Wednesday, December 31, 2008
If RTA and their law-enforcement partners REALLY wanted to persuade folks to catch a ride home on New Year's instead of driving, perhaps they could fund hourly service on all routes until 02:00 New Year's Day. That might actually make a difference. Of course, it would be a logistical nightmare, and it would cost a lot more than two or three hours of lost fare revenue... but it would actually accomplish something. This program? It's a meaningless gesture, a useless waste of administration costs and taxpayer money.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Also of note to transportation advocates, note how Betro uses the phrase "misfortune of not owning a car."
Monday, December 29, 2008
Good: Route #12 is getting a new trip in the morning and afternoon, though it will be routed via Main and Center to Center/Orange, rather than the current routing. Woot! At least there's ONE bright spot in this thing.
So there you have it. Everything in my previous rant stands. Bad policy, yaddah, wrong direction, blah, need more, not less, etc.
I got a bit of money over the course of the holidays, from generous family members, and my desktop has been without a video card for quite a while. Rather than order it on the interwebs, I figured I'd spend some time out at one of my favourite pillars of consumerism, Fry's Electronics in Anaheim. After-christmas sales tend to be good places for deals, especially in those old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores, and if I can save a buck or three on shipping, why not? However, after a successful and nearly entirely transit-oriented holiday, I wasn't about to battle traffic on the CA-91 to get there. So I hopped on the RTA 149 express to Orange.
Did I mention that U-Pass has a warm, squishy place in my heart? While most pass holders have to pay an extra $1.65 to ride the 149, U-Pass riders still ride free. *purr*. But I digress.
Bought an OCTA pass, took a bus up to Fry's, found a video card (nVidia 9400GT for $70 w/ $20 rebate!), took a bus back down towards the mall, munched on some In-N-Out, and when I was all done it was 14:25. So I looked at the pack of schedules in my bag and determined that I could either take the Metrolink home at 16:02 or the 149 at 16:55. Beauty. I splurged a bit and treated myself to a slightly-more-expensive train ride home. After taking the bus back up to the Anaheim Canyon Metrolink, I got to enjoy an hour and a half of waiting on the platform until the train carried me away.
During the course of this hour-and-a-friggin'-half wait, it occurred to me that Metrolink is probably just a bad joke being perpetrated on the populous of Southern California. Now officially the deadliest rail system in the country this decade, when the trains aren't crashing into freighters they're usually just not on the tracks. On the IE-OC line, there are three trains in each direction on Saturdays, and two on Sundays. Combined with inter-county express bus service, which is notable only because of its absence, and you leave passengers waiting on hard metal benches for hours and, undoubtedly, in cars or stuck at home.
Sunday, December 28, 2008
Note what we HAVEN'T seen- the recently promised Commuterlink 212/214 (San Jacinto and Hemet) and late-night expansion on routes 1, 15, and 16. Though "late-night" is a bit of a misnomer, as the expanded service would only extend for an hour after the current last trips (which currently end at 22:00, 21:00 and 20:30 respectively), even this modest expansion seems to have been passed over. Must the beleagured denizens of Riverside wait yet another quarter for desperately-needed connectivity?
I think it goes without saying that the Winter 2009 schedule is yet another example of the worst possible policies for this situation. We are heading into a deep recession, with most economic indicators nose-diving and unemployment skyrocketing. Our region is already poorly-connected as far as public transit goes. Ridership has been increasing by huge margins, and the last thing we need to do right now is to cut service. This simply closes opportunities and drives people back to their cars (no pun intended). Another quarter without an upgrade is another quarter where the people of Riverside suffer.
Times edited for standards compliance, typo removed.
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Friday, December 19, 2008
As you may already know (because I'm a bit late reporting on it), the City of Riverside has successfully ousted Greyhound from their downtown Riverside terminal. In a back-room political deal that the old Democratic machine in Chicago would be proud of, the Council told the City Manager to negotiate a deal with the company. They gave said manager a range of payout amounts, and he and Greyhound officials negotiated a settlement within that range. So, for the sum of $625,000 (of our tax money), the City has sent Greyhound packing. This agreement never came to a vote of the city council, and was never even reported to citizens until a local activist asked City Hall a direct question about it. The agreement was signed on December 9th, and service will end on January the 31st.
Interestingly enough, many community groups were taking up the cause of saving the Greyhound station. Even the local League of Women Voters was going to hold a forum on the station, in mid-January. Just a cursory jaunt through the letters-to-the-editor of our local paper shows broad opposition to this move, and yet the City did it anyway. Even stranger, they managed to spend over six hundred thousand dollars of our tax money to buy out the next 15 years of a $1/year lease.
