Saturday, January 31, 2009

How they do it in LA

I took a trip down to Los Angeles yesterday, to go help out the UCLA chapter of a student organization I'm involved with. Of course, I took public transit. In this post, I'll share my thoughts about what worked, what didn't, and what it means for regional transportation.

First, a quick overview of the trip. I took the Metrolink 800/321 to LA from Riverside. From there, the Purple Line subway to Wilshire/Western, the Metro Rapid 720 to Wilshire/Westwood, and the Santa Monica BBB #3 to UCLA. Going home, I took the Culver City #6 back to Wilshire/Westwood, the 920 Rapid Express to Wilshire/Western, the Purple Line back to Union Station and the Metrolink 410 home.

What worked:
Metrolink. Compared to the gladiatorial battle with freeway traffic, riding the train is smooth, comfortable, and productive. I got a philosophy paper done while riding, something I sure couldn't do while driving. The train ran slightly early into Union Station.

The Subway. Still the quickest way to move lots of people through a city. I wish I could use my cellphone though.

Metro Rapid. This is a surprise to me. I was a serious skeptic about the Rapid program, as it's not really a *true* BRT project. (The Orange Line is.) However, after riding it I'm convinced. While on the "standard" Rapid 720, we passed two #20 local buses, and stayed generally competitive with automobile traffic. (That doesn't say much, see below, but it's something.) The "Rapid Express" 920 was even faster. Riding one of these makes you realize how much of a factor stop cost is when taking the bus.

Metrolink tickets as an EZ Pass. After the fare that Metrolink charges, it's nice to get all of your day's transportation needs thrown in to the package. All but one of the above operators accepted my ticket for full fare.

What Didn't:
The Subway. Okay, yeah, I said it worked. The fact of the matter is that the subway is a really nice transit system. However, what the hell is up with this "Purple Line" thing? There are a whopping total of TWO, you heard me right TWO stations that aren't shared with the Red Line. I'm not really sure that gets to qualify as it's own line.
Now, if it weren't for Prop A and the "methane zone" fiasco, this subway branch would run all the way to Santa Monica, and then I can see it getting it's own colour. But as it stands now, I don't know why they decided that the Red Line branch to Wilshire/Western is now the Purple Line.

Traffic on Wilshire. Wow. Just wow. As I mentioned, the Rapid buses were moving about as quickly as private cars on Wilshire Blvd. That's mostly because nobody was moving all that quickly. Six traffic lanes, and they were all full. The obvious lesson here is that we don't need the Subway to the Sea in 2036, we needed it in 1996. You know, when they originally planned to open it before Measure A and the methane stuff happened. The 920 Rapid is an admirable try (especially when it stops at all of the proposed subway stations), but a bus in traffic doesn't compare to a train below it.

My Metrolink ticket on Santa Monica's Big Blue Bus. What? You're part of the EZ Pass system. The Metrolink ticket is an EZ Pass. Yet, somehow, it's not good enough for you. I'd complain more if your fare wasn't $0.75, but still, it's this kind of inconsistency and lack of integration that makes public transit harder than it has to be.

Lessons for Riverside: BUILD THE BRT. BUILD IT NOW. The 1 Limited RapidLink is far, far overdue. RTA, I recently editorialized on the fare hike and said I supported an immediate 25% fare increase, conditioned on the premise that you stop cutting our bus service and start building some reasonable transit infrastructure in this town. This trip to LA only solidified my support for the Magnolia/University corridor BRT system. You were two freakin' months from launching this thing back in 2005, I have to assume that most of the equipment is sitting in a closet somewhere. Deploy it.

Metrolink tickets ought to be valid on any route, not just those serving the Metrolink station. This system takes transfers, guys. Considering that only a handful of routes serve the city's Metrolink stations, I'd wager that many riders have to take two buses to get there, or two buses to get from there to their destinations. Half of them might just be taking a bus from the train station to the Downtown Terminal. Negotiate with Metrolink and get them on board, too.

The more people on the bus, the less there are on the street. This was painfully clear on the Rapid. In the Mid-Wilshire area, the traffic was livable, and the bus was standing room only. I got a seat around Beverly Hills, where the traffic turned to gridlock. This is an important (and hopefully obvious) lesson for anyone planning our city's transportation infrastructure.

