Transit Talk with the General Manager

November 05, 2010
Mark Lonergan, Chief Operating Officer
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Mike Wiley, RT General Manager/CEO, will not be able to participate in today's session of Transit Talk with the General Manager. He will instead, be attending a California Transit Association executive committee meeting, which is critical to RT's interests. He expresses his sincere apologies and will return next month.

Mark Lonergan, RT Chief Operating Officer, will be the guest host of today's session of Transit Talk with the General Manager.

The chat will be live from noon to 1 p.m. and we are accepting questions from 10 a.m. through the end of the chat.

Comments from Mark Lonergan: 

Good afternoon. My name is Mark Lonergan, RT Chief Operating Officer, and I am sitting in today for Mike Wiley, RT General Manager/CEO. For the first time in the chat's two-year history, Wiley was unable to break away from a previous engagement and asked me to take on the responsibility of hosting today's session.

To give everyone a little background, I've been with RT for more than 32 years and I have served in departments across the District, including Planning, Transportation and Facilities Management. I previously served as Deputy Chief Operating Officer and Director of Light Rail.

My experience has afforded me extensive knowledge of RT, specifically in the areas of day-to-day operational issues and the more technical side of running a transit agency.

If you have any technical or operational questions regarding buses and light rail trains, or more specific questions, such as how cars operating on K Street will affect light rail service, this is your opportunity to ask. General transit questions are welcome as well. I'm excited for the opportunity to host today's session. Let's begin.

Sacramento, CA:  Would RT be able to consider extending service past 9 p.m. for the holiday season? This would allow people more time to shop and visit with friend and family.

Reply:  Unfortunately no. The service reductions that we implemented in June formed the basis for our budget for the 2011 fiscal year. Restoring the night service even if it is only for the holiday season will cause us to over run our operating budget. We have observed and received numerous comments requesting the restoration of the night service and are looking at how quickly we can accomplish it. However, it is unlikely to be before July of next year and will depend in part on the results of our Comprehensive Operational Analysis which will start after the first of the year.

Sacramento, CA:  Nice to see that other EMT members are participating in this program. How is the transit analysis project going? What role will you play in that?

Reply:  Thank you and I am pleased to be sitting in for Mr. Wiley. With respect to the Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA), the project manager is one of my Operations Directors. Operations, Planning, Marketing and Finance are the key players in the day to day collaboration on the COA. I will be directly involved and RT's Executive Team will act as the oversight committee for the project. This is a very important project that will guide which service is restored and we all want to restore the cut service as quickly as possible.

Sacamento, CA:  i see the trolley moving thru downtown Sac at odd and inconsistent times. Has any thought been given to the schedule and whether the trolley is being maximized? Has anyone at RT considered running the trolley evenings and/or weekends? It would be great to have a fun way to travel between Old Sacramento and midtown.

Reply:  I appreciate your comment on the use of our historic trolley. We receive numerous favorable comments when we run it, and enjoy bringing it out. It is expensive for us to operate, being historic it requires a lot of special attention, and we do only have the one car so it is difficult to assure any consistent level of service. For the future, we use it for selected special events in the downtown area and will continue to operate it in that way. Between RT, City of Sacramento, and the City of West Sacramento there are plans for a streetcar system in connecting the two cities and in Sacramento's downtown area. When this happens, we may be able to operate our historic vehicle on more of a scheduled basis.

Sacramento, CA:  Does RT have any plans to paint the train cars a standard color/design? The paint job on the older trains is looking a little ragged and is not pleasing to the eye when matched up with the new scheme.

Reply:  I absolutely agree with your comment and observation. We really need to repaint our older Siemens light rail vehicles. Not only is the current paint old, many cars have been damaged by former exterior advertising. We do have plans to repaint the cars, and we do have a standard paint scheme. You can see the standard paint scheme on cars 111 and 118 which have been repainted. We have not had the staff and body shop capacity to launch a comprehensive program, so now we are looking at a wrap, not advertising but of the new paint scheme, as an interim solution that will quickly and significantly improve the appearance of the fleet at a much lower cost.