Not only does this blatant example of underhanded politics deprive our city of yet another transportation option, at precisely the time when we should be expanding our choices, but it deprives local citizens of the involvement and oversight that they deserve from their government. This is shameful.
For more information on the story, read the Press-Enterprise articles here and here. Oh, and come to the City Council meeting on Tuesday. Local eminent domain protesters are going to be there, telling the Council that they can't just go behind our backs like they did. (I won't be there, I'll be on a northbound Amtrak, but I wish all of you the best.)
Sunday, December 14, 2008
According to the RTA, ridership has been experiencing record growth never before seen by the agency, in the 30 years that it's been running. You can blame most of that on the $4/gallon gas prices that had people fleeing from their Suburban Assault Vehicles in droves. Similar reasoning explains the growth in efficient cars (and the imminent failure of the Big Three), growth in carpooling, the approval of Proposition 1A (WOO!), and other developments that this author has been very, very happy about. Forcing Americans to actually start reckoning the cost that their transportation choices takes out on them is a Good Thing, and while most of that going into oil company profit isn't exactly a great outcome, at least it was a start. It got people thinking about alternative transportation. It got people TAKING alternative transportation. It got people off the damned freeways.
And now the gas prices are going down. Guess what else is going to go down? That's right, ridership. And with the State contemplating cutting ALL transit funding, and sales tax revenue in the proverbial crapper, this leaves local transit agencies stuck with huge cost burdens. RTD in Sacramento was apparently considering cutting ALL weekend service. RTA has already slashed weekend service in Moreno Valley and other outlying areas (due to go in effect in January). If the new, cheap gas puts people back in their car, this will only further hurt transit agencies around the state, and only hurt our cause. People are always surprised at me, but I honestly wish the gas prices went back up to $3 or $4 a gallon. It's the only thing that'll get us out of our cars.
In fact, were I king for a day, the first policy I'd institute would be a tax on gasoline, of at least $1/gallon. It wouldn't apply to diesel fuel or commercial vehicles, so it would only affect personal transportation choices. Every dime of that tax would then become a dedicated funding source for public transit.
I would then be promptly lynched by a mob of angry Americans.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The building the Greyhound is currently in, the one where they're getting a $1/year lease, is also occupied by the Riverside Fire Department's Administration offices. Don't ask me how they came to be there, but that's how it is. It's the city's building. Anyway, I was downtown tonight and I noticed that the City is building a new fire station and, this is key, plans to incorporate the administrative offices into said new building. It's on the sign in front of the construction site.
Now the City Council has so far said that the issue with Greyhound is one of security, but we all know that's a load of crap. So maybe, just maybe, the Council has plans for that bit of property once the Fire Admin is out of there, and that's why they want the Hound gone. I'm betting they want to get this done now, on some flimsy pretext, rather than making a blatant grab for the building after the new fire station has been constructed. Seems like it'd make for less of a PR nightmare.
(repeat: speculation only, no evidence, but it seems plausible, no?)
Sunday, December 7, 2008
First off, this article points to Riverside's Alternative Christmas fair. It's still going on at the time of posting, for the next 10 minutes. :) The Fair provides guests with the opportunity to purchase fair-trade gifts from developing nations, and to make donations in honor of a friend or relative. Had I known about it sometime before it started, I'd've been there. I'm personally making this holiday season a "buy-nothing" holiday, but for those of us who just can't get over the annual tradition of gift-giving, or those who want to send a bit of spendable holiday cheer overseas, it sounds like you've got your place. The Fair apparently has happened the first Sunday in December for longer than I've been alive, so I can say with some confidence it'll be there next year.
It is held at the First Christian Church at Jurupa and Brockton, off of the 12 and 14, and a short walk from the 1, 13, 15 and 20.
Second, there is this piece on a driver who got stuck on the train tracks at Jurupa (near the county park, between Grand and Fremont). Apparently, she was driving through the temporary construction detour, got "disoriented", and turned onto the railway tracks. (Personally, I've driven through that stretch many, many times and never mistook the two, but maybe she's new to the area...) Anyway, thankfully nobody was hurt, but her car was totalled by Metrolink #412 heading home. While the driver is glad nobody was hurt, her commentary on her obliterated auto sheds some light on our car culture.
