Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Let's tour and critique the RCTC-Proposed I-15 Tolled Express Lanes in Riverside County

A virtual tour and opinion piece of how the proposed I-15 tolled express lanes can benefit Riverside County transportation.

Concept of I-15 facing north just past Railroad Canyon Road

"Express Lanes - 2 Miles," an overhead sign along northbound I-15 might say just past Railroad Canyon Road by 2020. From a future transit center, commuters can hop aboard a soon-to-be public express rapid bus and be at work in Orange County in about an hour, cruising along in the express lanes. Or, a family can hop aboard a private bus line headed to Disneyland Resort and enjoy a quick trip there.

Working to improve traffic capacity and operations on Interstate 15, the Riverside County Transportation Commission (RCTC) and California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) District 8 are exploring multi-modal lanes for the highway from just north of the I-15/ I-215 separation near Murrieta, northward to State Route 60 (SR-60) near Ontario.

The project includes the study of two build alternatives with a no-build alternative. Alternative 1 proposes to add one Carpool (HOV) lane and one regular lane in each direction from SR-74 to SR-60 and one HOV Lane from I-215 to SR-74. Alternative 2 will add two Tolled Express lanes and one regular lane in each direction from SR-74 to SR-60 and one HOV Lane from I-215 to SR-74. Both would support fast trips for buses and carpools. The widening of the freeway will occur by utilizing the unpaved center median whenever possible.

The proposed I-15 Corridor Improvement Project (CIP) stretches approximately 44 miles in length, traveling through Murrieta, Wildomar, Lake Elsinore, Corona, Norco and portions of unincorporated Riverside County.

RCTC I-15 HOT Lanes Graphic

What are the I-15 Tolled Express Lanes?
Tolled Express Lanes are RCTC-proposed dedicated lanes with limited entrances and exits that provide travel time savings, trip reliability, a facility for rapid express buses, as well as congestion relief in the general purpose lanes if usage policies are written correctly. RCTC proposes to develop the toll rate policy and will be compatible with the current toll system used on State Route 91 in Orange County.

RCTC proposes that all vehicles that use the tolled express lanes be required to have transponders, an electronic FasTrak reader captures the transponder ID and bills the account established by the driver. The Transit Coalition opposes the transponder requirement for carpools and seeks to abolish the FasTrak mandate for any 2+ or 3+ HOV for both corridors to encourage carpooling, attract private sector transit bus lines, and to better redistribute the traffic flow (read more about TTC's position here).

Tolls collected from solo motorists would be used to pay for the project's construction along the corridor. RCTC reports that no public funding has been allocated for the HOT lanes; however The Transit Coalition believes the state can and should provide funding for this project. Local officials must continue to hold the state accountable for its actions and ensure state transportation tax funding is making it to the highways and rails as it should.

Concept of I-15 facing north at Highway 74

Future Concepts: Heading Northbound on I-15
Under Alternative 2, the northbound I-15 carpool lanes would become a pair of high occupancy toll lanes at Highway 74. The southernmost HOT lane entry point would be here. Any 2+ carpool and any other high occupancy vehicle with at least 2 persons should be able to get on free and go without needing to pre-register. The express lane toll for solo vehicles should also vary, based on the amount of traffic in the HOT lanes and travel speeds of the regular lanes (supply-and-demand congestion pricing). In the example pictured above, the I-15 is free-flowing at 65-70 MPH all the way to the 60 freeway; so the maximum posted toll is $0.60. During peak congestion, a solo motorist can expect to pay up to $8-10 to travel to SR-60 and about $3-5 to SR-91.

At this entrance to the I-15 Express Lanes, three toll amounts are displayed on the overhead toll sign. The top amount displays the minimum toll amount of $0.50 to the next HOT lane exit, Indian Truck Trail. The second row displays the toll amount to travel to the 91 Freeway which is $0.50 because the freeway is free-flowing. The last amount shows a $0.60 toll to the 60 Freeway, the end of the Express Lanes. The bottom, "CARPOOLS 2+ NO TOLL" displays the 2+ occupancy requirement needed for toll free, non-transponder travel.

Tolls may change as traffic conditions change, but solo motorists always pay the toll displayed on the sign upon entry; toll amounts are locked in upon entry.