So that 's my $0.02. Which, with inflation, is worth about $0.0005 in 2001 dollars.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Stay of Execution

Greyhound has been granted a six-month lease extension, under which they may continue operating from their current location at Riverside Downtown Terminal.
They have submitted to the following conditions for this extension:
  • They must staff the station from the arrival of the first bus to the departure of the last bus, adding 1.5 hours to the current operating hours.

  • They must keep the area around the station tidier, probably to appease the suits next door in the Chamber of Commerce.

  • They must provide security at the station. Probably a good idea.

  • They must work with the City to find a new location in Riverside.

I agree to every point except the last one there. Personally, I think the central location of the terminal is the optimal location for Greyhound service in Riverside. It's near Metrolink and RTA, county offices, medical facilities, and both major freeways in the area. I agree with the sentiments expressed in this IE Craigslist post, though it's a touch long-winded.

The ideal location for Greyhound would be at a beautiful, new intermodal station for RTA, Greyhound, Metrolink and Amtrak at the site of the current Marketplace Station. Failing that, a spot next to RTA's Downtown Terminal is probably the best option.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

"They need those bumps..."

I was riding the late-night school shuttle last week to go to a get-together at the University Village, the shopping center right next to campus. I told the driver that I'd be out late that night, and that I'd see him later that evening, so he knew to be looking for me. When he asked where, I indicated the shuttle's stop at the Grand Marc apartments, right across the street. He replied that that wasn't a good idea, as "homeless people sleep there at night." (Which doesn't really bother me that much... The homeless are mostly harmless in my experience.)

So I said "Yeah, the City really ought to do something about homelessness here."

To which another rider replied "Yeah, they need to get those benches with the bumps in the middle so you can't sleep on 'em."

Just wow.

I responded "Erm... I was thinking more along the lines of a homeless shelter. But bumps are great. Really."

Is this the state of social justice in our society?
Are the homeless in our city just some objects that we need to prevent from getting on to our bus benches at night?
Are there really people out there who are so callously unconcerned with the plight of their fellow man?

Shame on Riverside, for managing to make so little provision for the less fortunate among us. Shame on residents, for managing to see just a pile of blankets on a bus bench, and not the person beneath them, huddling for warmth.
Shame on you, anonymous guy on the shuttle, for thinking the solution to the problem is, for frack's sake, BENCH BUMPS!

I can't think of a good ending to this post, but hopefully this gets my anger noted for the record. For the rest of you... please, try to see the humanity in all of us.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A brief diversion

This post has nothing to do with transit, but bear with me.

To my wife, Danielle:

Happy 24th Birthday!!!

This, of course, falls a week after our 4th wedding anniversary. Thanks for putting up with me and my bus-riding habits as long as you have, and congratulations on making it through another ride 'round the sun on this dirtball.
Love you!

Back to transit tomorrow, I promise.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Fare Increase is UnFare

You'll pardon the pun, but the RTA has released a new proposal for the upcoming fare increase. They have settled on a single fare structure, and the question they have put forward is: should the fares increase 5% a year over the next 5 years, or 25% this year and then be held constant?

My opinion: 25% now, because we need the funding. However, that won't stop me from poking out some inequalities in the structure they chose. Far from being a simple, proportional 25% increase across the board, the new fare structure raises the cost of passes. I have provided a detailed analysis of the increases here, so you can follow along at home.

Column B is the fares, as they stand now. C is the proposed fare structure. D and E are the prices of each pass, represented in terms of multiples of the base fare. (Senior/Disabled passes are represented as multiples of the Senior/Disabled cash fare, while Youth passes are represented as multiples of the General fare.) F is the increase between the two, still in multiples of base fare.

Did you catch that?

Even when taking into account the base fare increase, from $1.25 to $1.50, the price of the passes go up even more. The most obvious example of this is in the proposed $4.95 day pass. At $3.75, a day pass is equal to the cost of riding three buses. You don't save any money unless you ride more than three buses in a day, but you don't lose any money if you ride exactly three. At $4.95, a day pass costs slightly more than riding three buses in a day. You still save money if you ride four, but you don't break even if you ride three anymore. (Not to mention... $4.95? Who carries four singles, three quarters, and two dimes with them? If you're going to screw us, at least make it a fiver even.)