Not to put too fine a point on it, but her little Civic was "everything [she] worked for." She saved up every penny she had, working two jobs while pregnant, to buy... a car. Automobile expenses take a heavy toll on our society, especially those among us with lower incomes. Buying a car, paying for insurance, repairing it, putting gas in it, and keeping it maintained, insured and registered takes up nearly 17% of the average household's income- more than food and health care combined. And the worse off you are, the worse it gets. Cheaper, used cars tend to need more maintenance and repair, and get worse fuel mileage. But Ms. Jimenez felt she *had* to work two jobs while carrying her baby, felt she *had* to buy a car, because without it she'll be trapped. She lives in Pedley, where bus service is even more anemic than here in the city. After this accident, she'll be doomed to begging for rides, low service frequencies, long waits for transfers, and that trapped feeling most Americans get when they know they simply can't get home on their own.
Jimenez said she was able to afford only liability insurance for the car. She said she worked two jobs while pregnant and saved every penny to be able to pay cash for the car.
"I knew I wouldn't be able to make car payments after I had the baby," she said. "It's horrible. I lost everything I worked for."
And it is precisely that that we must stop. We must work together as a city, as a region, and as a nation to make sure that, when people's cars break down, get reposessed or even get run over by a train, they can still live life without being dependent on the kindness of other people's gas guzzlers.
Monday, December 1, 2008
I spent the weekend before last at the CalPIRG semi-annual retreat in LA, and because we were involved in the passage of Prop 1A, the Deputy Director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority came out to thank us, and take questions. (WOO!)
First off, inspiration. This gentleman said he's been working on California HSR since the early '80's, and the passage of 1A is the realization of his work for his entire career. I'm proud to have been a part of that. He said that even the CAHSRA thought that 1A was doomed in the weeks leading up to the election, and everyone was surprised to see its passage.
Second, some information for everyone. We're still 3 years away from breaking ground on this thing, because of EIS/EIR requirements and dealing with local politics. Yes, the Authority did do an EIR already, but it was not as specific as it needs to be, for lack of funding, and now they're getting down to brass tacks. If you live in any area where the right-of-way is going through, pay attention to the EIR process, because there will be some folks out there who will scream NIMBY on the thing. We need to provide some opposition to them, and show our local governments that high-speed rail is something we really want for our cities and counties. Remember, there is a proposed station in Riverside.
We also need federal funds to get to the $9bn that 1A authorized. There is a transportation bill coming up in September of next year, and we want to make sure that federal matching funds for our train are a part of it. I'm not saying write your congressman/senator now, but keep an eye on it. (And an aside for Riverside- Your congressman is still Kenny Calvert, unfortunately. We missed it by 49-51 because of Orange County voters. Remember that Kenny likes transportation projects that raise his property values, though, so not all is lost. And 2010 is coming!)
Lastly, a bit of disappointment. The Authority is seeking a private partner to operate the railroad. I understand that this is both politically necessary (because the Market rules in this country) and economically prudent (because private companies have money), but let's hope that the state will keep whatever company gets the contract in line. And let's hope it's not Veolia, who can't seem to keep Metrolink trains from crashing into freighters.
Peace, and happy holidays.
Friday, November 28, 2008
A man died today.
I didn't know him. Odds are neither did you. It doesn't matter.
He was sacrificed upon the altar of rampant consumerism. A twenty-something temporary employee at Wal-Mart, just working to get by. Trampled. To death.
Was there a riot? Was there a bomb threat, or fire, or life-threatening emergency?
No. There were good deals on jeans and high-def TV's. And for that, a man lost his life.
My little brother is a temporary employee at a big-box store. That could've been him. Mr. Damour had a mother and a father, and probably a brother or sister, maybe even a wife and kids. They will never see him again. He is gone, lost to all of us forever, and why? Why? $6 jeans.
This must END, America.
This cannot go on. There is NO sale big enough, NO discount deep enough, to warrant trampling a man to death.
You don't hear of people dying for sales in Europe, or in Canada, or in Australia. No, this obsession with stuff, and this devil-take-the-hindmost attitude, is uniquely American. For the sake of cheap electronics and clothing, we vandalize and destroy stores and kill our fellow man... and then we refuse to even respect the event enough to step around the rescue workers, or leave the store when they try to close it to investigate. No, our stuff, our petty consumer products are so much more important than anything around us.
Black Friday must be stopped, now, before it takes another life.
This must end.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
1. Riverside Transit Agency
Who: Riverside Transit Agency is the principal provider of bus service throughout Western Riverside County. It is a Joint Powers Agency supported by the county and several cities within said county, including Riverside. They are the principal subjects of this blog, though it doesn't seem like it at the moment.
What: RTA provides traditional local bus service, express bus service, the Trolley (50, 51, 52) shuttles, and dial-a-ride service for the disabled in cities (and for everyone in rural areas).
