Transit Talk with the General Manager

November 06, 2009
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
It's November and finally beginning to feel like fall. The leaves are changing colors and the clocks have rolled back, leaving many of you exiting the train in the dark on your trip home.

You can be assured safety and security are two of the highest priorities for RT and we employ a team of security professionals consisting of full-time police officers, sheriff deputies and uniformed security guards that patrol RT facilities during operating hours. In addition, we have security cameras in all of our light rail trains and at our light rail stations that are monitored daily by Police Services staff in the Video Control Center. Remember, you can always enhance your safety by being alert and aware of your surroundings.

Feel free to ask about RT security or any other transit-related topics on your mind today from 10 a.m. through the end of the chat. It will be live from noon to 1 p.m. I hope you can log on and join in the session.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Good afternoon,

Due to the loss of State Transit Assistance funds and a decrease in local sales tax revenue, RT will impose a $1 per day parking fee at the Watt/I-80, Watt/I-80 West and Roseville Road light rail stations as part of its pilot Park-Pay-and-Ride program effective Friday, January 1, 2010.

Parking is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. You can pay for your parking either by cash, credit card or debit card. Exact change is required if you are paying by cash. You do not need to return to your car after paying your parking fee. You may also pay by mobile phone.

Monthly parking passes are available for purchase online at; RT's Customer Service and Sales Center located at 1225 R Street (adjacent to the 13th Street light rail station); Bel Air markets located at 1039 Sunrise Avenue (Roseville), 4005 Manzanita Avenue (Carmichael) and 7901 Walerga Road (Antelope); or by calling 916-321-2849. Monthly passes will go on sale beginning Thursday, December 10, 2009.

Let's get started with today's chat.

Folsom, CA:  Can we get the area around the bench and ticket machines at the 7th and Capitol station CLEANED? The sidewalk is full of gum, bird droppings and other human bodily fluid stains.

Reply:  Many of our stations downtown are not RT's property. The city of Sacramento maintains the sidewalk and most of the area you are asking about. RT assists the city as requested. We will have RT staff pressure wash the area within the next 24 hours.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  Hello, This is in regards to the letter I had sent in October 2008 to RT office for the modification to Route 28. We have still not heard anything back from RT regarding the request. Your prompt attention and response in this matter is greatly appreciated. Currently the first bus for Route 28 leaving Sunrise Mall is at 5.18 AM which reaches Sunrise/Zinfandel at 5.38AM and to Folsom Cordova at 5.45 AM. The Light Rail (Folsom to Downtown) also arrives at the Cordova Towncenter station at around 5.45 AM. As the timing of the bus and the light rail overlaps, this often causes people to miss the light rail or they try to rush or run in order to catch the light rail. The request was to have the Route 28 bus leave Sunrise Mall early by 3 minutes. So instead of leaving at 5.18 AM, if it could leave at 5.15 AM, this would allow people boarding the route 28 bus to catch the Light Rail at Cordova Town Center. Given that this is the first departure time for the bus there should be no other adjustments required to accommodate the request. The other request was to shift the bus stop 4192 from Cordova to Folsom Blvd opposite light rail station as your regular practice is to have bus stop opposite light rail station. This will reduce the walking distance from bus stop to light rail station and helps towards catching the train comfortably. Alternately new bus stop may be provided opposite Cordova Town Center light rail station as it is provided in the return route to Sunrise Mall. Your response and attention in this matter is greatly appreciated. Thank You, Umesh Shah

Reply:  As you may be aware, there are a variety of issues with your request, but I am surprised that no one has responded to your request before now. I will make sure this is addressed as soon as possible. We do have a policy of ensuring that buses are timed to arrive between trains, to avoid just the safety concern that you raise. The relocation of the bus stop may be more difficult, as other circumstances affect where a bus stop can reasonably be located. However, I will have staff look at the options and respond to you as soon as practicable.

