Transit Talk with the General Manager

May 01, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
It's time once again for "Transit Talk with the General Manager." Submit your general transit questions and I will answer as many as possible today from noon to 1 p.m. As always, we will be accepting questions two hours before the start of the chat, from 10 a.m. to noon, up to its conclusion.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

RT has been working diligently over the past year to develop TransitAction - a 30-year transit master plan that will address the growing transportation needs of the Sacramento region with the ultimate goal of providing a high-quality, world-class transit system.

RT has taken into consideration the many contributions and suggestions from passengers, community leaders and the general public. The RT Board of Directors recently authorized the release of the draft TransitAction plan for a 45-day public review period.

The TransitAction plan calls for a comprehensive transit network with high frequency services; longer operating hours; light rail extensions; streetcar and European street trams; improvements to information, ticketing, stops, stations and wayfinding; and safety and security improvements.

One of the biggest challenges facing RT is how to generate more local revenue to finance these major service expansions and transportation improvements, and become less reliant on dwindling state funding. A Financial Advisory Panel, featuring national, state and regional advisors, convened on April 16 to provide insight and recommendations for funding such a system.

Please take the time to review the draft TransitAction plan and play the "Willingness to Pay" game on With your support, we can all make the TransitAction plan a reality.

To receive TransitAction updates, become a fan of RT's Facebook page by searching for Sacramento Regional Transit District on

Sacramento, CA:  Can you give me an update on what is being done to alleviate the pigeon problem at Watt/I 80?

Reply:  RT will be installing bird netting and spikes to deter pigeons. Pigeons will also be fed bird birth control (OvoControl) in an effort to reduce the growing pigeon population. Anticipate contract award and implementation for both projects in September 2009. In the meantime, RT is cleaning the station on a daily basis and sometimes twice a day. We are power washing with very high pressure hot water.

Sacramento, CA:  When will a service like the Neighborhood ride Transit Alert be brought to all of your buses?

Reply:  We are very happy with the pilot project, Transit Alert for Community Bus Services (CBS), has been active since the first part of March. 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.

Elk Grove, CA:  Will RT possibly be taking over for eTran as the public transit provider in Elk Grove?

Reply:  The City of Elk Grove operates e-tran. They are seeking a transit operator for their service. RT has submitted a bid to manage that service. Bids are currently being reviewed by the City.

Sacramento, CA:  Why do the light rail trains have different designs? Wouldn't it be a good idea to have a single, good looking design on every car?

Reply:  We would also like to have all of our vehicles uniform design and color. The most current design we have on some of our newer buses and light rail vehicles has received favorable comments from our patrons. As far as making all of the vehicles more uniform, it is a matter of cost. At this time, we cannot afford to repaint all of the vehicles. We will be working on them as we can.

Sacramento, CA:  I am a senior and disabled, using the ramp. I still work and use the commuter hour trains. Nearly every day I either have to hang off the edge of the seat (which is terrible for my spinal problem while the train jolts me from side to side) or stand, or try to find another half seat back farther in the car because the front seats are being used by able bodied people (and of course the huge group that must accompany one stroller). Of course, that's a whole different problem. I have actually been raced to those front seats and had to point out and argue that the seats are meant for those needing the ramp. Suggestions: possibly making it more visible (larger signage) that those seats are for handicapped folks, hand out some sort of I.D. for those of us who use the ramps every day, twice a day, so that those few concerned drivers can identify those who are there for a "free" seat to themselves. Any thoughts on this would be appreciated because it is a daily source of stress. Otherwise, thanks for your concern and for making this an option to continue working!

Reply:  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) establishes regulations for making those seats available for passengers with disabilities. ADA requires our operators to request passengers to move and make those seats available to our passengers with disabilities. We have no way of forcing passengers without disabilities to vacate those seats. The existing signs have been reviewed several times by RT's Mobility Advisory Council, including many members with disabilities. ADA also does not allow us to identify our passengers that have disabilities. Many of our passengers have obvious disabilities, however many do not and ADA does not allow us to identify those individuals.

Sacramento, CA:  Is RT getting any stimulus money? How is it going to help balance your budget?

Reply:  RT will receive approximately $22.2 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) federal economic stimulus funds. $8.2 million will be allocated to retrofit rail vehicles. $14 million will be allocated for preventative maintenance in Fiscal Year 2008/2009 and FY09/10 to help bridge RT's budget gap resulting from State Budget public transit funding cuts and the elimination of the State Transit Assistance program. The stimulus funds will go towards maintaining existing service, absent this funding, RT would be forced to reduce service by about 20% and eliminate jobs.

