Sunday, March 15, 2009

The Mayor's Office on Transit

In short... I don't think they quite get it.

I wrote a letter to the Mayor's office regarding their Green Action Plan, and how they seem to be falling quite short of anything green in terms of transportation. Commenters have mentioned how the most touted improvements in the city amount to giving students and city employees free bus passes, which is nice, but doesn't quite address the larger problems of transportation in the city.

I received a response (a couple months later, but I understand the Mayor is a busy guy), and it shows the disconnect between what actually needs to be done and what is being done.

Here's some highlights.

In accomplishing these goals, we are working with RTA. RTA serves the entire county; we are only one of the cities, but we are working on programs to improve access to bus transit in Riverside. In 2002 we formed a committee of approximately 25 residents and agencies to review bus routes. The goal of the committee was to develop a plan which could compare to a program in Boulder, Colorado.

Mr. Mayor, committees are where you send ideas to die. I'm sure you can pass this off as action to some of your constituents, but I study politics. Every day. If this committee has been around since I moved to the city, and the bus routes haven't really gotten any better, then it's clear that this is simply something you can point to when citizens (like me) ask you what you're doing.

The work of both of these committees resulted in the UCR UPASS program allowing students to ride the bus anywhere in the city at no cost. This has caused a significant increase in bus ridership by UCR students. Last year the city subsidized a pilot program for Riverside City College allowing those students to ride at no charge. The city contributed $75,000 toward the program using clean air funds which we receive as part of vehicle registration. These funds are designated for air quality improvement programs. Moreno Valley and Norco also contributed $25,000 each. The program has also been tremendously successful. We have committed to subsidize the program for a second year to give the campus the opportunity to create a student fee ($7-$8 a semester) to continue the program. There is specific data available about the ridership and the reduction in emissions from these successful programs.

I'm actually going to concede that the RCC UPass is a good, effective program, and I'm glad to see that you've coughed up some money for it. Unfortunately, while this improves access to the transit system we have, this does nothing to actually improve transit in the city. In fact, some evidence shows that it's worsened the service along route 1 in the afternoons, simply because of overcrowding. And I still can't get a bus home after 8.

We are committed to continue to work with RTA to improve the system for city residents. The city is looking at a program to subsidize reduced price bus passes for all residents beginning in July. We have City Council representation on the RTA Board of Directors where we can provide input on services. I appreciate your input and hope you will continue to support alternative transportation.

What is with this fetish you folks have with providing free bus passes to everyone?! Public transit is already very, very affordable. Perhaps some city residents could use some help with the cost (a la the Muni Lifeline pass in San Francisco, available to anyone on social assistance), but the vast majority of Riverside residents don't need a cheaper bus pass.
What they need is BETTER BUS SERVICE.

We are in the middle of a funding crisis over at RTA. Routes are being slashed. If you truly care about public transit in this city, take some of the money you're planning to spend on subsidizing bus passes and just send it to RTA. Maybe make it so they can only spend it on in-city bus routes, so your interests are protected, but what we desperately need is operating cash for the transit agency. Money to pay the drivers and gas up the buses. It does me no good to have a cheap bus pass to a system that's rapidly shrinking.

In the long term, get with your Streets department and work on RapidLink. Maybe you haven't heard of RapidLink, as the RTA folks have done a pretty damned good job of keeping it buried, but the idea is this: Big buses, in their own lane, with stoplight priority running down Magnolia. Professional-looking stations with off-bus fare vending machines. No more uncertainty about whether or not the #1 is going to show up at RCC anytime this century. Increased land value along the Magnolia corridor, opportunities for transit-oriented development, and a real, viable alternative to sitting in traffic on Magnolia or the 91 freeway, and the city is in a VERY good position to be able to seriously contribute to RapidLink's development.

So. Executive summary time: Free bus passes cool, but better bus service actually does something.


twodogkd said...

Thanks for the great insight to the City of Riverside's TOTALLY BOGUS so called GREEN transportation/public transit plans, in that the City of Riverside really doesn't have any plans whatsoever.

The Mayor and other City Council members have NO concept of what it means to ride public transit, as of course each has a monthly car allowance of $500 and own cars and have free parking downtown. One has suggested that RTA can provide the service that Greyhound provides, and another said citizens can catch a taxi to catch Greyhound in San Bernardino when and if Greyhound leaves town. Riverside's Mayor and City Council have a gross lack of interest or concern about the public transit which that laud over and over as the basis for their 2025 General plan.

Riverside's Mayor and Council have been told repeatedly that public transit/RTA does not provide transit for citizens to get home from City Council meetings, and one lady who had to walk home was under threat by men following her in a car, but they have done nothing to rectify this situation.

As you indicate they wallow in pretenst but in fact do nothing to advance Public Transit in Riverside CA. It seems to me that there main interest is to see their names in lights, mingle with the monied at cultural and arts events, and see to it that the middle class and poorer folks of Riverside are ignored and underserved as in this example for public transit.