Antelope, CA:  Now that a parking fee will be imposed on North area State Workers, will you up the security at the lots to protect the vehicles? If not, I recommend everyone commuting and parking downtown. You wouldn’t have to pay these increasing fees and put up with all the crap on Light Rail. There really is no savings to ride Light Rail any longer.

Reply:  I beg to differ with your opinion. The cost of parking downtown can be more than $120/month. For a state worker riding light rail your cost is $15/month for parking at light rail stations (for the 3 pilot lots), $100 for a monthly pass, minus the state subsidies for transit of $65, the total cost to a state worker will be $50. This is clearly a big savings. Our level of security systemwide is being improved with additional surveillance and in the 3 park-pay-and-ride lots, guards will be circulating among the vehicles on a much more frequent basis. This should make these some of the safest parking lots in our system.

Sacramento, CA:  What's the deal with the new Taco Bell vending machine casings at some of the light rail stations? I asked an installer when they put the ones in at City College and he said they are vending machines. It's been about 2 weeks or so, and there's still nothing in them. Is it going to be a Pepsi machine (since they work with Taco Bell), a Frito-Lay machine (since they work through Pepsi..who works with Taco Bell), or will it sell tacos? - Paranitis

Reply:  The person you spoke with shared some of the information about our new vending machines. The enclosures are being installed to protect the soft drink vending machines. Machines have been installed at about 6 stations and more will be installed next week. Coke won the bid to provide this service for Regional Transit. Regional Transit receives revenue from the advertising and a share of the money from each soda purchased. You will also be able to purchase other types of beverages. It is ironic that the first advertiser was Taco Bell.

Sacramento, CA:  I like the idea of these "live chats", however, they aren't very "live", and they aren't very "chatty". I have also noticed that you guys added yourselves up on Facebook, which happens to have it's own little message board system, yet nobody seems to use it. Would it be at all possible for RT to look into maybe using some kind of easy to use message board system, so that there can be actual topics of "discussion" rather than us asking a question, you answering, and then nothing else happening? - Paranitis

Reply:  We are new to the new media forms like Facebook and Twitter. The program we use for the GM Chat was written by our IT team. Washington DC's transit system has a similar system which has been in use for a few years. We've tried to have themes for the various chats to focus on particular issues of interest. We appreciate your comments and suggestions.

Sacramento, CA:  About the new policy for people without tickets how do you expect to keep people off the lightrail train that have been "banned"

Reply:  RT personnel don't seek out people who have been prohibited. However, all enforcement officers at RT are given a list of those individuals in the event they come across them. Violators will be prosecuted to the full extent of the enabling legislation (SB1561) which may include jail time.

Sacramento, CA:  Years back, RT seemed to want to encourage bicycle riders to take the buses and trains, probably to get more money from the people (which is totally reasonable). However, now it seems to have gotten a bit extreme for cyclists. It's posted that there should only be 4 bikes per train (2 in front, and 2 in back), yet sometimes when the trains are packed during peak-times (and sometimes non-peak-times), I've seen up to 8 bicycles jammed into just one side of one train. Are there any plans on maybe adding some kind of half-sized bicycle-car, that is just for bicycles? Just through guesstimating, in a 4-car train, you are "allowed" to have 14 bicycles on board total. However, in a half-size bicycle car, I could see upwards of 20 bicycles with their riders. That all has to do with clearing out the conventional bench seats and maybe replacing some with bar stool style seating instead. - Paranitis

Reply:  You have hit on a significant issue in our ongoing discussions. RT definitely wants to increase capacity for bicycles on our system, but the crowding you describe makes it difficult for both safety and comfort reasons. We have looked at other transit systems to see what they do, and found options from a purpose-designed car to multiple bike lockers so people can leave one bicycle at one station, and have a second one at another. We have also evaluated the possibility of removing a row of seats at each end of each vehicle to provide greater capacity for bicycles and our riders with mobility devices. All of the options have shortcomings and costs that we're still struggling with. We have to address passenger safety and comfort first of all. However, as our fleet evolves, and we acquire low-floor light rail cars, we are hoping that we can design a greater bicycle capacity into them without impinging too much on other riders. One of the options is bicycle racks on one end of the car instead of seats. However, as you may imagine, all of this will take time to work its way through.