Where: Aside from their traditional service area (wherever you see one of those arrows that says "The Bus Stops Here"), you can also find RTA buses at the Village of Orange, Ontario Mills Mall, and the Montclair and Oceanside Transit Centers.
When: Routes operate on various schedules. In the city, most start between 4 and 6 am and end between 7 and 9 pm, with frequencies ranging from 20 minutes to an hour.
How Much: RTA cash fare is $1.25, with day passes $3.75. If you want to ride more than 3 buses in a day, get a day pass. CommuterLink express service is $2.25 (though day passes are still $3.75), and the 149 Orange County has its own fare structure. College students from UCR, RCC and (starting January 1st) La Sierra University ride free, as do City of Riverside and RTA employees, and there are discounts for seniors, the disabled, and K-12 students. Infants and toddlers are $0.25 each.
More Info: 1-800-800-7821 or www.riversidetransit.com
Who: The Southern California Regional Rail Authority, providing service as Metrolink, is an association of the five counties where it provides service: Los Angeles, Ventura, Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside. (Metrolink also provides service to Oceanside, which is in San Diego County, but SDC is not part of SCRRA.) They provide commuter train service throughout Southern California.
What: Commuter rail service, provided by large diesel locomotives primarily over freight railroads. Metrolink trains use tri-level coaches that are uniformly clean, comfortable, and provide on-board restrooms and drinking water.
Where: Pretty much anywhere throughout the Greater LA area west of Riverside, with the exception of the High Desert. There are two Metrolink stations here in Riverside, the Riverside-Downtown station (aka Marketplace Station) in, you guessed it, downtown, and the Riverside-La Sierra station, off of La Sierra Ave. and Indiana Ave. on the south side of the city. IE-OC, 91 and Riverside line trains serve Riverside-Downtown, where as La Sierra only sees the IE-OC and 91 lines. Riverside-Downtown also has limited San Bernardino line service on weekends.
When: The primary limitation of Metrolink service is its schedule. Service is mostly peak-time and peak direction, especially on the Riverside line. If you're heading west in the morning and east in the evening, you're good. Otherwise, you're probably grasping at straws. There is weekend service, but this is even more limited, and there is no late-night service.
How Much: Metrolink fares and passes vary based on distance traveled, and time purchased. One-way, round trip, 10-trip and monthly fares are available. The fare calculator is your friend. Discounts are available for seniors, youths (under 18), and the disabled. College discounts may be available- check with your campus parking office. Metrolink tickets are good as an "EZ Pass" in LA County, and are generally accepted for transfer with most connecting operators.
Another consideration on Metrolink is fare inspection. Metrolink operates on the "honor system," meaning that nobody checks your ticket at each boarding. Staff and LA County sheriffs randomly board and check everyone's ticket. Therefore, it is possible to travel on Metrolink without paying. Fare inspections, to be honest, are rare. However, if you're caught you'll be asked either to pay at your destination, or pay a hefty fine, depending on the mood of the inspector. I don't advocate fare evasion, but sometimes we've all faced being across the city with no money...
Edit: A commenter notes that he's experienced more regular fare inspection than I have. YMMV.
More Info:1-800-371-LINK or www.metrolinktrains.com
Who: A privately owned and operated subsidiary of Laidlaw, Greyhound operates intercity bus service throughout the US and Canada, with affiliates operating in Mexico.
What: Greyhound provides intercity bus service between terminals and bus stops across the country. While it may not be pleasant, it is an economical way to get from one city to another, and terminals are generally convenient to a city's downtown, which cannot be said of airports.
Where: Greyhound currently (11/19/08) operates from a terminal in downtown Riverside, adjacent to the RTA's downtown terminal. The City currently plans to force the closure of this terminal on January 31st of 2009. If this occurs, passengers may still board in San Bernardino. However, this blogger is attempting to fight the City's decision on this matter, and it is considered unresolved.
When: Bus service operates around the clock, but the station is staffed from 06:45 to 20:30. There are upwards of 20 departures daily, so check with Greyhound for times.
How Much: Fares are charged based on distance traveled, with discounts for seniors, the disabled, students with the Student Advantage card, and military personnel.
More Info: 1-800-231-2222 or www.greyhound.com
Who: Amtrak, otherwise known as the National Passenger Rail Corporation, is a private company wholly owned by the US government, and is in charge of maintaining passenger railway service throughout the country. Amtrak California is the name given to the partnership between NPRC and Caltrans for service within the state of California.