Sacramento, CA:  I understand that there will be more Park Pay and Ride lots in the future after the installation for Meadowview, Florin, and Power Inn. Do you know when will take effect? Which light rail stations will it affect? And will there be any plans for those in Folsom or Rancho Cordova?

Reply:  The earliest implementation would be in spring, 2011. The board has authorized four additional lots, but will be receiving a report prior to the next implementation. The discussion will be focused on the impacts of charging for parking and which lots to do next. Included in the discussion will be all of the lots not currently in the pay for parking program. The addition of lots beyond the four already approved will be at the direction of the RT Board of Directors

Sacramento, CA:  I work at Caltrans by the 29th street light rail station. Why do the warning bells stop when the gates go down? It would be better if they stayed on, so we'd know when a train was approaching.

Reply:  The bells are a part of the warning system for the crossing and are regulated by the California Public Utilities Commission. The crossing at 29th Street was installed in 1987 and is one of the few crossings where RT was allowed by the CPUC to silence the bells when the gates are down to reduce the noise impact on the surrounding neighborhood. For all of our newer crossings, the bells stay on all the time as you have suggested. I would be reluctant to restore the bells at 29th Street because of the noise impact, and once we restored the bells, the CPUC would not allow us to silence them again if the noise complaints were significant.

Sacramento, CA:  What service changes, if any, will be made at the start of the new year?

Reply:  Each quarter we have a number of service changes which tend to be minor adjustments or improvements to our schedules. These are always summarized in our Next Stop News and the November edition has them for January. This information is also available on RT's web site. We are looking at the possibility of adding service to address some crowding issues on selected routes as early as April, 2011. At this point, our planning does not have any restoration of service hours until the 2013 fiscal year. We would like to add service back more quickly, and we will as our budget allows.

Folsom, CA:  Sometimes on my ride in from Folsom I see people counting passengers on my train. Can my son get a job doing that? Who should I contact? Thanks, Theo

Reply:  In the past, RT has hired route checkers to perform this task. However recently, due to budget cuts, RT has assigned this task to its current employees including all of the Executive Management Team including the General Manager. In the future, should the financial situation improve, these position may be re-activated, at which time the positions would be posted on RT's website.

Sacramento, CA:  The newer train cars have a loud beep when the doors open but the older cars do not. Why is this? If it’s a rule for the disabled, wouldn’t all the trains have to have the sounds?

Reply:  The beep that you hear is required by the American with Disabilities Act to warn people on the train that the doors are closing. The older cars were built prior to this requirement and there is no mandate to retrofit the older cars until we do a major overhaul of their interior.

Sacramento, CA:  Do you know how the proposition 22 will affect RT’s funding in the future?

Reply:  Yes, Prop 22 will stop future raids on funding dedicated to public transportation and other city services. We do not expect to see any new money in the immediate future, but it does reduce the risk that the state will continue to raid funds dedicated to public transportation to off set the state's budget deficit.

Sacramento, CA:  Hello, on Capitol Ave where the old 36 used to run on the bus stop signs it states "No Bus, Temporarily No Service" so does this mean you'll be putting bus service once again where these signs are posted

Reply:  We hope to. The answer will be a part of our Comprehensive Operational Analysis that will start in January. We expect to restore service on Capitol Avenue as funding permits and believe that the message on the sign is correct and that this is a temporary discontinuation of the service.

Sacramento, CA:  My Uncle is a blind person who rides RT and he's wondering why is it that the Automated Stop Announcements on the bus trigger so close to the stop That once he pulls the cord the driver passes the stop because of the unsafe nature of stopping real quick, is there anyway to have the announcements trigger at least a block or two before the stop is approached?, thank you

Reply:  Great observation and one that I have not noticed when I ride the system. The stop announcement should be sufficiently in advance of the stop for the passenger to ring the bell and the operator to make a safe stop. The only exception would be where the announced stops are so close together that there is not sufficient time, however this should be the exception and not the rule. I will look into it to see what we can do to improve the situation for your uncle.

Rocklin, CA:  With the huge success of light rail to Folsom, I would expect light rail to Roseville and Rocklin the be an even bigger success. When do you plan to extend up to Roseville?