Take a look, now, at the 10 Tripper pass. Under the current system, it costs 8.8 rides. This means you get 1.2 rides free, as a discount for buying in bulk. This is a GREAT option for occasional riders, who get the convenience and savings of a bus pass without the commitment. But look at the new fare system- a 10 Tripper costs... 10 rides. No more discount. Yeah, it's still nice to have the card rather than having to worry about exact change, but now it's just not nearly as attractive, and I think that's sad. Take away the discount, and it's really no better than cash.

Every other pass now breaks even at a higher point than they used to, but this effect is felt the hardest among the occasional riders- the Day pass and 10 Tripper. Take a look over at column G. This is the number of additional rides required per workday to break even, assuming a 5-day workweek, a 22-day work month, and 12 22-day work months a year, less 10 vacation days. For most of the passes, this is trivial, but for the passes I mentioned, this is a big increase.

RTA, you have managed to take the least loyal of your riders, and give them another reason not to ride the bus. Bravo.

RTA Board Meeting, 2 pm, Thursday. If you're as angry as I am, you'll be there.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Game Over

Found this piccie via Stumbleupon at I think it says it all.

Monday, January 19, 2009

There's a first time for everything...

I wanted to ask something of you, my readers. I know you're out there, I get comments once in a while. I'm writing a how-to-get-around-on-transit guide for UCR students, and I'm looking for destinations. Denizens of Riverside, tell me about your favourite haunts, the restaurants, the hangout spots, the little shops that you just love to death. The comment button is there for a reason. Share your best-kept-Riverside-secret with the world, and, if you can, post which bus route will get you there. Since this is a transit guide, please limit it to places that you might actually frequent while the buses are running, ie no nightclubs. (Let's be honest, the party only really STARTS at 10 pm, and that's when the last bus home leaves.)

I know you exist, you comment from time to time, and I know I can count on you.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Crowded bus manners

Denizens of Riverside, I know that you're not used to riding on crowded buses. But with RTA seeing double-digit ridership growth month after month, you're going to have to get used to it, and that means learning some damned manners. I was on a very crowded #16 the other night, and I noticed some very, very bad bus manners, so Riding in Riverside would like to offer the following tips as a public service.

DO: Move towards the back of the bus as people get on board. Seriously, this bus was standing-room-only, and every single standee was in front of the mid-bus steps. There was space for every single one of you in the back, and trust me, the back of the bus goes to the same place as the front of the bus.

DO NOT: Crowd five friggin' people in the two feet between the driver and the first seats on the bus. That is an AISLE. People boarding the bus need to walk THROUGH that location to get to anywhere else on board. I had to shoulder my way between you idiots, and there were five or six people in line at the stop behind me. There was plenty of standing room on the bus, and you chose to crowd together in proximity normally reserved for an orgy in a tiny two-foot-square section of the vehicle. Thanks.

DO NOT: Bring a stroller the size of Texas on board. Okay, moms and dads, I know you need to move your children around. I'm okay with that. I'm usually even pretty understanding when they start screaming and running around on board the bus. (Headphones help.) But when you bring a stroller so large that it takes up the entire center aisle of the bus, at the front of the bus where the aisle is massive? If you know you're taking your baby on the bus, get a bus-friendly baby carrying device.
I tripped over- not one, but TWO!- of your massive plastic contraptions. Yes, they're technically allowed as they're "folding" strollers, but COME ON PEOPLE! Hell, smaller strollers are usually cheaper anyway! Save yourself some money, save me some hassle, and keep our bus aisles free of deathtraps from Graco.

We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Greyhound suggestions

A local resident shares some suggestions for keeping the Greyhound running in Riverside, though I'm not sure what our options are at this late in the game.

A minor correction though, Mr. Murrel. I like all of your suggestions, but to say that Greyhound shares space with Victorville's public transportation is misleading. The "Victor Valley Transportation Center", which houses the Victorville Greyhound and Amtrak station, is served by only two VVTA routes, with the system's primary transfer point a much-less-attractive bus shelter at 7th and Lorene a few miles south. (I've spent quite a bit of time on VVTA.) Also, the Greyhound station IS within Victorville's city limits, so I'm not entirely sure why you thought otherwise. But overall, a well-thought-out and well-written article that will undoubtedly go ignored by the City. Thank you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Why I Ride, Part 2- It's Not Easy Being Green

Part two to my slow-news-day series, "Why I Ride". Part 1 available here.

