Transit Talk with the General Manager

January 08, 2010
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Let me start by saying Happy New Year to all of the transit riders (and future riders) in the Sacramento region.

Thank you for joining us today. With the New Year's Day holiday falling on the first Friday of the month, this session was pushed back one week. Please make note that the remaining 2010 "Transit Talk with the General Manager" sessions will take place on the first Friday of the month.

We will start accepting questions at 10 a.m. and will continue to accept them until the end of the chat at 1 p.m. We will go live at noon.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Good afternoon. I would like to focus today's opening comment on the pilot Park-Pay-and-Ride program recently launched at the Watt/I-80, Watt/I-80 West and Roseville Road park-and-ride lots.

I understand that this new fee is an inconvenience for many riders and is looked upon unfavorably. RT is also aware that many of the riders affected by the new fees are facing furloughs, pay cuts and other hardships due to the struggling economy.

That same economic climate has impacted our agency as well. RT lost $26 million in State Transit Assistance (STA) funds over the past year and we have seen a steep decline in local and state sales tax revenue as consumers tighten their belts during these lean times.

All these factors have forced us to take a closer look at our revenue and expenditures, and to try to identify additional savings and revenue-generating opportunities. In addition to implementing mandatory RT employee furloughs and wage freezes, we were forced to look at other ways to generate the necessary revenue. The decision to implement the Park-Pay-and-Ride pilot program did not come easy.

RT staff will evaluate the pilot program over the next six months and report back to the RT Board of Directors with an update, including how much revenue was generated by the program, changes in ridership and park-and-ride lot usage, and the impact to surrounding areas.

I can address any other comments you may have about the pilot program during today's session. Let's get started.

Sacramento, CA:  Hello, I'm a blind person who lives in Oak Park I am having one of my friends type this for me: My question is why does the light rail announce every stop thru the Automatic PA System, but not the busses. you do hear the stops announce occasionally (for instance you would hear "next stop Broadway and Stockton, but not hear another announcement till Stockton and 14th") wouldn't the same amount of blind riders be on the busses as well as the Light Rail? Thank you for your time.

Reply:  Most of the buses are equipped with automatic stop announcements Some of the older buses are not equipped and the operator announces the stops. The announcements are for major intersections by either method. When you board, you can request that the bus operator announce a stop for you. In the event that you have a problem, please contact Customer Advocacy at 916-557-4545.

Sacramento, CA:  Will the yellow shirt gaurds be enforcing the pay and park rules at roseville road?

Reply:  The RT Board has authorized Wackenhut Security Officers, RT Transit Officers, RT Transportation Supervisors and RT Police Officers to issue citations for violations of the RT Park-Pay-and-Ride program.

Sacramento, CA:  Did RT consider providing extended service on New Year’s Eve to try and provide an alternative to driving during the holiday?

Reply:  Yes, we considered providing extended service on New Year's Eve. As you probably know, we have provided extended light rail service in past years. This year, the $26 million loss in state funding and the decline in local and state sales tax revenue has prevented RT from operating additional service.

Sacramento, CA:  How much does the Wackenhut Guard Service cost altogether yearly? Ballpark?

Reply:  Approximately $3.6 million.

Folsom, CA:  As ticket prices go up to address the budget issues, it seems that it becomes less and less economical to right light rail versus driving a car. Even with gas and parking, a couple can drive into Sacramento for less than $10. I have also seen many, many people who ride the light rail 1 or 2 stops that I suspect do not buy $2.50 tickets. Are they any thoughts to trying to increase ticket enforcement rather than raising prices as a means of increasing ridership? Perhaps instituting access controls to the stations (i.e. - fences, turnstiles, etc.) to force people to buy tickets? Otherwise, I see light rail becoming a means of transporting people around for free, while those who would have pruchased tickets drive their cars instead.

Reply:  That's a great point. Actually, we've looked at the cost of driving, and if two people share a car from a distance of 15 miles or less, they will pay less for gas than they would for transit. However, if you include all of the costs of car ownership, and include the cost of parking downtown (at roughly $14 per day) that cost advantage disappears. As for fare evasion, we have increased enforcement in the last year, nearly doubling the number of fare enforcement trips. While there are some people who take a chance on not getting caught "for just one or two stops," they face a significant fine if they are caught. Last year, our rate of fare evasion was less than two percent. By comparison, the cost of installing gates or barriers to force fare payment would equal more than 20 percent of our revenue each year for a number of years.