Citrus Heights, CA:  Why did RT chose only three light rail stations in the north area for its pilot program? Why not one station in each area of the city? I feel RT is discriminating against passengers who live in the north area and it's not fair passengers living in other areas ride for free for the next 4-6 months.

Reply:  We had prolonged discussion with the Regional Transit Board about charging for parking. We had discussed implementing a parking charge at all light rail stations. After discussing the impact on communities and our lack of experience in charging for parking, the Board of Directors chose to implement a pilot program. The three stations from Roseville Road to Watt/I-80 had the unique feature of having the freeways surrounding the stations. The impacts on surrounding neighborhoods are minimal. This makes them ideal for a pilot to determine the impact of charging. Our decision to choose the 3 stations adjacent to one another made implementation and management of the pilot much easier. It was not our goal to punish or single out a segment of our riders.

Folsom, CA:  What are the plans for a new free senior pass on RT? I know a pass was discussed for older people, I think over 75 years old, but haven’t heard anything lately.

Reply:  We don't have any plans for offering a new free senior pass. We recently implemented the Super Senior monthly pass which provides a 60% discount off the monthly pass. The price of this pass is $40 and it can be purchased at RT's Customer Service and Sales Center located at 1225 R Street, adjacent to the 13th Street light rail station. We are monitoring the sales activity to determine if any changes are needed.

Sacramento, CA:  1) I know at the front of the front car, we are to leave the first large seating area open for wheelchair riders. However, the front and rear of the other cars are for 2-limit bicycles. Yet very often, non-bike passengers will take the seats that are under the bicycle racks (which are horrible by the way). Would it be at all possible to remove the fold-down seating underneath the bike racks, so that they can actually be used as intended? - Paranitis 2) The signage on the light rail doors state that for the convenience of the other passengers, that people should not sit or stand in the stepwells. I can understand this if it happens that, that side of the train is going to be opening and closing, however, the trains only unlock the doors to one side, so it kind of angers me when I stand my bicycle upright, put it in the opposite stepwell than the one which is opening, out of convenience of allowing others to be able to move around back there..only to have one of the seemingly power hungry bumble bees (the guys in the yellow/black uniforms) yell at me and tell me to move my bike. I'm sorry, but that door isn't going to be opening prior to me having to get off anyway, so it doesn't hurt anybody, and I am actually doing a service for the other riders by moving my bike out of the way like that. - Paranitis

Reply:  On the seating under the bicycle racks, while I agree that the racks themselves are less than effective, we have the seats there because bicycle users do not use every car all the time. We have to be concerned with the comfort of all passengers. However, we are considering removing seats at each end of the car to create more floor space. On your question about bicycles in the door wells, the fact that the door will or will not open is not the issue. The door well has sensors (simple infra-red) that act as an interlock for safe operation of the train. If something interrupts the sensor, the door will not close and the train cannot move. This is especially true for situations where the train may open right-hand doors at one station and left-hand doors at the other (Broadway to 16th Street, for example). The "hungry bumblebees" are in fact looking out for the safety of the passengers, and do not have any flexibility in supporting the operational and safety policies of the transit system.

Sacramento, CA:  Will you please address the need for light rail (LR) operators to enforce the seating policy for disabled and elderly passengers? Every day, there are elderly passengers who are unable to get a seat in that LR section – and sometimes are unable to get any seat, at all – because the seats are filled with passengers (and belongings) who do not need to sit there for health or safety reasons. The net effect is that Sac. RT is out of compliance with the law and its own policies regarding service to individuals with disabilities. By not enforcing your policy, functionally you have no policy. I realize that LR operators do not want to get into arguments with passengers or be put into the position of having to ask, “Are you disabled?” but there are tactful ways of clearing out the reserved seats when they are needed. For example, there are tactful ways of instructing the able-bodied friends and family members of disabled passengers that they are not entitled to sit in that section at the expense of someone who cannot stand safely on a moving LR car or who needs to be close to ramp. There are tactful ways to tell able-bodied passengers that their shopping bags are not entitled to a seat at the expense of someone on crutches. Will you please act on this – NOW? If it would be of help to you, I will volunteer to conduct training lessons for your LR operators.

