Transit Talk with the General Manager

September 07, 2012
Mark Lonergan, Chief Operating Officer
September 2012 Service Improvements/Transit Questions
Opening Remarks:
Transit Talk will be live today from noon to 1 p.m. The system will be open for questions starting at 10 a.m. through the end of the session.

Comments from Mark Lonergan: 

Hello and thank you for joining us today.

My name is Mark Lonergan, RT's Chief Operating Officer, and I will be guest hosting today for Mike Wiley, RT General Manager/CEO, who is participating in the Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails Bike Trek.

This is my third opportunity to interact with riders as guest host of this forum and I'm looking forward to tapping my 34 years of transit experience to answer your questions.

This week, RT implemented service changes that extended night service on light rail and nine major bus routes, increased frequency on highly-utilized bus routes, and restructured bus routes to better serve riders.

Light rail service was extended on the Blue Line and Gold Line to approximately 12:30 a.m. (from 10:30 p.m.) on weekdays and Saturdays. Bus service improvements include new service on weekdays in Citrus Heights (Route 95), and new service on Saturdays in Natomas along Truxel Road (Route 11) and in south Sacramento along Center Parkway (Route 54). RT also extended weekday evening/night service on Routes 1, 21, 23, 30, 51, 56, 80, 81 and 82.

RT employees and passengers seem to be settling in to the adjusted service. If you have any questions regarding the new service, please bring them to our attention today.

We will also answer general RT inquiries.

Let's get started.

Sacramento , CA:  It was brought to my attention that October is "Try Transit Month" in Sacramento. Will "Ride with the CEO & COO" be part of this? What else may be happening?

Reply:  Next month will mark RT's second annual Try Transit October. Mike Wiley, General Manager/CEO, will be touring the system. A schedule will be published online and in the Next Stop News when it is finalized. I generally do not ride with the General Manager, but rest assured that any operational problems or suggestions that comes to his attention reach me very quickly. We will also feature special promotions at the Customer Service and Sales Center and a number of other activities still in the planning stage. Look for more information at later this month.

Sacramento, CA:  Our Agency is switching to a Chase Bank Credit/Debit card to purchase our monthly transit passes. However El Dorado Transit does NOT accept the card and Chase Bank rejects purchases from Roseville Transit because of their merchant code. Is there anything SacRT can do to help us with this issue?

Reply:  I can sympathize with your delemma. Unfortunately, your question does not have enough information to make a specific recommendation. I would suggest that you or your agency work directly with both El Dorado Transit and Roseville Transit to see if there is anything they can do to remedy the situation your agency is experiencing with Chase Bank. Chase Bank may also be able to provide a solution given enough information and the number of affected customers. As a rule, RT does not get involved with the banking arrangements of other transit agencies.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  Why isn't RT participating in the Air Show this year? Will you ever again?

Reply:  It was a decision of the air show board to not fund public transportation to the air show. It is their belief that that in past years this service was too expensive on a per user basis to continue it. From RT's perspective we disagree, but we can not take away from other services to fund this special event. So, we will not be restoring service to the air show until they are willing to fund it again as they have done in past years. I would recommend that you raise this request directly with the air show so that they understand that there is a demand for public transportation to the event.

Folsom, CA:  In my feelings, I think that not operating Gold Line Light Rail service after 7pm is a major disadvantage in the Folsom Community. I understand there is a funding issue here, I get it. Nonetheless, will RT and its partners like the City of Folsom be able to come to the table and perhaps extend Folsom's service hours to 9pm or later beginning by September 2013, which would be TransitRenewal Phase II?

Reply:  I certainly agree with you that later night service into Folsom is a needed service improvement. I also appreciate your understanding that this is a financial issue for the City of Folsom. RT has the operating resources, trains and operators to provide this service, but Folsom needs to have the financial resources to pay for it. Currently, it is not in our plans for Transit Renewal Phase II. My recommendation is that you make your desire known to the City of Folsom so that they have an understanding of the importance of this service to the community and place a higher priority on funding it. RT could provide this service quickly once it is funded, it would not need to be tied to other services restored as a part of Transit Renewal.

