Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve service

So RTA woke me up this morning with a text message touting their free New Year's Eve service. Yes, passengers may ride RTA routes free today, starting at 18:00 until the end of service on that route. On some routes, of course, that means there's maybe one free bus. This service is funded by the CHP and other law enforcement agencies as an attempt at reducing drunk driving, and in places like LA or Orange County, where they actually have late-night bus service, I'm sure it does just that. However, by the time the buses stop running around here we're only JUST breaking out the bubbly. And who really wants to go home before midnight on New Year's? Isn't that the entire point of being out in the first place?

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


This story in the Press-Enterprise caught my eye. A former City Councilman, Dom Betro, wrote an Op-Ed piece about the current Greyhound situation, and it's worth a read. However, what's even more interesting is the guy who wrote it. This is an eminent domain story, and Mr. Betro was the key player in a bit of eminent domain abuse a few years ago in the neighborhood around RCC. He even approvingly cites the Fox Theatre restoration downtown, which is the source of substantial controversy on the same issue, and yet here he is talking about the shameful abuse of the City's power to kick out the Hound. Strange how the tables turn, eh?

Also of note to transportation advocates, note how Betro uses the phrase "misfortune of not owning a car."

Monday, December 29, 2008

More on the new Ride Guide

It's worse than I feared. I was riding the bus today, and I picked up the "Service Guide 2009", a "preview of route improvements and modifications coming January 11, 2009." It drew my attention to a few more things, some good... most bad.

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.

  • Route 3 (which serves Riverside, at La Sierra and Arlington) will be dropping from 35 minute headways to 50 minute headways. Beauty.

  • Route 52 (The Trolley Green Line) will only run 06:00-08:00, 11:30-13:30 and 16:00-18:45. Mid-day "unproductive" trips will be entirely eliminated. Though it will be adjusted to actually stop at the bus terminal, which is a plus.

So there you have it. Everything in my previous rant stands. Bad policy, yaddah, wrong direction, blah, need more, not less, etc.

Metrolink is a bad joke...

"Every five hours" does NOT count as a headway in any respectable urban rail system.

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

New Bus Book, same as the old Bus Book

Well, the January edition of RTA's Ride Guide has been released, both on the web site and on board buses. Being the transit geek that I am, I'm always among the first to take a look at the book and see what's changed in my local transit system. This quarter's offerings are... disappointing. We all knew that some routes were losing service. The only route that serves Riverside proper that will be downgraded is the 206, which will no longer run on Saturdays. (On Saturdays, it terminated at Tyler Mall instead of the Corona Metrolink.) However, we lost route 39, formerly the Jurupa Shuttle, which was one of a small handful of services in the poorly-connected Jurupa Valley. Also, routes 17 (Moreno Valley), 33 (East Hemet) and 36 (Yucaipa/Calimesa) are all losing Saturday service. (Many other routes have had times "adjusted", so be sure to check your route before January.)

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

Merry Xmas

Happy solstice to all (two days ago), and Merry Christmas to those who enjoy it.

Remember that there's no service today.

Friday, December 19, 2008

It's over...

Wow... Let's hear it for transparency and accountability, eh?

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

Gas Prices

Well, the high Bush-induced gasoline prices that we've all enjoyed over the past few years are plummeting in recent months. My local Arco clocks in at $1.61/gal. I filled up the other day (not at Arco, I'm boycotting them for personal reasons) and got change back from a twenty. Most Southern Californians are jumping for joy, but I'm not quite as excited.

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

Conspiracy Theory

You all know about my concern over the City's plans to remove Greyhound from Riverside. I have a theory as to why they're doing it. Please note- This is pure speculation, and I have no evidence to back it up as of now. It sounds a little black-helicopters.

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?)


I was on the #16 today heading to a final exam, and I saw a group on the bus that made me smile. One big shopping cart, a couple and two kids.

A family living the car-free life indeed. Congrats, folks.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Pulled from the local news

A few local news articles to point your attention to, both in the Press-Enterprise.
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.

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."

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.

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.

Where have I been?

Sorry for the recent lull in posts, again, but it's finals week here at UCR. Studying wins over blogging, unfortunately. Winter break is coming, and you'll have that local transportation policy analysis then, I promise.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Back to transportation...

Sorry for the rant, back on topic. Transportation, specifically transportation here in Riverside.

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.