What: Amtrak operates one train daily in each direction , the Southwest Chief trains 3/4, serving Los Angeles/Albuquerque/Kansas City/Chicago and points between. Amtrak California Thruway Motorcoach service operates 4 buses daily, connecting with the San Joaquins in Bakersfield for service throughout California.
Where: Both the trains and buses serve the Riverside-Downtown Metrolink station, with trains boarding and alighting on the South platform. Note that, while the Thruway Motorcoach service does travel further south from Riverside (to Hemet or Indio), these buses are only available to passengers who have a train trip somewhere in their itinerary, hence the only destination available from Riverside is Bakersfield, and only if you are continuing your trip north on the San Joaquins from there.
When: The #3 heading towards LA rolls through at 05:53 if it's on time, and the #4 towards Chicago leaves at 20:03. Motorcoach service departs at 05:40, 08:55h, 10:55, and 13:40 and returns at 16:10, 17:50, 20:20, and 23:05.
How Much: Fares vary with distance traveled. Discounts available for seniors, the disabled, students with Student Advantage, youths under 15, AAA and NARP members. More discounts are available, check with Amtrak.
More Info:1-800-USA-RAIL or www.amtrak.com
Who: Omnitrans is the primary provider of bus service in the urban valley of San Bernardino County.
What: Aside from their extensive network of local buses, Omnitrans operates one express bus route, the 215, and it serves Riverside.
Where: Route 215 travels, as you might expect, along I-215 from RTA's Downtown Terminal to downtown San Bernardino, with an intermediate stop in Colton.
When: The route operates from 04:05 'till 22:30, with 30-45 minute frequency and limited weekend service.
How Much: Cash fare is $1.50. Day passes are $4. Valid RTA passes are good for one trip away from Riverside.
More Info: 1-800-966-6428 or www.omnitrans.org
Who: The Orange County Transportation Authority oversees not only bus service, but road and freeway construction and maintenance and Metrolink service within Orange County.
What: OCTA operates route 794 commuter express service to Costa Mesa. This route provides limited-stop peak-hour service to commuters, with tray tables and laptop power outlets available at every seat as part of the OCExpress program.
How Much: Cash fare is $3.75 Monthly passes are available for $128.00. OCTA and RTA local passes are good for $1.25 towards the fare. OCTA passes are not accepted on RTA.
More Info: (714)/(949) 636-RIDE or www.octa.net
7. Highlander Hauler
UPDATE: All Highlander Hauler service has been suspended. Alternate service is available on RTA routes 1, 16, 51 and 53.
So there ya go. All the transit companies that operate in our city. Now you can put all of these numbers in your cell phone. Life being what it is, however, I also suggest that you find a local cab company's number and store that as well. You never know. Good luck!
Seriously though. I'm a city person. I love big cities. I love to travel to other cities around the country and the world, and to see their sights, meet their people, eat their food, drink their liquor, and generally have a good time. If I lived in New York, not only could I get around the city car-free (only 50% of NYC households even own a car), but I could day trip to any of a number of cities quickly and easily. Hell, I could probably pull off all three meals of the day in a different urban area, if I were quick enough and a bit flexible. (Early breakfast, late dinner. :D) Here on the West Coast, a trip to San Francisco is an all-day ordeal, whether it be on a 10 or 11-hour bus or train trip, or a trip through the wringer that is a modern airport. Even in Los Angeles, I don't feel that wide open feeling that PZ got in 30th Street Station. LA Union is a poor substitute.
Furthermore, PZ hits the nail on the head with his comments about public space. Public space is nearly nonexistent here in SoCal. We drive, park, drive, park, drive, park, endlessly all day. The world outside is simply a backdrop to our travels. The people around us are more threats to our safety and promptness than people. I like to quote the opening to "Crash", because it's so precisely LA:
It's the sense of touch. In any real city, you walk, you know? You brush past people, people bump into you. In L.A., nobody touches you. We're always behind this metal and glass. I think we miss that touch so much, that we crash into each other, just so we can feel something.I want to see less people shut up inside the metal and glass boxes that are choking our freeways and streets. I want to bump in to people. I want to feel that wide-open feeling of "Hey, I could go pop over to San Diego or San Francisco or Vegas fer lunch if I wanted to, just for the hell of it." I want to get from point A to point B without having to worry whether or not my shampoo bottle is in a clear plastic friggin' baggie or not. Left coasters, we are lagging behind. We are slaves to our cars and our sprawling metroplexes that stretch for hundreds of miles. Something is wrong here. Let's fix it.
