construction will close the station to bus traffic for two weeks?! Couldn’t another option been found to keep things running at the station?

Reply:  The City of Sacramento is repairing Arden Way adjacent to the station. The pavement reconstruction will begin Saturday April 4 and take two weeks to complete. This work includes the replacement of the pavement where the buses currently stop. This will require us to temporary relocate the bus connection to the Swanston light rail station. We will provide signage and personnel to assist our passengers. Prior to deciding to use the Swanston Station for this temporary connection we evaluated a number of other options. The only option that worked was to use the Swanston Station. Fortunately the work will be complete and service restored by April 20.

Sacramento, CA:  When will the Neighborhood Ride, Transit Alert program go system wide? Bus and Rail. We really need this kind of information, it would really help.

Reply:  We are very happy with the pilot project, "Transit Alert in the Community Bus Service (CBS). The service has been active for just a few weeks. We are working out the bugs in our use of the alert system. Our focus has been on making the messages useful to riders. Our plans are to expand the alert system to both bus and rail after we have it working well on our Community Bus Service. In addition to working out the bugs in the CBS, we have staffing issues that must be solved as well. Our rail and bus dispatch areas are thinly staffed and their primary focus is the safe operation of our system. Although, I am confident that we will solve the staffing problem, we need more time operating in the CBS area to ensure that we have a mature migration into bus and rail. I expect to have this service available systemwide on bus and light rail later this year, budget permitting.

Sacramento, CA:  Any chance we will get a Neighbothood Ride route in Rancho Cordova? I think our aging population and proximity to VA and Medical facilities justifies such a service.

Reply:  That is a very timely question! Yes, in fact, RT is bidding in response to a Request for Proposals from the City of Rancho Cordova. The RFP was for a route to be operated for Rancho Cordova, linking employers and residents to the Light Rail system. Keep an eye on the local news, as Rancho Cordova is planning to award this contract to Regional Transit on Monday, April 6, 2009.

Folsom, CA:  Is still RT planning on charging for parking fees at the Light rail stations? If so, pls. give us more details...

Reply:  Yes. We will be presenting this issue for approval at the April 13, 2009, RT Board Meeting. We are proposing a $1 fee for parking in the RT park-and-ride lots at light rail stations. The plan includes easy payment methods. We will also establish fines for not paying. Should the RT Board of Directors approve this, we will have six months of outreach prior to implementation. At this point I expect that we will implement the parking fees by January 1, 2010. The Staff report to the Board of Directors will be available online at our Web site by the end of next week.

Sacramento, CA:  It would be great if RT added bus service in North Natomas closer to the I-5 and Del Paso area. I need to board a bus as early as 6:00 am, however, I have to get to Truxel and Del Paso by 6:15am. Are there any plan in the near future to start service in this area? I would like to not have to get in my car to drive to the bus stop. Please consider those would like to take public transportation in this area. Thanks in advance for responding.

Reply:  Thanks for that question. RT is actually preparing a service planning effort in Natomas, to address just that issue. The State of California has taken away our ability to start any new services in the next couple of years, but we are very aware of the needs in the Natomas area, particularly on both sides of I-5. Our planning effort will involve public outreach, of course, so I hope you will be able to come to the public meetings when they have been organized.

Sacramento, CA:  I've noticed a lot of full trains on my commute from downtown to Folsom. What's happening to ridership and can RT add some capacity (my chair has been the steps lately)?

Reply:  Since the Folsom extension was started, it has been very popular. As you know, we have 30-minute service between the Sunrise Station and the Historic Folsom Station in downtown Folsom. The solution is to increase service to 15 minutes. To do that, we need to double track the extension so that we can increase the service that is needed. We also have plans to initiate an express service along the Gold Line that we are planning to start by July 2010. With our budget constraints, we are hampered in doing a number of improvements that we want to do more quickly. Increasing service along the Gold Line is one of our highest priorities. We will appreciate your patience until we can obtain the funds necessary to make those improvements.