Sacramento , CA:  Mark, with this just being week one of Phase I of TransitRenewal implementation, what positive and negative feedback are you hearing? What might need corrections based on the negative feedback?

Reply:  I believe that Phase I of Transit Renewal has had a very successful first week of service. We have received very few negative comments and several good suggestions for future changes. RT had a significant public outreach effort in advance of implementing the service which helped a lot with our customers understanding and anticipating the service changes. Route 34 has probably generated the most complaints, which we are reviewing. Some riders are also unhappy about Route 22 being shortened. In North Sacramento, we're looking into crowding issues related to some of the changes. We also had some customers on Route 54 who were not aware of the areas where it was cut back and were unhappy; however, in the areas where we've extended it, the response has been very positive.

Folsom, CA:  All the articles I have seen talk about extending later hours on the Gold Line and Blue Line. One article even featured someone from Folsom talking excitedly about later hours on the Gold Line. So why does the Gold Line to Folsom end at 7:00 p.m. and not the later hours you are making such a fuss about?

Reply:  Service between our Sunrise light rail station and the City of Folsom is provided under contract with the City of Folsom and they determine how late in the evening the service is operated based upon what they are able to fund. The Folsom service ends at 7:00 p.m. because this is the level of service that they have decided to fund. My recommendation is that you make your desire known to the City of Folsom so that they have an understanding of the importance of this service to the community and place a higher priority on funding it.

Sacramento, CA:  It seems that the 80/84 has been running late this week. Do you know what might be causing this problem?

Reply:  Schools are back in session, which always adds traffic on the streets and extra riders on the buses. We also have new routes, schedules, and operators in place this week. As the operators become more accustomed to their routes and traffic settles down a bit, they will probably become better at keeping them on time.

Sacramento, CA:  I LIKE the changes to route 25 -- every half hour during the day and schedule aligned with Marconi-Arcade light rail, but ridership is very low right now on the bus I am catching in the morning (~8:19 @ Marconi & Mission). Is this just people adjusting to the new schedule, or should I be worried about losing that run, which is perfect for my schedule?

Reply:  Thank you for your positive comment and I am pleased that this service works so well for you. It does take some time for people to change their travel patterns to try a new service. Often, this can take a year or two for the ridership to develop. If ridership fails to develop, we will of course look at changes to the service to improve its productivity. This is a change that we feel has been needed for a long time.

Folsom, CA:  What's the status of the Electronic Signage project? When can we expect to see some new signs at Folsom stations?

Reply:  The phase II portion of the Electronic Signage project is underway with infrastructure installations. Gold line stations are part of this second phase, including Historic Folsom, Glenn, Iron Point and Hazel. We anticipate these stations going live mid to late 2013. We are also working on real time train arrival versus what is currently displayed which is scheduled train arrival. We do have some technical issues which we need to overcome before we can offer real time train arrival so, unfortunately, I do not have a date for implementing real time train arrival information. Check back with us at a future GM chat.

South Sacramento, CA:  Will there an app from Regional Transit for either the IPhone/Smartdesk? If so, when it will be released? Also, any status of when the Connect Card system being implemented?

Reply:  RT is currently developing a mobile site focusing on routes, schedules and real time bus tracking information that will be iphone and android friendly. It will be in testing soon and a beta will be released in the next few months. One of the largest technology project underway at RT is the development of the smart card fare payment system. The card will allow public transit riders in the region to pay for all bus and light rail trips with one form of fare media. Installation of smart card system infrastructure at various light rail stations is underway and will continue throughout the year. The initial focus will be on seven pilot stations including the Glenn, Iron Point, Sunrise, Butterfield, 29th Street, 13th Street and Meadowview stations. The infrastructure being installed includes new electrical wiring, poles, foundations and hardware for future media vending machines. RT hopes to begin using the machines as part of a pilot program in early 2013.

Sacramento, CA:  I like that the Green Line trains are colored green. Why don't you make the Gold Line trains godl and the Blue Line trains blue? Either that or at least say Gold Line or Blue Line on the train somewhere.