Riverside has supported free bus passes in varying programs for UCR, RCC and City Employees (Now tell me how it makes sense to provide free bus passes to highly paid City Employees, who are provided free parking spaces. If they want City Employees out of their cars, do what most big city employers do and DO NOT PROVIDE ANY FREE PARKING, that will move some people into buses or car pools)

Mayor Loveridge is/was a professor at UCR and is an active supporter of the school and all things UCR. But as I have indicated above he has showed little care or concern about most Riverside users of the RTA bus service.

One example is that when an item came before the City Council about bus shelters both the downtown area and the route to UCR were abundantly blessed with shelters (so much so that they had dots on top of dots representing where these bus shelters would go downtown), but Riverside's citizens who pay taxes and rely on the bus in to poorer areas such as along Indiana and out in Ward 3 got few if any of these shelters.

We need a 180 degree turnaround in the focus of the Mayor and Council. They need to stop their focus on big business/developers and consider the citizens of Riverside and their needs, particularly during this economic downturn.

One good place to start would be for the Mayor and Council to get off their duffs, and put a permanent home for Riverside Greyhound bus station on the agenda BEFORE GREYHOUND IS FORCED TO LEAVE RIVERSIDE on June 30,2009.

If Greyhound moves say to Corona if forced out of Riverside, then Riverside will continue to decline as a presence in the Inland Empire, unless you have business with the Federal/State/County/City/Courts in Riverside's downtown Governement center where almost all are employed at government jobs are working to serve those entities/people who do business such as lawyers.

On a different note, just ran across this website that mentions the problems of poor RTA transit service in Riverside, CA

ON GETTING TO RIVERSIDE FROM ONTARIO AIRPORT VIA PUBLIC TRANSIT, an excerpt: "It is possible to take public transport from Ontario International to Riverside. However, it is most certainly difficult. For frugal travelers, here's the information. Take the airport shuttle around to the Omnitrans bus stop on Airport Dr, and wait for the Omnitrans 61 bound for Ontario/Fontana. This will cost you $1.15, exact change only. Get off at the Ontario Mills transit center, near the mall. Board either a red Riverside Transit Agency route 204 bus (peak hours only) headed towards "Riverside", or an Omnitrans route 90 bus headed towards "San Bernardino/Riverside." The first, which only runs at peak commute hours, will cost you $2.25 and take about half an hour. The second, which runs all day, 7 days a week, will cost another $1.15, but will take around two and a half hours. Either will eventually drop you off at the Downtown Riverside Bus Terminal. "

BY BUS, BY TRAIN, AMTRAK "Riverside has a Greyhound bus terminal located between Mission Inn and University Avenues in Downtown. This is a full-service terminal with routes to most domestic destinations, ticketing, snacks, and a restroom that they will let transit customers use, as the Greyhound terminal is across the street from the main city bus terminal.

Riverside, CA 92501
Telephone Numbers
Main: 951-686-2345
Greyhound Package Express: 951-686-2345
Greyhound Charter: 800-454-2487

Greyhound has been forced by the city of Riverside to close the terminal, and the effective date for leaving has changed from the original date of October 31, 2008, then to January 31, 2009 and now the current close date is June 30, 2009 unless Riverside City Council does the right thing which is to take action to keep Greyhound in Riverside. Travelers using Greyhound will have to get off at San Bernardino and make their way to Riverside from there, possibly using Omnitrans Route 215. By train

Riverside is a hub of the Metrolink [1] commuter rail system, served by the Riverside, 91 and Inland Empire-Orange County lines on weekdays, and by the San Bernardino and Inland Empire-Orange County lines on weekends. The Metrolink station is about a mile outside of the city center, with ample parking. The only facilities available are public telephones and ticket machines- no restrooms. The station is served by Omnitrans 90 and RTA 1, 16, 16E, Trolley 52, and CommuterLink 208 and 210.

There is a second Metrolink station, Riverside-La Sierra, in the south of the city. It is served by the 91 and Inland Empire-Orange County lines on weekdays, and the Inland Empire-Orange County line only on weekends. It has the same facilities, and is served by RTA 12 and 15. Interesting to note is the city utility has installed solar generating arrays over much of the parking lot.

Amtrak [2] serves the Downtown station with one trip per day on the long-distance Southwest Chief. Arrival from Los Angeles/Departure to Chicago is at 8:03PM each evening, and arrival from Chicago/Departure to Los Angeles is at 5:48AM each morning. Traveling to Riverside from out-of-area by rail is not convenient or cheap, but it can be done. Note that no Amtrak personnel are available at Riverside station- if you are boarding the train in Riverside you MUST have advance reservations. You may pick up your ticket from the Metrolink kiosks at the station. Amtrak California also runs four buses each day to the Riverside Downtown station, which connect to the San Joaquins in Bakersfield for train journeys to points north. "

. . .