Sacramento, CA:  In King County, Washington, the Metro has installed small Junxion mobile connection boxes on 29 buses serving the two transit routes. Once installed, the boxes will be outfitted with a cellular air card that will allow passengers to power-up their laptop computers or WiFi-enabled devices and access the Internet. Would this be feasible in the future for Sacramento busses or trains?

Reply:  We would like to provide the best amenities that we can for our riders. In the next few years, you should see significant improvements on our buses and light rail vehicles: smart cards, passenger message boards at stations, Wi-Fi text service messages etc.

Sacramento, CA:  How's the ridership since the furlows?

Reply:  Ridership on the state furlough days was lower than a normal weekday. Ridership looked much like a state holiday. However, ridership systemwide continues to be up approximately 10 percent higher than a year ago.

Sacramento, CA:  Have higher unemployment numbers caused a noticeable drop in ridership?

Reply:  We have not seen a decrease in ridership associated with unemployment. Our ridership since the beginning of 2009 has been consistently higher than the same months in 2008, by as much as 8 to 10 percent. February's ridership was actually above January's in 2009. What that is telling us is that the new riders who were drawn to the system because of the I-5 disruption and high gas prices last year are still with us. Even the State furloughs, which have lowered Friday trips twice a month, have not disrupted the increase in ridership. Now if we can just keep this momentum going for a while...

Sacramento, CA:  Can you explain the new text messaging feature, that allows RT to send me a message when the bus is running late?

Reply:  We are testing a rider alert system using our Community Bus Service (Neighborhood Ride). It went live a couple of weeks ago and is being refined as we work out the bugs in the system. Our plan is to expand this to bus and rail when we have it working well. With our budget issues, staffing this function remains a challenge.

Sacramento, CA:  What are your thoughts on the plans for California's high speed rail not coming to Sacramento in the first phase of operation?

Reply:  I'm disappointed, of course, that our State capital is not regarded as being important enough to warrant the first operable segment of high speed rail. RT has an excellent connection to Sacramento Valley Station, both by light rail and bus, and the Greyhound terminal will move there as well once the station is relocated. All of these connections and plans are already in place, so we were fully prepared to receive the high speed rail as soon as it was built. I just hope the next ballot initiative to support the high speed rail is not so geographically biased.

Sacramento, CA:  Will there be extra security at the Swanston station during the detours to help deal with angry passengers?

Reply:  Yes, we plan to have additional security personnel for longer hours, at the Swanston Station, while the bus transfer point is temporarily moved from Arden/Del Paso Station for the City's Arden Way Improvement Project.

Folsom, CA:  We had kids on the Light rail arguing loudly.. When approached to reduce their noise level, they would not. What does RT do in these situation? How are the LR drivers trained/equipped?

Reply:  When a passenger contacts the operator via intercom to report a problem, the operator will report the problem on his/her radio. Depending on the type and severity of the problem, it may be handled by a security officer at the next available station, by a light rail supervisor, or by a police officer. Personnel at our Video Control Center are currently able to remotely monitor the interior of some of our trains. By the end of the year, we expect to be able to monitor all of our trains.

Folsom, CA:  How do you feel about earmarks in President Obama’s spending bill. It seems Doris Matsui did pretty well for her district and RT when it came to putting in items to get funding to Sacramento.

Reply:  Of course, I am pleased that Congresswoman Matsui was so successful in securing funding for the Sacramento region and RT in particular. She has successfully secured over $10 million in earmarks for our South Line Phase 2 light rail extension. This funding has been critical as we work to expedite this project. The funding that came to RT through the Federal economic stimulus package will contribute directly to our ability to maintain service at current levels, at least through 2010. Without the funding provided in the Stimulus bill, RT would have had to adjust to a catastrophic reduction in State revenue, even before realizing the decrease in sales tax receipts. As it stands now, RT is striving to maintain a zero increase in our operating costs from 2009 to 2010, and cutting back on expenses in every department, so that we can fulfill our promise to continue providing transit service during this economic downturn.

Folsom, CA:  When are we getting the Limited Stop train?

