Transit Talk with the General Manager

June 03, 2011
Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO
General Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Transit Talk with the General Manager will be live today from noon to 1 p.m. The system is open for questions now through the end of the session. Log in and submit your question early to increase the likelihood your inquiry will be answered. Thank you for your interest in RT and the online chat.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Good afternoon and welcome to the June 2011 session of Transit Talk.

Last month, Dee Brookshire, RT Chief Financial Officer, took the lead role in this forum when I was unable to attend. I would like to thank Dee for her work and hope readers found her insight on RT's budget informative.

The proposed Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 budget was also discussed at a public hearing held during the May 23 RT Board of Directors meeting. Further public comment will be accepted on the proposed budget at the Board of Directors meeting scheduled for Monday, June 27 at 6 p.m. in the RT Auditorium.

I'd also like to recognize RT Police Services. On May 25, RT Police Services, in conjunction with departments across RT, staged a field exercise designed to demonstrate and evaluate the emergency capabilities of the District and regional emergency providers.

The scenario featured the mock threat of a flood caused by an act of terrorism on area levees and included the relocation of more than 20 buses from RT facilities in Midtown to facilities at McClellan Park.

Information collected during the exercise will be used to identify strengths and weaknesses in RT's emergency plans and help bolster our capabilities to respond to real-life emergencies.

The exercise was funded through a Transit Security Grant awarded to RT Police Services by the Department of Homeland Security. Thank you to all of the organizers, participants and observers who took part in this emergency drill.

Carmichael, CA:  Hi. Will RT be investing in new commuter coaches and/or articulated coaches by 2012 and restoring service to pre-2009 levels within the year?

Reply:  RT's financial plan does project that we will restore service to our 2009 level. However it will be phased over several years. Rail service should be restored by the end of 2013 and all bus service levels will be restored by 2017. The acquisition of vehicles and vehicle type will be dependent on our service renewal plan. That plan is currently under development through a Comprehensive Operational Analysis. That process will be complete by this Fall.

Sacramento, CA:  Why can't I buy a discount monthly pass online?

Reply:  We currently have limited media for sale on-line. We are preparing for a transition to "Smart Cards" which will allow you to buy on line. The contract to install the new fare system is going to be awarded later this month. By this time next year, we will be testing the new system and start rolling it out to the public after successful testing. With the new system, you will be able to buy on line, via telephone, at stations and vendor outlets using cash, credit cards, debit cards and bank transfers. If you work for an agency or business that subsidizes transit passes, the business or agency will be able to manage and recharge your "Smart Card" over the internet.

South Natomas, CA:  Mr. Wiley, I was wondering if there will ever be a bus that runs on Gateway Oaks north of West El Camino, where the 89 used to run is it possible to re route the 88 during the entire peak hours? It would help serve students at both university of Phoenix and the art institute.

Reply:  Before Route 89 existed it actually was a peak-hour off-route deviation of Route 88. It was turned into its own route (Route 89) so as to be more clear for customers, operators, etc. It was eventually eliminated in June 2010 due to low ridership as it was unfortunately one of our lowest-ridership lines. As we evaluate service adjustments this area is a potential candidate for service through our Neighborhood Ride service.

Sacramento, CA:  If old town Folsom helped to offset the cost, would RT be willing to at least once a month have a lightrail train run later to old town Folsom? I mean 7pm is a bit crazy if for instance you wanted to take the train there for dinner or to see a show

Reply:  Yes. We appreciate the limitations of the schedule, however, the schedule to Folsom is limited by the service agreement between RT and Folsom. RT and Folsom jointly review the cost of service annually. Unfortunately, due to economic conditions, additional service has not been possible. If Folsom is willing to pay for later service, RT will work to incorporate the request into its service configuration. Service to Folsom after 7:00 p.m. is one of the most popular requests.

Sacramento, CA:  How many transit officers do you think are on the system at a given time during the day? Are there more on duty during peak hours?

Reply:  During peak hours, we have up to 10 transit officers on the system. We schedule fewer during non-peak hours.

Sacramento, CA:  Would Sac RT consider extending Fri-Sat hours for the Folsom-Downtown lines? Lots of people might enjoy the opportunity to enjoy both cities many businesses later, but don't because of the early "last train" situation.

Reply:  This is a popular question! Folsom and RT review the cost of service annually and changes to the service and associated costs are discussed. We recognize the disadvantage of the early cut off time and are committed to working with Folsom to add service when additional funds can be committed by Folsom to increasing service.

Sacramento, CA:  I was on a Gold Line train a few weeks ago where the headsign was stuck on "Downtown" when the train was heading towards Sunrise but no one knew where it was going because the automated announcements also weren't working. Why do the headsigns get stuck and why does the automated announcement system sometimes cut out for no apparent reason?