PUBLIC TRANSPORT "Public Transport

Once again, while the vast majority in the city do use automobiles, there is public transit available in Riverside. The Riverside Transit Agency provides fixed-route bus service on around 15 routes in the city, as well as three express commuter services and a few new community-based trolley-bus routes. Trips up and down Magnolia Ave. on route 1, on University Ave on route 16, and on route 15 along Arlington Ave are relatively frequent, with 20, 30 and 40 minute headways respectively. Weekends and other routes can cause more delay. A note of warning- the Riverside transit infrastructure essentially stops at 20:00. There is simply no service at night. If you're planning to be out late, make sure you have a way home. The system has two main hubs- the Downtown Terminal in the city's Downtown, and the Galleria at Tyler in the south of the city. Chances are you will have to travel through one of these transfer points to get anywhere in the city. Commuter express routes 204 and 149 stop at the Downtown Terminal with destinations of Montclair/Ontario and Orange County, and 149 and OCTA 794 stop at the Galleria, both headed towards Orange County. Local routes serve all surrounding areas. Taxis have been known to congregate on Fairmount Ave. between the Greyhound and city bus terminals. This is helpful if you end up caught by the sudden unavailability of public transport at night. Trip planning is available on the web site, and by calling 1-800-800-7821 between 07:00 and 19:00 M-F, and 08:00 and 17:00 weekends.

. . .

BUY The city has a few major shopping venues.

The Downtown area, centered around the Downtown Pedestrian Mall, consists mainly of upscale and specialty shops. It is an entertaining walk, but in most cases serious shopping is better left to one of the local malls. This area is just a short walk from the Downtown bus terminal (routes 1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 22, 25, 29, 49, Omni 90, 149, CommuterLink 204), and can be accessed via the Market exit off of the 60 freeway, and the University exit off of the 91. It is also served by the Red and Green line trolleys, routes 50 and 52 respectively, running around the downtown area for only $0.25.

The new Riverside Plaza is a small collection of mostly upscale shops and restaurants just off the 91 freeway at Central Ave. It is anchored by Gottschalks, Vons, Borders and a 16-screen cinema. It is served by bus routes 1, 12, 13, and 14.

The Galleria at Tyler is the largest shopping center in the area, a two-story mall with nearly every store one can think of, as well as large commercial developments for three blocks in all directions. Parking is free, but crowded. It's just off the 91 freeway at Tyler street, and served by bus routes 1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15, 21, 27, 149, and OCTA 794. Be aware that on Friday nights and weekends this area will be extremely congested with both vehicular and pedestrian traffic.

While not technically in the city of Riverside, the Moreno Valley Mall and it's surrounding development has provided an attractive alternative to the residents of the city's northern areas, especially those attending the University of California. This two-story mall is equipped with all the usual amenities, and is usually significantly less crowded than the Galleria. It is accessible via the 60 freeway off the Day Street and Frederick exits, and is served from Riverside by bus route 16 and CommuterLink 208. (Bus routes 17, 18, 18A, 19, and 36 also serve the mall, but travel from neighboring Moreno Valley.) "

This website is largely positive about Riverside and gives suggestions on what to do and see.

But it provides EVIDENCE of the glaring holes in Riverside's public transit, including the lack of any RTA bus service evenings and I assume no owl service (all night buses) as they have in SF. With OWL service you may have to walk a long way, but the buses do get you where you CAN walk home.

Riverside's Mayor and City Council need to focus in improving public transit in Riverside as we are a City of 300,000 and growing, and public transit IS FOR EVERYONE not just for the poor and middle class. That is another issue that needs to be addressed, the class consciousness of our Mayor and City Counil, and some Council members and City officials blantant putdowns of citizens who chose to ride public transit. Millionaires DO ride Riverside public transit here and across the County including areas such as the SF Bay Area, New York City, Toronto, London, etc.

JN said...

Karen... I LOVE that you found the Riverside WikiTravel article.

I wrote it. Most of it.

Before I got to it, there wasn't a single mention of transit on it, nor was it much more than a list of hotels and restaurants in the city. Others have contributed (that bit about Greyhound leaving wasn't me), but you can bet that the transit sections were put there by yours truly.

Anonymous said...

Wow, as a 20-something who moved to California with visions of beautiful public transportation dancing in my mind, I have come to find that Riverside public transportation leaves something to be desired. With limited bus trips to the Metrolink, non-existent evening service (seeing a movie after 7pm is totally out of the question), and vague route maps, I wish the City Council would take steps towards improving the quality of the local transportation.

JN said...

Anonymous, you moved to the wrong half of California. :)
Unfortunately, the City Council isn't the major culprits. Our transit here is on a county level, so RCTC is the major roadblock in this system., you can find their meeting times and complain. :)

twodogkd said...

On the wikitravel site someone put that Greyhound was leaving on October 31 I believe, so I updated it showing the Jan 31 date and the current June 30 date.

I wasn't aware of WikiTravel until I found it that night.

It certainly is a small world!

Ed Von Nordeck said...

The post regarding how to get to Riverside from
Ontario Airport. The old 90 route is no more.
One takes 61 to Fontana, Kaiser Hospital, then line 19 to Wallmart in south Colton, then line 215 to downtown Riverside. or continue to Barton Road and take RTA 25 to Riverside.
Service until around 9 PM, but shorter hours on the weekend.

If the Board members of RCTC, RTA and City Council would ride the system for several days, they soon would learn what folks are having to put up with.

At this rate, the Inland Empire will never go Green.

Eva said...
This comment has been removed by the author.