Transit Talk with the General Manager

April 02, 2010
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Questions for today's session of Transit Talk with the General Manager will be accepted from 10 a.m. through the end of the chat at 1 p.m. We will go live and begin answering your inquires at noon.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

In response to an estimated $25 million budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2011, the RT Board of Directors voted to reduce bus, light rail and paratransit service at a special meeting in March.

The service reductions include the elimination of 28 weekday routes, 13 Saturday routes and four Sunday routes - affecting 41 of the 91 bus routes RT currently operates. Service frequency will also be reduced on six weekday routes, three Saturday routes and four Sunday routes. In addition, light rail service frequency will be decreased to 30 minutes on weekends.

Plummeting sales tax revenues, reduced state transit funding and lower than projected ridership due to the slumping economy created the estimated $25 million budget shortfall for FY 2011.

While last minute state funding reduced the FY 2011 deficit by approximately $11.8 million, major service reductions and an expansion of the Park-Pay-and-Ride program were still necessary to close the gap.

The action to drastically reduce service was only taken after a number of other revenue generating and cost-cutting measures - including two fare increases, a freeze in employee pay, furloughs and scheduled layoffs - were not enough to stabilize RT's financial situation.

RT is in the business of providing quality transit services to you, the public. The last thing we wanted to do was make drastic cuts to bus, light rail and paratransit service. We've worked hard to maintain an efficient transit network for the region will implement a comprehensive recovery plan as funds become available.

Let me assure you that as we work through these changes, RT employees will do everything they can to make the transition as manageable as possible. We will work with all of our riders to provide the information they need concerning the reductions, help plan alternative trips, and continue to provide a quality transit experience on our light rail trains and buses.

Listed below are the service changes that were approved by the RT Board of Directors. After you've taken a minute to review the changes, please enter any questions you may have and I'll do my best to answer them.

The following changes will be implemented on Sunday, June 20, 2010:

Weekday Service:

" Discontinue Routes 4, 8, 9, 10, 18, 20, 36, 50E, 63, 73, 83, 89, 94, 95, 100, 101, 102, 104, 106, 107, 141, 142, 200, 201, 210, 226, 251 and 261

" Discontinue trips after 9 p.m. on Routes 1, 13, 14, 15, 21, 23, 30, 38, 51, 56, 61, 62, 67, 68, 72, 80, 81, 82, 86, 87, 88, 93 and light rail

" Decrease service frequency on Routes 1, 2, 6, 34, 38 and 61

" Shorten Route 28 to end at the Cordova Town Center light rail station

Saturday Service:

" Discontinue Routes 5, 6, 8, 13, 14, 16, 24, 28, 54, 61, 65, 74 and 143

" Discontinue trips after 9 p.m. on Routes 1, 15, 21, 22, 23, 30, 51, 56, 67, 68, 81, 88 and light rail

" Decrease service frequency on Routes 1, 30 and 81

" Decrease service frequency on light rail to 30 minutes

Sunday/Holiday Service:

" Discontinue Routes 8, 13, 14 and 22

" Discontinue trips after 9 p.m. on Routes 1, 15, 51, 56, 67, 68, 81, 88 and light rail

" Decrease service frequency on Routes 23, 30, 56 and 81

" Decrease service frequency on light rail to 30 minutes

rancho cordova, CA:  Well I keep being told that buses or certain buses will not be running on the weekends. I work every Saturday and it bus 21 or 28 are my only way to work. It would hurt me in my job if the buses will be taken away. Is it true that most buses will not be running on the weekends?

Reply:  In planning the service reductions, RT staff and I worked hard to maintain a vital transit network with connectivity and coverage. We tried to preserving routes through various strategies including reducing frequency rather than whole route elimination and combining routes. That said, Route 28 has been eliminated on Saturday but Route 21 was left in place. I've listed below the weekend reductions approved by the Board of Directors. Saturday Service: · Eliminate Routes 5, 6, 8, 13, 14, 16, 24, 28, 54, 61, 65, 74 and 143 · Eliminate all remaining bus and light rail trips starting after 9 p.m. · Decrease service frequency on Routes 1, 30 and 81 · Decrease service frequency on light rail to 30 minutes Sunday/Holiday Service: · Eliminate Routes 8, 13, 14 and 22 · Eliminate all remaining bus and light rail trips starting after 9 p.m. · Decrease service frequency on Routes 23, 30, 56 and 81 · Decrease service frequency on light rail to 30 minutes

CA:  Are any administrators taking pay CUTS? Not freezes or furloughs, cuts?

