Transit Talk with the General Manager

August 06, 2010
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
The chat will begin today at noon, but we are accepting questions now through the end of the session at 1 p.m. Thank you for logging on and I will try to answer as many questions as the time allows.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Good afternoon. Thank you for joining us for this month's session of Transit Talk with the General Manager.

Before we get started, I wanted to mention a few things about station upgrades and system expansion.

First, please note that the 12th & I Light Rail Station was temporarily closed this week and will not reopen until Tuesday, September 7. Construction crews will be working over the next month to install a new raised boarding platform, shelters with high output lighting, new seating, trash receptacles and more as part of the improvement project.

Funding was received through a grant from the Sacramento Area Council of Governments (SACOG) Community Design Program, which is administered by the California Transportation Commission (CTC) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans).

On the expansion front, RT planning staff is conducting extensive outreach to encourage participation in the Green Line Community Review, an interactive and collaborative community planning workshop for the future of the Green Line to the Airport light rail extension.

Participants will have several opportunities to provide input and review recommendations on the preliminary conceptual designs and refinements for the station amenities, light rail station art guidelines, station locations, track placement along Truxel Road and the terminus for the second phase of the Green Line.

The Green Line Community Review will take place Wednesday August 25 through Saturday, August 28 at the Natomas Crossing Business Center located at 4190 Truxel Road, Suite 102 (southeast corner of Truxel Road and Arena Boulevard).

For more information and community review workshop schedules, please visit the RT website at

Let's get started with the chat.

Sacramento, CA:  I was down in San Jose recently and saw a light rail train painted completely as a McDonald's advertisement. Why can they manage to make this kind of revenue stream work while Sac RT cannot? What is the issue with selling ads inside the trains (a la European subways) or even on street gate barriers to offset funding shortfalls?

Reply:  We included the train advertising option in our last solicitation for advertising. The bids we received from potential advertising agencies were very low for light rail vehicle advertising. Consequently, our current contract does not include this feature. Our new digital message signs, being installed later this year, will also include the capability to support advertising. We hope to sell advertising on these signs, when they are not in use delivering messages for the agency.

Elk Grove, CA:  I can see your transit information on Google now. Can you put Elk Grove's information on Google too?

Reply:  RT staff has loaded our data, Yolo, Roseville and other operators in the region into the Google Transit System. We have offered to assist Elk Grove on a number of occasions over the last two years. As of today, they have not accepted our offer.

Sacramento, CA:  I'd like to ask why only *certain* LR stops have soda machines. It's hot at EVERY stop! (N.B. Bottled water is just as cold, and is less labor-intensive to clean up spills, maybe most of the slots... in the machine should have water and only a few with sticky sodas.)

Reply:  RT is installing soda machines at all of the stations where we own the property. The machines in place are the first phase of the installation. The next group will take care of most of the remaining stations where we have a right to include them. In downtown Sacramento, we generally operate on city-owned property. In these locations, we do not have the right to install soda machines. A few of the stations we own, do not have electrical power and a site for the machines that meets our safety and ADA requirements.

Sacramento, CA:  Please get rid of the ear-piercing door-opening beeps on the new light rail cars. It really is quite painful.

Reply:  The beeping is required under federal ADA law and state Title 24 rules that govern how our rail system must operate. These sounds are required at minimum decibel levels for the beeps and horns.

Sacramento, CA:  Why is RT building the Green Line from downtown to the airport when bus and other light rail lines are being scaled back. If there really is money to be spent on new lines, why isn't it being spent on maintaining existing infrastructure that breaks and causes delays?

Reply:  The funds used for constructing the Green Line are capital dollars and can only be used for this project. The funds are not eligible to be spent on operating either rail or bus service. The rules on the different funding sources govern their use. All of the money we are spending on our capital program cannot be spent to cover the cost to operate buses or our light rail service.

South Sacramento, CA:  How much additonal revenue does RT expect from expanding the parking program to the south area? Will it create jobs?

Reply:  The south area stations are projected to generate approximately $300,000 per year. We will be expanding the program to additional stations over the next six months. Our goal is to generate approximately $1 million annually in revenue with the Park-Pay-and-Ride Program. All of this anticipated revenue is included in our adopted Fiscal Year 2011 budget. No staff is being hired to manage this program.

Sacramento, CA:  With state employees now being able to take their three furloughs on basically any Friday during the month, is this affecting RT scheduling?