Sacramento, CA:  Is RT taking any additional precautions to prevent the spread of the Swine Flu?

Reply:  RT vehicle maintenance staff is now using hospital-grade disinfectant on hand rails, seats and return air ducts on a daily basis. We have also issued hand sanitizer to all of our vehicle operators.

Sacramento, CA:  What's going on at the Watt/I-80 Station? I've seen a lot of RT workers installing cameras and cleaning the station lately.

Reply:  RT is installing cameras on both the east and west sides in an effort to alleviate unsanitary behavior problems in the stairwells (urinating in public). In addition to the four nights a week, where the station receives detailed cleaning by RT staff, we have added a morning (7 AM) visit to the station by a day shift RT cleaning crew. The day shift crew's focus is on any issues that occurred subsequent to the night time cleaning.

Midtown, CA:  Is it easy for someone with a bike to use LR?

Reply:  Yes! Light Rail trains can accommodate bicycles at each end of each car (except the first car, where the front of the car is reserved for disabled passengers).

Sacramento, CA:  Wouldn't it be cost efficient to purchase buses at this time instead of expanding light rail and purchasing trains. Aren't buses less expensive than trains? And we already have the roads for buses.

Reply:  There are a lot of variables to consider when deciding to use buses versus light rail vehicles. Some of these variables are as follows: The area to be served - a small geographic area may lend itself to bus service, while a larger area may be best served by light rail. It can be more expensive to operate buses over light rail vehicles. For example, one bus operator can carry about 60 passengers. One light rail vehicle operator can carry 600 to 800 passengers per trip at the same cost as the bus operator. The life of a light rail vehicle is over 30 years, while the life of a bus is about 12 years. RT operates its buses with CNG fuel. Although it is fairly cost effective and are considered a cleaner fuel than others, the electric light rail vehicles are even more cost effective and have lower pollution than the buses. Currently our operating cost per passenger on rail is more than $1.30 less than our per passenger cost for bus service. We apply for federal funds to build our system. The federal funding process requires that we do cost/benefit analysis on various alternatives to see which ones fair better. This information is brought to the public and our Board of Directors for consideration when we move forward on projects.

Sacramento, CA:  I saw that potential fees to use RT’s park and ride lots were shot down by the RT board. Do you think this is the last we’ve seen of this bad idea, I really think it would have affected choice ridership.

Reply:  With the state raiding $22.2 million in funding for this fiscal year and eliminating State Transit Assistance funds through 2013, RT has had to make tough decisions in order to balance the budget. The implementation of a $1 daily fee could potentially generate $1 million annually, which would help balance the budget and avoid service cuts. I think the Regional Transit Board of Directors and staff will continue to pursue all options available to continue to control costs and enhance our revenues. At this point there is no direction to charge for parking.

Folsom, CA:  What's the time frame we are looking for RT to start on the double tracking to Hazel?

Reply:  The next improvements planned for the Gold Line include upgrading the signal system and grade crossing protection which will allow us to operate limited-stop trains in addition to our local service. I expect this service to begin operating by the end of summer 2010. We currently do not have any funds to construct additional tracks that will allow us to run trains more frequently. The TransitAction draft plan calls for this service to begin in 2012.

Sacramento, CA:  I read in the paper that RT recently held a financial advisory panel to discuss possible funding mechanisms for the Transit Action Plan. Can you tell us a few of the ideas which were recommended at this event by the experts?

Reply:  RT is moving forward in the planning of regional service expansion with an updated Transit Master Plan (TMP). The District is branding this transit investment and expansion effort the TransitAction Plan. RT currently serves close to 4,000 bus stops and 47 light rail stations. Over 3,000 community members participated in region-wide outreach workshops, community meetings, and on the District's TMP bus. More than 80 percent of those surveyed support a major increase in transit service with an extensive transit network. After evaluation, the consensus is that surrounding communities want approximately three times the level of service RT operates today. Responses support the direction of the TMP and demonstrated a preference for a robust transit network in the region with high frequency transit services options, reliable mobility, as well as mode balance. The financial advisory panel was formed to provide expertise on a number of funding strategies that include increasing the cost of fares, a regional gas tax, a vehicle levy, implementing parking charges, a household and business fee, developer fees, and a local sales tax measure. For detailed information the draft TransitAction Plan is located on RT's web site at

Midtown, CA:  I was planning to take my first trip ever on RT light rail to Florin road tonight around 5:30 p.m. I will also be brining a bike. How safe is the line running out that way during that time?