Monday, November 17, 2008
It's true. I own a car. It's a '94 civic with nearly 200,000 miles on it, and it's slowly dying. I keep it around for two reasons- One, public transport and Costco don't mix. Two, I grew up in the High Desert, I still have friends and family there, and getting up there without a car is a herculean task. So yeh, I'm not entirely living the car-free life... I wish I was, because I'd save so much on registration and insurance... but back to the post title. :)
In this first part of what I intend to be a three-part filler series for slow news days, I will talk about my selfish reasons for riding. The following are ways riding the bus benefits me personally.
- Parking at UCR is ridiculous. Not only does it cost several hundred dollars a year, but that's just for the Gold permit. The parking lots accessible with said permit are either gigantic and on the other side of the freeway, or four blocks from campus with a shuttle bus running there. The saddest part about it, however, is that those lots are FULL. It is HARD to find parking in Lot 30 in the morning (I've had to on occasion, after missing the bus, etc...), and that adds quite a bit of time to what is ostensibly supposed to be the quickest commute option. The bus stop, on the other hand, is right in the middle of campus. UCR Parking- Thanks, but no thanks.
- UPass. Oh, I love Upass. Upass will forever have a warm, squishy place in my heart. What is UPass? Upass is a program, in place in some form or another at 8 of the 9 campuses of the University of California (not Merced), as well as Riverside Community College and colleges all over the country, that gives students unlimited, free, automatic access to local public transit. Riding the buses here in Riverside is as simple as swiping my college ID card. It's simple, easy, and best of all, free! (I asked RTA who pays for it last week. The University pays for the entire cost of one route, the 51 Crest Cruiser that primarily serves the school, and they also pay RTA a heavily discounted fare for every swipe of the card.)
- Stress. The traffic here in the IE lies somewhere between the 4th and 5th levels of hell. Drivers are rude and inconsiderate. I can't drive more than a block or two without somebody cutting me off or making some stupid maneuver that makes my blood boil. If I'm on a bus or a train, that means somebody else is dealing with the idiots. Are there dumb people on transit? Sure, but they rarely threaten your life or the structural integrity of the vehicle. And I never have to worry whether or not they have insurance.
- Stress. Again. My car, as I said, is slowly dying. Mostly it's a cooling issue that's been lingering for a while. Constantly watching the coolant temperature, checking the radiator fluid, turning on the defroster, and calling AAA takes a lot of the enjoyment out of going anywhere. I have been on a broken-down public bus once. I've been riding for a decade. That's a pretty damn good level of reliability. (Though the one time I did, it was an express bus on the freeway and we had a blowout. Not fun. I'll post about that some other time.)
Saturday, November 15, 2008
The Riverside City Council's Transportation Committee meeting.
There were a few items on the committee's agenda of interest. Two dealt with the city's regulation of taxicabs. The first would have required cab operators to begin purchasing "green" vehicles for their fleets- no more detail was given, as this issue was not voted on at the meeting, but continued for 2 months. I'll let you know how it turns out.
Second, cab fares in Riverside are probably going up. The committee voted to recommend to the City Council that fares be raised to $2.60 per meter pull, and $2.60 per mile. According to testimony at the meeting, this will both bring our fares in line with the rest of the region and help out cab drivers, who have been feeling the economic slowdown as much as the rest of us.
The big ticket item on the agenda at the meeting was the Mid-County Parkway, a new freeway project that RCTC has been working on for... longer than I've been aware of it. They've completed the EIR statement (which is available for public view on their web site- in printed form, it weighs more than a small car...) and are seeking comments from the public until January 8th of 2009. I can't find any fault with the road portion of the project, and I see a lot of value in providing that link between Perris and Hemet/San Jacinto that gets people off of the 60/215 and 91. However, one disturbing point came up: No provision for HOV lanes, bus, or rail service.
Major credit to my councilman, Andy Melendrez, for bringing this up with the RCTC rep Cathy Bechtel. Her response was that traffic numbers in their study don't warrant it. Huh?
Cathy- You yourself said that we have to build for the future. You gave 2035 as a date, incidentally. So you should know that your shiny new road is going to get congested, and quick. That part of the county has subdivisions sprouting like WEEDS. It's only a matter of time before that carpool lane is going to look really nice, and it's only a matter of time before bus service will be just as slow along the highway as general traffic if you don't add in a carpool lane. How many years can Southern California's transportation planners simply ignore mass transit? I figured you'd've learned your lesson by now.