Reply:  As you probably know, our trains operate in up to four car trains. The operator is in the cab of the front car focused on driving the train. Monitoring courtesy on the trains does not fall to ADA or Title 24 governance. The operator assists people boarding from the ramp and tries to assist them into seating. No other locations or boarding are monitored by the operator. By law the operator cannot not force any passenger to vacate a seat, they can only request that passengers be courteous and make their seat available to others. Your comments are focusing on the courtesy between riders. We have done a number of campaigns to encourage riders to be kind to one another. We continue to encourage good behavior between patrons. Our security team made up of Security Guards, Transit Officers and Police Officers are riding the system more in an effort to improve the behaviors on our vehicles.

Folsom, CA:  What's the target opening date for the new St Rose Station at 7th and L? How will this affect the station at 7th and Capitol? Will trains be stopping at both even thought they are only one block apart?

Reply:  The target opening date for the new St. Rose station located at 7th and K streets is December 13, in the morning. That is a tentative date, and we are still in discussions with the contractor to firm it up. Obviously, it leads to the possibility of eliminating the station at 7th and Capitol. However, no decision has been made to that effect.

Sacramento, CA:  How often are the park and ride lots patrolled everyday? I have some security concerns when it comes to leaving my car their all day.

Reply:  All park-and-ride lots are patrolled by security officers assigned to each station on a continual basis. Additional security is provided by mobile guards and though our camera surveillance system.

Sacramento, CA:  Has there been an agreement between the state and transit representatives regarding transit assistance funds and how or if they will be paid back?

Reply:  There has been no formal agreement outlining the terms on how transit agencies will be repaid for the raid on STA (State Transit Assistance) funds. However, RT is involved with the CTA (California Transit Association), which is working on the terms and conditions for future payments. I am personally serving on the sub-committee of CTA that is negotiating the resolution of this issue. RT is anticipating that repayment could begin as soon as July 1, 2010.

Roseville, CA:  Why did u guys take away the transfers>? we disabled people need them

Reply:  With great reluctance we eliminated the transfers to address a severe budget shortfall. As you may have heard, the State eliminated funding support for transit over the last three years, and we faced the alternatives of raising fares or eliminating service. We have been advising people who make transfers, or a round trip involving one transfer in each direction, to simply buy a daily pass which eliminates the need to pay each time a rider boards the system.

Natomas, CA:  Hello Mr. Wiley, It's great to see you online and having such an invested interest in your passengers and their safety and security while riding RT. I had a question though about the current budget....Has the Security team at RT fallen victim to any budget cuts, and if so, how can RT promote "safety and security as a highest priority", when our security personnel are being reduced? I must say though that I have seen the Police/ Sheriff officers on the trains more this year than previous years. I ride RT almost daily and think its great when I see the Police on the train. I feel very safe when I ride with the Police. I hope RT continues to maintain security as a highest priority, even in these tough budget times. Thank you very much for your time.

Reply:  Our security budget has been reduced along with all other departments. Unfortunately, there was no way to avoid that. However, our deployment model is constantly being reassessed to ensure we are doing the best we can to prevent crime and make our passengers safer.

Sacramento, CA:  What is going on with the Curtis Park Railyards development? Does RT have a preference when it comes to how the smart growth ideas being discussed by developers and neighborhood groups?

