Sunday, February 26, 2012

"No public transportation to speak of"

Okay, this is how this works. Public transit is primarily funded by government subsidy, and most of this funding is allocated based on ridership. A lot of expansion funding also comes from potential ridership, which is modeled based on (among other factors) existing demand. Thus, you have two cycles in transit planning. One, if nobody rides transit (often because it sucks), then transit doesn't get funding, then transit sucks, then nobody rides it. Two, if people do ride transit, then transit gets more funding, then transit sucks less, then more people ride it. There are exceptions to this rule, and every transit system is suffering from budget cuts right now, but this is basically how it works. Every time you embark on a trip that could be accomplished by transit, and you choose to drive instead, you are directly contributing to how lousy transit is in the area.

That's why I find comments like the following frustrating. This is from Ed Brayton's blog, in response to somebody having a bit of schadenfreude about a Tea Partier spending $70 filling up his Hummer:

I don’t own a vehicle, so I save a whole lot on gas. And insurance, come to think of it. And seeing the maintenance costs that some of my friends have had to bear lately with their vehicles, I wonder how it is that anyone can afford to own a vehicle.
Where do you live?
I have friends that live in major cities and don’t own cars, but that is quite literally an impossibility here. Virtually anything of interest would be a half an hour walk or more, and there’s no public transportation to speak of. (we have a bus system, but outside of downtown stops are few and far between).
The upside for low income people I guess is that we don’t have smog requirements and southern winters are kind to vehicles, so it is quite possible to go and find a cheap 20 year old car for a couple hundred dollars.
"There's no public transportation to speak of. There's a bus system..."

Over and over and over again, I find myself defending the public bus. Bus systems are public transportation worth speaking of- and, if your bus stops are few and far between, it's probably because the urban form of your area is so spread out that anywhere worth going is similarly few and far between. And even if your transit does suck, the best thing that you can do to fix that is to ride it.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Drivers worried

According to the PE, drivers are worried about $4.

Is that how much the stuff is these days? I hadn't noticed.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Metrolink Synrome in Beaumont

UPDATE: For anyone wanting to actually *use* this new route, Beaumont Patch reports that reservations are required 24 hours in advance. They're also calling it the "Commuter Link"- I wonder how RTA feels about that.

The Press-Enterprise reports that Pass Transit officials in Beaumont will be offering a new express bus service between the Beaumont Wal-Mart and the San Bernardino Metrolink station. Obviously, this is great news to commuters heading from Beaumont to LA, or anywhere along the I-10 corridor (do people really drive that far every day? Holy hell...) every day, but there are a couple of worrying troubles with this route.

First, it seems to be exclusively designed for long-distance commuters connecting to Metrolink, and in that respect it is indicative of Metrolink Syndrome on the part of Pass Transit. At the Beaumont end, the bus will stop at the major transit center (at the Beaumont Wal-Mart parking lot), although it appears that the morning trips will leave too early to connect to any local routes. The PE reports, however, that the bus will proceed "directly" to the San Bernardino Metrolink, and that is troubling, because in doing so it will pass close to two major Omnitrans transfer centers- the Redlands Mall and the Downtown San Bernardino transfer center. It is difficult for me to fathom a rider willing to take transit from Beaumont to Los Angeles to work on a daily basis (although I suppose some would), but I can easily imagine a rider taking said transit from Beaumont to Redlands or San Bernardino. Facilitating their transfer to a local route would allow this new express bus to serve a much larger market of commuters, and might even someday allow it to expand to a more regular schedule than twice-a-day.

Second, the PE is unclear about reverse-commute schedules, and neither Pass Transit page (both Beaumont and Banning maintain one) has any mention of the new service. If the buses are to travel all the way to San Bernardino, only to deadhead back to Beaumont, this service will be missing out on yet another market. It's entirely reasonable to expect that there are people in San Bernardino who would like, on occasion, to go to Beaumont. It costs nothing to provide such an opportunity to them, and might help out the ridership numbers a bit. Allow the bus to connect at Omnitrans transfer points and pick up riders heading southbound, and you'll collect the transit-dependent folks who want to go to Beaumont.

Last, I'm concerned that this route may cannibalize ridership on RTA's Route 210. Pass Transit has made clear that they are marketing this route to long-distance commuters seeking to connect to Metrolink. There is already a bus that serves this market, RTA 210. It connects Banning, Beaumont, Moreno Valley and the Riverside Metrolink, and travels a bit more frequently than the new Beaumont route would. It also suffers from Metrolink syndrome-- for example, it doesn't stop at the Pass Transit hub at Wal-Mart. Neither route serves the transit-dependent well, which means both will be competing for those scarce-and-precious "choice riders." In doing so, it may lead to the downfall of both routes. Granted, these two buses would connect to entirely different train lines, and so it may be that there is a huge population of Beaumontians who work along the San Bernardino Line at points between San Bernardino and Los Angeles, but I'm skeptical. It would be safer for Pass Transit to serve the needs of the transit-riding population (and pick up under-served choice riders along the way), and in doing so ensure that both routes flourish.

