Transit Talk with the General Manager

December 03, 2010
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Mike Wiley, RT General Manager/CEO, returns to the chat today after a scheduling conflict obligated him to attend a California Transit Association executive committee meeting in November. Wiley is looking forward to addressing your transit questions and hearing your feedback on Mark Lonergan, RT Chief Operating Officer, who performed as guest host.

We will be live from noon to 1 p.m. and accepting questions now through the end of the chat.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Good afternoon. I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving holiday last week. It's nice to be back for the chat this month after missing a session for the first time in the chat's two-year history. Mark Lonergan informed me that some interesting inquiries were presented and I want to thank him for stepping in during my absence - and all of you, for the continued participation.

Getting down to the business of today's session, I thought it would be pertinent to mention that RT began celebrating its 3rd annual "Season of Civil Rights … It All Started on a Bus" campaign on December 1.

A seat was reserved on every RT bus in honor of Rosa Parks this past Wednesday, December 1 - the same day in 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, when Parks refused to obey a bus driver's order that she give up her seat to a white passenger. Her simple act of defiance played a critical role in the American Civil Rights Movement, as it ignited the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

To build awareness of the role transit played in the movement and to commemorate the bravery of everyone involved, RT will promote a number of regional activities and events.

We are proud to be a sponsor the 12th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Celebration Dinner, which serves to preserve the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his commitment to equal justice in January. RT employees will also make the six-mile trek to the Sacramento Convention Center during the Martin Luther King Jr. March and Celebration where winning poems from RT's "I Am the Dream and the Dream is Now" poetry contest and RT's 1957 "Old Blue" historic bus will be on display.

In addition, RT will join The Observer Media Group in February to co-sponsor the "Don't Neglect Your Health" Fair and Forum at the George Sim Community Center.

From December 2010 through February 2011, two RT buses with exterior images of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. will travel on different routes throughout the Sacramento region.

For more information on the campaign, please visit the link on our home page or take a copy of the Next Stop News passenger newsletter from one of our vehicles.

Let's begin today's session of Transit Talk.

MANTECA, CA:  How do you find the time to hold one of these forums every month? I live in Stockton and wish that our GM/CEO Donna Demartino would be as open and accessible as you...I truly enjoy utilizing RT's services everytime I visit Sacramento...from your bus and light rail operators to your customer service representatives...RT truly personifies the word PROFESSIONAL in so many aspects...RT always exceeds the highest of standards in my opinion...Mr. Wiley you truly can be proud of your staff! (:

Reply:  Thank you for your very kind comments. I am very proud of the job we've been able to do, with the limited staff and resources available. I can only tell you that the entire RT staff is extremely dedicated to delivering high quality service. Thank you for recognizing that. Please keep riding Sac RT.

Sacramento, CA:  When will RT be able to have light rail service after 10 pm again?

Reply:  We are working on a plan for how we will restore service for both our light rail and bus services. Light rail ridership has dropped since we cut back on the hours. The drop has been more than we had expected, based upon our ridership data. We plan to provide the RT Board with a comprehensive plan by the end of this fiscal year. I am very hopeful that we will be able to begin to implement a restoration plan next fiscal year.

Sacramento, CA:  I am a rider on the gold line. Trains seem to have problems with doors which makes for late trains. Is there anything being done to limit the train problems?

Reply:  The doors have safety devices to prevent the train from departing when the safety sensors, door buttons and edges of the doors are tripped. I checked with the maintenance superintendent and these remain the biggest issues for the doors. Back in April and May we were seeing a slight rise in faults, but it has been very consistent for the last few months. When the trains are full, we see added faults, because of people in the stair wells inadvertently tripping the safety faults. We monitor every aspect of the trains maintenance and watch for spikes and irregularities. We are not seeing any at this time. The Maintenance Superintendent for Light Rail is paying particular attention to the doors, because of the schedule issue you noted.

Sacramento, CA:  When will service be extended into the evening so we can go downtown for diner?

Reply:  We are working on a plan for how we will restore service for both our light rail and bus services. Light rail ridership has dropped since we cut back on the hours. The drop has been more than we had expected, based upon our ridership data. We plan to provide the RT Board with a comprehensive plan by the end of the fiscal year. I am very hopeful that we will begin to implement the restoration next fiscal year.

N. Natomas, Sacramento, CA:  Hi Mike!! Happy Holidays!! So - how are we coming on the "Green" line to the Sacramento airport? Now that more money has been freed up by the voters are we moving forward a little bit faster?? I heard at one of your RT community meetings that RT is thinking about going to using a "Trolley" type system on some of the routes. And that this system can run on both the light rail tracks and the trolley tracks. From what I heard, Trolley systems are going to be getting special Federal Funds because they are considered an "Alternative Fuel Sourse Train". Is RT shovel ready with this system or are we going to once again loose out on Federal funds because we aren't? Are we still telling every one that we are still mulling over the projected routes and "revisiting" the project, etc.? Thanks - Kathi