Sacramento, CA:  Can you replace the seat upholstery with hard seats? Many diseases can live in upholstery. I was in DC recently - they have hard plastic seats.

Reply:  The fabric upholstery is more comfortable and RT has had very good experience with these seats. We have considered moving to plastic and may, if we encounter any issues.

Sacramento, CA:  How were thieves able to safely remove copper wire from the light rail system last month without getting fried. You would think they would have been electrocuted.

Reply:  The thieves were very lucky this time. There have been a number of occasions in which others, elsewhere, have not been.

Sacramento, CA:  I want to start by saying that I am excited about the new green line eventually comming to North Natomas even if it is a few years away. In the more short term are there any plans to improve bus service to the area? Route 11 is nice but it would be great if there was one more run say at 6:30pm and some limited runs on the weekends.

Reply:  North Natomas is one of the areas which should have more service. We look forward to the Green Line as a way to provide much better service. We would like to add more bus service, but the current budget situation has been very tough for RT. The state cut $26 million from our annual budget and sales tax revenue is much lower as well. We've talked about adding service in North Natomas, Arden Arcade and other communities that have meager levels of service. Until we see some additional funding, we will struggle with how we can add additional service. In preparation for any potential funding, we have begun a planning study to help us assess how to improve bus service in Natomas, both before and after the Green Line goes into operation. We will have considerable public outreach in that study and hope to meet with you there.

Sacramento, CA:  Are you able to bring small pets on LR?

Reply:  RT allows guide dogs, signal dogs and other service animals. Pets that do not meet the definition of service animal must be transported in a completely enclosed and secured cage or carrier.

Sacramento, CA:  What ever happened with the issues concerning the lease back of light rail vehicles and RT having to pay the banks a large lump sum of money you guys don't have?

Reply:  The underlying issue of the requirement to replace the insurer (AIG) on RT's leveraged lease transactions due to a drop in AIG's bond rating remains unresolved because there are no viable insurers that meet the criteria in the lease transactions and AIG is still performing under the transactions. At the national level, a coalition of transit agencies nationwide have developed legislation that would discourage involuntary terminations forced on transit agencies. Fortunately, RT and its equity investor have a cooperative relationship and there is no immediate threat to RT's transactions, so while the issue remains unresolved, efforts toward a cooperative resolution are ongoing.

Sacramento, CA:  When will the new St Rose Station open? Will both the GOLD and BLUE lines stop there; or just the Blue line?

Reply:  Inspection of the work is currently taking place. When the punch list work is completed, RT will take possession of the new station from the City of Sacramento. RT will provide public notice prior to the transition to the new station. Both the Gold and Blue Line trains will stop at the new station.

Sacramento, CA:  With the new schedule for the 75 bus, individuals who take Light Rail from downtown arrive at Mather Field approximately 3 minutes AFTER the 75 leaves Mather Field Light Rail station. Why was this change made? Previously, it was possible to catch the 75 bus if one took the Light Rail to Mather Field. This is an importance connection for veterans who have 8 AM appointments at Sacramento VA. There is the 74 bus, but the 75 bus goes much closer (and quicker) to VA.

Reply:  The schedule was adjusted to help timeliness on the overall route. Unfortunately, it also resulted in the shift in arrival time at Mather Field. While it is regrettable that it forces people to take the previous train in order to catch Route 75, it reduces the number of times that people have tried to sprint to catch the bus or light rail train. That is an ongoing safety concern that we also have to address. We will continue to monitor Route 75 to determine whether the schedule needs to be adjusted again.

Sacramento, CA:  Good Afternoon, I was wondering what is being done about the Los Rios Student pass abuse? I would hate for a student like myself who actually uses the pass to go to school and work, to find out that it would be taken away due to some knuckleheads "trying to get free rides"

Reply:  RT is working closely with the Los Rios District to address the issues related to student pass abuse. This includes accounting for student enrollments, course "drop" rates, and trips taken to non-campus locations. While the purpose of the student pass is to facilitate access to the college, the students can use the pass anywhere on the RT system. Our focus is on identifying and blocking abuses by individuals who register for classes and then drop the classes while retaining their student ID which includes the transit sticker.

