Transit Talk with the General Manager

August 07, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Thank you for logging on to Transit Talk with the General Manager. Our chat will go live today at noon and we will be accepting questions beginning at 10 a.m. through the end of the chat session at 1 p.m.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

At the July 27 RT Board of Directors meeting, RT staff outlined plans to reduce service in January 2010 in order to re-balance our Fiscal Year 2010 budget. The Board of Directors instructed staff to do everything possible to keep service at current levels and to look elsewhere for budget solutions.

While completely avoiding service reductions may not be feasible, RT staff is working hard to avoid especially painful service cuts by looking for additional revenue-generating sources and further internal cutbacks.

With these goals in mind, the RT Board of Directors approved a pilot parking fee program to generate $150,000 in revenue for FY 2010. The pilot program will be conducted at the Watt/I-80, Watt/I-80 West and Roseville Road stations, with a $1 per day fee to be charged at these locations. The program will be implemented in January, 2010.

Internal cuts include up to 12 unpaid furlough days for management and administrative staff, continuation of a hiring freeze, and implementation of a "zero-base" salary and benefit program to keep total costs in FY 2010 the same as FY 2009.

Zero-Base strategies include:

a. Salary Freeze b. Suspension of vacation, sick leave and floating holiday sell back c. Furlough days d. Increased employee contribution for medical insurance premiums e. Increased medical insurance co-pays f. Reduced prescription replacements per co-pay from 90-day to 30-day supplies.

A complete list of actions taken by RT to meet state budget shortfalls can be found at,%202009%20-%20Item%2018.pdf.

A final decision on budget re-balancing actions to be implemented in January 2010 will be made at the RT Board of Directors meeting on Monday, August 24.

Let's get started with today's chat.

Sacramento, CA:  With the enactment of the recent (and, most assuredly, upcoming) fare increase, as well as the massive cuts in service that will potentially be made in January 2010, how concerned is RT that such actions may jeopardize the securement of the "dedicated funding source" that is needed to allow future provision of service until State Transit Assistance funds are restored? Further, since funding (or lack thereof) from the State appears to have minimal impact on RT's profit margin, will dedicated funding truly help RT achieve long-term solvency?

Reply:  The fare increase we implemented in January and the upcoming increase we are implementing in September were necessary steps to offset the illegal raid on RT's budget by the State of California. With the raid of 100% of RT's State Transit Assistance (STA) RT lost approximately $26 million per year, or 15% of our operating budget. It is clear that in order to provide a high quality and very robust level of transit service to Sacramento residents we need dedicated local funding. It is clear that we can no longer allow our patrons to be subject to the whims of the Governor and State Legislature. With a dedicated local funding source we will be able to attract a higher level of federal funds to expand our system and serve more people with good, reliable service.

granite bay, CA:  Why is it that RT does not provide shade structures for the handicap at all light rail stations yet there is a far larger number of shade structures for the able bodied at light rail stations? I always feel sorry for the handicap on rainy days because they get rained on while the able bodied persons stand underneath the shade structures.

Reply:  The older stations were built in 1987 and were built without covers on the ramps. The new stations have covers as an integral part of the station designs. We continue to work on the older stations to modernize and add features when we obtain grants to cover this work. Recently, the Roseville Road light rail station received a minor face lift that included covers on the ramp landings. We are trying to budget these minor remodels on two stations each year as funding allows. The Alkali Flat/La Valentina light rail station is nearing completion and work on the 12th & I station begins later this year. We will also be modifying both 13th and 16th street stations within the next six months.

Sacramento, CA:  Why are not all the newer Light Rail cars in service? They are much cleaner and more comfortable to ride. I ride the Blue Line and I always see 9 or 10 newer cars sitting in the rail yard between Marconi and Swanston.

Reply:  All rail cars are cycled in and out of service for maintenance. In addition, during peak demand periods most of the cars not in maintenance are in service. As we move through the day, trains are reduced to two or three cars. In the afternoon for the second peak, we add the cars back on to trains (to four cars). To operate our rail service, we use most of the fleet not in maintenance each day.

