Transit Talk with the General Manager

July 02, 2010
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Hello and thank you for logging on to "Transit Talk with the General Manager." We will go live today at noon, but are accepting questions now through the end of the session at 1 p.m.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

On June 28, 2010, the RT Board of Directors approved the budget for Fiscal Year 2011, which is in effect from July 1, 2010 through June 30, 2011. This budget includes an approximate 20 percent decrease in revenues from FY 2010 and accounts for staff layoffs and service reductions implemented on June 20.

Tough decisions were made to balance this year's budget, and I understand RT riders are grappling with the consequences the service reductions have had on their daily lives.

Taking a detailed look at the FY 2011 budget though, does reveal some reasons for optimism regarding the future of RT and transit in the Sacramento region.

The current budget includes approximately $12 million allocated to pay off debt incurred over the past year due to the stalling economy and falling tax revenues. If projections for revenues and expenditures over the next 12 months hold true, RT should head into FY 2012 with a positive outlook with no expected fare increases or service reductions.

Revenues in FY 2012 are expected to outpace expenses that will allow RT to create a reserve fund and begin the planning and implementation of additional bus and light rail service.

RT will be conducting a comprehensive operational analysis in the upcoming months to make sure that when service is restored, it's planned in the most efficient way possible. RT will work with stakeholders throughout the Sacramento region to create service that will be cost effective and productive to better serve the public's transportation needs.

With careful budgeting and planning, RT is in a position to begin looking forward at opportunities on the horizon, instead of focusing on where we've been and the hard choices that had to be made.

Let's start today's session.

Sacramento, CA:  Hello Mr. Wiley, Are riders allowed to bring garbage bags unto the light rail filled with cans and other items they're planning to recycle? There are signs about no eating, drinking, or smoking, but what about garbage bags? This week, a man got on the train with two garbage bags that smelled so bad that some of the passengers moved to a seat further away from him, and other passengers had to cover their nose. I was also surprised when one of RT's security personnel stood by him and didn't say anything to him about the garbage he brought onto the train. The man even started a conversation with the security guy, asking him to remove his sunglasses because he looked familiar, and astonishingly, the security guy complied with the man's request and then walked to the other end of the train. This wasn't the first time someone brought garbage bags onto the train, and it won't be the last. It happens everyday, but this time the smell was almost unbearable.

Reply:  Bringing bags of recyclable material on to the train is not a violation of the law. However, we do not want our customers to bring such bags on to the system when they are leaking fluid and/or foul smelling, as you indicated. In this situation the security guard should intervene. I will ask our operations personnel to remind our security contractor.

Sacramento, CA:  the elimination of Route 4 will cause me to walk to an alternate route in unsafe conditions. Did RT have rider safety in mind when eliminating routes.

Reply:  RT made the very difficult decision to eliminate bus routes throughout the system to address a shortfall in funding. The decision was made reluctantly and with every care for alternate routes and passenger safety. However, the routes were selected for elimination primarily on the basis of low productivity and the availability of an alternative route. Unfortunately, the path of travel to alternate service was not a significant factor, but was considered.

Sacramento, CA:  When will RT know have an estimate of how many riders stopped using the system due to the recent cuts?

Reply:  We measure ridership on a daily and monthly basis. Ridership is reported to the Board once a month as part of the General Manager's monthly report. These reports are about 45 days after the dates the data is gathered. These reports are presented at the RT Board meetings and are available online at . You can also view a replay of the board meetings from RT's website, seeing the report as it was presented to the Board. The report for the month of June will be available by the 26th of July.

Sacramento, CA:  I have had many issues with conflicting information from both the RT website and drivers concerning timetables. Most of the drivers are helpful, and I am glad that there are timetable books located on each bus, but what I am wondering is if RT has any plans on having live people available 'after hours'. I have had many instances in which I had planned out a route online, but one bus came late, and the next bus didn't wait, and therefore I was stuck and couldn't find information on another bus that might help me get back to my original destination. Perhaps the call center could be open at night while the busses are still running as well? I understand this may not be cost effective at the moment with all of the changes that RT has made recently, but is it something that you have talked about with the Board for the future? Thank you!

Reply:  With RT's recent financial dificulities we have reduced services in many areas, including our Call Center. Unfortunately, we are not able to operate the Call Center after normal business hours. We have been expanding our automated communication tools and will be implementing additional features in the next six months, including automated message signs at light rail stations and text messaging to cell phones, PDA's, and e-mail. As our financial condition improves, we will look at restoring our Call Center hours in a cost effective manner.

Sacramento, CA:  The elimination of route 4 has change my walk from a block to a half mile. In the winter it will be dark. I am a female rider with no other source of transportation. Will you accept responsibility if I am assaulted.

Reply:  While RT cannot accept responsibility for the actions of non-employees, RT does offer crime prevention forums in which strategies are discussed. Please contact our Police Services department through 321-2800, if you are interested.