Reply:  It is not affecting the scheduling of our service, with the exception of reducing the length of trains on "furlough Fridays." State employees are one of our key rider groups. When they are on a furlough, we experience a ridership loss and a revenue loss. To lower our losses, we reduced the number of cars in a train to match ridership on furlough days. In spite of these impacts, we are continuing to provide our scheduled service.

Sacramento, CA:  Why does RT not have a sign up for e-mail and/text rider alerts for regular routes as they do for Neighborhood Rides?

Reply:  The Transit Alert system is going to be expanded to light rail soon. After we complete the roll out for light rail, we will begin planning the expansion to the bus system. The slow speed of the roll out is the result of our staffing limitations and of my requirement of adding no additional staff while we are in such a tight budget environment.

Sacramento, CA:  Please incorporate a standard in all buses to announce upcoming stops! Drivers rarely activate the automated system, and never announce the stops when there is no automated announce system! This is very confusing if you are a new rider or are riding a bus on an unfamiliar route. Also, please incorporate the locations of all stops onto your route maps. Thank you.

Reply:  RT has a standard set of requirements for announcing stops. All buses in the RT fleet are equipped with the automated announcement feature. If you are riding a bus and you are not hearing the driver nor the automated announcements, please report this to us. Without this information, we cannot work with the driver to ensure that they are conforming to our policies.

North Highlands, CA:  First,I can say that once the transit funding picture improves a few years from now,the Gold Line could use a couple extra stations within the Rancho Cordova city limits(one near the library,one between Mather and Zinfandel).Second,I'm lost on this 'smart card' concept.How will this work?

Reply:  I'll start with the second question first. The smart card is a electronic payment card. It electronically stores customer account information and/or a dollar value stored on the card. The rider waves the card near a gadget on the bus or at light rail stations. The card-reader (gadget) emits a tone and lights indicating that card has been accepted and the rider can ride or it will indicate a rejection by emitting another tone and red light. The beauty of the smart card is in the control that each rider has about how they use the card. The one card will work on all of the local transit systems. The card holder can manage their card on-line, at sales locations, via the phone and at kiosks. And the card doesn't stop working at the end of the month. The card holder can recharge the card with a fixed dollar amount or set it as a monthly pass, all at the rider's choice. On the first question, RT is beginning a Comprehensive Operational Analysis. This is a study to analyze existing transit services and propose how to improve and extend those services. That study will help us to re-organize the bus service to work better with light rail, and it will provide us with the facts to support adding stations at key locations. As you may be aware, there are already planned stations at Horn Road (at the library) and Mine Shaft (the former Fun Center), but there may be additional locations where a new light rail station, or a bus transfer facility, may be needed.

Sacramento, CA:  Is RT going to try to make connections betwen light rail and buses more convenient? Since the latest cuts with some buses running less frequently, it is easy to miss the train/ bus and have to wait. And on Saturdays, with trains only every half hour, we have had to wait almost a full hour for the next bus.

Reply:  Yes, we design the schedule to assure reasonable timing for light rail to bus transfers. It is not a perfect process, however, so there may still be instances when the bus schedule will not mesh perfectly with the light rail schedule. We will be making schedule adjustments over the course of the next six months to "fine tune" the connections. Please feel free to contact the RT Scheduling department at (916) 321-2800 to report the timing mis-match. We will try to address it in the next service change.

Sacramento, CA:  There have been a few stories lately about people being arrested for crimes at light rail stations. Has there been an increase since the reduction in guards?

Reply:  While the number of reported crimes and arrests tend to fluctuate throughout the year, RT has actually experienced a reduction in reported crime this year compared with the same time period in 2009.

Folsom, CA:  Track is getting worse. Bad spot from freeway to Alder Creek (near auto mall on Folsom Bl) now feels like it's settling a bit and even the old cars are starting to vibrate a bit (new ones bounce like crazy). Several other bad spots on WB track east of Sunrise. It's been like that (though getting gradually worse) since the Folsom line opened.

Reply:  I will ask our track maintenance team to take a look at the track along the stretch you mentioned.

CA:  August 5, 2010 "At the 13th and R light rail station about 7 p.m., [Sacramento Police Department]officers confronted a rider who had not paid his fare. Officers also found out he had outstanding warrants for his arrest. He resisted arrest and continually tried to grab at his waistband. A loaded gun was found on him later. Two officers were injured in the struggle, but are expected to recover." curiosity question? no need to research- in terms of protocols,did contract security officers detain for Sac PD upon discovery non-fare or did Sac PD independently confront for suspicious behavior?

