Transit Talk with the General Manager

March 04, 2011
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Transit Talk with the General Manager will be held today from noon to 1 p.m. We are accepting questions now through the end of the chat, which will be live from noon to 1 p.m.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Last month, RT representatives were in south Sacramento for an informational public meeting to update residents on changes to design plans for the Blue Line to Cosumnes River College (CRC) light rail extension.

The main topic of the meeting centered on the need for RT to purchase a portion of 47 backyards in the area to comply with Union Pacific (UP) safety regulations. A section of the proposed light rail extension will operate near UP's freight tracks and must be separated by 50 feet, a larger buffer than originally planned, which will require RT to purchase about 20 feet of each yard.

I'm encouraged to report that residents seemed enthusiastic about the prospect of bringing light rail further south despite the design changes - citing growing traffic concerns and lack of current transportation choices as pressing issues.

I enjoyed listening to feedback from each of the residents who attended the meeting and see their interest and enthusiasm for the project.

The Blue Line to CRC also saw major developments last month at the federal level. The extension had its project rating upgraded to medium by the Federal Transit Administration and was recommended in President Obama's Fiscal Year 2012 proposed budget to receive $50 million in "New Starts" transit funding.

Construction on the extension will now likely begin in late 2011 or early 2012, with operation anticipated to begin in December 2014. The extension has an estimated cost of $270 million, with federal funds being counted on for half that amount. RT has already been appropriated approximately $49 million in previous federal budgets.

President Obama's proposed Fiscal Year 2012 budget included a total of $3.2 billion for 27 transit construction projects, including the Blue Line to CRC.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  I would just like to know why your ticket machines at light rail stations do not take credit/debit cards from Visa, Mastercard, American Express and Discover. I have been on the Metro systems of San Francisco and Los Angeles and their systems take cards as payments. Sometimes we may not have any or enough cash on hand to pay bus/train fares but now in the 2010's, lots of people, including low-income, have even bank debit cards to make payments with. It would be really nice if Sac RT would enter the 21st century and fix these machines to accept cards. Even taking into account card processors' fees, the increased compliance from bus and rail patrons to pay their fares justifies the endeavor.

Reply:  The existing machines do not have the capability to take credit and debit cards without extensive modifications. Early next year, we plan to have the new regional smart card fare system installed. This system utilizes a universal fare card that will work on our system and many of the other smaller systems. The card can be loaded from a machine at the light rail stations that will take credit and debit cards. It can also be loaded from your PC, cell phone, over the phone or in person at our sales outlets. Testing of the new system is scheduled to begin before the end of this year.

Sacramento, CA:  Who would I speak to about seeking RT's input toward establishing a ""Pedestrian-Friendly Comprehensive High School"" in Sacramento's Central City?

Reply:  RoseMary Covington (Assistant General Manager of Planning) is probably the best place to start. Her phone number is 916 556-0340 or e-mail at

South Sacramento, CA:  Two part question on this issue. 1) Even tthough there is the COA Analysis, do you have any plans of service restoration planned for summer 2011 or later on? 2) As gas prices prices rise again, do you see any signs of an uptick in both ridership and revenue?

Reply:  We may make some adjustments in September or more likely January 2012, but it is unlikely that we will be making any changes in June. We have seen some indication that ridership might be improving, but it's still a little too early to tell. We should know more later this month when February ridership figures come in.

sacramento, CA:  is regional transit going to get new buses. if so can it be a bus a better leg room because most of these buses don't have very good leg room. And buses with better longevity. also has a regional transit thought of biodiesel or e85 fuel.

Reply:  Our buses are designed to maximize seating capacity. If we provide more leg room we will need to remove seats, requiring more people to stand. I believe we have a design of the bus interior that is balanced between room for people with disabilities, seniors, those that want to sit and standees. We've continued to look at alternative fuels on an ongoing basis. As you probably know, RT's large bus fleet was converted to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) over the last two decades. In 2004, 100% of the large buses were and continue to be powered by CNG. When we look at fuel, we look at how clean the use is and what is the fuel pricing and availability. CNG continues to be a better deal with lower risk than petroleum based fuels. CNG runs very clean and is costing RT about 70 cents per gallon equivalent. We recently purchased a few hybrid buses. They will be delivered later this year. These are the smaller, neighborhood ride type vehicles that are gas electric. We are not far enough along to have an opinion about their viability when compared to the non-hybrid versions. It takes a few years in service to sufficiently evaluate their use in service. We will continue to look at and try technology as we see opportunities where it makes sense. The hydrogen fuel cell continues to look promising, but it isn't ready for wide service and hasn't made it to the assembly line in the bus fabricators shops. In addition, battery power may become viable at some point.

Elk Grove, CA:  Why hasn't RT provided express bus service from downtown to the airport?

Reply:  The airport is currently served by Yolobus Routes 42A and 42B which provide hourly service to and from downtown Sacramento. The majority of these two routes serve Yolo County and have been operated by Yolobus since they became the independent service provider. As RT conducts our Comprehensive Operational Analysis we will give consideration to additional service to the airport.

Sacramento, CA:  Is there any changes or further streamlining in any routes or light rail lines in the future?