Reply:  That is a great question. RT definitely has preferences with regard to the smart growth ideas being discussed for this development. We have been asked to divert a bus route to serve the development, and judging from the comments we have received so far, that request is well supported. We wanted to see some support for better connections to our light rail stations at 4th Avenue and Sacramento City College, and the developer has committed to supporting the City's plans to build a pedestrian overpass to their development from our City College station. RT also wanted to see a mix of uses and housing types at the development, and it now features senior and mixed-income apartments, townhouses, and neighborhood-serving retail, all in close proximity. Thus, the project has improved significantly, in my opinion, since discussions began some years ago.

Sacramento, CA:  If RT receives the funds due from the state, is there a chance of bringing back any routes?

Reply:  When RT receives the STA funds due from the State, there will be a comprehensive plan to evaluate our revenue and expenses and determine the most effective way to use these funds. As it currently stands, RT has been using over $10 million of one-time stimulus money to balance our budget and reduce the number of route cuts. This stimulus money is not expected to be available in the future, and therefore, RT may need to use the STA revenues to close this gap.

Sacramento, CA:  I see some extra spots opened up at Watt Manlove light rail station. These can be used by park and riders right?

Reply:  Yes, these are spaces that are being returned to RT. We had loaned a portion of the parking lot to Sacramento County for their contractor to use as a staging area for the Watt Avenue Grade Separation project. With the completion of the project, the County's contractor has repaired that portion of the parking lot and re-striped it. It is now back open to our riders.

Sacramento, CA:  Will RT be joining Twitter? You may receive more feedback in a short concise manner [140 characters].

Reply:  RT will be joining Twitter during construction of the South Line Phase 2 light rail project and may do the same during design-build construction of the Green Line to the River District. There are currently no plans, however, to change the on-line GM Chat to Twitter.

Sacramento, CA:  in the recent decision to return state funds is it possible in the future to make the 80 and the 84 every half hour instead of every Hour?

Reply:  Not at this point. We are waiting for the state to actually return the funds. Following that we will decide how to best allocate the funds.

Sacramento, CA:  RE: the Taco Bell machines...I saw one today w/a soda vending machine at the College Greens Station.

Reply:  Good, we are glad you noticed the machine and hope passengers take advantage of this new station amenity.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you have any idea how many jobs were saved at RT due to the economic stimulus? This is a issue in the news now, and would be interesting to know.

Reply:  Yes, during this last fiscal year, RT reported to the Federal Transit Administration that 96 jobs were saved. RT is expecting to save approximately 187 jobs in FY 2010. The total stimulus revenues RT expects to receive is approximately $22 million, of which approximately $8 million was used during fiscal year 2009 and the remaining $14 million is expected to be used in FY 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  The RT ramps at the Starfire station do not have enough seating for the number of disabled individuals in this older and rapidly aging neighborhood. Easily there is room for a second seat on each ramp, while leaving ample room for wheelchairs to board and exit the light rail. Will you please add a seat to accommodate a second disabled patron on each ramp at Starfire? Also, it is pretty miserable to sit (or stand) there in the rain and in the hottest days of the summer; so, could you also add a canopy like the ones on other light rail ramps?

Reply:  We will take a look and see if it is possible to add seating and maintain the required access space. Thanks for the comment and request. This station is on our list for a remodel when we receive funding.

Sacramento, CA:  A comment about a comment posted earlier on the disabled seating. It seems that drivers only recognize those in a wheel chair at times and forgot about those w/other mobility issues. I personally wear the disabled ID around my neck so there is no confusion.

Reply:  Your idea is a great way to make sure the operator is aware of your needs. However, we cannot require our patrons to provide this form of identification. The operators are focused on safely operating their trains. When the operator stops at a station they are trying to focus on safely boarding patrons who need assistance.

Sacramento, CA:  Has RT had any discussions with Bay Area officials on using recycled parts of the Bay Bridge to build a bridge into Natomas for light rail?

Reply:  Good question. We had a brief discussion about doing this. I don't know if anything will come of it, but we thought it was worth considering.

