Transit Talk with the General Manager

October 02, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
It's an early chat date this month with the first Friday of the month falling on October 2. I'll be answering questions live today from noon to 1 p.m. and accepting questions beginning at 10 a.m.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

After years of studies, public outreach and planning, the first segment of RT's Downtown Natomas Airport light rail extension - The Green Line to the River District - will break ground on Monday, October 12 at 10 a.m.

The groundbreaking ceremony will be held at the end of the first phase of the Green Line, which will extend light rail 1.1 miles north to Richards Boulevard and 7th Street at the future Township 9 development. Township 9, one of Sacramento's largest urban infill projects, is a 65-acre site that will feature approximately 3,000 housing units, extensive office and retail space, and a light rail station.

The groundbreaking ceremony will feature remarks by Congresswoman Doris O. Matsui, U.S. House of Representatives; Kevin Johnson, Mayor, City of Sacramento; Steve Cohn, Councilmember, City of Sacramento/Chair, RT Board of Directors; Ray Tretheway, Councilmember, City of Sacramento/Member, RT Board of Directors; Roger Dickinson, Supervisor, County of Sacramento/Member, RT Board of Directors; and Steve Goodwin, President, Township 9 and President of The River District Board of Directors.

RT is committed to providing high quality transit for the Sacramento region and is moving forward with delivering transportation improvement projects, even in the most challenging of economic times.

Light rail service on the Green Line is scheduled to begin in November 2010, officially connecting downtown Sacramento to the River District. Join us for the groundbreaking ceremony and let's grow green together!

Sacramento, CA:  I'm a fan of RT on Facebook and got the GM chat update today. Is RT planning on using any other social media to possible update passengers on status of late or broken down trains or buses?

Reply:  Yes we are. We currently have "transit alert" available to anyone that wants real-time information regarding our Neighborhood Ride service. We will have that same service available for light rail service and regular bus service early next year. Additionally, we will incorporate the use of Twitter to provide information regarding major service disruptions by the end of this year.

Sacramento, CA:  Could you Please explain to me why this makes sense. A person can purchase a $2.50 ticket at a lite rail station and ride the train for two hours with unlimited on and offs, but when you pay that same $2,50 on a bus once you step off and try to reboard you must pay again. Sincerly, Kevin Luttrell Thank-you for your time.

Reply:  The light rail single ride allowance of 120 minutes enables the rider to go from one end of the light rail system to the other, and theoretically, on the same light rail vehicle. While not time stamped, it's possible for the bus rider to travel long distances on the same bus for the same $2.50 fare. We utilize a different method of fare enforcement on light rail versus our bus service. Also, our ticketing system is different on rail versus bus. All of the tickets purchased at a fare vending machine are date and time stamped. Unfortunately, the fareboxes on our buses cannot do the same. We are actively pursuing the implementation of a new collection system called smart card that includes the replacement of our fareboxes. This will allow us to implement many more options on how we charge to use the system, both bus and rail.

Natomas, CA:  Can you please tell us about upcoming Green line ground breaking.

Reply:  The Green Line to the River District groundbreaking will take place at 10:00 a.m. on Monday, October 12 at the corner of 7th Street and Richards Boulevard, which is the future site of the 7th and Richards/Township 9 light rail station. Scheduled speakers include Congresswoman Doris Matsui, Mayor Kevin Johnson, County Supervisor Roger Dickinson, City Councilmembers Ray Tretheway and Steve Cohn (also RT's Board Chair), Township 9 President Steve Goodwin and Railyards Vice President of Development (Thomas Enterprises) Suheil Totah. The public is welcome to attend.

Sacramento, CA:  How can RT afford to give free rides to people for events like Folsom Live and the Airshow? Do these entities help cover the costs?

Reply:  The cost of the fares is included in the price of the tickets to attend these events. So, even though it is promoted as free. we are not giving the service away. The people riding to these events are essentially paying for their fares in advance.

Sacramento, CA:  The light rail didn’t seem as crowded during this year’s airshow weekend? Was attendance overall down or did less people choose to ride RT?