Citrus Heights, CA:  Instead of Park-Pay-and-Ride which concurrently effects a limited ridership, why not raise the ticket rates across the board?

Reply:  The RT Board considered implementing the Park-Pay-and-Ride program systemwide at all of the light rail station park-and-ride lots. They approved a pilot program at three park-and-ride lots to measure the impact of this change without implementing it systemwide. In July, the RT Board will determine whether to continue the program, expand the program or terminate the program. In addition to the Park-Pay-and-Ride pilot program, RT has implemented numerous cost-saving measures and revenue enhancements over the last two years. They include employee furloughs, service cuts, fare increases, additional advertising opportunities and beverage sales.

Sacramento, CA:  There are a couple of routes that do not run on Saturday or Sunday. Route 11, 62, 20/22 and I am sure others. Do you not think people need to get places on the weekends?

Reply:  You have identified a key point in our ongoing service versus budget debate. Yes, people also need to get places on weekends, but the function of these routes is primarily commuting. Expanding service to weekends has significant cost implications, and with our current budget situation, that is not feasible. As our budget situation improves, we intend to re-organize our routes to increase weekend service.

Sacramento, CA:  As a driver, am I supposed to yield to the lightrail trains, or will they yield to me? Whenever i'm driving on the tracks I don't know how to react when I see a train coming towards me. Thank you!

Reply:  I am assuming you are talking about downtown Sacramento, where the trains are operating in the city streets. With that assumption, the trains are operating using the traffic controls used by the cars and trucks on city streets. They are required to obey the California Vehicle Code and operate as though they were a very large long passenger vehicle. Because trains are long and heavy, they represent a unique hazard to smaller vehicles (cars and trucks). We recommend car and truck operators assume that the trains cannot stop or yield easily. Although our train operators are particularly careful and courteous to other vehicles, when they apply brakes and attempt to stop, the train can travel hundreds of feet.

Sacramento, CA:  1. I see so many people getting on that do not have tickets and brag about it on the train. Where are the officers that come on the trains? I have not seen any since October.2. Also why are the Wackenhut security personnel concentracted at some stations. At one station there are usually 5-6 while other stations have none. They are in groups talking, shouldn't they be spread out between stations? 3. I get on at I-80, don't drive to help the environment, etc., why am I being penalized with the parking fees. You are not charging people that park at your lots in Folsom, etc.

Reply:  1. Our fare evasion rate is under 2%. Fare inspection occurs both randomly and at pre-determined times and places by RT Transit Officers, Transportation Supervisors and Police Officers. On my most recent train ride, Wednesday, January 6, 2010, I observed two Transit Officers inspecting for fares. 2. Our contract security personnel are assigned to the stations at which we feel they will have the greatest impact. You may see multiple security officers present as a result of a shift overlap, multiple officers assigned there, or a supervisor making his/her rounds. 3. The three lots near Watt / I-80 are part of a pilot program the RT Board of Directors approved as a test. The RT Board will receive a report in July 2010. At that point, the RT Board will consider next steps. They may expand, continue or terminate the program at that point.

Sacramento, CA:  Can you get the riders to stop putting their feet on the seats, please?

Reply:  Security officers, RT Transit Officers and RT Transportation Supervisors all enforce RT rule violations such as feet on the seats. It is very difficult for RT to mandate common courtesy.

Sacramento, CA:  What is the Bus Company's income from investments yearly?

Reply:  District-wide investment income that can be used for operations is about $421,000 per year.

Natomas, CA:  With RT's ridership increasing and with increased fares, will RT look into purchasing articulated coaches, or highway motor coaches for major trunklines?

