Transit Talk with the General Manager

October 05, 2012
Mark Lonergan, Chief Operating Officer
General Transit Quesitons
Opening Remarks:
Transit Talk with the General Manager 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 once again be the guest host for today's session of Transit Talk with the General Manager. Mike Wiley, RT General Manager/CEO, is away on official RT business and was unable to reschedule.

As some readers may recall, I served as guest host last month and I'm looking forward to having another opportunity to interact with you and continue our dialogue in October.

Last year, RT launched the inaugural Ride Transit October promotion to show appreciation for current riders and to encourage new riders to discover the benefits of transit.

The program is back in 2012 and this month's activities will feature "Fun Fridays" at the Customer Service and Sales Center located at 1225 R Street, where customers can take a spin on the prize wheel with purchase; a "Ride with the GM" promotion, when Mike Wiley, RT General Manager/CEO, will ride buses and light rail trains to interact personally with passengers; and "Customer Appreciation Days" when RT staff will greet customers at select light rail stations and transit centers. During Ride Transit October, RT will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of light rail in Sacramento.

A complete calendar of Ride Transit October events can be found at Mr. Wiley's "Ride with the GM" dates are included on the calendar, but the exact itinerary of routes and times will be posted at the start of each week.

Also, many of our customers have inquired about the performance of the routes which were affected as part of the September 2012 service improvements. While we don't have official numbers available at this time, preliminary ridership reports have been positive and are consistent with RT projections. We are optimistic ridership will continue to increase as people gain a better understanding of the benefits offered by the changes.

Sacramento, CA:  Hi Mr. Lonergan. Some of our employees were wondering if the Green Line light rail could be timed to connect with outlying bus transit (Roseville for example), and if there is the possibility of running more trains at rush hour. Thank you!

Reply:  We can certainly look at the timing of connections between the Green Line and the other public transit providers in the region. We can make minor changes to the schedule, but we are a bit constrained by where we turn the Green Line train around at our 13th Street light rail station. The Green, Blue and Gold Lines all pass through this station so timing is critical. An alternative is to ask some of the other operators if they could hold their departures to accommodate transfers from the Green Line. With respect to more trains during the peak hour, we could operate more frequent service, but it would be at an additional cost. If the issue is more capacity, i.e. crowded trains on the current service, then it would much less expensive for us to operate longer trains. Currently we operate with a single car on the Green Line, however, we can add a second car when demand warrants to increase capacity.

Sacramento, CA:  Will the 20 and 36 routes ever be reinstated?"

Reply:  There are no current plans to reinstate Route 20 or Route 36. RT will be starting to look at our next round of service restoration under Transit Renewal in the next few months with the first discussions before the RT Board in late winter. If you have specific comments related to our old routes 20 and 36 you can either send comments into our Planning Department or you are welcome to attend the RT Board meeting and provide your comments directly to the RT Board of Directors.

Sacramento, CA:  Are changes to the Route 24 planned for the near future? I know some ideas were included in the initial transit recommendations but were vetoed by the RT board.

Reply:  We are adding some additional morning and evening trips to Route 24 in January. We are also planning on making some more substantial changes to the route as part of a larger service change package for next year, which would mean the changes would take effect in September 2013 with our second phase of Transit Renewal.

Rancho Cordova, CA:  First, thanks for extending hours of light rail. Question: What would you do if if someone boards a train reeking of pot or other unpleasant odors and sits next to you?

Reply:  Thank you for your comments on the extended night service, we know a lot of riders were impacted when we reduced service in June, 2010. If you ever feel threatened by another person while riding calling 911 should be your first recourse. If you see suspicious behavior but don't feel directly threatened, we encourage you to report it to either an RT employee that may be near by or by calling our main information number at 321-BUSS (2877). We are also working on a way for you to text security concerns to us directly which will be available in the near future. If you are just dealing with a passenger that does not smell good, unfortunately, there is not much that we can do about that. What I do is just move away from the person for my own comfort.

Sacramento, CA:  Did proposition 22, which passed in 2010, have a beneficial effect on RT funding? When do you predict funding will be in place for extension of the green line into Natomas?

Reply:  The passing of proposition 22 was beneficial to RT because it made it more difficult for the State to raid some of RT's existing funding sources. The State raiding funds dedicated to public transit is what caused RT to cut service by approximately 20% in 2010. Proposition 22 did not add any new funding to public transit services in the State. The projected time line for the green line extension into Natomas has a revenue service date in mid-2025. However, RT's existing revenue sources can only sustain the existing level of bus and rail service, plus the planned light rail extension to CRC. A new dedicated source of funding will be required to significantly expand the bus service and to extend the Green Line to Natomas and ultimately to the Airport.

Sacramento, CA:  How often do you jet wash and clean up the stations? The stop at 7th and O is terrible. Also, the electronic Kiosk is completely filthy.

Reply:  Stations are cleaned daily and pressure washed three times a week. We will dispatch a crew to supplement the cleaning in response to your comment.

sacramento, CA:  I have a question. Would it be possible to get more garbage cans at the busier light rail stations? This may help cut down on the litter by getting trash recepticals closer to people when they have something to throw away.

Reply:  Our experience with trash cans hasn't been very good. In stations, customers seem to try to put the trash generally in the trash cans. Most of our stations have 2 to 4 trash cans. These require daily service. We've tried to provide trash cans in sufficient numbers and service them to keep the stations relatively clean. As you can guess, this is an expensive proposition. Adding more trash hauling and cleaning staff is a drain on funds used for service. This is an on going balancing process with expenses to keep the system clean and safe while trying to grow the service. Our goal is to keep the system clean and safe.