Reply:  Actually, attendance overall was down from last year. The threat of rain on Saturday may have kept some visitors away, and the same on Sunday.

Sacramento, CA:  Last year during Folsom Live, I e-mailed RT to ask why they couldn't run late-night buses that would be partially funded by local businesses. Mark Bennett of RT told me they were "precluded by Federal law" from doing this. It sounds like that's what Folsom is doing here. I'm not against it - I think we need more of this. What's stopping RT from expanding this idea?

Reply:  That is a great question - it highlights some of the conflicts between public policy and essential services. Basically, the reason we can't run buses for special events funded by local businesses, is that Federal charter regulations prevent us from doing so. Charter operations are private, and we are receiving Federal funds. The government does not want us using its funds to compete with private companies. So, we can offer service that is published, recurring, and open to the public. For special events, if we want to offer service we cannot receive funding from others. If we are determined to have provided charter service, it endangers our receipt of Federal funds.

Sacramento, CA:  Despite the rules posted as not to place feet on the seats of the light , people still do on the Light Rail. What do we do? Do we ask them not to? Or...?

Reply:  It is unfortunate that some riders do not go by the rules. I recommend that you report this type of behavior to security. When I ride the system, which is several times a week, I find a polite way to ask people to move their feet. Usually they comply.

Sacramento, CA:  Is the Green Line project proceeding on time and on Budget?

Reply:  Right now, we're running about a month behind our original schedule. The groundbreaking that we have scheduled for October 12 was intended to happen the first week in September. The reason for the delay is that the bids on the work came in significantly higher than we anticipated. We have been identifying sufficient added funds to cover the higher cost. I can't say that we are "on budget" because the final budget has not been set. However, the projected cost of the Green Line to the River District is coming in higher than we projected just six months ago. It's important to remember that the cost for this service is significantly less than most new light rail systems being built elsewhere in the country. Nevertheless, we expect the project to be completed before the end of November, 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  So the state declined to hear the case regarding the legality of the state raiding transit gas tax funds to bolster the general fund? Is this correct, and if it is, what does it mean to RT?

Reply:  Yes, that is correct. The State Supreme Court denied the State's request for review of the Appellate Court decision that the State illegally raided transit funds to balance the State budget. While the details have not been fully defined, a restoration of revenue to RT is expected. Whether revenue lost since the suit was filed will be restored or the State will just resume future payments is unclear. The amount of revenue coming to RT will depend upon how these questions are resolved, hopefully in the near future.

Sacramento, CA:  What do you think the transit advocates will seek after winning the case? Repayment of the money or a promise not raid future funds?

Reply:  We are pursuing both repayment of previously raided funds and all future payments. I serve on the California Transit Association's Executive Committee, the association that successfully sued the state. We are fully committed in getting our money back.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you see a light rail extension out to Roseville in the future?

Reply:  That's another great question! I definitely see a light rail extension out to Roseville as a solid prospect. That possibility is contained in our TransitAction Plan, which the RT Board just adopted in August. It will, however, depend on Placer County's plans for transit service in Roseville and the surrounding area. The Auburn Boulevard corridor is identified as a growth corridor in the SACOG Blueprint as well as our TransitAction Plan, and the first "leg" of an extension to Roseville is already projected to American River College and Citrus Heights. RT will work with Placer County over the coming years to refine plans and determine whether express service buses, Bus Rapid Transit, or light rail will be their "mode of choice."

Sacramento, CA:  There has been talks on charging for Parking at RT Light Rail stations. Could you pls. give us more details on this? Thanks.

Reply:  Regional Transit will be charging the public for parking at the Watt I-80, Watt I-80 West and Roseville Rd. light rail stations beginning January 1, 2010, as part of a pilot program. The cost will be $1.00 per day per vehicle.

Sacramento, CA:  So light rail can be chartered but not buses?

Reply:  That's right. There is no practical competition for light rail (or rail service generally), so RT is free to offer light rail service on a charter basis (and we have done so). The charter regulations are particularly intended to protect private sector bus operators, most of which are tourism operations that can also provide express and special events service.