Concept of I-15 facing north a mile past Lake Street

Conceptual Access Point north of Lake Street
I-15 Commuters originating from northern Lake Elsinore headed north normally use Lake Street. A HOT lane access point a mile north of Lake Street would yield many benefits for carpools originating from Alberhill and other communities in the area. Also pictured is a sign listing possible direct exits/ramps from the HOT lanes. These ramps would be designed for park & ride patrons and rapid express buses headed to/from future transit stations, each located a block or two from the ramp. The RCTC-proposed direct access ramp to the 91 Express Lanes is also included on the exits list.

Conceptual Access Point near Weirick Road
Another intermediate conceptual access point should be placed near Weirick Road, allowing traffic to/from Temescal Canyon communities streamlined access.

RCTC Proposed 91 Express Lanes Access Point at Cajalco Road

RCTC-Proposed Direct Access Ramp to SR-91 Express Lanes
RCTC has proposed adding a new tolled express lane direct connector to and from the 91 Express Lanes to the I-15 Express Lanes. This will provide direct access from eastbound 91 Express Lanes to a new median express lane southbound on I-15 and from a new northbound median express lane on I-15 to the westbound 91 Express Lanes. Traffic entering or exiting I-15 at Ontario Avenue, El Cerrito Road, Cajalco Road (pictured) and points south will be able to use the direct connector to or from the 91 Express Lanes.

RCTC Proposed 91 Express Lanes Access Point at Magnolia Avenue

The Transit Coalition believes that it is essential for carpools to have free access to HOT lanes without a requirement for transponders and objects to pre-registration policies that would result in a reduction of carpools instead of single occupancy vehicles.

If HOT lane policies are set correctly, free mobility will be a long-lasting reality for HOV traffic traveling along Southern California freeway corridors. With public express buses, 2+ or 3+ private HOVs, motorcycles, and private sector bus lines having their own set of dedicated free-flowing lanes through traffic-choked corridors, the public-private benefit would be enormous.

Please note that this tour and HOT lane ideas presented are conceptual and have not been endorsed by any public entity.

Read more about TTC's position here.

Bridge-gate: The $10 Million Bay Bridge PR

Another reason why HOV's should not, under any circumstances, pay to use the Oakland Bay Bridge, the proposed I-15 Tolled Express Lanes through Riverside County or any other high occupancy toll lanes statewide.

The new eastern span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. An investigative story by the Sacramento Bee shows that the California Department of Transportation might be guilty of wasteful and unnecessary spending of taxpayer transportation dollars. Caltrans officials overseeing construction of the eastern segment of the $6.4 billion San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge approved a contract with a public relations company that was going to cost California taxpayers close to a whopping $10 million in transportation money.

You've read that right: $10 million from taxpayers' pockets to pay for marketing of the eastern half of the newly reconstructed and retrofitted Oakland Bay Bridge which would include producing a book and a video documentary. Does the $6.4 billion earthquake-resistant eastern segment of the Bay Bridge warrant a legacy complete with a book and a video? Clearly, that is up to private authors, historians, the television industry, and other sectors of the free market to decide, not a state transportation department. But the $10 million for PR now becomes a symbol of how wasteful the state can be with our transportation money. To be fair, the Brown administration ordered Caltrans to cancel this contract, but the governor was forced to since the story broke. We all owe a big thanks for the Bee for uncovering what could have been a state-level Watergate in the San Francisco Bay.

The Transit Coalition has seen some of the strangest transportation proposals out there, but we have never seen a $10 million state-funded transportation project PR before. These public scandals have happened before and there are likely others that have yet to be uncovered. We all remember the folks from the State Department of Parks and Recreation from who illegally hid $54 million. The money games are in full swing. And now, both The Transit Coalition and the public have more of a reason to oppose budget-related transit cuts, question proposed fare hikes, and confront ill-advised proposals of high occupancy toll lanes which require HOV's to pay to use.

A vision of HOT Lanes on the I-15.

A conceptual art piece pictured above from A Better Inland Empire shows an officially proposed HOT lane entry point at the I-15 Freeway at Highway 74 in Lake Elsinore looking north. This concept shows what the proposed entry point may look like if it rightfully supported free non-transponder carpooling together with rapid express bus service and supply-and-demand toll rates for solo drivers.