Reply:  That is the main purpose of our Comprehensive Operational Analysis which we have recently begun. One of the objectives of the project is to not only restore service, but make adjustments and improvements to some of the routes that are (or were) underperforming. We expect to begin operating the Green Line to the River District later this year. The Blue Line extension to Cosumnes River College should be under construction within a year, with service starting by the end of 2014.

Sacramento, CA:  Is there anything to report on RT’s analysis on how to restore service when funding becomes available?

Reply:  For the past month, we've been working closely with our consultants working on the Comprehensive Operational Analysis, sending them ridership, operating data, financial statistics, and demographic data. Their data and operations experts have been reviewing the data and preparing some initial reports on travel patterns, including what's working well, and where there are the most opportunities to attract riders. We'll be providing an update to our Board of Directors on March 28.

sacramento, CA:  How is the green line progressing?

Reply:  Great. Tracks are being constructed on 8th and G street, and on 7th Street at North B Street. Track construction should start soon at the intersection of 7th Street and Richards Blvd. Station construction should start within a month on the 8th and H Street station.

CA:  Hello Mike, I am wondering why the Wachovia security folks do not ever seem to bother to pick up a piece of trash? When standing around waiting for the next train, I always pick up and dispose a random piece of trash. Several times this past week the security guy at Mather Field LR Sta (during p.m. commute around 4:48pm) has been often fiddling with his cell phone. I'll take a picture of him to prove it. But if they can fiddle with their phones while working, why can't they occasionally pick up a piece of trash as well? D. Von Aspern

Reply:  Thanks for helping us keep our stations clean. Like you, I also pick up trash when I see it, both at the stations and on the trains. Your observation has been passed on to the security Project Manager to ensure our contract security officers are being just as diligent.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  I saw that Amtrak now has wifi on thier trains. Are you considering that on your trains? If you did, I could watch the GM chat from the Gold Line!

Reply:  We have installed WiFi at a few stations as a pilot to measure use. We have been testing WiFi equipment on the Blue Line from 4th Avenue to Meadowview light rail stations. This will probably take a while before we can offer it to patrons. The two methods we've tested have their own separate challenges. The cellular based systems are easy to implement, but they have a cost for the service. The WiFi from the train to RT's fiber network has the challenge of maintaining connections between the moving trains and the antennas on the fiber network. With our limited staff, we are currently focusing on installation of electronic message signs at light rail stations.

Sacramento, CA:  Will a new compressed natural gas fueling facility in Elk Grove be beneficial to RT in any way?

Reply:  Elk Grove designed a fueling system to accommodate their needs. At this point our facility fuels four buses at a time within seven minutes. We fuel up to 36 buses per hour. Elk Grove's system does not have the same capacity. We are in the process building a second bus maintenance facility at McClellan Business Park that is designed to also accommodate 36 buses per hour. This will provide RT with the ability to expand our bus fleet. There may be some limited situations in the future where we will be able to utilize the Elk Grove facility. RT has also extended an invitation to Elk Grove to fuel buses they operate at our facility.

sacramento, CA:  Mike, lastly, RT did an excellent job quickly trimming back the tree limbs at one stop along Route 11 that I called in as a problem. However, reported at that same time, was the clogged roof gutters and literally weeds growing out of the roof gutters at one of the bus-side rider shelters at Mather Field. How come no progress on that matter? A different RT dept handles it? Is that structure maintenance the responsibility of some entity other than RT? thx, dva

Reply:  Thanks for the compliment. The trees are generally a higher priority because they damage the buses. I asked our facilities team to take care of the clogged gutters when you brought it to my attention. I'll follow up and make sure it is addressed. The work is all performed by the same team, but they prioritize the work based upon the impact to equipment and patrons.

Sacramento, CA:  What’s next for the Green Line expansion after the River District portion is up and running?

Reply:  The next step is to cross the American River through South and North Natomas to the airport. RT is still pursuing federal grant funding for the construction of this line. However, before we can extend this line we must receive additional local funds, such as an increase in sales tax.

sacramento, CA:  Has the problem with the print quality of the slider passes been resolved? I placed a piece of clear tape over the silver section on my Feb slider pass, and that kept it looking good. Did the same thing to my March slider. dva

Reply:  RT has been working closely with the manufacturer to resolve the problem and the most recent shipment shows the quality of the strip has improved. The silver hologram strip across the center of the pass is designed to deter counterfeiting and it has proved to be successful in this regard.

Sacramento, CA:  What’s your take on the Sacramento Kings possibly leaving town? Would you be in favor of a new arena regardless if the Kings stay or go?

Reply:  We would love to provide light rail service to an arena. It would be great for fans.

Sacramento, CA:  I rode two Gold line trains this week, both had to be shutdown twice during the trips and significantly delayed the train's arrival to my destinations. The trains were mixed consists, is there anything being done to resolve these problems?

Reply:  Yes. We are considering moving to non-mixed consists, but alternating between Siemens and CAF trains operating on each line. We may begin doing this starting the week of March 7.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for your participation this month. If you're interested in learning more about the Blue Line to CRC, please visit our website, click on the "Expansion Projects" tab, and scroll to the Blue Line to CRC fact sheet. Please join me for next month's chat on Friday, April 1, at noon.