Transit Talk with the General Manager

September 04, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
I want to wish everyone a happy and safe Labor Day weekend. Although this month's chat falls on a Friday before a major holiday weekend, we like being dependable so Transit Talk with the General Manager will remain on its regular schedule on the first Friday of the month from noon to 1 p.m. The chat begins at noon and we will accept questions beginning at 10 a.m.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you all for your support and cooperation during this difficult economic time, especially during our recent fare changes. I also want to assure you that we are doing everything we can to limit the burden on our customers by seeking additional revenue generators and implementing internal cost-saving measures to close the budget gap. As a reminder, RT service changes will go into effect on Sunday, September 6.

On August 27, RT held a press conference to launch a new promotional campaign called "You Must Abide to Ride" to raise awareness of RT's new transit exclusion policy aimed at reducing the number of passenger disruptions and improving the overall passenger experience on RT.

Effective Thursday, October 1, 2009, Senate Bill 1561 will allow RT to ban riders who repeatedly violate transit laws from using the system. The law permits RT to exclude, for a limited time, passengers whose negative actions and disposition impact the safety and security of passengers and operators on our system.

Not surprisingly, customer feedback ranks safety and security as a top priority, which makes the implementation of SB 1561 critical.

Although RT has been given the authority to ban riders from the system, the true purpose of the law is not to exclude people from using public transit, but to instead make riding RT a more enjoyable experience.

How can a transit exclusion policy help improve our transit passengers experience? Violators can now be banned from riding the RT system if they:

" interfere with an operator of a transit vehicle " willfully disturb others on or in a system facility or vehicle " deface District property

The complete administrative enforcement provisions for RT's transit exclusion policy can be found at

The exclusion policy provides an appeals process for individuals who opt to contest a prohibition order. Transit personnel have also been trained to recognize and facilitate passengers' special needs.

Sacramento, CA:  Is it really more cost effective for RT to run 2 trains instead of 4 during rush hour traffic? If so, can RT please publish the study they did on this to the website.

Reply:  During the morning and evening commute hours, we usually run 4 car trains. When you see shorter trains during the busy part of the day, it indicates we have a problem or may be adding cars to service trains. With regards to saving money, it costs less to run shorter trains. Our service plan shifts to lower numbers of cars in a train during lower ridership periods and days. The savings from running less cars in a train is primarily on lower amount of electricity used and reduced vehicle maintenance costs. Cars are added and removed to increase and decrease capacity based upon the number of people riding. We have a standard scheme each day, which is adjusted as the ridership changes throughout the day. Since the advent of State furlough days we have been running two car trains on those furlough Fridays (now the first three Fridays in a month). We have not published a study that provides the documentation that you are looking for. Consequently, there is nothing to post on our Web site.

Fair Oaks, CA:  I live out in this area off of Hazel Ave. and there just isn't enough buses out in the area. My other concern is that the light rail only runs until 6 or 7pm to the Hazel station, It would be beneficial if the light rail train ran the same hours of the Folsom Outlet stores. Thanks! Lori Washington

Reply:  Hello Lori, Your comments are both areas of concern for us. Budget constraints, including absorbing an illegal State raid of $26 million this year, have prevented RT from expanding service in a number of areas in the region. Your area is one of those where improvements are needed. With the support of voters in the region we hope to solve our funding problems and expand service in the underserved areas. RT is having a dialog with the City of Folsom to extend the hours and level of service. This is one of the most common requests from our riders using the Hazel, Glen, Iron Point and Historic Folsom light rail stations.

Sacramento, CA:  Why is R/T building in a new Light Rail station on 7th & L (adjacent to Greyhound station) just one block from the existing station at 7th & Capitol? Is this new station permanent? Will trains be making stops at both? Is the 7th & Capitol station being moved?

Reply:  The City of Sacramento has a plan to revitalize the K St. Mall. As part of the plan the city is paying to relocate the Saint Rose of Lima Light Rail Station. RT Staff has had internal discussion about the viability of the 7th & Capital Light Rail Station after the 7th & K Street Station (Saint Rose of Lima Light Rail Station) is relocated. For now, no changes are proposed.

Sacramento, CA:  BART: ATU membership approves tentative four-year contract agreement: Will BART's agreement with the ATU pave the way for cost-saving changes to RT's contract with the ATU?