Reply:  That's a great question. We are in fact looking at replacing some of our existing buses that must be retired in 2012 with articulated buses. Our new bus facility at McClellan is being designed to handle maintenance and storage of articulated buses. What led us to these steps was the realization that at least five of our routes have daily crowding issues, and some routes are "bunching" - that is, multiple buses catching up to each other - which results in very poor schedule adherence. Our plan is to provide increased capacity with the larger vehicles until we can also increase the frequency of service on the more heavily traveled routes. As for the highway motor coaches, these would represent another bus type which would probably be more suited to long-distance, freeway-based trips. I would not expect that kind of service to start for five years or more, depending on our budget situation.

Sacramento, CA:  What has management done to reduce their cost to RT? Have you instituted salary reductions.

Reply:  RT has undertaken significant cost reduction and revenue enhancement measures over the past three years to counteract relentless raids by the State of California on transportation revenues normally received by RT and other transit agencies in the state. In addition, revenues based on fluctuations in sales tax have also seriously declined. Salary reductions in the form of furloughs are in place for all management employees. In addition, salaries are frozen with no hope of movement through salary ranges through the end of 2010, and beyond if conditions do not improve. Insurance co-payment have been raised and premium cost sharing has also increased for those employees. In addition, RT has a hiring freeze in place and will recruit only for operationally critical positions.

Woodland - Historic City of Trees, CA:  Gauging from recent fare increases and service cuts over the last two years it seems RT's funding is strapped. The newspapers have ran a few stories about how the governor wants to take more transit money from the gas tax for the state's budget. If this is true can we expect additional fare increases in 2010 from RT?

Reply:  The Governor's proposal is a permanent raid of voter approved funding for mass transit. In direct violation of the will of the people, his plan will again deprive transit agencies statewide of funding that essentially subsidizes fares and keeps them affordable. If the state continues to raid transportation funding, RT will have no choice but to consider all options including adjusting fares, considering service cuts and instituting layoffs, although not necessarily in that order. RT has been successful in limiting service cuts and managing labor cuts through attrition, but will be unable to continue to balance the budget without considering more intense measures.

Sacramento, CA:  With the region growing, has RT considered a regional agreement to provide regional services in a local area, such as King County Metro and Sound Transit in Seattle, Washington? RT's service area is very large, and would seem to work best if it worked with local systems. What is RT's plans to better serve the region in 2010?

Reply:  RT is open to any kind of agreement that improves service for the people of Sacramento. We are working with the cities of Citrus Heights and Rancho Cordova, and we have an agreement with the city of Folsom and Elk Grove. Each agreement is slightly different at this time, but the essence of the agreements is that RT provides regional service and the local system either provides its own service or contracts for it. RT also has established transfer agreements with all of the transit operators in the six county region, allowing for a relatively seamless service. In 2010, RT will examine its routes comprehensively, to determine where additional service is needed or where it needs to be reorganized. RT intends to go after funding to support new services at every opportunity. However, our first goal is to preserve the services we have on the street today.

Folsom, CA:  With the court decision saying the transit funds could not be diverted, are you expecting any improvement in the funds picture? Yes, I know the State will probably appeal again - or just ignore the decision - but what's your expectation?

Reply:  The Governor continues to demonstrate his commitment to "going green" by raiding transit funds. This has been demonstrated as recently as this morning with his proposal to gut dedicated transit funds and divert them to the General Fund. My expectation is that the Governor will continue to attempt to raid transit funding until he leaves office. Transit systems throughout the state have joined together to place an initiative on the November 2010 state-wide ballot that if passed, will provide a guarantee that these transit funds, that have been created by the voters of the state, will continue to flow to transit.

Sacramento, CA:  Is the RT a private, government or both entity?

Reply:  RT is a Special District formed by the State legislature. As such, it is a government entity with a public board of directors.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for logging on to the chat today. A reminder, RT is now planning the next phase of the Green Line to the Airport, also referred to as the Downtown Natomas Airport (DNA) light rail extension project, which will extend light rail through the Natomas communities to the Sacramento International Airport. An open house is scheduled for Friday, January 29 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday, January 30 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the new North Natomas Library at 4660 Via Ingoglia Road. Please attend if you can to discuss conceptual station designs, vehicle styles, station locations and other critical elements of the project.. I hope to see you there.

Roseville, CA:  What is the fine for not having a ticket on light rail?

Reply:  Including all court cost the total comes to $127.00.