Still, any new transit offering is something to be celebrated. Congratulations, Beaumont, on trying to improve your citizens' commutes.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Amtrak California quietly gets better

Apparently, this happened with the release of the latest Amtrak California Timetable on December 5th, but I didn't notice until I was down at the Riverside Metrolink over the weekend. Amtrak has started operating a Thruway bus connection between the Coachella Valley and Fullerton (connecting to the Surfliner for Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego), with stops in Indio, Palm Springs, and Riverside. This is a daily service, so here's a new option for car-free travel outside of Riverside even on weekends. This bus is pick-up-only westbound to Fullerton, where it is drop-off-only, and pick-up-only at Fullerton eastbound, after which it is drop-off-only.

You can get tickets for this bus by making a prior reservation via Amtrak's web site or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL, and either getting those tickets in the mail or picking them up at the Metrolink station. None of the Coachella Valley stations have ticketing available, but passengers may board the bus without prior reservation on a space-available basis, so long as they carry a photo ID. (The ID will be held by the driver, and will be returned when you pay for your passage in Fullerton. A similar system is used on the San Joaquin buses in Bakersfield.)

Here's a quick overview of the schedule, in which I also include connections to points south (which are valid, but not included in the official schedule.) Service is also available to La Quinta, Palm Desert, and Cabazon (Morongo Casino). You can find more information from Amtrak California's web site. Remember that train connections are required to take these buses, so they are only valid for trips to/from Fullerton (ie. no bus rides from Riverside to points east, or from points east to Riverside).


Bus #IndioPalm Springs AirportRiversideFullertonConnecting Train #Dest.
496908:0509:0010:2511:21769LA 12:10

572SD 13:55
4985--15:1016:2517:25785LA 18:55

784SD 19:59

Weekdays Eastbound:

Connecting Train #Dest.Bus #FullertonRiversidePalm Springs AirportIndio
768LA 09:40

769SD 09:27496811:5012:4013:50--
784LA 17:10

583SD 14:55498418:2019:0520:1521:15

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Pass Sales Outlets

Quick quiz- if you needed a bus pass right this minute, where's the nearest place to your house to buy one? How about your work? Do you know?

Bus pass distribution in the majority of the RTA service area, as in many suburban areas, is disproportionately concentrated at two sorts of establishments: liquor/convenience stores and check cashing shops. You can also purchase them at RTA's two offices in Riverside and Hemet, and at a few senior centers, city halls, and community service agencies, but those first two are the most prevalent. What does that say about how we think about transit?

Well, none of these establishments exactly screams upper-class, and check-cashing stores are explicitly targeted at the working poor, so there's a bit of classism for you. Furthermore, they're not the sort of places that many people would ordinarily find themselves at during the course of their day-to-day errands. Compare this with, for example, San Francisco, where you can reload your Clipper card at any Wallgreens (and a great many other grocery stores besides), or even Orange County, where you can pick up your bus pass at Ralph's when buying groceries.

Now, if you live in Riverside, you really should be buying your pass at the Public Works Department at City Hall, where you can get substantial discounts (and sign up for a pass by mail). But even then, why is this program limited to only one location in the City, only during normal business hours? How many people would find getting down to enroll in this program difficult, and why can't we handle enrollment via mail, and distribution via other outlets?

Obviously, I have a suggestion: automated pass machines at major transit centers. If you ride transit around here, odds are you'll probably end up passing through Moreno Valley Mall, Downtown Terminal, or Tyler Mall transit center at some point during your travels. How much easier would life be on the transit-dependent if, while waiting for their next bus, they could walk over to a machine and purchase their next pass? SunLine Transit in the Coachella Valley has one of these machines at their major transfer point, and they utilize a similar ticketing system to RTA. People seem to be able to figure out automated ticketing machines at the Metrolink station, and RTA's fare system is much less complicated. So how about it?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

That Transit Center report...

Last year, I noted that the Transportation Committee of the City Council had a very, very long stretch without any meetings- and that one important item, the Multi-Modal Transit Center Update, was supposed to happen during that stretch. That was in February. The Transportation Committee met only three times last year, in April, June and September. At the September meeting, the Transit Center Update was finally received and filed.

Taking a look at the report, there are three options on the table, and three construction possibilities if either of the latter two options are chosen. The three options are:
  1. No-build. Leave the buses downtown, at the current over-capacity terminal. Obviously, this would be bad.
  2. Build a new terminal on Vine St. near the Metrolink station, but only route buses that require a layover there. This would mean that routes that flow through downtown would not stop at the terminal, such as 1, 10, 14, and 16, and the network would be severely broken by a lack of connection points. More bad.
  3. Build a new terminal on Vine St., and route all bus operations there.
You can take a look at the document to see the three location options for the new station. All three would include 14 bus bays for general transit use, two of which are large enough for 60' articulated buses, and 4 bays for long-distance buses. Option 1 would use the site purchased by the City Council for the center, across Vine St. from the station, while options 2 and 3 would re-purpose some of the present parking lot for transit operations. This would get buses closer to trains, but in each case the contractor predicts that a parking garage would be "required." While nothing is final yet, I believe Option 1 is the likely candidate.

So, while the transit center project is moving like molasses, it is still moving.