Reply:  Your suggestion has merit from a public information or marketing perspective. From an operating perspective having specific cars designated for either the Blue or Gold line by color would make our operation less efficient. Currently any train can operate on any route and we mix and match cars and routes on a daily basis. We were able to do this on the Green line because we only use one car and have reserved this car for Green line service. Other transit systems have gone to the expense of having head and side signs on the car that can display the color of the line being operated. These signs are expensive and RT does not have the financial resources to upgrade head and side signs to signs that can display color on our fleet.

Sacramento, CA:  Have you heard any feedback from riders transferring from Amtrak to RT about the new tunnel and how it affects connections?

Reply:  There have always been a few complaints from riders transferring to the light rail system from passenger rail service at the Sacramento Valley Station. The complaints are related to the fact that we do not delay light rail departures for passenger train arrivals. This has not changed with the relocation of the passenger rail boarding platforms and the tunnel. The passenger trains operate on an uneven schedule during the course of the day and can arrive late. The light rail system operates on a fixed 15 minute weekday frequency and can not delay departures to wait for late passenger trains without causing a cascading delay on the system. Additionally, the light rail system has several key transfer points which our schedules are written to accommodate. We can not operate the light rail system on schedule and meet other critical time points on a reliable basis if we hold trains at the Sacramento Valley Station.

River Park, CA:  I too have a complaint about Route 34. I don't like the bus in my neighborhood! I've read the preliminary findings of your plan, and saw the 31 was slated to be elimintated due to lack of demand in River Park (your experts suggested that). Who decided it was a good idea to put a route back?

Reply:  I'm sorry you don't like having the bus in your neighborhood! However, there are a lot of residents who have requested this service, and RT's Board of Directors took these requests into consideration in deciding which services to cut and which services to restore. Ridership has never been terrific in River Park, but by having Route 34 cover it, we are able to operate it at lower overall cost.

Sacramento, CA:  How does that RTTrakker work? It's the coolest thing I have ever seen!

Reply:  GPS technology allows customers to track RT buses on routes, view their locations using online maps and receive estimated arrival times for any bus stop.

The real-time system, called RT Tracker, can be found at No registration is required to view the location of your bus or look up its estimated arrival time at your stop.

Customers can also sign up to receive automatic email or text message alerts containing estimated arrival times.

To look up estimated arrival times at a bus stop using text messaging, send the keyword SACRT, followed by a space, and your Stop ID number to 41411. The Stop ID can be found on the back of every RT bus stop sign.

Real-time tracking of light rail vehicles is not currently offered, but is being developed and will be included in plans for RT Tracker expansion.

Sacramento, CA:  BART uses (or at least used to use) colored pieces of plywood in the front window to identify the destination of a train; could RT do the same, just with the colors blue and gold?

Reply:  We will take your suggestion under consideration. Not sure we would want to use plywood but perhaps we can have a permanently mounted window sign that serves the same purpose. My concern is that we not block the operator's view out the front window creating a safety problem.

Sacramento, CA:  Just a comment: the iPhone app would be very much appreciated. The current bus tracker website doesn't work reliably with my iPhone 4. I am experimenting with the email alerts, but they haven't been very helpful so far.

Reply:  We do have an iphone app in development so stay tuned!

Sacramento, CA:  What is the schedule for trash pickup and graffiti removal at light rail stations? It seems like there's been a lot more trash and graffiti at the stations. The landscaping could also use some work.

Reply:  Trash pickup is done on a rotation basis among the nearly fifty stations on the RT system. Graffiti removal is done on an as needed and complaint basis by the Facilities Department. As funds were cut back due to the economic decline in recent years, the frequency of these services was also cut back. As funds are increased, services will improve.

Sacramento, CA:  I heard the smart card is going to be used for a distance-based fare. Does this mean passengers will have to tap their cards when they exit the bus? Won't this slow down the buses even more?

