Transit Talk with the General Manager

July 03, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Greetings to everyone participating in today's chat. Despite the Independence Day holiday tomorrow, I thought keeping the chat on schedule for the first Friday of the month would limit confusion and foster the most participation.

As always, the chat starts at noon, but we accept questions from 10 a.m. through the end of the session at 1 p.m.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

It seems there have been new budget challenges to discuss during the last few sessions of Transit Talk with the General Manager. I'm sure many you feel that every time you turn around, RT is discussing raising fares or cutting service -- forcing difficult decisions on travel to work, school, medical appointments and more.

Unfortunately, this is the reality we face in today's tough economic climate. The complete elimination of State Transit Assistance funds through Fiscal Year 2013 and a projected $24 million loss of local sales tax revenue for Fiscal year 2010 is a heavy burden to bear. Despite internal measures to control labor and non-labor costs and identify additional sources of revenue, RT could not absorb the loss without asking riders to pay more for service.

On June 22, The RT Board of Directors approved fare and service changes in an effort to close the gap on a projected $9 million budget deficit for Fiscal Year 2010. The fare changes will be implemented on Tuesday, September 1, 2009, and the approved service changes will be implemented on Sunday, September 6, 2009.

The Basic single fare, Discount single fare, and Paratransit single fare will increase, while Central City fare, shuttle fare and transfers will be discontinued. The Lifetime Pass, which allows free fare for passengers age 75 and over will also be discontinued, however, passengers who currently possess a Lifetime Pass will be allowed to continue to use the pass beyond September 1. There was no increase to the cost of the daily pass and monthly pass, which allow unlimited use, including transfers.

In addition, the RT Board of Directors approved the fare increase for the Paratransit monthly pass, but did not approve limiting the number of rides.

A complete list of the fare and service changes can be found on our Web site at

Please feel free to send inquires on any transit topic you're interested in and I will answer as many questions as I can during the one hour time period.

Sacramento, CA:  At the CSUS campus, the RT stops are located at the inner portion of the bus terminal (where the ground is sloped/slanted). This creates a rather cumbersome predicament for wheelchair passengers using the low-floor buses, who must negotiate a wide gap between the wheelchair ramp and the ground (potentially unsafe) when boarding and exiting. While it is nice to see drivers assisting passengers in this regard (as has been my experience on many occasions riding Route 30), can consideration be given to moving the stops to the outer portion of the terminal (where the ground is flat and level) to allow for easier boarding and de-boarding?

Reply:  I will have our staff, that manages bus stops, look into the problem and see if we can make improvements or relocate the stops to improve boarding. Please be aware that Sac State is responsible for the condition of that stop and would be responsible for any improvements. Thanks for bringing it to our attention.

Sacramento, CA:  Given the frequency of light rail failures on hot days in Sacramento, it appears that the light rail electrical system was not designed for Sacramento's regular summer heat of 100+ degrees. Can something be done about it now? Having light rail fail on "spare the air" days is a bummer for both the general public and us poor light rail riders standing in 100+ heat wondering what's going on (where's the train?) and trying to figure out how to get home. Thanks!

Reply:  The overhead wires that deliver electricity to the light rail system is designed for the Sacramento heat. Prior to installing the wires they are pre-stressed to accommodate the heat. The same is done for the rails that the trains run on. Unfortunately, we have experienced a few failures in areas where the wires are relatively new. This happens because the wires were not stressed (or stretched enough) prior to installation. We are now working with our engineers to identify a solution for future installations.

Sacramento, CA:  Why didn’t RT decide on all the necessary changes to balance the 2010 budget in June. Is it not true that possible changes in January will be more severe due to their late implementation, which will allow less time for money to be saved?

Reply:  I am very hopeful that we will not need to reduce service any further than that approved by the Board of Directors on June 22nd. The adopted budget is very tight and may require further cost saving steps. However, if RT staff can control costs, as we have done in the past, we should be able to avoid any further service reductions or fare increases this fiscal year.