The people reading this blog are likely to be American liberals (not necessarily Americans, but liberals in the American sense rather than the classical one), though I welcome all types here. I, as I state in my profile, am a proud liberal. Anyone who's been on the left-hand side of Western politics has heard a thing or two about global climate change. It is real, it is happening, and we need to do something about it NOW. Most respectable scientists claim that it's not really a matter of IF climate change is happening, but rather of HOW MUCH will happen, and that depends entirely on us. While there are serious structural changes that need to be made in our society before we can truly claim that our economy is sustainable, there are a few things that can be done about the impending global calamity individually and immediately.

One of those is riding the bus.

First of all, public transit is more efficient. Think about how much metal is in your car. Even if you drive a small vehicle, you're probably moving a ton or two of metal for every hundred pounds of person when you drive alone. Filling your car to capacity helps this, but even a 5-person two-ton car doesn't compare to a fully loaded transit bus, with 80 or so souls crammed into it. Add in the fact that RTA has a fully CNG-powered fleet, excepting the cutaway vans, and you can see that operating a bus is better for the environment than driving a car.

Second, the buses will run anyway, whether you're on them or not. The incremental environmental cost of carrying your particular behind is next to nothing when compared to the cost of moving the bus itself. Since the bus is already moving, emitting the pollutants that it does (because they're not completely clean), it makes more sense to fully utilize the capacity of that vehicle, rather than adding another vehicle, with it's own pollutants, to the road.

Third, public transit is more easily converted to alternative fuels than the private vehicle fleet. San Francisco's Muni, as well as Vancouver's TransLink, King County Metro in Seattle and the MBTA in Boston, use electrically-powered trolley buses for their more popular routes. In the cases of San Francisco and Vancouver, this electricity comes primarily from large hydroelectric generating stations, which have their own problems but nevertheless are a renewable source of energy. (I'm not saying Boston's power doesn't, but I don't know.) Nearly every large urban transit agency has some experience with running electrically-powered rail vehicles, be they light rail (like Metro's Blue and Gold lines and Muni's Metro lines), mid-capacity rail (like Vancouver's SkyTrain), or heavy rail (like BART and the Metro Red Line). Contrast this with efforts at getting consumers to convert to electric cars, and you can see how it'd be easier to convert a heavily-used transit system to green power. (And don't talk to me about hybrid cars. Even plug-in hybrids are a stop-gap measure at best. They're more a response to high fuel prices than to green issues.)

In the coming years we will all be called to make changes in our lives to ensure that our civilization may live. Start now, and ride the bus.

Monday, January 12, 2009

A brave, new world!

Well, the new Ride Guide is effective today. Actually, it was effective yesterday. RIP route 39, and Saturday and Sunday service all over the place. Welcome to the "economic downturn" folks. Our near-sighted funding priorities have essentially dried up all the money for bus service. Either the Obama administration steps up to the plate and actually takes public transit funding seriously (as the federal government currently spends $0 for transit operations), or it's going to get worse before it gets better.

Friday, January 9, 2009

The Transit Rider's Toolbox

In a perfect world, you could just walk to the nearest RTA "The Bus Stops Here" sign, hop on the next bus, and go hassle-free anywhere in the IE. This is not a perfect world. Therefore, I decided to write this post on what you need to have a satisfying public transit experience out here in the suburbs.

This post is not intended for long-suffering transit riders. You guys already know. This post is intended for new converts to less-car or car-free living, for whatever reason, be it the expansion of UPass, the roller coaster that is gas prices, a new eco-consciousness, or perhaps their recent employment (or lack thereof). The right preparation goes a long way towards having an enjoyable ride.

So, on to what you ought to bring along. First thing's first:

  1. A good, sturdy bag.
    To be honest, this one is very much an individual decision. I prefer messenger bags myself, for their simplicity and utility. My wife has a backpack that works well for her. However, I'd say that SOME sort of container is important for you to bring along. Riding the bus, you don't have a trunk or back seat that you can simply throw things in. If you can afford it, invest in a bag that will take a little abuse. (I did the $30 Wally World bag thing... they break after a few months.) Ladies- maybe you can get away with just a purse. Business folk, maybe you need something that looks a bit more professional than what I'd carry as a college student. But the point stands, that you ought to have something to put all the other somethings in.