Reply:  Very infrequently we have problems with the headsigns. The electronic headsigns are very reliable and are automated for consistent messaging and timing of messaging. With that being said, once in a while they fail. When this happens in the middle of service, we take the vehicle out of service for repair at an opportune time without disrupting service. This can take a while depending upon the location of the train. I was on a train on Saturday, May 28th and the electronic interior sign was announcing the wrong station, even though the voice announcement was accurate. I reported the problem to our operations folks and the problem car was removed from service and repaired.

CA:  Were you surprised when the plans for an entertainment and sports complex downtown didn’t include a transit hub?

Reply:  The plans for a new intermodal transit station are still in place. The City of Sacramento is committed to delivering a first class transit center to be the hub of transportation for the entire region. The challenge is how do we make both of these critical projects a reality. RT is very committed to assisting the City and the region in our collective efforts to accomplish this goal!

South Sacramento, CA:  Would the first part of the service restoration be restoring the night service first? Or will it have to dependent on the COA?

Reply:  Restoring night and weekend service on light rail is a front line consideration for RT as soon as funding becomes available and are not necessarily dependent upon the COA. Staff has been reporting to the Board during the budget hearings on the added cost estimates for these service restorations. Current economic conditions do not allow for them now, but staff continues to monitor revenues so that as soon as ongoing revenues are identified to cover the costs, a recommendation will be made.

Sacramento, CA:  There seems to be some issue with Gold Line trains leaving from Sunrise/Folsom. In the last couple months, these trains have been regularly late by 3 to 5 minutes on weekdays. It may not like a lot of time, but those late minutes have been part of the issue of not being able to connect to buses later on the line by that same amount of time. Can something be done to make sure that they are closer to being on time?

Reply:  I apologize for our service causing you to miss your connections. This is the first time that I have been made aware of what you call a recurring problem. We will look into it immediately and take what ever action is necessary. We are very concerned to make sure that we operate our service on-time.

CA:  What caused the service disruption late last month that shut down the Folsom line during commute time?

Reply:  We had a failed insulator. The insulators hold the high voltage wire in place and insulates the wire from the support poles. The insulator that broke was 24 years old. This in turn caused the failure of the safety tensioning devices required by the CPUC General Order 95 to fail. The centenary wire was then over tensioned and snapped. The centenary wire is the power wire above the train that provides power to the propulsion motors. Thankfully, this was a rare event, but it caused a major service disruption for commuters. I want to express my apology for the inconvenience. As a follow up action we are now going through our entire system and changing out old insulators.

Sacramento, CA:  I have been told that buses will not wait for light rail train connections that are late, not even for a few minutes after their scheduled departure times. This is becoming a serious issue since some drivers will leave immediately even if the light rail train just arrived at the station. (Route 72 leaving from Watt/Manlove does this a lot.) Can something be done to ensure that connections are made despite being slightly late?

Reply:  Actually we have a standing order that buses are to wait for connecting trains. While the rail to bus connection at the Watt/Manlove light rail station is fairly tight, we have to be careful when we adjust start times that we do not cause a new problem somewhere else, for instance at the Mather Field/Mills light rail station, which is the other terminal for Route 72. It is the job of our dispatchers, working over the radio with our operators, to make decisions about whether or not to hold the bus. I will bring the problem at Watt/Manlove to the attention of our schedulers and dispatchers to see if the situation can be improved.

Sacramento, CA:  Any new updates regarding the VTA fleet and when RT plans to put those vehicles in service?

Reply:  We have been making upgrades to the light rail vehicles we purchased from Santa Clara (the VTA fleet). These upgrades are the equivalent of a mid-life overhaul. We still have additional work to do before the first vehicle is ready for service. The current schedule calls for the first vehicle to be available for service by July 2012.

Elverta, CA:  I notice there are several bus stops along Elverta Road (Route 19) that have no sidewalk - passengers are dropped off next to ditches! Is RT planning on making improvements to these bus stops? It is a safety issue!

Reply:  This route is a legacy, which has been in place since before ADA was created. We are aware of the need for improvements at these Sacramento County locations. The RT Board recently approved an agreement with Sacramento County to partner on bus stops where improvements are needed. The County is prioritizing the work based upon the funds available. Contacting Sacramento County Department of Transportation about these stops could help move them up the improvement list.

Sacramento and Rancho Cordova, CA:  I live in Rancho Cordova and ride the light rail to and from work downtown. How would RT notify passengers in the event of a severe weather system approaching, such as a tornado or hurricane. One day this week, as I read my morning e-mail, I noticed I had received an e-mail after I left work the day prior, warning me of a tornado siting that day. Does RT have a process in place to forward severe weather warnings to passengers. If so, please tell me what it is.