After the agenda items were complete, I rose to bring up the real reason I was there- The City's abuse of Greyhound. Councilman, and committee chairman, Adams responded to my concerns by stating that Greyhound was "inappropriate" for our city, and that the 82,000 boardings there more likely referred to trips "through" the city. He assured me that "Metrolink or RTA" service would be provided to passengers going to San Bernardino, but that the Riverside station attracted a "criminal element" and was therefore unsuitable for the City. Thanks, jerk. I came to your meeting as a citizen looking for answers, not a bunch of patronizing bullshit. What's more interesting is that Adams is the councilman for Ward 7, encompassing the wealthy La Sierra neighborhood on the south side of the city. It's a sea of housing tracts, Mercedes, and big box stores for as far as the eye can see, and I'd bet quite a bit on the proposition that not many of those residents take the Greyhound.
Once again, serious kudos to Councilman Melendrez. (You've got my vote, man!) While he refused to comment directly on the downtown station location (as a matter of conflict of interest- he stated he owned property within 500ft. of said location), he did rattle off a list of communities not served by commercial airlines, and said he hoped the Council would reconsider their plans. Thank you Councilman. I hope you know I appreciate it.
The City Council meets next Tuesday, at 15:00 and 18:30, with a public comment section during both sessions. Stop by and tell them you want to save Greyhound. I'll be there.
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
First off- the way the routes are set up in my area, getting from my house to RTA headquarters moves perpendicular to most travel patterns, and either involves changing buses a few miles away downtown or walking two blocks over from a bus stop. Considering I have a foldable scooter, I chose the latter. So I got on the #51 Crest Cruiser and rode it 'round to Iowa and Blaine, where the bus book clearly indicates (with one of those little "T" symbols) a transfer between the 10, 14, and the aforementioned 51. Pull the stop cord... Sign lights up... bell goes "ding!"... driver speeds right past the stop. Tells me that they don't stop there, per her supervisor/contracting company, and that her next stop is at Massachusets. (That's a LONG block away. Probably two and change standard city blocks.) She's nice about the whole thing, but I'm still a ways away from where I want to be, watching the #10 roll away without me on it. Ah well... it happens. So I scooter on down Blaine to RTA headquarters.
Get to RTA... it's deserted. I'm about a half hour early, so I expect that. What I didn't expect was that it would stay that deserted throughout the entire public comment period. (1800h-1900h)
That's right. I was the only person to show up in all of Riverside. 250,000 people, thousands of boardings a day in this city alone, flyers littering every bus... and where were you, Riverside?
Anyway, so I essentially had a personal audience with the agency's CFO and Director of Marketing. Nice guys, very friendly. I get the feeling that a lot of their meetings are either as empty as tonight, or worse. They also articulated a strong case, from the agency's perspective, for their fare increase. Matching my points from the earlier post point-for-point:
- RTA's already more expensive than other major operators: The agency says that pretty much every other operator is implementing a fare increase as well, as they're all in essentially the same boat. Furthermore, RTA, unlike most other major SoCal operators, has a large rural footprint that is more expensive to maintain than urban/suburban service.
- Ridership increases should have driven revenue growth: They have... but not enough, and possibly not reliably. A lot of the new riders have been riding under programs like CityPass or UPass, which provide significantly less revenue to the agency. Furthermore, new riders are fickle- growth like this is unprecedented, and so can't be reliably factored in to projections. If the bottom falls out of ridership and there's no money for fuel, life at a bus company starts to get real bad, real quick.
- Service hasn't improved: According to the Agency, yes it has. It's just harder to notice. Because of traffic patterns, more buses have to be added to even maintain the current schedule hours. This may not translate into visible service extensions, but it does translate into more costs in the form of wages, pensions, healthcare, and fuel. Furthermore, I was assured that late-night and reverse commute service may be on the way soon, as part of some new federal pilot program grants.
- Why aren't there ads on buses?: Because the Board hasn't approved them, but keep watching the meetings. They might. The program that I earlier reported was rejected has, after all, not been rejected. (Sorry!) They're just taking a long while with bids. We should see some movement on the issue in December or January. Hopefully it'll be movement towards ads... but at least some movement is movement.
- Where's my BRT?: The Agency said that BRT's in the plan, and they'll implement it the moment they can find funding for it. Let's hope they find it soon.
- What about sales taxes/state/federal money?: Basically, I got two impressions here. One, that they'll take all the state and federal money the can get, but it's just not rolling in. Two, Riverside County's Measure A sales tax is a pittance compared to other regions' similar taxes, and it's not RTA's decision where it goes, but RCTC's. Coming soon on RiR- going to the RCTC public meetings and asking them why Malfunction Junction gets billions while RapidLink gets buried. Stay tuned.