Reply:  RT transit officers and contract police officers and deputies all check passengers for proper fare and take enforcement action when needed. This case began with a detention by police officers for fare evasion.

Sacramento, CA:  I know RT is continuing layoffs of staff. What is the relative cost of accomplishing staff work with consultants as opposed to full time staff?

Reply:  That would depend on the type of work and the terms of the consultant agreement. Consultant work is usually project specific, for a limited time and for an agreed upon amount of money. Preparing studies or audits are examples of consultant work. Employment costs are indefinite and include an array of employer costs including but not limited to fringe benefits. The work of administrative employees on layoffs, however, is being performed by remaining employees or it has been deferred.

Sacramento, CA:  Why do you have student id's if they are not always checked? Every day I see drivers letting young people on without id's. RT should have signs that say that RT ID is REQUIRED to get the discount. I had to get them for my children because even if I was with them, I couldn't get the discount.

Reply:  Thank you for that question. I hope that the situation is one where the students have their ID in a see-through pocket on their backpacks and the operator can see it readily. In addition, many people ride the same service on a routine basis and the bus operator knows that they are students with proper ID. In these situations, the bus operator may not require the student to display their ID each time they board.

Sacramento, CA:  Is there any chance that the light rail will be back to the old Saturday schedule, running more frequently? What about bringing some of the buses back?

Reply:  There is a very strong chance of the light rail service being restored. The RT Board has directed that a Comprehensive Operational Analysis be conducted. This is a study of where the transit system is now, and it provides a framework for improving the service and expanding it over time, to reflect changes in population, employment, and travel patterns. We expect to complete that study in 2011, and to begin implementing some of its recommendations in fiscal year 2013. Those recommendations are sure to include restoration of service frequency on Saturdays, as well as increased bus service.

Sacramento, CA:  I have seen an increase in the mention in the media of guns being used or carried by light rail riders... how can RT address this very scary security issue?

Reply:  We are not seeing an increase in guns on light rail; just an increase in media attention. RT contracts with the Sheriff's Department and Police Department for officers to patrol our system, ride light rail trains, and respond to crimes and other RT incidents. One of their top objectives is to keep illegal weapons off of our system. We have a very low rate of weapons being used at our stations or on RT vehicles.

Sacramento, CA:  What exactly are the security guards for? They could help by getting the people on skateboards not to crash around. It seems like I often see them stopped and having conversations with drivers and passengers, not patrolling.

Reply:  The responsibilities of the security officers include enforcing RT rules (like skateboarding in the station) as well as having brief conversations with RT operators and passengers, as needed, to maintain order and prevent crime.

Sacramento, CA:  Yesterday the number 11 bus failed to pick up in front of the County Administration building around 5:10 pm. The 11 did go to the old stop on 8th street but then would not allow anyone to board. She subsequently drove away and turned her sign to OUT OF SERVICE, what do you intend to do about the poor quality of customer service at RT. This is not the first time this has happened with the Route 11 bus in the evening.

Reply:  Thanks for that question. I can't be sure from your description why this happened. I will have our operations department check into it.

Sacramento, CA:  What can be done about smoking? I am lucky not to have asthma, but I am sensitive. At almost every light rail, I cannot sit because the smokers are sitting right below the "no smoking " sign. Couldn't these areas be non-smoking? Also, drivers should not be standing within 10 feet of their buses as the smoke gets in.

Reply:  I appreciate your concern. Recognizing that some people can't seem to wait for their next cigarette, the fact remains that our shelter areas are non-smoking. You can request that the individual cease smoking within the shelter area. As for the drivers, I will distribute a reminder that their smoking break should be taken either 20 feet from the bus or with the bus doors closed.

south Natomas, CA:  Why do some stops have shelters (mostly on the east side of Truxel) while the stops on the west side of Truxel only have benches or in some cases, not even that?

Reply:  Shelters and benches are added where we have requests or large numbers of riders. I'm not sure of the specific stops you have in mind. If you contact Customer Advocacy at 916 557-4545, they will take your request. Please identify the bus stop location and four-digit number.

Sacramento, CA:  Is Arden/Del Paso one of the stations that RT owns that is eligible to get a soda machine? Every time I wait there I always wish I could find one.

Reply:  Arden/Del Paso is one of the more challenging stations. We are trying to find a location with electrical power and does not violate ADA. If we are able to install one under those conditions, it will be added later this year.

Sacramento, CA:  I would like to hear the bus drivers tell the riders to scoot over to the window when the bus is crowded or to give up the front seats for the elderly and the handicapped. Trains could just have an audio message--no one seems to pay attention to others needing a seat.