  2. Schedules
    Personally, I like to carry a copy of the schedule for all the transit agencies that serve the area. This affords me a level of spontaneity that I feel is crucial to life. If I need to suddenly rush off to Hemet, LA, San Francisco or Chicago, I have the requisite information in my bag. You therefore want to carry:
    The RTA Ride Guide. (Mandatory. Get it on board, at pass outlets, around the UCR campus or at the RTA headquarters.)
    Metrolink's combined schedule brochure. This is a nifty little brochure, it's about half the size of their normal schedules, and it has every Metrolink line within its tiny covers. (On board, at either Metrolink station, or at UCR's Transportation and Parking Services office.
    And either:
    The Amtrak California timetable. This has times for all Amtrak trains in California, is small, easy to carry, and informative. (Any staffed Amtrak station. LA Union, Fullerton, or Anaheim come to mind. You're also supposed to be able to have one sent to you via mail, by requesting it on their web site. Mine never showed up.)
    The Amtrak System timetable. This has times for ALL Amtrak trains. Period. It is a magazine-like 100 or so pages, and is slightly harder to use, but the sheer weight of information make it worth considering. (Request it online via their contact form here.)
    And, if your travels take you north, the Omnitrans Bus Book. This one's a big one, so I'd only suggest getting it if you need it. Otherwise, just printing out the schedule for route 215 should be enough, as you can figure out the rest once you're on said route. (On board Omnitrans buses, one of which stops at the Downtown Terminal.)
    With all of the above schedules, you'll have information on all the transit providers that serve Riverside, allowing you all the spontaneity that public transit affords.

  3. A good book.
    Good, in this case, refers not only to the book itself but to the form factor. College students, the bus is a good time to get some extra studying in. Everyone else, if you find you don't have time to read... if you ride the bus, now you do. The best thing you can do for bus reading is get a paperback, preferably smaller than 4 or 5 inches wide. You can, of course, read what you want, but that form factor is probably the best for both carrying in your bag all day, and for keeping in your space on a crowded bus. Again to students, if you have a course that requires reading any classics (Shakespeare, Plato, any older literature, classics in the field like Hobbes and Locke for poli-sci), you can probably get a svelte paperback edition of these. Keep an eye out.

  4. Cell phone, with appropriate phone numbers.
    This is useful in two ways. One, the obvious, is that you can call transit companies for information, and taxi companies and friends to bail you out if the need arises. I'll provide phone numbers. But the second is something that's helpful and that you might not have thought of. While waiting at a dark bus stop at night, it's sometimes difficult for the driver to see you, and that is NOT the time you want to be passed by. Turning on your cell phone screen and waving the bus down with it in your hand is a sure-fire way of getting the driver's attention, and therefore getting you on the bus instead of waiting in the cold another hour. Anyway, on to phone numbers. Most of these are in the schedule books, but if you've forgotten your schedule books it's good to have them programmed into your phone.
    RTA- 951-565-5002
    Metrolink- 1-800-371-LINK (5465)
    Omnitrans- 1-800-966-6428
    Amtrak- 1-800-USA-RAIL (872-7245)
    511-  Provides transit information for all operators in the Greater LA Area.
    For when things don't go as planned:
    Yellow Cab (800) 829-4222
    AA Inland Empire Cab (888) 333-8294
    And BTW, your cell phone 911 dials out to CHP, which may not be who you want to call in most cases. For emergency response:
    Riverside PD/FD (951) 787-7911
    UCR PD (951) 827-5222

  5. Portable audio player
    I'm torn on this one. On the one hand, I think our society is isolated enough, and I think the constant plugging of earbuds in to your ears diminishes the likelihood of meeting interesting people. On the other hand, there have been people on the bus that I have no interest in meeting. Headphones are a clear "Don't bother me" signal. Plus, you can rock out. So, if either of those sounds appealing, bring your iPod or non-Apple-trademarked music delivery device.

