Transit Talk with the General Manager

March 05, 2010
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Today's session of Transit Talk with the General Manager will begin at noon. We begin accepting questions at 10 a.m. through the end of the session at 1 p.m. Log on early to make sure your question is answered.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

In January, it became abundantly clear that RT's budget status for the remainder of FY 2010 and FY 2011 was dire.

Falling sales tax revenues, fare revenues not meeting expectations and the uncertainty of state transit funding have created a projected $13 million budget deficit for the remainder of FY 2010. These factors combined with the loss of one-time federal stimulus funding have also contributed to a projected $25 million deficit for FY 2011.

The late notification of falling tax revenues and severity of the deficit has made it difficult to balance revenues and expenditures by July 2010. Therefore, an 18-month recovery plan is being considered by the RT Board of Directors.

A version of the plan will be approved by the RT Board on Monday, March 22. The Board will take public comment into consideration at the Public Hearing scheduled for this Monday, March 8, at 4 p.m. in the RT Auditorium located at 1400 29th Street.

A major component of the recovery plan includes the significant reduction, realignment or elimination of bus, light rail and paratransit service, and if approved, will go into effective on Sunday, June 20. As a result of the service reductions, many RT employees will be laid off.

Management and administrative staff reductions have already begun with notices issued in February for layoffs effective April 20. A second round of administrative cuts are planned for late summer.

Despite these hardships, RT is staying focused on you, the customer. We understand the difficulties our riders have faced with previous service reductions and fare increases in the midst of trying economic times. Now, more than ever, it is critical that we provide a quality product in a friendly, welcoming environment.

Working together, we will meet the budget challenges head-on, minimize the impacts of service reductions on the public, and lay a foundation for growth as the economy rebounds.

Sacramento, CA:  What's the status of the opening of new St Rose station on 7th street? Haven't seen much activity lately.

Reply:  We are testing the traffic signaling and rail controls. When all of those features test correctly and the operational tests are complete, we plan to schedule the opening for two weeks latter. The last testing results I saw indicated that we are very close. We currently expect the station to open on Sunday, March 21, 2010.

Sacramento, CA:  Have you heard any updates on WHEN the Greyhound station will be moving?

Reply:  The last I heard was that Greyhound had agreed with the City of Sacramento to move in 2011. We are hoping to complete the Green Line to the River District so that it is operational before the first customers come off the bus at 4th and Richards.

Sacramento, CA:  How is cutting service so drastically justified, when doing so will put RT in direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act? We have already been inconvenienced once due to the discontinuation of the Paratransit Group Pass, and the proposed service reductions will only make it tougher for us to use the system. Isn't there some way that RT could turn a profit without balancing its budget on the backs of its riders? I'm sure if you looked at RT's top-heavy management structure, you would find plenty to work with when making cuts. I should also point out that making further service reductions will more than likely make it difficult for RT riders to support the ballot initiative that will keep transit funded. I've been riding RT for almost ten years so far, and I've never been more disappointed as a customer than I am now. Please start putting riders first, and search for a way to balance your budget that lessens the impact it will have on your ridership.

Reply:  It is important for our riders to understand that the current economy is driving the service reductions we are now facing. Over the last four years, income RT receives from our combined sales taxes have been cut in half. We have lost $40 million a year in income. Our operating revenue has declined from $153 million a year to a projected $105 million in FY 2011. This is the same level of income we received in 2002. Our reduction in service is not a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The Act requires that we provide the same access to transit service for persons with disabilities as we provide for the population as a whole. While I agree that reducing service is the last thing that Regional Transit should be doing, it is the last thing we are doing. We have already implemented a long list of internal cost reductions, culminating in the lay-off of 30 percent of our administrative staff and managers. If we were to reduce our administrative or support services any further, we would be putting the entire transit network at risk. Now our challenge is to reduce the level of service in such a way that we continue to operate an effective network, and the service we provide remains safe and secure. I hope we will do this in a way to keep your support over the coming year or two. We will really need it.

SACRAMENTO, CA:  I was sad to hear about RT’s budget difficulties and 300 employees possibly being laid off. I wanted to submit 3 ideas that may help RT in some way. 1: Bring back Transfers: If you charge .50 cents for a Transfer the only advantage for most riders is ones who only use the bus/light rail to go to a store and back home once a day occasionally. This might result in more riders using RT for errands. If you pay fare and buy a transfer in the morning and then do the same in the afternoon it will cost the same as a daily pass, so no savings and you’ll probably pay more if you use RT again that same day. Have RT Light Rail Inspectors write or stamp LR (or Light Rail) on transfers if the transfer was issued on a bus, as Transfers are for one time use. Also if Transfer expires on Light Rail you will be subject to be ticketed. It doesn’t cost RT anymore to issue Transfers as most people would be better off Buying an Allday pass or monthly pass.