Folsom, CA:  Hi Mike, thanks for the opportunity to ask questions. I ride light rail from Folsom to downtown weekly, and another rider said they heard a rumor Folsom trains may only run every hour. Can you proivide info you may have on any revised schedules? As you can imagine, we are not in favor of that.

Reply:  The State's raid on transit funds took over $26 million of RT's operating budget. At our Board meeting on the 27th of July, the RT Board discussed a variety of options to close the budget gap. Those discussions will continue at the Board's August 24th meeting. My goal is to minimize service changes and my staff is looking at every option to help close the budget gap with minimal or no service cuts. I am very hopeful of avoiding any service reductions.

Sacramento, CA:  In June, RT said it had a $4 million budget hole to fill. Service cuts and fare increases were approved but not all which were recommended by staff. How much of the deficit was projected to be solved by changes made that day.

Reply:  The service reductions and fare increases approved for implementation in September 2009 totaled approximately $3.9 million of the $9 million budget gap. The remaining budget gap was solved through additional internal cost reductions.

Sacramento, CA:  On July 21 RT said it had to fill a $2.4 million budget hole. How much of that was left over from the previous deficit, or was this all new thanks further declining sales tax and ridership?

Reply:  We closed the 2009 budget year with a small surplus. The surplus was carried forward to help close the budget for this fiscal year. We presented to the RT Board of Directors a $2.4 million budget gap, due to a further decline in Measure A local sales tax and state sales tax. We continue to work on filling this gap in light of the continued lack of funds from the state. The state cuts are the largest single negative impact on our budget. We are concerned about sales tax and ridership. The state's furlough program and its impact on ridership is a further concern. In spite of the total lack of State support and the further decline is sales tax revenues I am very hopeful that we will be able to identify additional internal cost reductions and avoid service cuts.

Sacramento, CA:  Some people who park at the Watt/I-80 West station on the south side of the road park over the sidewalk instead of in the designated parallel parking spots. Can proper parking be enforced there so we don't have to walk in the street when the sidewalk is blocked?

Reply:  Yes. We can have Regional Transit Police Services monitor parking in this area. As part of the Pilot Parking Fee Program, these stalls are being repainted.

Granite Bay, CA:  In June you said that the City of Folsom allowed RT riders to use the top floor of the new parking structure at Sutter Street to park but when I tried parking, there were 6 hour only parking signs everywhere. Why has RT not worked out a plan for RT riders to use the parking structure? Doesn't the City of Folsom realize that light rail riders eat dinner and shop in Old Folsom all the time? My family and I spend on average $600 a month having dinner in old Folsom. It is convenient. We just get off the train and walk to a restaurant for dinner. If RT or the City of Folsom did a study you would find out that throughout the day at most only the first floor of the parking lot is used.

Reply:  We are checking with the City of Folsom to find the status of the parking situation in the garage, but have limited time during this hour. The City operates the garage and recieves revenues from its users so they administer its operation. I am certain that the city, along with us at RT, appreciates your patronage. Since we do not know the status of the garage parking, you will need to direct your question to City of Folsom.

sacramento, CA:  What is going to happen to RT during the 2011 fiscal year when the stimulus money runs out?

Reply:  Fiscal year 2011 is projected to be a very challenging year. We cannot expect to receive stimulus money or other one time funding. There will be some additional growth in fare revenue and further cost containment efforts. However without some minor growth in the economy we could see additional reductions in service.

Sacramento, CA:  Dear Mr. Wiley, with all of the Bus Cuts, what will RT be doing with the all of the extra busses, would you be putting them on more routes, to make those more frequent? or would they either be sold or sit in the garage until RT has use for them?, thanks for the chance to ask questions..

Reply:  The service reductions affecting 11 bus routes on September 6 will not affect the bus fleet size. RT Bus Maintenance staff will make scheduling adjustments as necessary, but adding the buses to other routes would require additional bus operators at additional cost. At this point I am very hopeful that we will be able to avoid additional service cuts in January, so there should be no further reduction in the need for buses.

sacramento, CA:  Will further park and ride lot fees be considered as an option to help close the budget gap on August 24?