Reply:  RT is working with other transit agencies in the region to implement a Connect Card that can be used on each transit system in the program. Distance based fares may eventually be part of the fare structure adopted by RT, however, there are no immediate plans to bring distance-based fares on line. As to your specific question, if distance-based fares are implemented, passengers will need to tap when they exit the bus so that they won't be charged the highest rate for the farthest distance. Once customers are accustomed to tapping on exit, it should not delay bus service. We will also have the tap devices at both the front and rear doors which will also help reduce delays.

Sacramento, CA:  The new Gold Line schedule is pretty good at keeping on time. However, on weeknights, the gap between the Blue and Gold is more than 20 minutes to transfer. Whats the chance that the weeknights can mirror weekend half hour service which has a better transfer time penalty?

Reply:  Can you be a bit more specific about where on the system you are making the transfer and which line and direction you are transferring from and to?

Sacramento, CA:  I saw RT received a federal grant of almost 2 million in July for “bus system upgrades.” What will the money be used for?

Reply:  Without knowing the exact amount, it is impossible to respond except to say the funds will be used, as you say already, for bus system upgrades. However, RT has a number of projects out on grant applications at any given time for itself and for other transit agencies, and in July, a State of Good Repair and Asset Management award was received in the amount of $1,905,000. These funds were awarded for other agencies and included awards totaling $1,560,000 for bus lifts and buses for Unitrans and $249,000 for Paratransit Inc. for an asset management system.

Sacramento, CA:  With some of new changes to the 72 on weekdays, I've had some concerns to the changes on this route when it leaves from Mather/Mills. I've noticed that this bus can arrive up to 5 minutes early to Watt/Manlove station. However, my greater concern is that I do run the risk of missing my connection to it from the train coming from Folsom to Mather/Mills station. Is there any chance that these situations are going to be fixed in the future?

Reply:  Most of our schedules show arrival times as approximate. We do not have a problem with buses arriving at a terminal station early as long as they do not leave early. As long as the train is on time you should not have a problem. If the train is delayed you can ask the operator to request the 72 to hold for your connection.

Sacramento, CA:  I have issues with route 72 going to Mather/Mills on the weekends. The bus will arrive with only a few minutes to spare in order to catch the light rail train (with these trains still running every half-hour on the weekends.) Furthermore, the drivers on the route will park in the standard waiting spot for the bus instead of letting passengers out close to the light rail train as possible and then parking afterwards. Can this schedule be adjusted so passengers can make the trains without these hassles?

Reply:  The connection from Route 72 to the outbound Gold Line train is a little tight at Mather/Mills. The problem is, if we made the start time earlier at Watt/Manlove, it would disrupt transfers from Route 84. I will, however, forward your issue to Scheduling to see if we can reduce the running time.

Sacramento, CA:  Is it possible for RT to work with developers and build more apartments near Stations?

Reply:  RT encourages transit oriented development throughout the region. We are always willing to work with developers who realize the benefits of incorporating transit into their plans. The new development that recently opened adjacent to the Alkali Flat/La Valentina light rail station is a great example of what local government and private developers can accomplish when working together.

Orangevale, CA:  What is the status of service changes to Route 24? When can the Orangevale Community perhaps expect better service to/frm Sutter Street Station as well as more hours/days in the eake of the cuts a couple of years ago to Routes 106 & 107?

Reply:  We are looking at additional hours, possibly beginning in January. We are also working on a direct routing between Sunrise Mall and Sutter Street, but have had a difficult time in meeting all of the interests that have been expressed from existing riders and other interested parties along the route. Stay tuned, more to come!

Sacramento, CA:  Coming from the North Sac to East Sac, there is a 28 minute transfer between the Blue to Gold at 16th. Coming from east Sac to South Sac, there is a 21 minute wait, to North Sac is 28 minutes at 16th. On weekends, the same travel patterns have wait times of 18, 6 and 14 respectively.

Reply:  Thank you for the clarification from your previous question. I see your point and we will look into it.

Comments from Mark Lonergan: 

Thank you for your questions. Mike Wiley will return to host Transit Talk next month on Friday, October 5, from noon to 1 p.m.