Reply:  That is a great question and yes, it could be a big success. This need should be brought forward as a regional request to SACOG, Placer County, City of Roseville, Rocklin, and RT. If all the parties could agree on the terms and conditions, funding would be the next hurdle. That being said, realistically an extension to Roseville is not anticipated in the near future since RT's Capital Improvement Program does not list this as an approved project. RT is aggressively working on a further extension of the Blue Line to Cosumnes River College and an extension through Natomas to the Sacramento International Airport.

Sacramento, CA:  May I share this info in our community newsletter?

Reply:  Please do. We would like to distribute any information that will help our riders stay informed regarding the RT system, news and events. You may also want to contact our Marketing department to be placed on the Rider Alert email list which distributes information on a regular basis.

Sacramento, CA:  In your opinion, what mechanical issue causes the most train delays? Which cause the longest delays?

Reply:  There are lots of events which can cause train delays, many of which are outside of RT's control. Your question is specific to mechanical problems. The most frequent problems are related to electrical faults that can have a variety of causes (the details of which would take more space then available in this e-mail) and issues with all of the doors on a train closing properly. These types of problems typically cause the short term delays that you will see from time to time on the system. The longest delays are caused by a mechanical failure often involving the interface between the train and the overhead electrical distribution system. When we have a problem with the pantograph getting caught in the overhead wire the damage can be extensive and the time to repair it can take hours.

Sacramento, CA:  When will RT be hiring for new employees?

Reply:  We have a number of employees who were laid off. Before we hire new employees, those employees that have recall rights, will have the option to return to work. If our budget permits, we hope to add service and call back employees in our next fiscal year. Not until the recall list is exhausted for a classification could we hire new employees in that classification. There are a few positions in which the recall list has been exhausted, and therefore RT will be externally recruiting for these positions. For a list of positions, please refer to the RT website at

Elk Grove, CA:  I saw that RT loaned buses to Elk Grove. They seem to be struggling with running their service. How else can you help them? The e-tran service reliability is far worse than RT's ever was.....

Reply:  Thanks for your question, yes you are correct RT has loaned Elk Grove buses to assist them to meet the short term transit needs in the Elk Grove community. At Elk Grove's request, RT is more than willing to assist in any technical capacity that we can.

Oak Park, CA:  What light rail stations will get the new information signs I keep hearing about first? I'm looking forward to seeing real time information.

Reply:  In two weeks the first sign will be installed at either the 13th or 16th Street light rail station After that, we will continue installing signs until the first order of 36 signs are all installed. The stations have been prioritized based upon the locations that we thought would be most useful to our riders and which can be easily installed. The information displayed will be scheduled arrivals, based upon the posted schedule. By spring, the message will be changed to display real-time arrivals based upon the actual train location.

Sacramento, CA:  In Response to that person's question about his/her Uncle is it possible that like the Light Rail, the Automated announcements on the bus can be announced at every stop?

Reply:  Thank you for your response to the previous question. This is a question that requires more research on our part, and we will certainly do what we can to address the original concern.

Sacramento, CA:  Will there be a fare increase in January?

Reply:  A fare increase is not anticipated in January 2011. Before fares can be raised, we are required to have a public hearing and Board approval. At this point in time, we are still analyzing prior fare increases and comparing this data to ridership counts. However, in the future when RT implements a "smart card" system, the fares will be reviewed and a new type of distance based fare, as well as other fare changes to utilize this new technology, could be an option. The impact of implementing the "smart card" could actually result in a reduction in fare for some riders.

Sacramento, CA:  Has there been any thought to putting the destination of the routes on the bus stops like they do in LA and SF like the end point and major destinations?

Reply:  We are looking at our bus stop signage with an eye to improving the information available at the stops. Keep in mind that the signs must meet ADA and this causes the large letter size requirement. The signs may need to be larger or automated (electronic). We are also working on smart phone applications for hand held trip information (and planning). The limitations of the typical bus stop sign will likely mean that applications for smart phones will be a better way of providing more detailed destination and scheduling information to our riders.

Comments from Mark Lonergan: 

Thank you for your participation in today's session. It was an interesting experience to interact with you, the rider, in this online setting. Look for Mike Wiley to return next month on Friday, December 3 from noon to 1 p.m. for the final GM chat of 2010.