Reply:  The management and administrative staff have been dealing with cuts. Their income in 2009 compared to the previous year was reduced by approximately 5%. Management staff have had their salaries frozen since 2007. All their benefit costs have increased. For example, health care premiums increased, the employee portion of paying these premiums increased from 8% to 10%, and there has been increases to co-pays and prescription drugs costs. Employees have also had to make other concessions (such a temporary freeze on selling back vacation hours or floaters). In addition, the furloughs do have an impact on salaries.

Sacramento, CA:  I work for a large state agency with a high percentage of employees using transit. Our personnel unit selling the discounted monthly passes tells me they are not allowed by RT to sell them earlier than the 25th of the month. This late cutoff has resulted in a number of our employees receiving citations for fare evasion when they, as regular pass purchasers, have forgotten to purchase a ticket from the machine on return from vacation during the last few days of the month. We were not able to purchase the pass earlier than the 25th. I request a review of the RT policy restricting an earlier sale of the passes.

Reply:  This is something we are currently looking into. This topic has come up recently and the decision was to begin selling passes at our R Street sales center on the 20th of the month. Future plans are to work with larger agencies to allow them to receive the monthly passes earlier than the 25th. As for the few agencies that receive passes earlier than the 25th, these agencies can sell the passes earlier. Even though we are looking at ways to make purchasing our passes more convenient, it is still the rider's responsibility to make sure that they pay their fare.

Sacramento, CA:  What are those that live on a route that is being eliminated, like the 8, and have no other bus close enough by to take supposed to do for work and school and the like if they have no car? Why not re-arrange buses to put like the 61 back on it's old route that would pick up some of the slack of losing the 8 while still doing the route it does now mostly?

Reply:  While your suggestion is thoughtful, RT must cut service to have a balanced budget. We are painfully aware of the hardships these service reductions will cause, however, we must use our funds to provide the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Prior to taking action to reduce service we successfully cut approximately $25 million in non-service related costs out of our operating budget.

Sacramento, CA:  With all the cuts being made, are there any concessions to be made, such as bringing back transfers? RT has become more of a hassle to ride without them (along with the eye-gouging fares) and since all service will end after 9pm starting in June and 2 major routes eliminated (8 and 50E), there needs to be some incentive to continue riding.

Reply:  At this point, bringing back transfers is not under consideration. There have been many recent changes to our fare structure and therefore RT prefers to not make any more significant changes at this time. RT is currently working with our partner transit agencies in the area to implement a new smart card. This will allow us to readdress our fare structure, including our pricing structure.

Sacramento, CA:  When will new route schedules be available? (electronic, paper)

Reply:  We expect to have the new pocket timetables printed and available by early June. They may be on the RT Web site sooner.

North Natomas, CA:  I can not believe that you are discontinuing the 13 and the 14 routes on Saturday and Sunday. Do you know how this is going to effect people trying to get to work or just shop at the Natomas Market Place on Saturday and Sunday? Many of them have no other way to get there. It is my opinion that you should have cut some of the "Pork" for the upper tier of management instead of hurting loyal lower income and seniors. Kathi

Reply:  Management and administrative staff is being severely cut. Prior to this cut there were furlough days, a wage freeze, a hiring freeze, benefit cuts and other cost reductions with more ongoing. RT is painfully aware of the effect of service reductions on the riders and the community in general. However, RT is forced to use it's decreasing funds to carry the most riders for the least cost.

sacramento, CA:  to clarify explicitly does "Discontinue trips after 9 p.m" literally mean at location start no route will be initiated? which suggest a late bus run could operate past 9pm till the end of a route run?