State and Riverside County public officials cite the lack of public funds for construction of these lanes as their reasoning behind their proposals to require carpoolers to pay tolls and/or preregister for transponders in order to use them. Officials in San Diego county have also jumped aboard in their long term plans for the I-5 and I-15 freeways through the countryside, but if the state continues its wasteful spending spree with your transportation dollars, both the Coalition and the public will continue to confront toll mandates for carpoolers along our freeways. Why should any carpool patriot or a private sector transit operator have to work harder everyday and pay tolls to use the high occupancy lanes so that Caltrans can have a $10 million PR? The state agency has some explaining to do.

To our local transportation agencies and the state: You want extra construction money to build multi-modal HOT lanes which support free non-transponder carpooling, better distributed traffic flow, and offers a quick throughfare for rapid express transit buses and private sector coaches and charters? Close the loopholes and cut the waste; strike out the $10 million PR.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Metrolink Perris Valley Line Lawsuit: Frivolous or not?

Both the state and the feds need to close the legislative loopholes for transportation environmental impact reports.

Several Riverside County transit riders and commuters have been long wondering: When exactly will the Metrolink Perris Valley Line extension project finally break ground on construction? Transit officials estimate spring or summer of 2013 as the Riverside County Transportation Commission was awarded state funds for the project. It is currently awaiting federal funding, and a lawsuit filed against the project will be finally over by then. $53 million has been obligated to RCTC from the California Transportation Commission. $75 million from the federal government is awaited, after which the $247 million Perris Valley Line project will be fully funded. RCTC must be prepared and be ready to confront any possible delays from the federal level to prevent anything else from delaying groundbreaking. We've been patiently waiting...

The Metrolink Perris Valley Line. As many of you are aware, the proposed Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension is being challenged in court with its trial scheduled to start in January. An opposing organization called Friends of Riverside Hills filed a lawsuit in August 2011 challenging the Environmental Impact Report for the rail project, claiming RCTC failed to adequately detail the noise and pollution impacts of excavating dirt around the tracks and other aspects of construction. The case was merited to go to trial last April. The group represents residents living in the residential areas near UC Riverside.

To be fair to all parties involved, we live in the United States of America and we citizens have a right to peacefully organize, freely participate in robust debates, and challenge each other on issues. That's a welcomed reality of living in a free democracy; otherwise The Transit Coalition wouldn't exist. Friends of Riverside Hills is challenging RCTC fair and square as its lawsuit has legal merit; that's why the case has been allowed to go to trial. However, the issue at stake is a classic example of how a small issue can become a big judicial problem; a loophole which should be addressed by lawmakers.

It's a clear fact that moving dirt around and grading sites are basic steps for just about any major construction or development project, even those that don't require an EIR. Both the state and the federal government must consider revisiting transportation legislation to prevent minor claims like those addressed by Friends of Riverside Hills from having legal merit in the future. This will prevent future transit and highway projects from being mired in unnecessary expensive litigation which ends up being paid for by local and county taxpayers. Obviously, there should be written rules, mandates, and limits to keep dust pollution and noise caused by grading and construction to a minimum. The law should state: If the construction contractor violates these terms, pollutes the air or becomes too noisy, the firm, not the taxpayer, gets fined.

Under the current system, RCTC is mandated to conduct a detailed analysis on dust and noise pollution caused by transportation construction. Friends of Riverside Hills found there wasn't enough data reported in the project's EIR and now the case is headed to trial. This current system allows for a pure waste of local transportation resources. Protection against construction-related dust pollution and noise is absolutely vital and it can be regulated under better written state and/or federal law, not litigation. If such provisions were in place, the Perris Valley Line construction contractor would have been held more accountable for any construction-related pollution and noise, RCTC would know which areas of the corridor would need to be quiet-zone designated, Friends of Riverside Hills would have ended up with a frivolous case and the lawsuit against the long-overdue Perris Valley Line would have been thrown out by any impartial judge. This legal loophole must be closed by the state and feds, and it needs to be done soon.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Political Chaos with the Hemet Transit Center

Unnecessary Bureaucratic Red Tape is sapping proposed Riverside County Transit Centers at epidemic levels

The location of the proposed Hemet Transit Center. Political money games and the lack of cooperation between public entities are sapping worthy Inland Empire transit projects once more. Again, The Transit Coalition has to remind the state and feds: You have to know what's it like to be in the real world.