Reply:  The recently settled lawsuit regarding the Highway 50 HOV project between Caltrans and the Environmental Council of Sacramento provides $3.9 million to fund the improvements necessary to operate limited stop express service on the Gold Line. We are currently working to complete the design to upgrade the signal system and grade crossing protection along the Gold Line. The design work should be complete by this summer. Assuming that Caltrans makes the funding available this summer we will be able to complete the improvements by July 2010. These improvements will also allow RT to extend 15-minute frequency service from the Sunrise station t the Hazel station.

Sacramento, CA:  When will RT put in place some type of emergency notification program so that train passengers can be notified that the train is going to be delayed? Many times passesgers are left stranded and uninformed due to a lack of communication. Yes, RT does provide bus bridges for the passengers who are directly effected by an emergency but the people who are waiting for that train, that's 3 stations away doesn't have a clue about what's going on. Many time the security guards who are posted at the stations don't have real time information about a serious delay. It would be great if there was some type of PA system to broadcast current information and instructions to the effected line when the train is delayed. I did notice a small scolling sign at the 16th station but it wasn't very informative.

Reply:  We are currently implementing an alert system with the Neighborhood Ride service. In an earlier question, I described the detail of the pilot program underway and the expansion plans for this service to bus and rail. We are also installing message signs and public address systems at every station later this year. This project is funded. We are writing the procurement documents and moving through our purchasing processes. We look forward to enhancing our passenger information systems with these new features. One of the items on our Monday, April 13 Board agenda is an update of our passenger information systems. During this presentation, we will be demonstrating a number of new communication tools.

Sacramento, CA:  My question relates to the Transit Master Plan. I'm working from the slides presented to the board workshop on March 2. Please explain Multiple Account Evaluation and the role it plays in deciding which projects to and in what order.

Reply:  The Multiple Account Evaluation is a ranking method that is very similar to our own "3-E's" of Environment, Economy, and Equity. Essentially, our consultant looked at the Community, Environment, Economy, and Deliverability. Deliverability takes into account both the level of readiness of the project, and the level of support that it had in our online survey and willingness to pay exercises. The way this evaluation works is that each of the four factors include specific measures of economic, environmental or other benefits, and rates them all equally (they're not weighted). What results is the list that you saw in the PowerPoint. Now, of course, we have to go back out to the communities in which those projects were identified, and ask the residents and businesses whether we have the order right. We will be starting that process in the next month.

Sacramento, CA:  If K street was to reopen to traffic what would happen to RT service in the short run – during construction, and in the long run, after the street was open to cars?

Reply:  If K Street opens to automobiles, the design will accommodate our light rail operation. There are many locations in our service area where we operate in mixed traffic very safely. The construction would have to be organized in a manner that allows for our service to operate with no interruption.

Folsom, CA:  Why is the brand new, multi-story parking garage that was built accross the street from the Light Rail station in Historic Folsom unavailable for Light Rail riders use? There is a six-hour parking limit Monday-Friday, 8am-5pm.

Reply:  This structure was built by the City of Folsom to provide parking for historic Folsom businesses. The City of Folsom currently allows RT's patrons to park on the top floor.

Sacramento, CA:  Any new developments on RT possibly consolidating their offices at one new location?

Reply:  RT is drafting a request for proposals to consolidate our offices at a new location. We're going to see whether we can make a "cost-less" transition from our current situation with more than five facilities that we rent in addition to our current headquarters, to a single location of about 65,000 square feet. Our goal is to have a "green" facility, with Leadership in Environmental Engineering and Design (LEED) certification, great transit access, and a location where our presence supports ongoing economic development in the City of Sacramento. We have a chance to shed over $500,000 in rent every year, while avoiding many hidden costs that result from having offices in multiple locations. Such a move would position us well as we begin to implement our TransitAction Plan, which we are distributing for public review just ten days from now.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  When are the vending machines scheduled to be put in places at the light rail stations? Do you foresee any problems associated with the bottles?