Reply:  Our drivers are instructed to request other passengers to vacate seats for the elderly and persons with disabilities. They are also instructed to assure passenger safety when the bus is crowded. However, it is not possible for the driver to dictate polite behavior between passengers. The buses and trains are all equipped with signs indicating which seats are to be reserved for the elderly and persons with disabilities.

Sacramento, CA:  Can RT spend expansion money on securing light rail stations like BART, instead of on the Green Line or DNA Line? I have always felt safer at BART's secured stations than RT's open stations where inconsiderate and foul language, drug deals, fights, trash, and guns are becoming more prevalent.

Reply:  The decision to have an open system was made when RT developed the first light rail system, and is consistent with every light rail system in north America. Closing, or securing the system like BART, would be almost impossible now and extremely expensive. However, if RT determined that securing all light rail stations was possible and established a capital project for that purpose, capital dollars would have to be found to pay for the project. A project of this magnitude for this purpose would not be classified as an expansion project since the stations already exist. Funding designated for the Green Line (DNA) is for system expansion and cannot be used for this purpose.

Folsom, CA:  By "additional stations" for parking fees by the end of the year (Calendar?) - do you mean ALL stations with parking? You're going to drive away traffic in places like Folsom where there's no alternative to driving to the station for most people (no bus service at least in the morning).

Reply:  The RT Board has authorized the addition of specific stations as part of the expansion of the Park-Pay-and-Ride Program. The next three stations being added are Florin, Meadowview and Power Inn. We plan to begin outreach soon, with details regarding this implementation.

Elk Grove, CA:  Mike -- what's the latest news on the extension of the Blue Line to Cosumnes?

Reply:  RT continues to work toward gaining approval from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to enter the next phase of development called Final Design. Before this can occur, RT will have to complete a Financial Capacity Assessment (FCA) with at least a medium rating. Documentation was recently submitted to the FTA to help them make the decision to give RT's FCA a medium rating or higher and allow entry into Final Design. This will be the last phase before negotiating a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) to secure federal funding for the project. Since the project total is estimated to be $270 million, this will mean $135 million in federal funding. Without securing federal funding, the project is limited to preliminary work that can be done before entering Final Design.

Sacramento, CA:  Can you please incorporate the locations of all stops onto your route maps?

Reply:  The difficulty with incorporating the locations of all stops onto the route maps is that it would make the maps too complicated. The purpose of the map is to show the major stops in a way that remains easy to understand. Some of the routes are quite long, so including all of the stops along the route would just make blobs of ink on the page.

Folsom, CA:  Nooo; Please don't add any more stations to the Gold Line. It already takes an hour from Folsom to downtown. Placing stations less than 10 blocks apart is rediculous. On that note; when will the EXPRESS line start?

Reply:  The placement and addition of stations is based on demand. The plans have been drafted for the additional stations, on the basis of approximately a one-mile distance between stations. However, actual construction depends on development around the station areas sufficient to support the stations. As the light rail system evolves, there will be a mix of "local" trains and expresses, providing both localized transit service along the Gold Line and faster commute service from Folsom to downtown. RT is currently developing the final design to implement improvements to the train signaling system to allow the operation of express trains. I expect this project to be complete by the end of this fiscal year.

Sacramento, CA:  Bus 261 was cancelled. Did it really save that much money. That bus goes to West Campus and those students are the best behaved of all the buses I've ridden on.

Reply:  The decision to cut service was a difficult one for the RT Board. Staff recommendations to cut a route was based on the overall productivity of that service and had nothing to do with the behavior of passengers.

Sacramento, CA:  My question about the student id's: no, they are not in see-through holders and I know some of these students--they do not regularly ride the bus. The fact is that the drivers ARE giving descounted fairs! And then there are the drivers who just let the young people on because they have no money (but do have fast food bags) with them.

Reply:  I am hoping that the new electronic fare card will help avoid situations such as this. RT is expecting to implementing the electronic fare card in 2011. This card will have to be "tapped" on an electronic reader for the passenger to board. The card is already programmed with any appropriate age-based or student discount. That should address your concern in the future.

CA:  off record comment: I just wanted to thank everyone involved for the level of make the system work as best as possible.with the circumstances regards

Reply:  Thanks for the comment.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participation in today's session of Transit Talk with the General Manager. We went a little past the scheduled time to make sure to answer most of the questions that came in.

Next month's session will be held on Friday, September 3, from noon to 1 p.m. Hope to see you then.