SAC, CA:  Hi im curious i just bought a small electric scooter on a bus it is too heavy to lift onto the rack and as i have disabled oarking do i also treat this as my mobility scooter that was stolen and ride it on it is ele and not gas and not a razor

Reply:  RT does not allow bicycles, electric-powered or otherwise, to be used as mobility devices on our system. We carry hundreds of bikes a day and would possibly face issues of people claiming ADA allowances, who may not actually qualify. For additional questions on accessibility, please contact Accessible Services at 916-557-4685.

Sacramento, CA:  How does the RT budget affect the Paratransit budget? What is the organizational relationship between the two entities?

Reply:  Regional Transit has a collaborative agreement with Paratransit, Inc. to provide complementary ADA paratransit service, which we amend annually. Paratransit Inc. is a private non-profit Corporation and not part of RT.

Sacramento, CA:  Why have you cut service so drastically when we need mass transit more than ever to get commuters out of their cars and conserve fossil fuels?

Reply:  I agree with you that this is the worst possible time to reduce transit service. However, RT can't run the service without funding. At the end of March the RT Board declared a state of fiscal emergency. This required a reduction in transit service to reduce costs. That step was only taken after many internal cost reductions, employee furloughs and administrative layoffs. We are planning how to restore the transit system over the next several years, but our revenues will have to grow to allow that to happen.

Rosemont, CA:  Does the DHA pass get any type of discounts?

Reply:  The DHA passes are provided as part of the RT Board adopted group pass program. The RT Board adopted a group pass pricing policy that sets the rates charged, based upon quantities purchased. This program provides for discounts to organizations that are purchasing RT fare media in bulk.

Sacramento, CA:  The more you cut service the lower the readership will be so you are cutting off your nose to spite your face. The people we talked to last night are as angry as we are. How do you respond to that? Do you take RT yourself? You don't know what it's like because you ride around in a fancy car.

Reply:  Yes, I'm a regular rider. In fact, I rode our buses and trains four days this week. The dramatic cuts in transit funding caused the service cuts. RT can only provide a level of service supported by the funding we receive.

Sacramento, CA:  When can we expect service to be restored and what is the date for the new fare boxes to be installed and in use? Thank-you for your time and I hope all at RT have a safe and happy 4 th of July. Sincerely, Kevin

Reply:  Thanks for your kind wishes. RT is about to release a Request for Proposals to develop a plan for restoring the service levels that were eliminated this June. The projection is to have fully restored the rail service by 2014 and bus service by 2017, depending on how our revenue grows over that period. As for new fare boxes, I assume you mean the new electronic fare system. RT is working with the Sacramento Area Council of Governments on that project and is planning to roll out the new fare card - an electronic smart card - in 2011.

Sacramento, CA:  If my housemate's daughter (age 13), wanter to visit her father, she'd have to stay overnight because you cut a;ll service off at 9.

Reply:  As you noted, our service on both bus and rail has been significantly reduced, including the evening hours. These changes are impacting many of our riders negatively. These cuts are the result of funding cuts to the District from the state, federal and local sources.

Sacrameto, CA:  What is RT doing with Natomas TMA and why did RT not bring paratransit inhouse to maxmize effeciences?

Reply:  RT has co-funded a Short Range Transit Plan for North Natomas. This was an effort to identify where the Flyer shuttle service might grow in the future. We will continue to work with the North Natomas TMA as we conduct a Comprehensive Operational Analysis of the RT system between now and 2011. RT did not bring paratransit in-house, that is, begin operating paratransit services directly, because we provide that service through an agreement with Paratransit, Inc.

Sacrameto, CA:  Why does RT allow the medical Shuttles near 29th to operate independtly, could these shutlles generate revenue to RT or at least charge the provider a fee for opreating in RT jurisdiction?

Reply:  The medical shuttles are operated by and for the respective medical facilities. RT has agreed to include their information in our Bus Book, as a public service. However, the shuttles do not charge a fare, and they do not stop between the light rail station and the medical facility. So, there is no basis for charging a fee. Regional Transit customers can use the shuttles as well, if they are convenient to them.

Sacramento, CA:  Are RT drivers allowed to read newspapers or text at stoplights? I see many do so.

Reply:  RT operators are not allowed to read papers during the operations of any vehicle. Buses sometime layover near intersections until the operator's run starts. Until that time, the operator may be on a break. This would be the only time an operator can do something other than operate a vehicle.

Rio Linda, CA:  I heard that Paratransit service could of been asordd into RT? Why was it not asorbed?

Reply:  Complementary ADA paratransit services can be operated directly by RT. RT maintains a collaborative agreement with Paratransit, Inc. to provide this service.

Sacramento, CA:  It seems now that routes have changed, specifically the ones I ride #6 there are different drivers everyday, and I never know if they are going to be on time, it would be nice if there was consitancy since there are less buses running.

Reply:  As often happens when significant changes are made, the first days and weeks can be disruptive and uncertain. RT is monitoring on-time performance closely, and the schedule may be adjusted if the route is routinely late. Those changes can be implemented roughly once per quarter. I'm sure that as drivers become more familiar with the schedule, timeliness will improve.