Sacramento, CA:  Has there ever been a possiblity of purchasing or leasing 60-Foot Buses (like the one in SF) to use on your most crowded routes? such as 1,51, and 81 since there is only 3 routes I can think of. The Purchase or Leasing shouldnt be that expensive

Reply:  That is a great question. In fact, my staff has been looking at just that question. We have incorporated the capability for articulated (60-foot) buses in our Bus Maintenance Facility #2 at McClellan, and we need to replace as many as 15 buses between 2012 and 2014, when existing buses will reach the end of their useful lives. The cost, however, is not inconsequential. To purchase a combination of articulated buses and regular buses will cost approximately $8 million. However, we could expand service on at least the routes you cite, and maybe five more that carry more than 2,000 passengers per day, at relatively low cost. We will be examining these options over the next several months, particularly to determine whether we have a chance to qualify for some outside funding to help with the cost.

Sacramento, CA:  How was the study mission you attended highlighting Sacramento projects that incorporate sustainable community and transit oriented development?

Reply:  I gave a presentation to the group that attended this event. It was impressive to see how much is going on in the Sacramento Area and it was heartening to see the great connection everyone is making between transit and sustainable growth.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  I am one of your employees, and pretty much like the RT health benefits package. The Health Fair you organized last month is very much appreciated. However, the recent threat of H1N1 flu outbreak places a lot of us employees at risk in the workplace, especially those dealing with the public like operators, etc. Do you have any plans of giving employees H1N1 flu vaccines? When?

Reply:  Employees should be able to receive the vaccine from their respective health care provider when it is available. Sacramento County has posted a list on their Web site of locations where the vaccine is being administered. RT Human Resources is looking into other possibilities for employees but this, of course, depends upon the availability of the vaccine in general.

El Dorado Hills, CA:  Hello, will there be any transit funds returned to Regional Transit as a result of the California State Supreme Court decision on the diversion of transit funds by the state of California?

Reply:  A number of people have asked this question. In summary, there will likely be funds returned to transit systems, hopefully, by July 1, 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  How much money does e-tran receive when someone with an RT pass boards an e-tran bus?

Reply:  It depends on what form of media is presented to the driver. For example, if a single ride prepaid ticket was surrendered, e-tran receives the full value of the fare (up to the value e-tran charges its riders for a single fare). If the customer displays a daily or monthly pass, the number of trips taken on each system determines the revenue shared. This revenue share calculation is based on numerous factors: survey results, the price e-trans charges for each form of media, number of days in a month, usage of each transit system, and average number of boardings. On a quarterly basis, e-tran has received approximately $160,000 per quarter. This varies depending on boardings and types of media shown.

Sacramento, CA:  In what way do you consider the food and drink vending machines an appropriate "amenity" at light rail stations? By late afternoon, every light rail car is filthy with spilled and discarded food, drink, and wrappings. The landscaping and concrete areas around the tracks are similarly filthy. Your fare checkers and other light rail employees do nothing to discourage trashing the light rail cars and surrounding areas, so why make it worse by adding these machines?

Reply:  Over a year ago, Regional Transit's Board approved drinking from resealable and spill proof containers. At the same time we increased our station cleaning during midday. The revenue from advertising on the kiosks and the sales of beverages will allow us to pay for additional services and it is a long requested amenity.

CA:  I thought that the parking along the 80 corridor was owned by the State and if it does is it legal to charge a fee? And what about security? Will you guarantee that my tailgate won’t be stolen again?

Reply:  You are quite correct that the parking at the three stations in our parking demonstration are on property owned by Caltrans. However, the agreements are in place that allow us to run our parking program. It is quite legal to charge the fee. Security is already provided through our Wackenhut security personnel, as well as random visits from Transit Police. Unfortunately, there are no guarantees for tailgates or other parts of a motor vehicle.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participation today. The last chat session of 2009 will be held on Friday, December 4, from noon to 1 p.m.