Reply:  Thank you for your suggestions. RT carefully considered the impacts before deciding to eliminate transfers from its fare policy. A key consideration is one you mentioned. The cost impact on customers to buy a daily pass is the same as buying a single fare plus a transfer twice to go to and from a destination. The favorable impact on operations and the increase in revenue overall from the elimination of transfers were the deciding factors.

SACRAMENTO, CA:  2: Take donations! If I get on the bus and there is a sign saying, THIS BUS ROUTE WILL BE IMPACTED BY RT’S BUDGET CUTS. The impact will be limited or no service after 7:00 P.M. on weekdays, limited or no service on weekends. Let Riders know that they can make a difference by putting extra money into the Fare box with the understanding that money will go directly towards that bus line. Are you going to save 300 jobs now slated for layoff? Probably not, but you may save some. For Donations indicate that if a bus line is completely saved by donations, any additional funds will go towards another of RT’s choosing. Who would donate? Maybe Government, School employees/students, or employees of jobs that give discounts for monthly RT Fares. DEFINITELY people who now need the bus/light rail service that will be impacted! So maybe a State employee pays $25 for a monthly pass instead of $100. They may be willing to swipe their monthly pass AND also put money into the Fare box. For Light Rail or people who want to donate to RT in general or a specific bus, accept donations on your Web Site, and take them in person at your RT Office. Maybe have a rolling banner on your Web Site saying, WHAT DOES RT MEAN TO ME? Click on it and it could say, it could be your ride to work, could be your only transportation, could be your kids ride to school, could be your kids transportation during summer vacation, etc. I don’t ride RT so what does it mean to me? If you commute on highway and see a bus, there may be 100 passengers on that bus. If that bus is not in service, those 100 passengers may be driving WITH YOU on highway on your commute. How will that impact you? Buses and Light Rail help cut down on smog and pollution, if you care about the environment here’s a way you can make a difference.

Reply:  Thank you for the suggestion. Donations to public agencies are tax deductible. Unfortunately, we would not be able to segregate revenue received from any single bus and identify it for a particular purpose such as saving an individual route. RT is focused on saving as much service as possible.

SACRAMENTO, CA:  3: I noticed a Private Shuttle for DMV by the Sacramento Bee Light Rail Station. Why can’t RT offer Shuttle Service, maybe using their Neighborhood Shuttle they already have? Contract with private companies to have the Shuttle go directly from Light Rail to their building. Maybe Franchise Tax Board? It’s a long walk from Light Rail to their door. This Shuttle can be used by Public and Franchise employees for safer commute, and especially for elderly or disabled customers. A lot of Malls are in trouble due to economy, Sunrise Mall’s Macy’s might agree to Shuttle Service from Light Rail to Macy’s. Citrus Heights may put up funds also as more business means more taxes. Have Macy’s Shuttle include Ads for Macy’s both inside and outside of Shuttle, maybe have Macy’s weekly Ads available in Shuttle for people to read on way to Macy’s. Still charge regular fare for Shuttle, BUT if a Customer buys something at Macy’s they would get both a $3.00 (Macy’s Customers would need to show Transfer from RT to get discount) discount on their purchase, AND Macy’s would give them a free RT ticket to go home. Or maybe even $6 so Macy’s would pay both ways, Or if businesses prefer have it completely free (as the Business is paying the Shuttle cost, however this would help alleviate the park and ride customers who park at Sunrise Mall just to take bus to Light Rail). If other businesses in the vicinity of the business that wants to hire RT Shuttle also want to participate they’d share in cost of RT Shuttle, and could display their own Ads for their business in Shuttle and offer their own discounts for RT Customers also. Downtown Mall could do same, Old Sacramento can do same, all kinds of businesses not close to Light Rail could do same. Cost to RT very little, you already have Neighborhood Shuttles you can use. Why would Customers use Shuttle instead of regular RT Bus? It would be NON STOP so instead of 40 minute bus ride it may only be 15 minute shuttle.

Reply:  The federal government has passed laws that make it nearly impossible for transit systems to provide charter services. Because of this we are severely limited in offering the services you listed. The rules include requirements that the service must be part of regularly scheduled service as part of our service plan (daily and weekend). So holiday services and event services are pretty much out of bounds. Your idea makes sense, but in light of the charter rules, we are unable to perform these services.