And then, as an interesting anecdote to end the night, I scootered back over to University to catch the #16 home, got to the bus stop and was greeted by the sight of five RPD's and two RFD's at the stop. Don't know what happened, didn't ask, don't care... but you see such an interesting side of the city riding the bus, don't you? (Please note that this shouldn't be an indictment of public transport safety... there were like 10 cops there, dealing with one angry woman. Probably was the safest place on University Avenue at that moment. It still made me chuckle.)
The city government has complained that the bus terminal attracts criminals, drug addicts and dealers, and parolees returning home from the state's prison system. (See "Riders weigh options..." from Oct. 31's Press-Enterprise) However, the city's Chief of Police, Russ Leach, has stated that "the notion of someone jumping off a Greyhound on the way to see grandma and selling a dime bag is not happening." (See this story from the PE, towards the end of the article.) More interesting is the fact that the bus service occupies its current space for a $1/year lease from the City, an obvious subsidy for a service that the City must have deemed valuable at one time. City officials: Gas hasn't gotten cheaper since you signed that lease, people haven't moved closer to each other, highways haven't gotten less congested, the economy hasn't gotten better, and alternative travel arrangements have yet to spring spontaneously from the earth like daisies. The reasons you decided to subsidize this service in 1983 are, if anything, more relevant today.
Security is a legitimate issue, and I will be the first to admit that hanging around the bus terminal at night doesn't exactly give me the warm fuzzies. But RTA is dealing with the same problem- attentive riders noticed that the transit agency is now posting a security guard at the downtown transit terminal during bus operating hours. If RTA has security issues (as the presence of a guard openly admits) and you're not kicking THEM out of their subsidized transit center... why are you doing it to the Hound?
Surely this issue can come to some resolution without making 82,000 trips into the area disappear. (MANY OF THOSE ARE JOB-RELATED!) Perhaps Greyhound needs to hire some security folks. Perhaps they need to pay the RPD for an area patrol. Perhaps they need to improve their eerily-lit terminal, stay open a touch later and make other improvements that would lessen the building's image as a conduit for bums and criminals. But closing the station is NOT THE SOLUTION. It is the wrong thing to do in a time where bus service is an inexpensive fix for a wide variety of problems- economic, social, cultural- that plague our area and our nation. Please, use these coming months to negotiate a settlement with The Hound that satisfies both your constituents downtown, and your constituents who ride the bus.
Saturday, November 8, 2008
So the RTA is asking for a fare increase. Again. It seems they just can't increase service without raising prices. Can't let us transit riders get something for nothing. RTA's fares are, as they stand today, higher than Foothill Transit, and on par with Metro and OCTA, even though the agency offers less service than either of the above. Only Omnitrans, out of the major local bus operators, has higher fares. And even Omnitrans manages to run buses late into the evening. Experienced local transit riders will know well the experience of taking the Omni (ex-90) 215 into Riverside, only to have to call for a ride or a cab because RTA's routes had shut down.
Worst of all, this new fare increase is slated to take away the only generous bit of the fare structure we had. CommuterLink Express routes, which used to be covered under the usual 1, 7 and 31 Day passes, are going to require a new, more expensive Express pass. No word on how this will effect UCR, RCC and CityPass riders.
And the Board isn't really ASKING for a fare increase. In their flyer for public hearings, they don't ask us whether or not a fare increase is appropriate. They just ask whether we'd like Option A or Option B. (To save you the time- A has lower CommuterLink fares but higher local fares, and B is vice-versa. The difference is about $2/month either way.)
Yet there has really been no improvement on the part of the agency to warrant the fare increase. Sure, the rerouting around UCR has been fantastic for me personally, but system-wide they've actually reduced service, including service cuts that will take effect in January. This time they can't use the excuse of "high fuel prices"- fuel prices have fallen precipitously since the beginning of the year. They're still not considering bus advertising, which is standard practice throughout the country and raises Omnitrans $750,000 per year. (The proposal talked about in the article was rejected by the Board.) And they STILL haven't said a thing about RapidLink, the much-praised Bus Rapid Transit project slated to go online in 2005 until it abruptly disappeared.
Unlike Los Angeles County, where voters just approved a half-cent sales tax increase to fund transportation, here in Riverside the RCTC is just going to squeeze bus riders for even more while providing even less service.
Except that I've done it. So have many others here, though probably not by choice. And so, my aim is twofold- First, I'd like to show people that living car-free is possible here, if they have a little dedication. Second, I intend to advocate for better transportation options for our city and region, and find others who feel the same way. So welcome, one and all, to Riding in Riverside, my alliterative attempt at alleviating automobile autocracy!