Sacramento, CA:  What will happen to RT in FY 2011 when no stimulus funds are available? Looking at the numbers from in 2009 and 2010, this will leave a huge hole in the budget.

Reply:  There are two ways in which we hope to address the budget in 2011. One is the projected recovery in the National (and California) economy in mid- to late 2010. This will result in an increase in sales tax revenue, independent of what the State may do. However, we're also planning to pursue a ballot initiative in November of 2010, which should provide some funding beginning in July of 2011. These are both fairly good prospects, but not dependable. So, we will continue to examine cost-saving measures in the interim, in an effort to minimize the damage if the economy does not turn around as projected.

Antelope, CA:  When will you be expanding the pilot program to send custom email alerts of bus status?

Reply:  We have the technology in place, but the budget stresses caused by the removal of our state funding has made staffing an issue. We continue to look for ways to staff this function, but the balancing act between service cuts and fare increases makes it unlikely in the near term. The choices we are being forced to make have delayed our implementation of the alert system for big bus and rail. We are currently investigate alternative methods of communicating major service disruptions that may not require additional staff resources.

Sacramento, CA:  It happened a few weeks ago; it happens again this week. The Liight Rail sytem goes down, upsetting the afternoon commute out of downtown, and where is RT? The problem occurred downtown at 3:05 pm. 45 minutes waiting at 7th and I St. until 5:05 pm and no one from RT has come by to inform people, and no RT shuttle bus (bridge bus) has gone by. Two hours after the problem occurred and RT is still flat on its feet. Again! On another very hot day. That is pathetic service.

Reply:  We apologize for the inconvenience The issues causing the problem are a result of the type of overhead power cable used downtown. The cable stretches during hot days and doesn't have an automated tensioning system. The city of Sacramento required this type of system during construction because of visual benefits. We have made adjustments to the problem areas and hope this doesn't occur again.

Sacramento, CA:  im a student at Sac City College. How much would a monthly sticker cost for both the month of june & july?

Reply:  A monthly sticker will cost $100 per month.

Fair Oaks, CA:  Hi, I happened to be a passenger that "use my brain as much as I can" which translates into several aspects; one of them is that I read--I do not like to spend 2 hours looking out of the window or at the other passengers when I am riding a bus. I like to read while in the bus--however, I do have a problem oftentimes. People in the bus (on many occasions) are loud speakers and radio players. I have tried to ask a driver a number of times to ask the passengers to turn their radios down and a number of times, the drivers rejected. It is unusual, let's say, at least 80% of the instances in which such a situation has happened, the driver refused. I have heard people (working people who take the light rail) that they will not take the light rail at night. It is loud and dangerous. Can the drivers be instructed to do something or can you post another notice about behavior that is disturbing to other passegers. I have seen such a notice in at least one transit system in California. Thank you In my name and all of the other passengers who do not want to be disturbed.

Reply:  RT wants all of our passengers to enjoy every trip on our system. Toward that end we provide annual training to our operators regarding how to address boisterous behavior. We have cameras on all trains and most buses. We have transit officers riding trains, and occasionally buses, and we contract with the Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento Sheriff's Department for officers to ensure compliance with RT rules and the law. Lastly, as part of our implementation of the the Passenger Safety Act of 2008 (the law allowing us to ban chronic violators from our system), we are rolling out a public awareness campaign which will reinforce proper passenger behavior.

Sacramento, CA:  Good afternoon, Is Sacrt planning on expanding routes to include the Del Paso & El Centro Blvd area? zip 95835. There are numerous individuals, myself included that have to walk 2-3 miles to the nearest bus stop. The worst part of that is, the overpass of Del Paso is a treachorous crossing. Please advise. Thank you in advance.