Reply:  Light rail service operates from approximately 4 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day, and RT carries over 36 million riders on the bus and light rail system. You should have plenty of company on the train tonight around 5:30 p.m. Safety and security is a top priority -- RT utilizes police officers, security guards and surveillance cameras throughout the system. We also encourage our passengers to bring their bikes on board.

Sacramento, CA:  When can we start seeing vending machine at the Light Rail station?

Reply:  RT will begin installing vending machines at light rail stations in late June to early July. We're finalizing vending machine placement with the contractor.

Folsom, CA:  When will the trains be able to cross the new Watt/Folsom bridge at full speed?

Reply:  They can operate at full speed now. However, since trains are approaching or leaving a station, it will not be up to full speed on the bridge.

Folsom, CA:  There are some construction work happening in the Iron Point parking area? Any ideas what is it about? Is RT expanding the parking space there?

Reply:  RT currently is not involved in any construcdtion activity at this station. However, we believe that the City of Folsom may be working on the bike trail.

Sacramento, CA:  The Sacramento Police Department received a grant for new video cameras in April and Mayor Kevin Johnson said they will go up near major RT systems. Do you know at what specific stations they will be placed?

Reply:  At this time the Regional Transit Police and Sacramento Police Departments have been working to identify where best to place the new cameras. No specifics have been determined at this time.

Sacramento, CA:  Last month buses at the Arden Del Paso light rail station were detoured to Swanston. I actually liked this setup better, it kept the buses from blocking traffic on Arden. Has RT considered rerouting the buses permanently in the future?

Reply:  We have heard this comment from many of our passengers and bus operators, and our capital program does contain a project to modify the station to allow for the permanent relocation of this transit center to the Swanston Station. Unfortunately this project is currently unfunded.

Sacramento, CA:  Are service cuts still looming in the horizon to balance the budget?

Reply:  Yes, recent State funding raids have had a direct impact on RT's service levels. On May 11, 2009 we will be asking the RT Board of Directors to set a public hearing for June 8, 2009. At this point we are doing everything we can to avoid service reductions. However, due to a complete elimination of State funds this may not be possible.

Sacramento, CA:  I am concerned about fares. As recently as 2005, it was only $1.50 to ride RT. Over the last four years there have been three fare increases. I've heard that RT has plans to expand and improve the system if citizens approve a sales tax increase, but what is supposed to happen to fares? To me, RT's first priority should be to get fares back down to a reasonable amount, at least back down to $2.00, then use whatever is left over to improve and expand the system. Can you tell me what fares are assumed in the TransitAction Plan?

Reply:  The TransitAction Plan vision is to have a greatly expanded transit system over the next 30 years. During the TransitAciton Plan study, we engaged a committee of financial experts from around the nation to examine how to pay for the improved transit system. They made a number of recommended options including: increasing fares, increasing sales taxes, gas tax, vehicle levy, parking charges, special household and business fees, developer fees, and environmental charges. Over the next years we will be looking at these, and other options, in finding ways to improve our system. This may, or may not result in increasing fares. The decision will be made by the Board of Directors. I would recommend that you monitor the RT Web site and review the Board agenda items. The Board meetings are public meetings and offer you the opportunity to speak for or against issues like this. Fare revenue is also very important as we continue to absorb dramatic losses in State funding.

Roseville, CA:  Why all the emphasis on the Airport and Elk Grove? Why don't you extend to Roseville. The extension to Folsom was a good move but I think Roseville would be better. There are many more commuters on the I-80 corridor and besides, Elk Grove rejected RT!

Reply:  Light rail extensions to the Sacramento International Airport and Elk Grove have been in the plans for many years now. Construction for the first phase of the Downtown Natomas Airport "Green Line" will start in August 2009 and the groundbreaking for the South Line Phase 2 light rail extension to Cosumnes River College is scheduled for late fall. The draft TransitAction plan -- RT's Transit Master Plan that provides the transit vision for the Sacramento region -- recommends light rail service to Roseville. Transit would be a welcome relief for the congested I-80 corridor.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  Is RT going to operate all bus routes in the Rancho Cordova area?

Reply:  RT has won a bid to provide shuttle service in the City of Rancho Cordova. You should see some new service there in the near future.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

That's it for today. Thank you again for your questions and support of transit in the Sacramento region. Don't forget to join us next month for "Transit Talk with the General Manager" on Friday, June 5.