Reply:  Hello and Happy Holidays to you, too. In response to the comment on voters freeing up funding, let me say that in the short run, more confusion presents than additional funding. The passage of Propositions 22 and 26 both affect funding in different ways. Proposition 22, will prevent the State from raiding transit funds but it may reduce the amount available for operations, so that does not free up additional funds. Proposition 26 may provide additional funds, or reduce transit funding depending upon future public and/or legislative action. With regard to your comments on trolley systems, there are federal funds available for trolley systems, and RT has been working closely with the cities of Sacramento and West Sacramento, and Yolo Transit to develop a street car service connecting both cities. Developing projects to the point of being shovel ready takes considerable time, even years, and Federal funding of such projects is always highly competitive. With respect to the Green Line to the Airport, the RT Board recently approved the Transitional Analysis that provides the strategy to delivery that project by 2017. However, in order to build and operate light rail to the Airport we will need to secure additional local ongoing funding, hopefully by 2012. One of the options we are looking into is the use of European Trams, a hybrid between light rail vehicles and street cars.

Folsom, CA:  RT Accounting System. We purchase Light Rail tickets each month at our state agency transportation office. Over the last several months we have noticed that RT is cashing our checks in batches, as many as 4 months at a time. The transportation office says they have had many similar concerns from other staff. Processing the checks in a more timely manner could increase the monthly cash flow to RT. Can this issue be reviewed with RT's Accounting Department?

Reply:  RT has long been working with the state agencies to receive checks in a more timely manner. RT processes payments as soon as received. So it is likely that your office is sending them to us in batches. We would love to have some assistance with our cash flow. It may be worth asking the transportation office at the state agency you work with what happens to the checks on their end before they send them to RT.

Folsom, CA:  Thank you for the great Light Rail service RT provides! Could you recommend how we can inform the train operators that the cold air conditioning is on and with the cool to cold mornings it is fairly uncomfortable riding in the train

Reply:  The operator doesn't control the temperature of the light rail vehicles. The temperatures are set and controlled by the computer system. When you encounter a train with the AC running cold, note the vehicle number and call 321-2877 and share the issue and vehicle number with one of our customer service folks. They will notify our maintenance team.

Sacramento, CA:  Any tips on safety at the stations now that it’s dark when most people get off work?

Reply:  I would make several suggestions. First please make sure to stand outside of the detectable warning tile, so that you are a safe distance from the moving trains. For personal safety, wait for the train in a well illuminated part of the station near other riders and the security guards. All of the stations have multiple video cameras which are monitored in our security center. The cameras are recording and saving the event data for later review. All of our vehicles are also equipped with video camera and recording devices as well. I would also suggest that you leave your IPod or other electronic device out of view. These items become an easy target. Be aware of your surroundings and be cognizant of your environment. If there is security in the station, you can always stand near them or in well lit areas.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  Hi Mike! I saw on the news, that RT had some Transit Woes about people not paying for the fare. Question: Has RT ever considered increasing the (Time) 'not the fare' but the time on the ticket/ballots, or is 2 hours the maximum RT allows?

Reply:  Great question. We are currently evaluating how to manage fares as we implement the new regional smart card. The smart card gives us the ability to do a lot of new things that we haven't been able to do with our paper tickets and passes. I'm not sure where we will land, but we can implement a variety of new plans including distance based fares and different time based rates. As an example, you might be able to purchase a number of hours use of the RT system and/or number of miles you want to travel in addition to the current options. We are about a year away from implementation of the smart card. Before we make any changes, we will share the details with the RT Board and the riding public.

Sacramento, CA:  Will you ever bring back bus transfers? I would gladly pay $3.00 for a transfer fare then to pay $2.50 for a one way ride.

Reply:  We are purchasing and installing a regional smart card. When we go live with the smart card at the end of next year, we will have a great many new options for riders. In the meantime, I would suggest a daily pass ($6), which would provide the service each way at $3. If you board more than four times your cost per trip is further reduced. The best value remains the RT monthly pass ($100) for unlimited use of the system for the entire month. Remember that a monthly pass can also be used by multiple family members.

Sacramento, CA:  I'm tired of seeing so many people riding light rail WITHOUT paying, do you plan in increasing security?

Reply:  We are constantly looking at ways to improve our security model. It is currently comprised of Wackenhut Security Officers, Regional Transit Sworn Police Officers (Sheriff and Police) and RT Transit Officers. Transit Officers conduct daily fare inspections and all of our security personnel are visible at strategic locations throughout the system. Many of the stations are monitored via video surveillance and when a security issues arises, police are notified immediately. An emphasis has always been on fare evasion enforcement and we will continue to do so. We currently inspect between 12 and 14 percent of all riders, and have a fare evasion rate of 1 to 2 percent, one of the lowest in the transit industry. We also utilize a blitz method for fare enforcement. Through this method we inspect 100 percent of all passengers at a station, boarding or debording a train, and all passengers on the train at the station. Even using this method we have a very low evasion rate. We recently added a police tip line at our Video Control Center so daily users can report issues such as this directly to the police. We will publicize this number later in the month of December and begin answering the tip line January 1, 2011.