Reply:  We hope to work out an agreement with the ATU that is cost neutral in these tough times. In order to accomplish this, the ATU and other unions will need to implement a number of cost reduction measures. Other RT employee groups have accepted cost reduction measures, including wage freezes and furloughs. The ATU has been a responsive partner with Regional Transit.

Sacramento, CA:  Why didn’t the service changes coincide with the fare changes on the same day. It doesn’t make sense to have service changes this weekend with fare changed on Tuesday.

Reply:  Service changes are based on Operator sign ups - that is, when RT bus and light rail operators sign up for their routes. The fare changes occur on the first day of the month. This is also less confusing to our customers. It allows our customers to manage only one major adjustment at a time.

Sacramento, CA:  How do I contact the staff member(s) who are in charge of the location/relocation of RT stops? Last month, I alerted you to a safety issue concerning boarding and de-boarding of wheelchair passengers at the CSUS campus. The fall semester is now underway, and the stops are still in their present locations. I realize this may seem relatively minor; however, since safety is, as you've stated, RT's first priority, perhaps you could demonstrate as such by rectifying this situation as soon as is practical.

Reply:  Normally, we ask customers to contact Customer Advocacy at 916 557-4545. The Customer Advocacy team contacts the appropriate staff and tracks the responses to the issues brought to us. Please e-mail with the specifics of this issue and I will ask Mike Mattos to handle this for me. Also, the stop you are referring to is controlled by Sac State. Any change will be addressed by the college.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  Is Regional Transit ever going to have a program for low income families so we can get to work? Me and my husband barely make enough money to pay our rent, better yet to ride the train to our jobs.

Reply:  Regional Transit provides a Senior discount and Student discounts directly through our fare structure. However, human services agencies and state offices also purchase fares which they, in turn, provide to their clients and employees at discounts based on their programs. In the current economic situation, RT has no "spare" funds with which to provide additional discounts. At the present time, the average subsidy to each bus rider is over $3.78 per trip, and on light rail it is over $2.76 per trip.

Sacramento, CA:  Is RT doing anything for Railroad Safety Awareness month?

Reply:  Not specifically for Railroad Safety Month but RT does promote rail safety throughout the year through public outreach programs, such as presentations to schools, seniors and community groups as well as community events.

CA:  WHY take away transfers!Thats too much money especially for people who don't quailfy for student, disable, or regular discounts!

Reply:  The transfers have been a long-standing source of inefficiency and fraud within our system. By eliminating the transfers we avoid an expense, and we advise our users to buy a daily pass so they can transfer easily between buses or light rail, as well as use the system between commuting trips. We're hoping to streamline our fare structure in this way, to allow us to maintain better control of costs.

Sacramaneto, CA:  No transfers, no Central City fare? Just a straight commute is $5 a day! I don't burn that much gas, and when I bring the car I have the flexibility to go to lunch and run errands. I have free parking at work so you guys just priced me out of practicality. Sorry but I'm driving from now on.

Reply:  We realized when we were analyzing the fare structure that the changes we were making would affect some people in this way. However, there were some structural flaws in our prior structure that lowered our fare recovery significantly. Presently, our average subsidy to each transit rider on a bus is over $3.78 per trip. On the light rail it is just over $2.86. We are hoping that by adjusting the fare structure as we have, we will lower this rate of subsidy somewhat. There are many people who use the transit system for multiple trips within a day. Our hope was that they would simply purchase a daily ticket, and thus have free access for those mid-day trips. Obviously, if we're not saving them that much driving (as in your situation), they have to re-examine their options and decide whether we're providing adequate service for the fare we are charging.

sacramento, CA:  Can I still exchange a ticket I found from a couple years back with an expiration date that has passed?

Reply:  No. Sorry, but an expired ticket is an expired ticket.

Sacramento, CA:  Hello Mike - Saw that you are no longer accepting bus to bus etc transfers. Glad to hear that you are still accepting transfers from the Capitol Corridor (Amtrak) trains tho'. My question is: What is the status of the D-N-A Lite rail line? Did RT get any of stimulas money from the Feds? Lite rail is an alternative form of transportation and I was hoping that we would now have the D-N-A line on the fast track. When we first started hearing about this line back in 2000 - it was estimated to be up and running by 2010. I know that RT is behind - so what would be a good estimate of getting to the Club Center/E. Commerce Blvd station - in the near future. Thanks - Kathi - from the Hamptons.