Reply:  The Pilot Parking Fee Program begins on January 1, 2010. It includes the Watt/I-80, Watt/I-80 West and Roseville Road light rail stations on the Blue Line. The Board of Directors could consider additional lots, but that is not currently recommended by RT staff. RT staff is working to procure and install the equipment, and create the new processes and ordinance changes to implement the pilot program.

sacramento, CA:  How many trips does RT estimates it loses per day during state furlough days? What percentage of overall ridership do you think is made up of state workers?

Reply:  The state worker ridership loss is significant, but there are no hard figures available since that would require a special survey. For the same reasons the percenage of state workers riding is not known.

Sacramento, CA:  What is the general schedule estimates for the move of RT Station and Amtrack near old Sacramento? Dates I'm interested in are: Bid Opening Date, Start Construction and End Construction

Reply:  The City of Sacramento is doing the renovation of the depot and the moving of the track. The City is continuing to assemble the necessary funding to complete the project. The track relocation should be under construction with the next year.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  I am a safety professional who uses your light rail system. I have been observing your track workers, and noticed that they do not wear high visibility (safety) vests. They only wear orange shirts, which is not sufficient and may be in violation of safety regulations. It is very much understandable that safety vests give more than adequate visibility especially during inclement weather.

Reply:  The RT employees working along our light rail line have different uniforms and safety gear depending upon their function and proximity to the rail line. Outside the ten foot range from the rail tracks and within our stations has a different requirement than along the rail right of way. We require the orange shirts for employees working along the system, including outside the right of way. Workers within the right of way have additional protection which includes a dedicated safety spotter. These rules and procedures have been approved by both the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Cal OSHA. The CPUC has dedicated staff who assists RT Safety staff in implementing procedures to protect the public and our staff. If you have specific observations you wish to report, we would be happy to look into those occurrences Our goal is to protect the public and our staff.

Sacramento, CA:  Why can you still use a transfer to go from the Capitol Corridor Train to an RT bus or train after September 1? Didn’t RT eliminate transfers?

Reply:  Effective September 1, RT will no longer issue transfers for use within the RT bus and light rail system. RT is currently renegotiating contracts with other transit agencies, which will determine whether or not the other transit agencies will accept RT daily and/or monthly passes. RT will continue to accept Capitol Corridor tickets. Information on how to connect with other transit agencies will be posted on the RT Web site, once the agreements have been finalized.

Folsom, CA:  Can you get some maintenance staff out to do minor repairs on cars during the day? Practically every train I've been on recently has experienced door or other problems, and the trains that have one new car mixed with old (or vice versa) commonly break down completely (i.e. reboots and 20mph from Watt to Folsom). It's not just people standing in the stairway. Needs attention - PM trains are almost always late in the last few months, and not only on the hot days.

Reply:  The kinds of problems you describe should be taken care of in the shop as part of our overall maintenance. Although we do, on occasion have problems arise, we do have maintenance personnel respond t problems along the line. RT received ARRA/stimulus money that will be used for preventative maintenance of our vehicles. These funds will help keep vehicles from breaking down.

Sacramento, CA:  I have heard about some Stimulus funds to buy and renovate some older cars. Is there any other possible Stimulus funds in the works that RT might get?

Reply:  In July, the District received approximately $22 million in federal stimulus dollars. RT plans to use over $14 million of this funding for preventative maintenance of light rail vehicles and buses. There is no word on future stimulus funds but our representatives in Washington have been working to help RT obtain federal funding through the FY 2010 Transportation, Housing, and Urban Development (THUD) Appropriations.

Antelope, CA:  Have you seen the stairwells at the Watt/I80 station? The pigeons make a big mess, which can only be kept clean if the pigeons are denied a place to roost. Perhaps some sort of ultrasonic deterrent, or at least some plywood could be installed to deny pigeons a foothold. Only then can the stairwell be cleaned and stay clean. And be sure to tell the designers, so they don't make the same mistake in the future. Thank you.