Reply:  RT is in the process of adding a number of information systems to help communicate with our patrons. Thirty six message signs are presently being installed at light rail stations. These signs provide train arrival times and alert messages. The additional signs for the remaining stations to finish the project are awaiting funding through a grant request with the State of California. We also have an alert system that we have been using for our Neighborhood Ride service that will expand to include light rail later this year. This is an email/text system where patrons register for the service they use and receive email notices about disruptions and other problems. We also have our phone system programmed to give alerts as the first thing a caller hears when they call 321-BUSS (321-2877). This provides system-wide information of note to callers.

Sacramento, CA:  May 26, 2011 @ 7:40 pm on the 8th & 0 to Folsom train my 16 year old son and two of his friends were assaulted, harrassed, and threatened with a gun by six youths on the train. What is light rail doing to keep gang-member thugs from assaulting and threatening the general public on light rail? Have you ever ridden on light rail between 7 & 9 pm at night.....the gangs that are illegally riding light rail are really threatening. Submitted by a 4 year long light rail state worker rider and concerned mother.

Reply:  Helping passengers stay safe on our system remains one of our highest priorities. To that end, we have security officers assigned to trains at night as well as RT transit officers and police officers riding the trains and patrolling the system. Furthermore, over the past three months we have contracted for additional police officers and deputies to ride trains during the afternoon commute and into the evening. This has had a positive impact in reducing crime and making people feel safer. Unfortunately, we can't assign a police officer to every train. However, RT has an expansive video surveillance system on trains and buses and at our stations. We believe it has helped prevent crime and assisted in the identification and prosecution of those who commit crimes on the transit system. I'm sorry that your son and his friends had a bad experience on light rail. We are doing our best to prevent that from happening. I would encourage anyone who witnesses, or has any information about any criminal activity on our system to report it on our Crime Tip Hotline (916-556-0275) so that we can follow up on it. Please report it promptly so that we can retrieve the video and respond quickly to apprehend the assailants.

Sacramento, CA:  Who is the contractor conducting the COA study for RT?

Reply:  Transportation Management and Design (TMD) out of Carlsbad, California. They are a small firm that specializes in transit and has a tremendous amount of experience preparing Comprehensive Operational Analysis'.

Sacramento, CA:  In April the train from Rancho to Downtown the brakes caught on fire and the last train car was filling up with smoke. People just kept sitting on the train. I am a safety office at my state agency, so I told everyone to get off the train and called the driver. He made me repeat myself three times and I told him I was evacuating the train and to give us additional time to get everyone out and into the next car. He then drove off to the next two stops before he even got out to check the train. Then he had everyone get off the train. I informed him I was the one who called to tell him about the burning brakes. He never even thanked me. Then he didn't know what to do. I told him to detach the last car and take the remainder of the train into downtown. He called someone on the radio and did just that; then we were all allowed back onto the train and it took us as far as 13th street. How much training do your drivers have in "emergency" situations like this? It seemed that he was really unprepared for this incident. It could have been a real disaster. I was never even acknowledged for my efforts to make sure everyone was safe. Why is that?

Reply:  Thank you for assisting our customers and making sure everyone was safe. I am sorry that you didn't receive any recognition for your effort. Yes, all of our operating personnel receive extensive training on how to respond to these situations. In fact, just last week we conducted a major disaster drill here at RT headquarters. We have completed an investigation of that incident and determined that there was a need for follow-up training for some of the personnel involved.

Sacramento, CA:  How does RT plan to bring back service by 2017? Where are you going to get the funding with the local economy continuing to be so bad?

Reply:  RT's financial forecasting model has service restoration to at least 2009 levels between 2013 and 2017. If the economy turns around sufficiently to indicate stable ongoing revenue increases, service will be restored sooner. Stable, ongoing revenue can be increases in sales tax based revenues such as Measure A or Local Transportation Funds from the State. RT staff closely monitors economic indicators such as sales tax receipts and we have seen a rise in sales tax revenues this year so far by 4.52% over the same time last year and are hopeful we will continue to see improvement as the year continues. Our financial forecast is based on very conservative assumptions regarding revenue. For example, we assumed that sales tax revenue will grow by only 1% in Fiscal Year 2012. We have also taken the necessary steps to control cost increases over the next several years. As you can see, our financial forecast is based on very conservative assumptions regarding revenue.

Sacramento, CA:  I'm a little confused by the fare rules for Light Rail - if I need to transfer from the Blue Line to the Gold Line, do I have to buy a new ticket, or does the 2 hour window include either line?

Reply:  A light rail ticket is good for two hours and allows for connections between the Gold and Blue lines, but not between light rail and bus, or bus to bus.

Comments from Mike Wiley: 

Thank you for participating in today's chat. Next month's session will be held from noon to 1 p.m. on Friday, July 1, just before the Independence Day holiday weekend.