Folsom, CA:  Recent work (grinding?) on the Gold Line has greatly improved the ride -- thanks! Now you need to address a few alignment issues, mainly with crossover switches that still bang things around. Key point in order of observed problems: 1) EB west of Watt Ave. (might want to ease the kink onto the new bridge too); 2) WB west of Watt Ave.; 3) west of Power Inn. It's possible to have switches that don't bang things around -- the crossovers at Mather Field and even Butterfield are good examples.

Reply:  Thanks for the comments. I will pass them along to our wayside maintenance folks. We are also working on our light rail vehicle wheels. Truing them appropriately has also helped with the ride.

Sacramento, CA:  Has there been any increase in passengers or revenue since now the state furloughs have ended?

Reply:  Ridership statistics indicated a slight increase in October and we are hoping for additional increases over time.

CA:  When will the new sign at 13th Street Light Rail Station actually begin at least showing scheduled arrival times?

Reply:  We are finalizing the messaging this week. We plan to go live with the scheduled arrival times next week, by December 8, 2010. You will also see more signs being installed at other light rail stations over the next few weeks.

CA:  What were some of the things discussed at the CTA meeting you attended during the chat last month?

Reply:  It was a great meeting. We approved a budget and work plan for next year. We also adopted an updated State and Federal legislative agenda. We also set our schedule for meetings and workshops. Rest assured that the California Transit Association is working very hard to support all transit riders in California.

CA:  I’m a state worker in the service area of the Rancho CordoVan. My building doesn’t sell discounted passes onsite or give out vouchers to be used at your sales center. Could you recommend a way that I could acquire a subsidized pass?

Reply:  Each employer/agency determines whether or not to sell passes on site and whether/how much of a subsidy will be allowed per employee. Full price monthly passes are sold to employees and the discount comes to the employee by way of the subsidy provided by the employer through reimbursements. The State of California provides a subsidy of 75 percent or a maximum of $65.00 per month. I would recommend that you discuss your need with your employer's transportation office or employee benefit department and ask them to contact RT's Revenue Manager, Blain Yancey (916-321-2810), to discuss options available for your agency.

CA:  Will RT ever be able to provide bathroom facilities for patrons at some of its busier light rail stations? I understand there are difficult issues to overcome but are there no solutions?

Reply:  The expense of building and maintaining public restrooms is a huge burden that Regional Transit has chosen to avoid. As a small public agency focused on transit, restrooms would be a burden that would divert transit dollars away from bus and rail service. Other larger transit systems are closing their restroom facilities because of the cost, criminal activity and behavior problems that they create. Public restrooms would be better addressed by the cities and counties in the region. Through retail and commercial development at these stations we hope to provide a number of additional passenger amenities, including restrooms.

sacramento, CA:  Hi, People who participated in Rosa Park Celebration that RT honers every year, are waitting for the contest results. Do you know when that will be decided on? Thank you

Reply:  The winners of the "I am the Dream and the Dream is Now" poetry contest will be notified in in the next few weeks. Their poems will first be displayed at the conclusion of the Martin Luther King Jr. March and Celebration at the Sacramento Convention Center on January 17, 2011. Thank you for your participation in the contest and good luck with your poem.

CA:  Have their been any developments on funding to extend light rail further south into Elk Grove?

Reply:  We hope to receive word this month from the Federal Transit Administration that will allow us to move this project forward. Unfortunately, due to the very severe economic conditions of the past year RT's financial capacity suffered. However, we have made great strides over the past year to remedy this situation. Please keep your fingers crossed.

Sacramento, CA:  Is there any plan to get electric hybrid buses in the near future?

Reply:  We are exploring a pilot program to operate an all electric bus. the biggest challenge to this technology is battery storage. The vehicle we are investigating is capable of a 40 mile range. Most of our buses travel up 200 miles per day. So the need to recharge batteries quickly is critical. We have three hybrid buses on order for our community bus service. The three hybrids arrive here for service this coming March.

CA:  Do you have any idea when the construction around the customer service center on R Street will be finished? Accessing to the building is a bit of a hassle right now with all street only being one way.

Reply:  The city of Sacramento and CADA are managing the street work project you referred to in your e-mail. The project manager tells us that the work will be completed by the summer of 2011.

Sacramento, CA:  Often times the security officers in the black and yellow clothing ride the Light Rail cars but do nothing to enforce the no loud music rule. I asked one why they don't intervein and they say they are not supposed to cause anyone to get upset so they leave them alone. What is the purpose then of having them on the trains?

Reply:  If an individual is causing a disturbance on a train, the proper thing for the Security Officer to do is to ask the passenger to comply with the SRT rule that is being violated. If the individual continues to disturb others, the Security Officers should notify either a Transit Officer or RT Police Officer so the subject can be cited. While we don't expect the Security Officers to put themselves in unsafe situations, we do expect them to report what they see to the appropriate enforcement authority.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for making the final chat of 2010 a successful one. We will continue our monthly sessions in 2011 with the first chat scheduled for Friday, January 7.

Happy Holidays!