Reply:  As you may have heard, we are actually proposing significant service reductions in September, and potential additional reductions in January. However, we are also completing our TransitAction Plan for the next 25 years. This plan includes a significant increase in service (once we identify the funding necessary to pay for it) including the Del Paso and El Centro Blvd area. SACOG has given RT a planning grant to do early service planning to implement the TransitAction Plan. This planning grant will cover Natomas, Arden-Arcade, and Rancho Cordova (including the areas in between). We hope to significantly improve transit service in the area beginning in 2011.

Sacramento, CA:  Is RT planning on any service changes on the state furlough Fridays, which will be backing effect soon?

Reply:  No, we have many people that depend on our service, not just State employees. In fact, we encourage people to use our system while they are on their furlough day. It will save them the cost of driving and paying high gas prices, and as a State employee you can use your monthly pass that the State pays a 75% subsidy.

CA:  How many riders do you think RT will lose due to the fare increases and service cuts?

Reply:  The number of riders that could be lost is a consideration when determining fare increases and service reductions. These losses are calculated as percentages of total ridership. The loss percentage rates, also called deflection rates, were used in calculating the expected revenue gain for each fare increase. The rate of deflection is based in part on assumptions of whether the rider will shift to another form of media and continue riding or abandon the system. Deflection rates ranging from 2% - 40% were assumed, depending upon the specific fare increase. Service reduction ridership losses depend upon the availability of substitute routes that may provide an alternative for the rider. In those cases there may be a very low loss of ridership. Estimates of ridership losses are made when proposing service reductions and the exact number will depend upon the route.

Rocklin, CA:  I saw a brief story about the 3rd Circuit Court ruling that the state legislature and governor did not have the right ignore the propositions that provided funding to transit from gas taxes. With the state broke, I must assume they won't be able to right a check, but it could help with future budgets. What will RT do if this funding source returns?

Reply:  No, the State will not be able to write a check, at least not right away. But, the decision, if it is upheld by the California Supreme Court, will require the State to restore the funding that was not properly allocated. It is possible that the Supreme Court would say, "if the money is spent, it cannot be pulled back." However, there have been instances in the past when money was considered "borrowed" and did have to be returned in future years. Thus, if the 3rd Circuit Court ruling is upheld, RT would plan restoration of service in areas where routes have been eliminated. We would once again begin to seek new drivers and train operators (we have missed several cycles of new operator training classes), and we would revise Regional planning documents to reflect the anticipated funding. This would allow us to return to a more normal state of operations and allow us to actually plan service expansions in the next year or two. At this point if the State is required to return the dollars they raided, the total would be approximately $62 million.

Citrus Heights, CA:  Is there a parking fee being considered at Roseville Stn? If so how much?

Reply:  The RT Board added the revenue in our adopted fiscal year 2010 budget from a pilot program for parking fees at our Roseville Road, Watt West and Watt/I-80 Light Rail Stations. The board will consider the details of the proposal during the July 27th board meeting. The proposal is a $1 per day fee for parking. We are proposing monthly passes and multiple payment methods to make payment as easy as possible. If the Board approves our proposal it will be implemented by January 1, 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  Regarding Light Rail from downtown to Airport project, when do they plan on breaking ground to start? And what is their end date goal in mind for completion?

Reply:  The light rail extension from downtown to the Airport, which we have called 'The Green Line', is due to break ground in September/October of 2009. We are in the process of selecting a design/build firm to do the work on the first mile. That section will be in revenue operation by October 31, 2010. The subsequent phase, crossing the river and going into Natomas, will be in environmental review in 2010, so that we can propose it as a project for Federal funding. That is intended to be in revenue service in 2014. We hope to complete the entire project out to the Airport by 2017, shortly after the Airport is projected to complete their new terminal.

Sacramento, CA:  Is there any chance any of the new fare increases could ever go away? The central city fare was a good idea. Now people might walk more around midtown.