Sacramento, CA:  When the funds are restored, will the level of service increase and will fares be decreased?

Reply:  At this point we don't know when the funds will be restored. Also, this current fiscal year we have balanced our operating budget with more than $10 million in one time funding. We still have a very uncertain economy. These are all factors that we must pay very close attention to. There is no question that the Supreme Court's decision is wonderful news for transit users and may very well help us to avoid future fare increases and service reductions.

Natomas, CA:  What is the time frame for the light rail up to Del Paso Blvd.

Reply:  I assume you mean the Green Line to the Airport extension (the DNA Line). To cross Del Paso Road will probably take until 2015. We are working on that alignment right now, and our revised cost-effectiveness calculation indicates that the next phase of the project could go as far as East Commerce. We have quite a bit more engineering to do before we're sure, but the early work is very promising.

Lincoln, CA:  Is it realistic that Light Rail will be extended to Roseville given PCTPA's and Placer County's outside of Sacramento County? What is a realistic timeframe for construction to start, will alternative alignments be looked at soon in an EIR?

Reply:  While included in RT's TransitAction Plan, there are no plans to extend light rail to Roseville in the near future. Extending service to Roseville will require the full participation of PCTPA, Placer County, and the City of Roseville. Given the current economic climate, it is impossible to give a timeframe for construction to start, however, it would be safe to say that when such a project draws near, however far in the future that may be, alternative alignments would be looked at in an EIR.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  Has RT ever thought of branding Light Rail like they do in other Cities? "The Light Rail" sounds generic and unappealing.

Reply:  RT did conduct a "name the train" contest in the early days of the service (1987). We selected the name "RT Metro." Unfortunately, it never really caught on and has since been dropped. Now our focus is on the colors of the various lines. Today, we operate the Blue and Gold lines, and the Green in November 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  I see there are plans to build a new parking structure at CRC to coincide with the expansion of light rail. Will riders who do not go to college be able to use this lot free of charge?

Reply:  The parking structure at CRC will be managed by the Los Rios Community College District. Anyone can park there but it will only be free to students who purchase a semester parking pass. The parking fee for all others will be $1 per day. With the arrangement we have with Los Rios, our patrons will be able to park in any stall on campus, including the parking structure.

Elk Grove, CA:  Has RT been in discussions with e-tran on the topic of not accepting RT passes? Paying separate fares for each system is not an option for me, it would be cheaper to get back in my car if neither agency recognizes the other’s pass.

Reply:  RT and e-tran have been in discussions on fare exchanges and most recently the topic of discussion at the Elk Grove City Council meeting of 9/23/09 regarding RT fares. The current transfer agreement between RT and e-tran allows for recognition of the RT pass and the methodology for sharing revenue between agencies allows for e-tran to receive full compensation for riders using the RT pass who ride only e-tran. Both agencies share revenue for riders using both systems. While discussions are on-going, both agencies recognize the need to make it easy on transit riders to keep using transit.

Sacramento, CA:  Is anything being done by RT to curtail the abuse of the Los Rios student pass?

Reply:  RT is actively working with Los Rios on the matter of potential fraud and abuse of the Los Rios student pass. Los Rios has committed to reviewing and evaluating student enrollment/drop data and providing it to RT to look for patterns of abuse. So far, at least one Los Rios student pass has been confiscated as a result of the increased scrutiny of enrollment data, with more to come. Modifications to the agreement are now in the works to further control the use of the Los Rios pass on transit service throughout the region.

Sacramento, CA:  Have you heard about SACOG’s “Low Car Challenge?”

Reply:  Yes I have and I think it is a great idea. I may enter myself since I ride transit several days a week and ride my bike at least one day a week.

CA:  What percentage of the 15,300 Sacramento State students who were issued commuter sleeves actually use RT? What do the students pay in fees for their semester passes?

Reply:  We are not able to determine how often the students use the commuter sleeves, but as a practical matter all of the students who are issued sleeves use them. The fee is assessed against all students, at a rate of $15 per semester.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participation in today's chat. Next month's session will take place, as always, on the first Friday of the month, which will be November 6, from noon to 1 p.m.