Reply:  9 pm is the latest time a trip will start. That trip will then take as much time as required to reach the end of the route.

Sacramento, CA:  What affects will the City of Folsom’s sales tax revenue dropping 11 percent in the last quarter of 2009 have on RT? I know they fund part of their rail service but is Folsom able to make cuts to their service independently of the RT board?

Reply:  RT's light rail service to the city of Folsom is provided through a contract. If Folsom decides to alter that contract and reduce service, RT will be forced to reduce our service accordingly.

Citrus Heights, CA:  There are many college students using RT to get to school. Some classes don't end until after 9 PM. They NEED this transportation. Can't routes that service the colleges run later than 9 PM?

Reply:  Not given our current financial situation. Based on our Board's adoption of service reductions beginning June 20, 2010, any service currently scheduled to leave the end of the line after 9:00 p.m. will be discontinued.

Sacramento, CA:  I use the Neighborhood Ride service and have noticed a few buses being cancelled lately. Does the budget have anything to do with this?

Reply:  This has everything to do with the budget. RT is making very difficult decisions to balance the service reductions between many ridership groups. RT is currently operating all of our bus and rail service with limited operating staff, we are 40 operators below our authorized level. Unfortunately, this can cause service disruptions from time to time. Following the implementation of service reductions in June, we will have addressed this shortfall.

Sacramento, CA:  After reading about the extra pension costs for the Sheriff’s Deputies contracted to RT, I was wondering if any thought has been put into employing more Sac PD officers to save costs?

Reply:  Good question. As a result of our current budgetary constraints, RT is working to insure that we are able to provide excellent safety at a reasonable cost. Having sworn peace officers from both the City of Sacramento and the Sacramento County Sheriff's department provides for a fully coordinated security force throughout our service area. As such, we are looking into this very issue. We are working with the Sheriff's department to determine if they can keep their costs competitive. If we are unable to find a way to lower or keep this cost competitive, then we will need to consider employing more Sac PD officers.

Sacramento, CA:  It seems pretty clear to me that the decision makers favor state/city workers, and see the average Joe as a last thought. Such a corrupt, selfish example of modern government. Why should a govt. employee pay $85 less a month compared to a non-student, young adult? Have you been on RT on a govt. holiday? Ghost town.

Reply:  The 75 percent transit subsidy is a negotiated employee benefit provided by the State of California. RT does not provide this subsidy. A large percentage of our riders are employed by government agencies, but service is not just focused on downtown Sacramento. We provide service throughout the entire Sacramento region, including Citrus Heights, Folsom and Rancho Cordova.

Sacramento, CA:  How will I get home from Sacramento City College when my class gets out at 9:05pm? A lot of good the UTP is going to do for me. I would not mind a doubling of the UTP fee if that would help keep the trains and buses running an extra hour. Thank-you for your time. Kevin Luttrell

Reply:  With the service reductions approved by the RT Board of Directors, the last Blue Line southbound train will arrive at the City College Station at approximately 9:08 p.m. and the last northbound Blue Line train will arrive there at 9:20 p.m.

Sacramento, CA:  Three-part question: First, if RT receives additional funding through future legislation, will restoring service be topmost priority (i.e., monies will go for operation not expansion)? Second, has any thought been put into realigning and totally overhauling the system due to population shifts and growth? And finally, will June 20 be the day that the changes take effect, or will they take effect Monday, June 21?

Reply:  If RT receives additional funding, a lot a factors will come into play. The first goal will be to insure the district is fiscally sound and is able to operate at a acceptable level. This would also include establishing a reserve for fluctuations in the various funding sources. Additionally, we will also provide a high priority to expanding service in the most productive way possible. To support this effort the RT Board of Directors adopted a new transit master plan this past August. The TransitAction Plan provides the framework for expanding our service. We are also initiating a comprehensive operational analysis to develop the detailed service improvement plans for all of our service area. The service changes will be effective Sunday, June 20, 2010.

CA:  Did the city pay for the 7th and K Street station to be relocated? If not, maybe this money could have been saved to support a more needed transit cuase.