Reply:  Recent Board action to simplify the fare structure by eliminating the central city fare while not increasing the cost of the daily pass may encourage riders to purchase a daily pass for unlimited rides around midtown as well as throughout the RT system. Changes in the RT fare structure based on demand and estimates of use are routinely evaluated by staff and it's possible that fares could be reduced in the future if financial conditions improve. We expect to implement a new fare collection and payment system in the next 18 to 24 months called "smart card." With this new system we will have much more capability to consider a wider range of fare structures, including distance based or time based systems.

Elk Grove, CA:  Is there any changes coming within the new transit plan to incorporate Elk Grove into the current transit system for RT

Reply:  RT's service area extends to the border of Elk Grove, but Elk Grove buses meet RT's service at various locations within RT's service area (Cosumnes River College, downtown, and so on). While we do not have plans to incorporate Elk Grove into RT's service area, we are taking Elk Grove's E-Tran service into account as we plan our bus and light rail services and expansions over the coming years. Thus, we have proposed a light rail alignment that goes through Elk Grove down to Kammerer Road, our soon to be adopted TransitAction Plan fully incorporates Elk Grove, and we are assisting Cosumnes River College in designing the parking facility and bus transfer area to accommodate both RT and E-Tran bus services. We will also coordinate schedules as opportunity affords, to facilitate trips from Elk Grove to places within RT's service area.

Sacramento, CA:  Will the Sacramento County Sherriff’s layoffs affect patrols by those officers on RT?

Reply:  No. Regional Transit contracts with City of Sacramento Police Department and Sacramento County Sheriff's Department for a fixed number of officers. Because of this, our dedicated officer count will not be impacted by the County's problems.

Sacramento, CA:  How much of the fare evasion fines does rt get? also why arn't more ticket checks made, I went almost 2 months without seeing anyone checking on light rail

Reply:  Although the amount fluctuates, RT receives less than $20 per citation. Our transit officers, transportation supervisors and police officers check about 172,762 passengers (11% of light rail riders) for proper fare monthly and issue an average of 2,480 citations.

Sacramento, CA:  Is there any more money the state could possible take away from RT?

Reply:  The State has taken away all the operating money that was available to RT through the State Transit Assistance fund. The remainder of funding used for operations that are derived from the State are bound by legislation that would be extremely difficult and time consuming to unwind, so it is unlikely that those funds will be lost. However, funding sources used for RT capital projects are vulnerable and could be diverted by the State.

Sacramento, CA:  Will RT continue to programs with the local colleges for special rate bus stickers for students?

Reply:  The RT Board recently approved a three-year agreement with Sacramento State to continue the discount program that has been in place for over ten years. RT also has an agreement in place with the Los Rios Community College system that will continue at least through 2012 to provide discount stickers to students over the Fall and Spring semesters.

Sacramento, CA:  I would just like to say 'Thank you' for having this chat opportunity for transit riders to communicate. It is very much appreciated.

Reply:  Thanks. We are trying to communicate using the newer technologies available. One of the most common comments we receive is about keeping the public informed. We have a number of new tools, we hope to implement over the next 12 months. They include passenger information signs and, budget permitting, expanding the transit alert system to big bus and light rail.

Sacramento, CA:  How can RT afford to run Rancho Cordova’s new shuttle when you are in such a budget crisis?

Reply:  Rancho Cordova is funding 100% of the cost of this service from their budget.

Sacramento, CA:  What electrical grid does the RT light rail run on?

Reply:  SMUD supplies power to our substations. The substations are powered on the local grid where the substations are located. The substations are spaced 1 to 2 miles apart throughout the light rail system.

Rocklin, CA:  When is the ground breaking for South Line 2? When will service begin for this extension?

Reply:  RT is in the process of qualifying the project for a Full Funding Grant Agreement from the Federal government. It may be awarded in December of 2009. That would allow groundbreaking to occur late this calendar year or in early 2010, with a projected revenue operation date in December 2012.

Sacramento, CA:  Why does RT have to be run by a Board of Directors who are all politicians? The company should be lead by people who aren’t easily swayed by possible voters. What’s best for the company and the region should be there top priority, not the special needs of a few.