  6. Bus Pass
    Sounds kind of obvious, but I suggest getting a bus pass if at all possible, and carrying it with you always. (UCR, RCC, La Sierra U students, you already have one.) Even if you're not using the system very often, get a Ten Tripper pass. This frees you from the need to carry exact change, speeds up boarding, and allows you flexibility. For example, say you were going to ride the 16 downtown to catch the 1 to a point just south of Tyler Mall. Your friend is driving you home. You bring $2.50 accordingly. When riding the 16 and flipping through the bus book, you notice that you could connect to the 149 Express and catch the 1 at Tyler Mall, saving you time but costing you another $1.25. You don't have $1.25, so you end up sitting on the #1 for an hour you didn't have to. If you had a bus pass, you would be flexible enough to take the alternate route.
    Unlimited passes also have the advantage of allowing you to take any bus, for any length of time, for any reason. If you're walking down a street for a couple of blocks, and you see a bus coming your way, you can jump on and ride it two blocks. Probably not something you'd spend money on, but not a problem with a bus pass. So I HIGHLY recommend getting a pass if it makes sense at all.

  7. Patience
    Facts of life: The bus is not faster than driving. The train is only faster than driving during rush hour. Sometimes you get stuck at a railroad crossing and miss your transfer. Sh!t happens. It doesn't happen all that often, but when it does, be patient and reasonable. Check your schedule book for alternate routes. Enjoy a little more time to read/listen to your music. Accept that it's no more in your control than traffic is, and nothing is really that important. Keeping this in mind will make your ride more enjoyable than anything else on this list, so just relax.

A little preparation, a little patience, and a little luck will lead you to a good experience riding the RTA.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Welcome aboard, La Sierra!

La Sierra University students can now (as I previously reported) use their student ID cards as a free bus pass on all RTA buses. They join RCC and UCR students in the RTA's UPass program, which is modeled on successful similar programs all over the country and globe. I think this is an excellent thing, that focuses on two social problems at once. First off, it provides access to college in a way that's affordable. I spend enough on books and tuition every quarter to have to toss in gas and a parking permit, so having a free bus ride to school just plain makes things easier. Making college more affordable ought to be on everyone's mind (though I think the RCC program does this better than the one at the expensive, private La Sierra U, but I digress).

Second, and more importantly, these programs make a significant investment in the future of transit. They get young people (many of whom have never been on a bus- trust me, I see them everyday) out of their cars and used to using timetables, bus passes, stops and the yellow strip of tape between the window to make the bell ring. They get used to making transfers, scheduling their trips, and the whole way that public transit actually works. Sure, most of them probably won't end up being riders for life, but many of them just might. UPass is training the next generation of bus riders, so the more UPass there is, the better.

Friday, January 2, 2009

Intermodal... what's that?

Another story in the local paper about bus service. Great headline: "Agency to add six bus stations"... sounds fantastic, eh? Always nice to get a transit center. But wait! There's always trouble lurking beneath the service.

Remember how RTA was going to move the downtown terminal to the Metrolink station in 2009? Yeah. That's not happening. So says RCTC. In a cost-cutting measure, RTA and RCTC decided that it would be better to simply refurbish the existing bus station on Fairmont. I'm curious as to what refurbishment the DT can handle. There's already not enough capacity there, which is visible every time two #1's pull up to one bus bay. There's no available space for parking or more bus bays, unless the city plans on giving up their parking lot next door. Express buses already park on the street, and that option is purely untenable with the planned 212 and 214 routes. Five buses parked on Fairmont Ave. is bad enough. I'm not looking forward to seven. Plus, there are no facilities at the downtown terminal, as anyone who has ever had to pee while waiting for a transfer knows. Oh, and the removal of Greyhound will make the Fairmont location completely disconnected from... anything else.

RTA, I'll give you a chance. If it really will keep the cost down, and you really put some work into that terminal... like tearing out that useless parking lot and laying down some more bus bays, and starting a Trolley #53 with service to the train station for all trains... then I'll let you off the hook. Otherwise... dumb move, guys.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Welcome, everyone, to 2009. May this new year bring you happiness and progress. And late-night RTA service, damnit!

Remember- RTA buses are running on Sunday schedules, and the call center is open 06:00 to 18:00.