Reply:  Hi, Kathi: Your timing is impeccable. We are taking an action to our Board on September 14, to allow us to award the first Design/Build contract on the DNA light rail extension It is only for the first mile, from 7th and H to Richards Boulevard, but it is planned for completion by the end of 2010. While that is going on, we will re-start the second phase of DNA, which our preliminary calculations indicate could go all the way to East Commerce. We're currently planning for that segment to open in 2014, but that depends on how well we do in competing for Federal dollars. We also expect to complete this line to the Airport by 2017.

sacramento, CA:  What transit agencies accept RT fare? Which ones don’t?

Reply:  All of the following accept some form of RT fare media; Amador Regional Transit, El Dorado Transit, e-tran, Folsom Stage Line, Placer County Transit, Roseville Transit, Unitrans and Yuba/Sutter Transit. The media and rules differ with each agency. Please go to the link for details .

Sacramento, CA:  Would it be logistically possible for someone to charter a light-rail car? Seems like it would be a great way to throw a party and a way for RT to pocket some extra revenue.

Reply:  Absolutely! We have had several groups and individuals charter light rail service in the past. If this is something you are interested in doing, please contact our Chief Operating Officer, Mark Lonergan at

Sacramento, CA:  Who came up with the idea of an exclusion policy?

Reply:  We borrowed a number of concepts from Tri Met in Portland, Oregon, including the exclusion policy. Thanks to Senator Darrell Steinberg, who championed the State legislation, we now have a program to enhance our customer's riding experience.

Sacramento, CA:  When do you think you will begin to price people out of using transit? When gas prices are down, it’s almost cheaper to drive. It’s definitely more convenient.

Reply:  By our calculations, we have already priced some people out of using transit, particularly those who have relatively short trips to take on a daily basis. However, for those who use our system a lot, the daily pass and the monthly pass represent a good deal. The transfers are no issue with passes, and people can use the transit system between commute hours without concern. On the other hand, the overwhelming majority of our riders would otherwise commute 8 miles or more by car. At 55 cents per mile (the current out-of-pocket cost of driving) that distance is $8.80 per day, without any side-trips in between. Then there is the cost of parking if they work downtown and their employer doesn't provide free parking. A Basic daily pass costs $6. And, by the way, the average subsidy for each bus trip is $3.78.

Sacramento, CA:  Were the policies and procedures of other agencies studied when drafting the law?

Reply:  Yes, we studied Portland's Tri-Met system as well as the King County and Spokane systems in Washington State.

Sacramento, CA:  I’ve recently become a regular rider on the Gold Line. To me it seems some drives are much more proficient in breaking while others jerk the train to a stop at every station, affecting the comfort of the ride, especially when standing. Is the performance of drivers in the actual driving of the train measured at all?

Reply:  Yes, we do monitor operator performance and assist those in need of improvement. However, the experience you described can also be attributed to a train that is comprised of light rail cars manufactured by both Siemens and CAF. Because the CAF cars utilize newer technology they can cause what we refer to as a mixed consist to be slightly more difficult to stop smoothly.

Sacramento, CA:  How will violators of the new exclusion policy be found and kicked off the train? How will RT track the people on their way to the three violations in two months?

Reply:  RT developed a database which will be used to track violators. Employees responsible for enforcing RT laws and ordinances will receive electronic updates regarding the status of qualifying violators. Rather than actively looking for those who qualify for exclusion, RT plans to exclude them when officers (exclusion officers) encounter them during their normal course of enforcement duties.

Sacramento, CA:  Why can’t staff be increased at the customer service center when you know crowds will be there to exchange tickets and buy new fare?

Reply:  The staff that supports the sales center also supports the call center. When possible staff is reallocated between the two areas as needed. The sales center was designed to support three sales clerks, but is usually staffed with two people. When you see three people working the sales center, we have added staff as you suggested. During slow periods we often go down to one person. With the implementation of a smart card (electronic tickets) late next year or spring of the following, we expect many of our customers will process their tickets online. The expectation is that most customers will not need to visit the sales center. As you probably know, from media coverage, RT has experienced significant budget issues due to an illegal State raid. Adding staff is our last option in these times of furloughs and hiring freezes. On a daily basis we are shuffling staff to the highest and best use. We will continue to use our resources to best serve our riders.