Reply:  RT is installing additional pigeon controls at Watt/I-80 station. Spikes and netting are scheduled for installation in the next 60 days. The pigeons are being fed birth control feed and the station is being cleaned daily or more often. This is the only station in the system with the design problems you noted. It was built in 1987 as part of the starter system. We will continue to work on the problems at this station. Our patrons deserve clean and safe environments at our stations.

Sacramento, CA:  Are internal layoffs of support staff being considered to help close the budget gap on August 24?

Reply:  No, we have implemented a number of internal cost containment strategies, including salary freezes, not filling vacancies, staff furloughs, and other labor savings.

Sacramento, CA:  If all of the funding goes through, when do you expect to see the Transit Action Plan to take affect?

Reply:  The Transit Action Plan will take effect gradually as funds become available. The first phases are governed by the Short Range Transit Plan which is currently being refined. If we receive voter approval of increased revenue in November of 2010 we could begin to see enhanced bus service as early as September 2011.

Sacramento, CA:  Why is the chat only open to accept questions 2 hours before it goes live? You might have more participation if you allowed questions to come in a day before or even all week.

Reply:  The transit talk idea came from another transit system. We took their model and wrote our own software and used a similar model. The two hours before was a part of that model. With your suggestion, we will consider broadening the window. On the surface your idea has some merit. Thanks.

sacramento, CA:  are there out of pocket legal costs involved to sacrt in legal actions against the state's taking of dedicated transit funds? or does already paid"fees/dues" to some state assn. of transit districts as the lead agency in the legal effort cover those sort of expenses...? hope that made sense thanks

Reply:  RT is a dues paying member of the California Transit Association (CTA). The CTA filed a lawsuit in October 2007 to recover billions of dollars in dedicated funding for transit operators throughout California. Collectively, California transit agencies have lost nearly $4 billion to date to the illegal State raid. RT has lost $26 million this fiscal year alone, and a combined $66 million over the past three fiscal years. On June 30, California's Third District Court of Appeals ruled that the diversion of funds from the Public Transportation Account was illegal. The Department of Finance is expected to appeal the decision to the California Supreme Court, and will ask for a stay pending the appeal. If the Court grants review, it will establish a briefing schedule and determine when any oral argument will be held. The timeline for completing the review will be determined by the Court and any resolution of the case is not expected before Fiscal Year 2011.

Folsom, CA:  Some years ago, you had some secondhand VTA cars sitting around the back of the yard. Do you still have them, and is there any plan to rebuild and use them?

Reply:  They will be rebuilt shortly with Federal Stimulus funding.

Sacramento, CA:  if RT somehow ends up with no money to run any service, what do you think would happen, even if you did as many cuts to save as much money as possible..

Reply:  We feel that the state and country is at the bottom of the recession. The stock market has been showing some strong improvement in the past weeks. Hopefully, we will not have to impact our service much more than it has been. Our 30-year TransitAction Plan contains a vision of transit service that is vastly improved over what we are providing today. When the economy turns around we will be working to build on that vision.

Rocklin, CA:  I've seen a few updates on DNA and South Line 2. What are the time frames for these new extensions?

Reply:  Transit funding has been under attack by the State of California. RT, along with other transit providers in the state have had their budgets reduced significantly as the state uses designated transit funds to balance their budget. This has had an impact on all of our operations and we have even had to cut service. That said, we are moving along with the first one-mile long leg of the Downtown Natomas Airport (DNA) extension. Work will begin shortly to extend it from 7th and H Street to Richards Boulevard. The Green Line is scheduled to open for service in October 2010. We are also continuing our planning of the next phase(s) of the DNA extension. We will be ready to move forward with that project when the economy improves, hopefully in 2012. The South Line is further along in its planning and is getting close to being built. Construction should begin on the extension in the Spring of 2010, and service to Cosumnes River College will start by December 2012.

Sacramento, CA:  What is RT’s stance on cell phone use on the trains and busses? Some people like it quiet on their ride, others use the time to talk on their phones, often very loudly.

