Friday, July 31, 2009

Too much negativity?

I was reading this post about how transit agencies can leverage word-of-mouth advertising to increase ridership, and the thought occurred to me: I whine about RTA a lot on this blog. An unfamiliar reader might get the impression that our transit system is inconvenient, slow, and unreliable, their administration unresponsive and callous, and other generally bad things about the system. Let me make something clear right now:

I love my transit system.

I grew up in a place with anemic transit. There is a total of one bus stop in my entire hometown, with only one scheduled daily trip (with others available by 24-hour advance reservation). Riding the bus was something that had to be planned well in advance, and I didn't do it much. More than most of my peers, to be sure, but still not that often. (Transit there is even worse now, with no connection to the rest of the world besides Greyhound.)

I love the fact that I can roll out of bed at 9 in the morning and decide on a whim that I'd like to go to any of a thousand different places in Greater Los Angeles, and hop on the next bus and go. I enjoy the clean, comfortable and safe interiors of RTA buses and (especially) Metrolink trains. I have a warm, squishy spot in my heart for U-Pass, the program that provides me, and my fellow UCR students, with free rides from Montclair to Escondido. I really enjoy all the reading I get done on the bus. One of my favourite places to be in the world is in one of the sideways-facing seats at the rear of the bus (more legroom!), lost in a good book.

I'll even admit to enjoying that feeling I get when people around me complain about traffic and parking. And gas prices? I haven't thought about them in months.

RTA and other regional transit operators run, on balance, a well-designed an efficient system that's safe, clean, reliable and affordable. I truly encourage anyone and everyone to try riding for a while, just to see if it works for you. I'm not going to stop working to make our system better, but I don't want anyone to be turned off from riding because of my rants. Get out there and ride, folks.

Oh, and by the way, here's a story from the PE- I'm not the only crazy who loves the bus. :)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Google Transit Update

Called RTA today about the Google Transit meltdown. They are aware that the data is down, they say it's down due to inaccuracies, and there is no ETA when it will be back up. The CSR's best estimate? "It could be several weeks."

I am still NOT HAPPY. Google Transit bliss (with all of Greater LA's major operators- Metro, Foothill, Omni, OCTA, RTA) lasted less than a month.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Calvert does something right!

Okay, so I'm just about to leave the house to go looking for flying pigs and adverts for hell's new ski resort, so I have to quickly point out that Ken Calvert (R-Corona) has actually done something sensible with his position in Congress. He's proposed that goods shipped through ports have a fee added to mitigate the costs of transporting them to and from the ports. (Article in the PE here.)

Now, do I know what the motivation for this is? Yup. This is part of that age-old inland-coastal divide in California politics, and Calvert's long frustration with the massive amount of goods that move through the IE from Los Angeles and Long Beach without a commensurate tax benefit to us. He also suggests that this money be used to pay for railroad grade separation, which points out that his only real focus on public transport is to segregate drivers from those noisy, well-lit killer trains.

Does any of this make me think, for even a second, that Kenny is a friend to public transit? Nope. Does it change the fact that I'll be working very, very hard to ensure that he's jobless come 2010? Nope. Does it mitigate, in any way, the shameless right-wing pandering and hypocritical christian moralising that he's famous for? Not at all. But I will give credit where credit is due.

Pictures of flying pigs to come.

Friday, July 24, 2009

*NOT Happy*

View Larger Map

That abomination is what shows up when I try to plan a trip down Tyler way. "Drive to the Riverside Metrolink Station" it says. Not "Route 16 to Route 1". Riverside Transit data in Google Transit has been down for a few days, and I am not happy about it. I don't know who's fault this is. I do know I want it fixed. Now.

(EDIT: RTA's Google Transit data is back up, and the map now shows a proper routing to the Tyler Mall.)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Loophole

As most of you know, I'm an impoverished academic, so the question remains- how did I afford to fly to New York on a moment's notice? Many of you may be familiar with the old method of flying standby- show up at the airport and fill a seat at a fantastically reduced price. You might also be aware that flying standby went the way of toiletry bags and goodbye hugs at the gate. In most cases, that is.

A midwestern discount airline, AirTran Airways, has a special program called AirTran U. For folks between the ages of 18 and 22, they charge $69 per short flight and $99 per long flight (LA is always long) if you're willing to fly standby. The downside? From LA, you only get three choices of destinations- Baltimore, Atlanta or Milwaukee. You're welcome to connect from there to anywhere you like- for an extra $69 per segment, standby only.

If you're like me- that is to say, cash-poor but time-wealthy and flexible- it's a fantastic deal. New, safe and comfortable aircraft with onboard XM and internet await the lucky traveler who gets a seat. I missed a flight once, the Friday night red-eye to LA from BWI, but everything else went swimmingly. College kids with the travel itch are honour-bound to check it out.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Triumphant Return

Sorry to all of you folks... it's been an interesting couple of weeks. I mentioned in my last post that I was heading to New York. Well, I did, on a shoestring budget that still amazes me. I'm going to return to writing on this blog with a short travelogue and review of the transportation services I used on the trip, in order. I'm skipping over old favourites like RTA and Metrolink, as you ought to know what I think of them by now. Which brings me to the first segment: LAX FlyAway.