North Natomas, Sacramento, CA:  Hello Mike. My husband and I attended the RT work shop that was held at the new North Natomas Library for the “Green” line. It was interesting. But, some of the people giving out the information seemed a little mis-informed. Like the oriental man who was describing the reason why RT had decided on Truxel Road for the line. According to this man, RT had long ago purchased the right of way on the I-80 over pass on Truxel and that was the only way for the “Green” line to go. We have your original information on the “Green” line that was passed out at the NNA meeting at the Natomas Park club house back in 2001. There were 3 ways for the “green” line to go: Up I-5 to the airport; Up the already in use lite rail bridge over the American River and go up Northgate; or up North 7th and build a new bridge over the American River for the lite rail and then up Truxel Road. And the public was to have voted on their choice of route. The bottom line on the “Green” line is that we were originally told that it would be up and running by 2010 or 2011 at the latest. You are way behind schedule. Now – we may not get it until 2014 or later. Not good when so many people would be able to get downtown easier and to the airport without parking fees. We also asked the question about why are you not building it from both ends? We know that there is grant money dedicated to only the “Green” line construction. A very nice lady at the work shop informed us of this. Building from both ends would put a lot of people to work in this down economy. We just want to see it up and running as soon as possible. Thank you. Kathi and Sam

Reply:  Hi, Kathi and Sam. Sorry about the misinformation. We will make every effort to get every one on the same page with the correct information. Part of that information, for example, is that the Truxel Road alternative was adopted by the Board in 2003. Another part is that the Board needs to act again to confirm how far we could build the next portion of the Green Line. This would allow us to begin building the line "from both ends" as you suggest. We are planning to make that a real possibility during our project development. I realize that we are way behind our original projections for the startup date for Green Line, but we are trying to make up for it as we move forward. Thanks again for bringing this to my attention.

SACRAMENTO, CA:  Have you considered having Security at Light Rail Stations check passengers for tickets? You aren't supposed to be on Light Rail Stations unless you are a ticketed passenger. This may help alleviate loitering at some Stations, and avoid problems that could occcur with fighting, or assults. This would also make the Security person's job easier.

Reply:  Thank you for your recommendation. Unfortunately, as a result of budget cuts, we are faced with reductions in all areas, including security. The primary purpose of the security officer at the station is to assure that our customers and their vehicles are safe. Consequently, they are unable to conduct fare checks. There are times when we do check for fares at the stations. When we do conduct such an operation, known as a fare blitz, we use multiple levels of security personnel.

Sacramento, CA:  Can you explain what the governor has planned for the state sales tax on gasoline and how the changes could affect RT?

Reply:  That is a great question. I would guess that a lot of people were puzzled at what it might mean. As I understand it, the legislature has passed a bill that takes all of the money originally dedicated to public transit, and changes its character from a publicly-voted gasoline sales tax, to a gasoline "fee," and dedicates it to streets and roads. Then, the bill allocates $400 million to the State Transit Account for distribution to the transit agencies around the state, 90 days after the Governor signs the bill. Starting in Fiscal Year 2012, the sales tax on diesel fuel is allocated to the Public Transportation Account, to fund a minimum of $350 million per year for transit. For RT the initial deposit may bring us about $11.8 million. In subsequent years, it will bring in around $10.2 million. By comparison, the State has taken away over $26 million per year of our funding. We will use the partially restored funding to reduce the levels of service reduction being proposed on Monday, but this will only relieve the pressure, not restore us to fiscal balance.

Folsom, CA:  I noticed that whenever there are issues with the Folsom light rail stations or service, we are directed to the City of Folsom. Do you have a specific Point of Contact for these issues? It would be nice if they could also be included on these "Chat" sessions so that all R/T issues could be addressed within this same forum.

Reply:  When your question is about rail service, please call 916-321-2877 and RT's Call Center can help you. If your question is about the quantity of service and the frequency, you should call the city. Folsom contracts with RT for the amount of service and frequency we provide. Hopefully, this will help you with your question.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you think fare increases, dropping free transfers and eliminating the central city zone fare have contributed to the significant drop in ridership?

Reply:  Every action RT has taken regarding changes in the fee structure has initially caused some deflection in ridership. The most significant drop in ridership has resulted from the State's furlough Fridays and the steep increase in unemployment in the region. Regrettably, RT has had little choice in the matter. RT has only fares, service and internal cost cutting measures under its direct control in terms of revenue enhancement or cost containment. In the face of extreme revenue losses, such as the State of California's raid on transit funds and the decline in sales tax revenues over the past two years, we have had no option but to increase fares to raise additional revenue.

Sacramento, CA:  Are drivers supposed to stop and get back on schedule when the are 10 or 15 minutes early. There are several people that catch the Route 30 on L Street in the afternoon and the bus comes as many as 10 to15 minutes early.