Reply:  RT acknowledges that cell phones are a useful tool to conduct business and connect with friends during their commute. While we prefer people to use cell phones on our trains and buses, rather than while driving a car, we ask that our passengers respect others by monitoring the volume of their conversations.

sac, CA:  Why are the student RT IDs discounted during the summer and cost a $1 more in September?

Reply:  Student photo ID cards are discounted during the summer months to encourage students to obtain their photo ID cards in advance of the school year. The Customer Service and Sales Center at 1225 R Street is typically very busy during the month of September with the back-to-school rush.

Sacramento, CA:  When will the work on the tracks near the Swanston Station be finished? I know a big chunk of the blue line was closed last Saturday for something related to this.

Reply:  We expect to open the new section of track on Monday August 24.

Rocklin, CA:  How are employee handling the furloughs and other changes being imposed as part of the tough budget years?

Reply:  Our employees are great! They have been very helpful and understanding of cost containment measures that we have implemented. They are very dedicated to providing high quality service to our patrons.

Sacramento, CA:  Can riders on their way to the train station ride the light rail for free?

Reply:  NO!

sacramento, CA:  Why did RT wait so long to make budget changes when more issues could have at least been addressed in June, taking effect in September? In the an issue paper for the July 27 meeting, it is explained that “Since January is half-way point of the fiscal year, in order to realize $1.4 million in savings, it is necessary to make service reductions amounting to $2.8 million on an annual basis.”

Reply:  RT has been in a cost reduction mode for the past 30 months, not just the past few. We have successfully absorbed $26 million a year from an illegal State raid, and the loss of $24 million a year in reduced sales taxes. That's over 33% of our operating budget. Cost containment is an ongoing and daily focus for all of RT staff.

sacramento, CA:  Why not just let people use up their remaining $2.25 tickets instead of doing a ticket exchange next month? Do you find people actually horde large numbers of tickets?

Reply:  Passengers can continue to use the $2.25 Basic single fare and $1.10 Discount single fare tickets on buses by paying an additional fare. On September 1, the Basic single fare will increase to $2.50 and the Discount single fare will increase to $1.25. Effective September 1, light rail fare vending machines will no longer accept $2.25 and $1.10 single fare prepaid tickets. Passengers can exchange these tickets at the Customer Service and Sales Center (1225 R Street) beginning August 24. RT staff will conduct ticket exchanges at major downtown employment sites. RT staff will also conduct ticket exchanges at key light rail stations -- dates and locations will be announced on the RT Web site.

sacramento, CA:  Has RT’s security or police taken a hit from the budget cuts going on at the sheriff’s office or at RT?

Reply:  As a result of reduced state and local funding received by RT, the budgets of all departments, including Police Services, have been reduced. We are coordinating between the other RT departments, as well as meeting with local law enforcement officials, to ensure any impact on our passengers will be minimized.

Sacramento, CA:  Is anything off the table after the board meeting on July 27? Did they say RT couldn’t make cuts to service?

Reply:  In July, staff presented a lot of options for the board's consideration. During the August 24th meeting, staff will be presenting responses to the board's questions. At this time, service cut options are still an option for their consideration. However, I am very hopeful that we will be able to avoid any service reductions.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you/the drivers perfer pass holders swipe their monthly pass or just show it. I've noticed most people just show it, which seems faster.

Reply:  Generally we prefer the fastest method. In the future a region wide smartcard system will be implemented which is currently being developed under the lead of the Sacramento Area Association of Governments.

Folsom, CA:  When you're done with the Lumberjack curve, can you send the crews out to the Gold Line to fix the kinks and grind off the bumps? To pick just two spots: nothing has ever been done to fix the bounces (especially with the newer cars) near Alder Creek, and the crossover installed near Watt Ave really needs to be realigned - knocks standing riders down if they're not aware it's coming and holding on tightly to something.

Reply:  Thank you for bringing this to my attention. I will forward your observations to RT's Engineering and light rail maintenance staff to investigate.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

That's all the time we have today. Thank you for your participation and I hope to see you next month for Transit Talk with the General Manager on Friday, September 4 from noon to 1 p.m.