FlyAway is a dedicated public express bus network designed to get folks from various points in the southland to LAX. They go to UCLA, Van Nuys and Union Station. I didn't check the schedules for the other routes, but the Union Station bus runs at least hourly, 24/7. It's quick and convenient to Metrolink, and it beats the Red-Blue-Green-Shuttle shuffle that links Metro's rail lines to LAX. I highly recommend the service.

That said, I have a couple of issues with it. One, and they don't make this very clear anywhere, all payment for the bus is done at the Union Station end, regardless of where you board. No signs or staff make this apparent at the airport, and this made for some stressful moments at LAX while waiting for the bus. A sign at each bus stop, "Payment due upon arrival" or some such, would improve this immensely.

Second, while the service does accept EZ Transit Passes (presumably for those who work at the airport) for credit equal to the pass' base fare, they do not accept Metrolink tickets as EZ Passes, for any sort of credit. If the goal of this service is to encourage transit riding to the airport, this seems counterintuitive. However, if the goal is simply to encourage parking elsewhere (as the parking information-laden brochure seems to suggest- Union Station's daily lot is $8/day), then I'm slightly soured on the service. We want to encourage people to ride transit, even to the airport. Even $1 off of FlyAway's fare would be an incentive for them to do so, rather than simply drive to cheap parking.

Lastly, the fare vending situation is a touch counterintuitive. There's a ticket booth at Patsouras Transit Plaza that you must buy your tickets from, and yet the booth requires cash only. If it's cash only, why can't it be collected onboard? If it's a fixed booth, why can't they install a Visa machine? And really, if you're going to have fixed fare payment, you'd lower the (remember: 24/7) labour costs of the service by simply installing a ticket machine. Put in $6, get out ticket. Life's good.

So, overall, FlyAway- awesome. Tune in tomorrow, when I actually go flying.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Metro now on Google Transit

So I was planning a trip to NYC last night and I absent-mindedly asked Google Transit about a transit route to LAX. I thought nothing about it until later, but it actually worked. Metro bus and rail services are now available in Google Transit. Enjoy all.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Last of a Dying Breed

Last 17, originally uploaded by plattypus1.

This is the last westbound #17 bus, at Cottonwood and Frederick in Moreno Valley. Also posted up at the Flickr page are the last eastbound #17, as well as some shots of the 18A at Moreno Valley Mall. 18A, of course, also no longer exists.

Oh, and happy 4th everyone.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Can you say "Green Jobs"?

Infrastructurist reports that the first American-made streetcar in 60 years was unveiled today at a ceremony in Portland, OR. Apparently, not only will it ply the streets of Portland, but it was also produced there, employing "hundreds of skilled workers" in that city.

Hey, if we ever build that Magnolia Ave. streetcar, we can buy American.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Thoughts on car-freedom

Regular users know that I don't claim to be entirely car-free. I'm car-very-very-light. Well, back on Mother's Day, I was driving home from visiting my mother and in-laws, and my hood latch gave way, smashing my windshield and bending the hood in ways it was not meant to be bent. Nobody was injured, and we made it home safely, but our vehicle has been out of commission since then. That was, as I said, on Mother's Day, May the 10th. Because I'm an impoverished college student, and even worse one who is currently not attending courses (and hence not receiving financial aid), we haven't been able to fix the car, and it's not safe to drive. I've therefore been entirely car-free for the past month and a half.

All in all? Things have been pretty good. We eat out less than we used to, which is an improvement in our finances as well. I've built the CrateBike, and made very effective use of it. We also have been using grocery delivery, which rocks. What strikes me the most is that, besides my wife complaining a bit more whenever she wants to go somewhere, and carpooling with friends for social events more often, our lives haven't really changed all that much. Of course, I'm an outlier. I was already pretty auto-independent when this event happened. (The only reason we were driving that night was because our family's in the high desert. No transit options.) Most people I know would have their entire lives thrown into chaos were they to find themselves suddenly without access to a car. They're very used to a day strung together by driving. Many don't live in a neighbourhood where car-free life be very practical. Many tract developments are miles away from the nearest grocery store, for example. I'm fortunate enough to have the Canyon Crest Towne Centre and a frequent transit line within walking distance.

So, does this mean I'm finally read to cut the car cord? Not quite. Well, I'm ready to entirely, but the wife is probably attending Cal State San Bernardino in the winter, and, beyond a very long bike ride, there simply aren't any commute alternatives for the night classes she'll have to take. Add to that student teaching, and we'll probably have to wait until after her credential is earned to go car-free. And even that depends on where she can find a job. But this summer is a good demonstration of what is possible, even here in the IE.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Parking fines... for a parking structure...

FBM posted about, among other things, parking fines being raised in Riverside. They're going from $13 to $38. While that's a bit of a jump, I will stand outside of the chorus of screeching NO's that are undoubtedly ringing through the city, and say that I approve of making driving and parking more expensive. If the affected drivers don't like it, perhaps they should a) stop parking illegally, or b) take the bus.

However, I DON'T approve of the purposes the City is using the money for. Councilman Gardner wants this increase to build his Parking Structure to Nowhere for the Fox Theatre, completely destroying the purpose of subsidising the theatre in the first place. Fantastic, Mr. Gardner. Now stop being an idiot and let the rest of us re-vitalize downtown. Channel your parking fines into improved transit service, or build up a fund for the Riverside Rapid Streetcar.