Reply:  RT was created by State Legislation. That legislation spells out the form of government oversight. Most of the funding that we receive is derived from the public through some form of tax (sales or gas). Consequently, RT is accountable to the public and a Board of Directors representing all of the jurisdictions that we serve is the most appropriate oversight body.

sacramento, CA:  Why would yo limit parking fees to only a few stations? Won't that create a parking crunch on those stations, (translating into more crowded trains) that will not charge during your pilot?" Won't that skew your data? Why not just do a flat fee for all LR parking stations and save us the agony.

Reply:  You have asked one of the questions we will answer as part of the pilot program. How many people will drive to another station or stop riding? We have years of parking use data to compare with the future parking lot use subsequent to our pilot parking fee program. Although we have researched and worked with the Sacramento City parking staff, implementing the pilot program will assist us with a potential future expansion of the program, if the Regional Transit Board chooses to expand the pilot.

Folsom, CA:  When there is a prolonged disruption in service for light rail, why is there no one riding around the various stops informing the riders of how long the disruption is expected and what are the options available.

Reply:  Very often the disruption in service is corrected before someone could ride around and advise riders as suggested. Information on the cause of the disruption and the possible delay is conveyed to drivers as soon as possible and when the disruption required bus bridges for rail passengers, riders are advised by RT staff, usually the driver, at that time. RT staff does post employees at the affected stations and post information regarding the disruption on our Web site under "RT Alert." The type and cause of the disruptions vary greatly. Consequently, we do need to vary our response. In the next year we hope to have electronic message signs installed at all of our stations to provide more and better information to our customers.

Sac, CA:  Yes I would like to know why we can't have good faster,air cond. busses on routes that have tight time lines, we get some really bad busses on #1,#56 #81 routes that dont have time for slow busses and no air?

Reply:  Until last year, RT had a significant number of older buses. Older buses, older air conditioners, and so on. We replaced 91 of these older vehicles, and the average age of the fleet is well below 7 years now. As to speed, however, all the buses can go fast enough, but they have to move with and through traffic. The tight time lines are, unfortunately, a recurring issue with heavily used routes such as the 1, 56, and 81. At least now we can make sure that the ride on those routes is more comfortable, even though we can't do much about traffic congestion.

Sacramento, CA:  Why didn’t the buses picking people up go down the K Street mall on Monday when the train was down. They picked people up on K on Sunday and things worked well.

Reply:  There are a number of factors that go into the decision as to how buses are routed in a bus bridge when a portion of the train system goes down. They include any physical obstructions, the number of available buses and operators as well as the location and number of passengers. Those factors can change from day to day. On Monday we had trains stalled on K Street that impaired bus travel on K Street.

Sacramento, CA:  Why didn’t RT increase the monthly and daily pass along with everything else?

Reply:  RT staff determined that a shift in buying patterns occurred after the fare increase in January 2009 that raised the price of the monthly and daily passes to their current levels. Riders shifted to purchasing blocks of single tickets. The recent fare increase raised the price of the single fare by 25 cents to encourage riders to return to using the monthly and daily passes, which are competitively priced and provide full use of the RT system for longer periods of time.

Citrus Heights, CA:  You have a Problem Waiting to Happen at the Roseville Stn. Commuters are using the Longview entrance as a shortcut to Roseville Road. All are in a hurry and many very nasty. I have almost been hit several times trying to park my car to catch a train. An accident WILL happen sometime and the legal responsibility will have a long arm.

Reply:  I will have our Safety Department monitor the location and determine what remediation is appropriate. You may have noticed the new stop signs and rumple strips at Watt West Station. These were the result of an evaluation which was the result of a riders concern.

Sac, CA:  As I said eailier the bad busses we get on the major runs, could be put on trippers or runs with more layover time its not only bad for the driver but the passengers should have a nice comfortable ride also and be on time?