This Google Maps satellite aerial imagery shows the general location of a city-identified site and a prime location for a proposed transit center in the City of Hemet. The multi-modal station was proposed to be developed adjacent to a proposed courthouse in the heart of the historic downtown core complete with a transit village.

In reality, developing the transit center, a courthouse with a public square and a future Metrolink station in this area would be very desirable for this Inland suburb starved for free market economic growth. However, according to this RTA Budget & Finance Committee Report, delays at the state level combined with potential de-obligation actions from the federal government has led to nothing except for bureaucratic red tape for the Hemet Transit Center. RTA thus decided to conduct a site feasibility study to determine another optimal transit center location.

This is an outrage because plans for the Hemet station have already been in the works for nearly a decade by local officials. This is why the lack of cooperation with the state combined with overregulation and spending deadlines with the federal funds is bad for transportation projects - too many hurdles which negate Inland Empire transit development. This has happened before. RTA was forced to empty nearly all of the funds for a very desirable transit center project at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station. According to the latest public documents from RTA, the alternative site for the Riverside Transit Center which is currently under study is now the site of the proposed Moreno Valley Transit Center, located on the western edge of the City of Moreno Valley at a proposed station for the Metrolink Perris Valley Line; the transit hub is now labeled the Northwest Transit Center. Basically, the Downtown Riverside Transit Center is back on the drawing board sitting with a near empty fund. Both the state and the White House should be outraged as The Transit Coalition is.

Moving ahead, the City of Hemet does have some local control over their transit center. Because the city envisions the development of a transit village adjacent to the transit center, why not entice private developers to come in by designating the transit center and courthouse block as a specific plan and offer tax incentives to the entrepreneurial class to build both of the public buildings and the courthouse square as part of the village complete with private sector jobs? The truth is Hemet is starved for a private job marketplace. Its residents could use some logistics, manufacturing, distribution and other blue-collar jobs. That is a smart way in getting Hemet back to a healthy state.

If local officials are serious about getting both the Riverside and the Hemet Transit Centers built next to the Metrolink rail system without going through a decade of planning, they must take the unnecessary regulations off the backs of the private sector and incentivize them to come in and build the facilities. Local officials need to have the desire and the will to have Riverside and Hemet not only survive, but to thrive. Meanwhile, both the state and the feds need to get out from their desks, visit the affected transit center sites themselves, and see what upper-level regulatory reform needs to be done to move these projects forward. The bottom line of this story: Government roadblocks continue unchecked, our transportation projects are being delayed at epidemic levels, and the riding public is paying for it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Private Sector, Toll Lanes, and the LA-to-Vegas Transit Corridor

Public entities should support the transit improvement efforts of the free market.

Megabus returns to LA. Moving people between Southern California and Las Vegas is in the hands of the private sector. No question. With the cooperation from public transportation agencies, there's a great chance multi-modal mobility for the LA-to-Vegas corridor will improve with the growing competition between operators in the marketplace: XpressWest HSR, X-train, Greyhound, numerous charters, and now the Megabus.

The Stagecoach Group has brought the intercity coach back with multiple daily departures to Las Vegas. Riders can board Megabus either at Los Angeles Union Station's Patsaouras Plaza or at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station, two very productive choices. Megabus also plans to operate express service to northern California cities from Union Station.

While Megabus will operate nonstop trips, Greyhound buses will continue to provide local intercity service between Southern California and Vegas. Several other private buses, coaches and charters also utilize the corridor. Expect ongoing transit improvements and promotional fares from the marketplace; competition will continue to grow with the implementation of Megabus and the proposed passenger rail lines. Public entities must therefore support the transit improvement efforts of the free market.

Right now, the Cajon Pass portion of the I-15 freeway which links Southern California into the high desert is heavily used and often becomes congested during peak travel times. The San Bernardino Associated Governments is currently studying the feasibility of potential HOT lanes between the 60 Freeway and Victorville. There's no report of whether SANBAG will mandate transponders for all HOV's (better if they don't), but if Vegas-bound buses and other 2+ or 3+ HOVs have a dedicated set of free-flowing lanes through the traffic-choked pass, the public-private benefit would be enormous.