Sacramento, CA:  I work off of North Market Boulevard and have recently been hearing PA Announcements from my driver that due to overcrowding, RT will be adding another morning trip between Light Rail and the North Market Boulevard Area. While I'm almost certain that my fellow riders will be extremely happy about this decision, has RT encountered similiar situations since the September 2012 Service "Improvements" elsewhere in the district service area, and what is being done in those particular "case-by-case" matters?

Reply:  You are correct, there will be an additional Route 13 trip leaving Arden/Del Paso at 7:08 a.m. This will help reduce crowds on the busy trip that leaves at 7:23 a.m. This new trip will begin running on Monday, October 8th. This is the first case since the first phase of Transit Renewal was implemented in September where crowding has required us to add extra service. We do make case by case adjustments to service, as our budget allows, when these types of problems are identified.

Sacramento, CA:  How is progress going towards implementing the first of perhaps thousands of "Connect Cards" as I hear they are going to be called? When would RT Riders get their first glimpse of these?

Reply:  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:  How are things going in terms of TransitRenewal Phase II? As I understand from others, it will occur on Sunday 1 September 2013. What "long" list is being talked about and will the recommendations that are online for 2013 have to be "juggled" with those from other years to better prioritize what to do in the next eleven months?

Reply:  Over the summer, during our outreach and promotion process for the September 2012 service changes, we received a lot of good feedback from riders, operators, and others on what they liked and what they didn't like. We've also been watching ridership carefully over the last month to see what's working. The groundwork is already under way on the September 2013 changes, although our financial picture won't be known until the first of the year, and there are always adjustments as the state progresses through its budgeting process. We do anticipate, however, that we'll bring back most or all of the improvements we originally proposed for September 2012 but didn't have the money for, plus the TransitRenewal recommendations for September 2013, as modified based on what we've observed over the last few months. We expect to have recommendations before the RT Board of Directors for public comment in late winter of 2013.

Florintown, CA:  Hi Mr Lonergan, I just moved to the Florintown area near Florin High School and found that the 5-Meadowview only runs once an hour. While I do drive, I'd prefer to take the 5 to light rail and then to work in downtown. Is there any way to increase service during morning and even peak hours and leaving the hourly trips during the midday and night? Also, weekend service would be greatly appreciated!

Reply:  Route 5 was actually changed in September so that all trips go to the Florin High School area. For the prior four years, we had been running some trips down Power Inn Road instead; however, ridership never met expectations on this branch. The change we just made essentially restores the route to how it used to be, that is, hourly service to Florin High School. While we think the new routing will be better for ridership, we don't currently see the ridership levels to justify additional peak-hour trips or weekend service at this time.

Sacramento, CA:  Will major bus routes and light rail ever run till midnight

Reply:  Depending on where you're going, some of the trains already run until midnight. In general, we've set up the light rail schedule so that the last round trip begins at about 11:00 p.m. But we keep the trains in service on their way back to the yard, so people riding in that direction actually can ride up to about 12:30 a.m. Major bus routes currently have their last outbound trips beginning around 10:00 p.m. on weekdays. Our next priority, in terms of evening service, is to do the same for major bus routes on Saturday, as well as some of the major weekday routes that don't already run until 10:00 p.m. Later Sunday/Holiday service on the trains is also high in the priority list.

Sacramento, CA:  Is weekend service planned for either route 2 or 6?

Reply:  We don't have any plans for weekend service on Route 2 or 6 at this time.

Sacramento, CA:  Many transit properties, both large and small, are on Social Media Giant, Twitter. Unfortunately, I am unable to find Regional Transit on Twitter. Frankly, I find this quite disturbing. Has Regional Transit taken a look at this? I think in this era of smartphones and social media, RT would find it a great benefit to be out there "tweeting" to its riders and its followers.

Reply:  RT is on Facebook, and we are considering how Twitter could be used to improve our communication with customers. We have considered linking the account to our light rail electronic message signs to alert customers of train disruptions. Also, we are moving toward using the RT Tracker system to help update customers when bus routes are delayed or cancelled. This would be done by signing up to receive an email when alerts are entered into the system. A decision has not been made, but we do realize Twitter is an untapped resource for us at this time.

CA:  When taking a bus route that operates every hour, the bus arrived early and idled (with no passengers on a moderate temperature day) for almost the full 20 to 30 minutes I waited. I've seen other buses turn off when the driver goes on a short break, so it seems possible to do that. Does Sac RT have an anti-idling policy? It seems this could lower operating costs.

Reply:  Our basic rule for idling is that the bus should be shut off on a layover of 3 minutes or longer. The exceptions are for inclement weather, either too hot or too cold, or if there is a mechanical reason as to why the bus shouldn't be turned off. We regularly remind operators to not engage in excessive idling.

Sacramento, CA:  With the death of Orion, Who are you considering for future bus orders?

Reply:  The are a number of bus providers remaining. We have two procurement processes that we generally use when purchasing buses. One is to competitively bid a bus procurement; the second is to piggy back on another agencies procurement. We've just begun the discussion about the process for our next procurement, which should deliver 100 buses between 2014 and the end of 2016. Although we regret the demise of Orion, there are a handfull of quality companies building buses from which RT can choose.

Sacramento, CA:  Are the times posted on the electronic boards supposed to reflect when each train will arrive, or when it will depart? I notice trains always drive in about one minute before the time posted. Also, are those boards ever going to reflect precise delays or cancellations?

Reply:  The electronic message signs at light rail stations display the scheduled arrival times of the light rail trains. We are working to secure the funding to install the equipment needed to add light rail to the RT Tracker real time system, which would then allow the signs to display estimated arrivals and not just the static schedules.

Comments from Mark Lonergan: 

Thank you for your questions. Mike Wiley will return to host Transit Talk with the General Manager next month on Friday, November 2, from noon to 1 p.m.