Reply:  Yes, the City of Sacramento paid the full cost of the relocation.

Sacramento, CA:  What has RT done to attempt to engage the city/county in a dialogue about increasing revenues from potential luxury services, such as parking structures (owned by the city/county, not RT), hotel/motel and airport surcharges, and potentially developing a toll road system? These are all very viable methods that other transit agencies throughout the state use, and do not rely on state funding.

Reply:  While RT has a productive, on going working relationship with the City, County and other jurisdictions; all of them are also struggling with major reductions in funding. Our TransitAction Plan does identify a number of new revenue sources, including parking fees. The RT Board has requested a report in April to begin exploring these options.

Sacramento, CA:  How is the Park-Pay-and Ride Pilot Program going? Is it still a pilot program, or will it continue permanently? Is RT going to extend this program to other light rail stations such as Marconi Arcade and Swanston? I've heard rumors that it will be extended. What's the official word on this?

Reply:  The pilot has gone very smoothly because of the efforts of RT staff. The RT Board directed staff to expand the program to seven additional park and ride lots. The program remains a pilot, although there is no scheduled end date. The two stations you listed are among the seven stations added by the board. The others include Arden/Del Paso, Meadowview, Florin, 47th, and Power Inn.

Sacramento, CA:  Regional Transit gives its employees free parking and gives its employees (and employee spouses and dependents) transit passes. To the best of my knowledge, these transit pass subsidies and parking subsidies are not in your budget statement nor do you have any written policy regarding these subsidies. Do you have any comment?

Reply:  RT provides a limited number of parking spaces for employees. We encourage our employees to use transit for all of the same reasons we encourage the public to ride RT, such as reducing traffic congestion and improving air quality. This negotiated benefit is most often used by administrative employees who work traditional schedules. The majority of RT employees are bus and train operators who are providing the service. In many cases, they cannot take advantage of a transit pass. Transit passes are provided to employee spouses, and dependents until age 18 or until age 24 if attending an institution of higher education.

Sacramento, CA:  Does RT anticipate any other funding sources materializing this coming year or in the future?

Reply:  At the April 12th Board meeting, RT will be displaying all revenue funding sources for FY10 and FY11. This report will provide our best estimate of the various funding sources. RT has been working with other Federal and State agencies to determine if other revenues are available, such as additional ARRA funds for FY11, however since nothing has materialized, these additional revenue sources have not been forecasted in the upcoming budget.

CA:  is maintenance of rolling stock-bus,light rail cars,etc.- able to be properly budget covered without cutting too many corners, so to speak...thank you

Reply:  RT will be budgeting for all of our maintenance costs to make sure that all of our equipment is properly maintained!

North Natomas, CA:  With all of the routes that you are cutting at 9:00pm and weekends - seem to be geared to the downtown legislature schedules that to the general public needs. That seems so unfair. And by the way, this is the 2nd time I have lived here - and it seems that Sacramento as compared to the SF Bay Area is higher. Maybe your medical co-pays should be higher; or your retirement plans should be re-assessed as far as RTs contribution. You want to attract employees and loyal customers? Not this way.

Reply:  The proposed schedules reductions are based on the times of greatest ridership along with the necessity of avoiding paying overtime. Employee medical co-pays have already been increased and RT's pension plan is modest compared to most plans since it does not have a cost-of-living-adjustment (COLA). Also the pension plan is governed by a variety of labor agreements.

Sacramento, CA:  I understand the need to save money and run three car trains on furlough Fridays. On my way to work during these days, the morning is no problem. But on the way home, the Folsom train leaving 8th and 0 at 5:04 p.m. gets packed to the gills by the time it leaves 13th st. Can you run one, just one, four-car train for this route out to Folsom during furlough Fridays? I’m guessing this is the busiest route of the day.

Reply:  I will ask light rail staff to monitor this particular trip and determine if it may be necessary to shift to a four-car train during late afternoon/early evening. Thank you for letting us know.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participation in the chat today. If your friends, family or colleagues use the system and have any questions, please direct them to this chat page as a source of information and let them know I'll be here next month to answer them from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, May 7.