Reply:  You're right about wanting passengers to have a comfortable ride, and we do try to be on time. We have noticed that service timeliness has improved with the new buses. The likelihood of encountering one of the older buses on the major runs should be significantly less these days. Since the new 91 buses only account for about 40% of our fleet we must use our other buses throughout the day.

carmichael, CA:  hi mike wiley first i would like to say welcome to r.t. and congulations on your general manager my name is joey swiencki from the special olympics when will the carmichael neigborhood shuttle bus 10 and 9 ever run again on saturdays i use to ride to the carmichael library i have osteoarthritis it is hard for me to walk and will they ever add a 6pm or 7pm express 104 bus thats it mike wiley have a nice 4th of july give your r.t. bus drivers and light rail drivers my best they do a excllient job. they are the best in the west

Reply:  Thank you for compliments regarding our employees and I agree they are the best! Service improvements as you have requested are not possible at this time due to our severe economic condition. However, our TransitAction Plan includes a significant expansion of service and in particular enhancing service in your area. The plan is dependent on local voters approving increased funding for RT, hopefully as soon as November 2010.

Folsom, CA:  Why isn't the RT police services telephone number posted in the light rail cars? There is little if any support to riders when an incident happens. Pushing the emergency button does no good as the operator just keeps driving the train. If you call 911 the response is directed to RT first. If you live in Folsom they say it is not there problem, call RT.

Reply:  RT Police Services does not currently have sufficient staffing to be able to respond to every in-progress incident. We rely heavily on the response of patrol officers in the jurisdictions through which RT trains and buses travel. Likewise, emergency phone calls need to initially come through the 911 system to ensure the calls for service are properly received and dispatched by trained personnel. Eventually, we may have funding to staff our own emergency operations center. Communicating with the train operator through the intercom is very helpful and allows us to respond much more quickly.

Sacramento, CA:  What procedures or practices does RT have in place to prevent an accident like the one in Washington D.C. last month?

Reply:  We do not have automated trains. Operators drive our trains. We have a sophisticated signaling system and other controls including minimum required train spacing on our system to avoid train on train accidents. Operators in trains occupying the same segment of rail are given automated warnings indicating the presence of the other train.

Sacramento, CA:  Has RT ever considered lowering fares to try and attract more riders and gain income due to volume?

Reply:  RT considers many factors in determining the best combination of fares and service to attract riders and generate fare revenue sufficient to provide 25 - 30% of the income needed to run the system. The remainder comes from State, Federal, Local and other sources. While raising fares (and cutting service) are among the last considered options to balance the budget, it has been necessary because of revenue losses due to the State raid on transit funding and reduced sales tax revenue resulting from the general economic decline.

Sacramento, CA:  Will the #11 RT bus ever be extended from Northborough and Club Center Drive to Kokomo and Club Center Drive? It could turn left on Kokomo go past the new school and then turn left on North Park (Creekside development). This would only extend the route less than a mile. There are lots of people out here that would use this bus - especially to get to and from school; Park Place Center, Natomas Market Place and of course downtown. Thank you.

Reply:  Thanks for that question - it is very timely. RT staff has discussed just that option in the last few months, as we began to map out our TransitAction Plan implementation strategy. A lot of development has occurred in North Natomas, and we have been looking at ways to provide better service along Route 11 (without increasing the cost too much). Another option we have looked at involved "splitting" the route, so that it would go East of Club Center Drive one time, and West the next. These are all options that we will bring back to the residents and businesses in North Natomas over the next year.

Sac, CA:  This has nothing to do with traffic, just slow busses and air cond.would make a big differance on major lines, we can put the bad busses on trippers,runs not as fast paced.Etc.?

Reply:  Yes, I understand what you're saying. The newer buses have better take-off even with the air conditioner running. We assign the buses on a specific routine, which should reduce the likelihood of encountering an older bus on a main route over time. More than half our pullouts are taking place with the new buses now.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your questions today and make sure to log on to next month's chat on Friday, August 7. Please have a safe Independence Day and thank you for your continued patronage of RT.