Reply:  Electrical power installation is underway. When we complete the power installation, enclosures will be installed and then the vending machines. The first vending machines are scheduled for installation in late May. The vending machines are being stocked with plastic, screw top bottles. Recycle bins are also being installed with the vending machines. Our concern is with the potential spilling of soda. Although the vending machines will have water, tea and other healthy drinks, traditional sodas represent a potential for sticky spills. We plan to monitor the system for problems related to the new vending machines. It's worth noting that the vending machines represent a potential revenue of $250,000 annually for Regional Transit.

Sacramento, CA:  How does RT plan to spend the stimulus funds approved by SACOG? You mention in the introduction preventative maintenance and retro-fitting of light rail cars. What does that entail? What will the retro-fitted cars be used for, to run current service?

Reply:  RT will use the stimulus funding primarily to protect our ability to continue providing service. The District will receive $22 million in federal economic stimulus funds from the recently enacted American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This award will go towards sustaining jobs -- absent this funding, RT would be forced to reduce service and eliminate jobs. Over $8 million will be utilized for the retrofitting of 21 UTDC rail vehicles (previously acquired from San Jose). The remaining $14 million will be used for preventative maintenance and be divided over the 2009/2010 fiscal years to help bridge RT's budget gap resulting from State raids of RT's budget and the elimination of the State Transit Assistance fund. The retrofitted cars will be used for Limited Stop service along the Blue Line and to operate the South Line Phase 2. When the Blue line opens in 2012, we will use some of the UTDC cars for regular service on the Blue line as well.

Sacramento, CA:  I've read that Sacramento could be a model for transportation development around the country. Can you give me examples of what is being done in our region which is so remarkable?

Reply:  The primary example is our land use and transportation planning process itself. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments is widely regarded as having developed sophisticated modeling tools for linking land use effects to transportation demand. The other example is the Blueprint itself, which was the first such document adopted by a region in the U.S. The Blueprint sets out goals for achieving land uses and accommodating growth over a 30 year period. It may also position Sacramento well to implement the Global Climate Change goals required in AB-32 and SB-375. Regional Transit has now prepared a TransitAction Plan (a 30 year vision for expanding transit) that is closely linked to the Blueprint. RT's new TransitAction Plan fully incorporates the land use concepts contained in the Blueprint. This planning work is not happening anywhere else in the Country and is being looked at closely by our Congressional representatives as a model for future planning efforts.

Rocklin, CA:  When will the two new rail extension open for operation?

Reply:  We expect construction of DNA MOS-1, the first phase of the Green Line to start by August of this year and initiate service to Township 9 by October 2010 and we will start construction on South Line Phase 2 extension to Consumnes River College this year and begin service by 2012.

SACRAMENTO, CA:  Are you aware that Natomas Unified School District has approved a high school to open up on the other side of HWY 5 next school year? Are there any plans to support this plan with a school run bus line for this and the other high schools along Del Paso?

Reply:  Yes, we are aware of the new school and the existing schools. Our Planning department was in the process of sketching out routes and service improvements for Natomas when the State eliminated our funding as part of the State's budget crisis. Those plans will be retained, and we intend to include them in a broader study of transit needs in the Natomas area. While we don't have enough money to initiate new service at this time (we're fighting hard to avoid service cuts...) we are intending to improve bus services in Natomas as part of the DNA project startup.

Rocklin, CA:  I've noticed a large number of new RT buses. They look very nice and are clean. How are they working for RT?

Reply:  As you may know, all of our buses are powered by clean natural gas. The new buses are more fuel efficient and cleaner running the our other buses. The new buses exceed the 2010 emission standards. We have had a few minor problems but all in all we are pleased with the 91 new buses. I'm glad to hear that you are enjoying them.

SACRAMENTO, CA:  I read your other response to teh question regarding the North Natomas area. However, for the safety of our childreon, we need bus service now. Not in a couple years. It seems adding this run would add riders for RT and give you some revenue.

Reply:  You are quite correct that the safety of the children is paramount, but RT will not have the resources to add to existing services before 2010. We will pursue new resources from every source, but we can't project that we will be able to replace the money the State has taken away at this time.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Today's time is up. Thank you for your interest in local transit issues and for riding RT. Please join us for our next session on Friday, May 1, from noon to 1 p.m.