Natomas, CA:  How will the states lack of budget for the current fiscal affect RT?

Reply:  The RT Board adopted our FY 2011 Operating and Capital Budgets on June 28, 2010. The budget includes all projected revenues from federal, state and local sources. These estimates include current state funding estimates and local sales tax based revenue estimates. While the state has not approved it's FY 2011 budget and may not for some time, RT will monitor closely the state budget. At this point the state has paid 100 percent of their FY 2011 obligation.

Sacramento, CA:  How is the Green Line progressing?

Reply:  The first phase of the Green Line is currently being constructed under a design build process to expedite the completion date. This means the design build contractor is responsible for designing the system and constructing the segments as the design is completed. The contractor has already relocated several utilities away from the proposed track alignment over the pass several months. A major portion of the project will begin this month and completed by early 2011. The remaining segments of the Green Line are currently being evaluated and by this fall a recommendation by RT's consultant will be presented to RT to determine where the next segment will be built. There are approximately 13 miles of the Green Line and the phasing needs to be evaluated based on ridership and funding.

Sacramento, CA:  With RT in such woes, would you be willing to donate a portion of you salary to help RT like our Governor does?

Reply:  Most employees at RT are being furloughed, including myself. The budget savings from furloughs is being used by RT to help balance our budget.

Sacramento, CA:  Who is bridging the river for the GreenLine? City, RT or CALTrans. When it will be completed?

Reply:  That's a great question. Right now, RT is planning to build a bridge over the American River as part of the Green Line phase 2, or Green Line to the Airport project. The bridge is likely to be built in pre-cast sections to lower the cost, and we are planning for it to be a transit-pedestrian-bicycle bridge.

Roseville, CA:  Would RT consider consolidating with other Transit Districts, I heard it receives and reallocates a good portion of capital funds to the other transit agencies?

Reply:  RT is open to discussions with other providers and cities in the region. These decisions are the responsibility of the elected officials of each community.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you screen the questions asked and answer them in groups or answer as they come?

Reply:  I answer them as they come in. I answer most questions with a few exceptions. I don't answer mean, vulgar, threatening or inappropriate questions.

Sacramento, CA:  Thank-you for your response to my earlier question. I knew would be awhile to get the recently cut services back, but had know idea it would be that long. I guess we all need to start writing letters and talking to all our polititans both local and federal to get more funding. What is the percentages of RT's revenues? example local, fedreal, and fare box? Thank-you again for your time and effort.

Reply:  Thanks for your kind thoughts. The federal share is 18 percent, state is 24 percent, local measure A is 24 percent, fares are 26 percent, and other revenue (advertising, etc.) is the remainder. Have a great July 4 weekend.

Sacramento, CA:  Does RT ever plan to charge for use of the buses' bicycle rack?

Reply:  We have not discussed charging for using the bike racks. I don't think this is consistent with our goal of encouraging bicycling.

sacramento, CA:  I see many bus drivers not wearing seat belts, do you rules to have them wear them if we see one not wearing them can we report them

Reply:  Bus drivers are required to wear seat belts per California law. If we find them in violation of the law and our rules, they are subject to discipline.

Folsom, CA:  Seen on another blog, but appropriate to what's going on here: "What's TOD without Transit? OD..."

Reply:  Yes, that's a great observation. RT has been working with the City of Sacramento and County of Sacramento to support and incentivize Transit-Oriented Development in many areas of the county. Unfortunately, the economic downturn has not only forced RT to reduce its level of transit service, but it has also drastically slowed development in the county. I hope that we can make major strides in advancing TOD projects as the economy recovers in the coming years.

Sacramento, CA:  Will the Transit talks ever be hosted by other people? Such as the CFO, AGM of Marketing on their subject areas

Reply:  That sounds like a good idea. Many of my executive management team, including those you mentioned, do participate in the talks.

Folsom, CA:  Can you arrange for some more training of light rail drivers? Some are quite smooth even when driving trains with mixed cars (old/new), while others are very jerky (one run earlier this week was dubbed the "whiplash special" by the time we got downtown) even with all new cars. It's a driving style thing - perhaps some refresher in how to handle variations in train response might help?

Reply:  All light rail drivers go through extension training for two types of trains that RT operates. If a vehicle rides roughly it is taken into the shop to be evaluated and repaired as necessary. In addition to evaluating the trains, the track is also evaluated and aligned and adjusted as needed.

sac, CA:  by the way have a good 4th will we see you riding...

Reply:  I'll be riding this weekend. So look for me doing ride-checks.

Sacramento, CA:  Thank you for answering my earlier question as well regarding the call center. I just wanted to say that regardless of the budget cuts (your job must be tough at times), I appreciate the fact that there is someone out there doing the job to the best of their ability for those of us who take the transit system. Have a great 4th of July weekend!

Reply:  THANKS

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participation in today's chat. Next month's session will be held on Friday, August 6, from noon to 1 p.m. right here at Have a happy and safe holiday weekend.