Reply:  Each route has several time points. When a driver arrives early at a time point they are instructed to wait until the scheduled time arrives before leaving the time point. If you observe a problem with an operator not following this practice, please contact Customer Advocacy with the details and they will work with our dispatch team to correct the problem. You can reach Customer Advocacy at 916-557-4545. When it appears that a bus is that much early, it is likely that it is running late and you are actually catching the bus that is scheduled to run ahead of your regular bus.

Sacramento, CA:  I first read about the shortfall in Bee last weekend.Living an area where service frequency and(on weekends)hours leave a lot to be desired(mainly because my folks have a house there),I've seriously considered even on occasion attending a board meeting,only to be turned off because the last weekday outbound 80 and 93 trips finish by 10 PM and the 84(my closest route)having even shorter hours.Being a non-driver who has never been licensed(and am unlikely to ever considering there are too many bad drivers out there as it is)and having observed how major bullets were dodged the past couple years(in terms of all weekend and evening service being threatened even on light rail),I'm really scared it would come to the point that I would have to at least consider moving to a larger metro area(the Bay Area or SoCal)where I would at least have better transit options(rather that than learning how to drive).I actually used light rail on a Sunday to attend an event at the Radisson within the past month.I also often take long-distance round trips involving multiple bus routes as well as light rail.Having voted against Arnold the past 2 gubernatorial elections,I don't want it to come to the point of having to ditch the same capital region where I was born for a bigger city,but is there any light at the end of the tunnel?

Reply:  Thank you for riding the system. The strains on our funding are reflected state wide. There are some glimmers of hope coming out of the capital, but nothing has made it through the system. What this situation demonstrates is that transit needs an independent, stable funding source that is dedicated to transit.

Sacramento, CA:  I've been watching the news about the massive layoffs at Regional Transit. If you have to layoff people anyway, why doesn't RT consolidate its operations with other transit agencies in the region? You could then keep duplicate jobs to a minimum and use tax dollars for transit more wisely.

Reply:  Thank you for that great question. Had we begun such a process a couple of years ago, we might have been ready to put it into place today. However, the difficulties inherent in making such a move are huge. While we all have contracts with many of the same unions, for example, each of our contracts are at different rates of pay and benefits. These would all have to be coordinated. Our cities each receive their own formula funds from the Federal government, as well as local governments. There would have to be multi-agency agreements to allow those funds to be mingled and accounted for on a systematic basis. In addition, each transit agency has its own Board of Directors, with appointed and elected members. How would the agreements be structured to apportion Board members and responsibilities between the different areas. That said, I could see many opportunities for service improvement in a regional organization. Commuter and Express services could be coordinated, transfers between systems could be made more seamless, and there could be a unified fare structure across three or more counties. These could all generate significant service improvements at relatively low long-term cost.

SACRAMENTO, CA:  How many employees does RT have? 300 layoffs sounds like a big hit.

Reply:  RT has 1,208 authorized positions. In recent years, through attrition (retirements and resignations that are not filled) and very determined efforts to limit recruitments to operationally critical positions, RT has lowered the number of filled positions to approximately 1,050 employees. Positions scheduled for Phase I layoffs (approximately 60 management and administrative employees) will take this count to around 990. The highest percentage of employees are found in operations. The majority of the layoffs will, unfortunately, be closely tied to operations although a corresponding percentage of administrative and management staff will also be cut in this process.

Sacramento, CA:  Are any improvements to the intersection at Richards Blvd. and 16th Street planned? More and more traffic seems to be backlogging on Richards due to more workers in the River District area, and it will only get worse. Thank you

Reply:  The City of Sacramento has major plans for the entire River District, including major improvements to the street grid. It is part of a long-range plan to help property owners and businesses to redevelop the area into more of a mixed-use district including commercial and residential uses. The plans will unfold over the next five to 10 years.

Sacramento, CA:  Will security be affected by the cuts? RT could lose even more riders if it's passengers don't feel safe enough to use the train or bus.

Reply:  As a result of budget cuts, we are faced with reductions in all areas, including security. That can not be prevented. Our Police Services department is working on solutions to minimize the impact felt by our passengers. We are very aware that our riders safety and security are of the highest priority!

Sacramento, CA:  If the state furloughs end and people are put back to work on Friday's will RT start running four car trains during commute times again?

Reply:  Yes!

Sacramento, CA:  Why haven't plans for the Green Line to the River District been affected in the same way as the plans for South Line Phase 2?

Reply:  All of the revenues for the Green Line to the River District are local capital dollars. There are NO federal funds involved. This means that we can deliver the service sooner and at a significantly reduced cost.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participation today. Please check back during our next session Friday, April 2, for additional budget updates.