Sacramento, CA:  Is the RT version of a smartcard, a sort of transit debit card, scheduled for release anytime in the near future? With this we could get rid of ticket exchanges when prices change. No more waiting in these long lines to pay more.

Reply:  Yes, RT is working with other transit agencies in the area to develop the Universal Fare Card system. It will allow seamless transfers between RT and other transit systems, as well as electronic fare management. You are quite right that it will reduce long lines for ticket exchanges, but that is not the least of it. Our cost of fare management (counting and securing cash, etc.) will go down, and the amount of fraud in our fare system will be greatly reduced - it is not very easy to photocopy a stored value card. We are on target to implement the new farecard in late 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  So the senior pass is a thing of the past?

Reply:  The Senior Pass is still available. Effective September 1, RT no longer issues a free Lifetime Pass, however, seniors age 75 and older can purchase a Super Senior monthly pass for the discounted fee of $40/mth. The regular Senior Pass is $50/mth. (62 years+).

Sacramento, CA:  How are tax receipts for measure A funds looking this month?

Reply:  We don't receive estimates on Measure A funds receipts on a monthly basis, but instead quarterly. However, our last report indicated that sales tax receipts were down a further 3 percent from the previous quarter. Overall, receipts this year are down 9 percent from last year.

Sacramento, CA:  I became a fan of RT on Facebook and was wondering if you were thinking about starting a Twitter account?

Reply:  Yes, we are considering Twitter for use to alert customers of major service disruptions. We hope to have this up and running within the next few months.

Sacramento, CA:  Does the open nature of most light rail stations and trains preclude RT from some sort of turnstile system or fare boxes at every door of the light rail trains?

Reply:  Yes it does. Every new light rail system that has opened in North America since 1980 has adopted the barrier free system. Our fare inspection method results in an evasion rate of 1 percent to 2 percent. It is unlikely that turnstiles would reduce that evasion rate.

Sacramento, CA:  Have you thought about crowd-sourcing exclusion? While there would be a lot of issues, seems to me riders submitting cell pictures of violators in progress would give more comprehensive coverage than the limited number of exclusion officers could.

Reply:  That is not an option we are considering at this time. The exclusion law (SB 1561) is very specific and includes many due process safeguards to protect the rights of violators. RT is being very careful to avoid violating either the spirit or the letter of the law.

Sacramento, CA:  Does RT plan on providing free service to the California Capital Airshow this month?

Reply:  No. Passengers must have a valid fare. A Capital Airshow Ticket is a valid fare to ride RT on September 12 and 13.

Sacramento, CA:  Are new timetables being distributed to reflect the fare and service changes?

Reply:  Yes, the new pocket timetables have been available for the past two weeks. The fares have all been programmed into the ticket machines, and posted on the RT Web site at We have been conducting fare exchanges, and will be having fare exchanges at specific stations next week.

Sacramento, CA:  Just wanted to say thanks for being there for us to Chat with today. Enjoyed all of the questions and the answers. Have a great holiday weekend. Kathi

Reply:  It's my pleasure.

Sacramento, CA:  Why is your U.S. flag flying at half-mast at the bus maintenance facility on 29th Street?

Reply:  President Obama asked that flags be lowered to half mast to honor the passing of Senator Kennedy. We also have a practice of flying our flag at half mast for a few days when a RT employee passes.

Citrus Heights, CA:  So if fewer people ride because of the increased fares, no transfers and no Central City, how does this help RT's bottom line?

Reply:  Maybe I can explain it this way. Our average fare last year was around 94 cents per trip. A big reason for that was the Central City fare, Shuttle fare, and transfers. By eliminating these, including the greater potential for fraud on the transfers and individual passes, we are hoping to raise our average fare to over $1.10. One way of doing this is to suggest that our riders use the daily pass, which allows unlimited transfers during the day, but provides a predictable amount of revenue. That helps our bottom line directly. In the long run we expect to generate more revenue, even though we may reduce ridership.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for participating in today's chat. Next month's session will be held on Friday, October 2.