At the moment, LA Metro, OCTA, and the Riverside County Transportation Commission want to mandate transponder registration on all HOVs in their HOT lanes, including private bus line entrepreneurs who want to invest in the LA-to-Vegas corridor, all in the name of automated enforcement. Does that make sense to you, the rider? After just 16 days in operation, LA Metro has handed out a whopping 12,297 automated citations since the opening of the I-110 Metro ExpressLanes, the majority of which are likely from non-registered HOVs and not from solo cheaters. (The Los Angeles Daily News also featured an article on this very subject.) There's a large possibility that a portion of the violating HOV traffic will simply migrate back to the regular lanes in lieu of registering. Not good.

Early complaints posted on Metro's Facebook page already indicate that the main freeway lanes have worsened since the FasTrak mandate took place. To be fair, Metro claims the increased congestion will go away as motorists adjust to the rules of the road. However, if the non-registered HOV's flock back into the congested general purpose lanes, it will be the I-85 HOT lane disaster all over again. The Transit Coalition hopes this hypothesis of worsened traffic in LA does not hold true. Otherwise precious resources will be wasted and the notion of converting HOV lanes into transponder-mandated HOT lanes to reduce traffic congestion is dead, period. Metro, OCTA and RCTC will then have some explaining to do to defend their positions.

A view of HOV lanes from a bus. Meanwhile, if you want better transit and lower fares between Southern California and Las Vegas, government agencies must give the private bus operators incentives to invest, not place a regulatory burden on the entrepreneurial class. The extra administrative overhead and internal costs of maintaining a HOT lane transponder account and each of the registered buses would mean higher fares from private bus lines. Same holds true if their buses are stuck in traffic instead of productively using the HOT lanes. A non-transponder HOV policy for HOT lanes makes it more efficient for private bus carriers and commercial HOV's to compete in the LA-to-Vegas marketplace and for riders to have a quick and efficient ride up and back. Better mass transit includes better services offered in the free market.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

What the Heck Happened with the Riverside Transit Center?

Political football games with transportation money is destructive to Inland Empire mobility.

I much prefer Johnny Cash. As communities around California seek to reinvent their streets to be more multimodal this will be an additional challenge that must be addressed. Millions in dedicated funds for a proposed transit center in Downtown Riverside was locally de-obligated and assigned elsewhere, upsetting local bus riders. At their November 13, 2012 meeting, the Riverside City Council voted in a 6-1 majority to reaffirm its commitment toward building a multi-modal transit center on Vine Street near the downtown Metrolink station. The City agreed to work with the Riverside Transit Agency to work out differences over the project; however, some of those "differences" combined with federal deadlines and regulations came with a disastrous price tag for the Riverside riding public.

RTA had secured approximately $7 million toward this project from various public sources; the federal funding portion however was strapped with spending deadlines. Because officials failed to see how moving the existing transit hub several blocks east to Vine Street would affect the connecting bus routes, RTA decided in September to shelve the Vine Street location and instead spend $4.5 million of the transit center's funds to redevelop the existing Downtown Terminal station. The city and the local business community then expressed concerns about that plan, thus more fuel was dumped on the political fire.

Even though the City of Riverside can commit the Riverside Transit Center project to any public site it pleases, RTA has fiduciary responsibility over the project's funds, not the city. What the city can and should do instead is designate the Metrolink station block as a specific plan and offer local property tax incentives and rebates so that private developers and entrepreneurs can invest and build the transit center combined with a much-needed free market job site. This win-win funding concept has yet to be adopted.

With the Riverside Transit Center mired in public financial regulations and deadlines, RTA changed course and emptied the project's fund. At their October 2012 Board of Directors meeting, RTA redirected nearly all of the Riverside Transit Center's project funds toward the Twin Cities Transit Center in the Temecula/Murrieta area.

A cliff of paper. From the perspective of the riding public, this is a complete disgrace to Inland Empire mobility. Multi-modal connectivity between the downtown core, local buses and trains at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station is very limited. That is very clear. To be fair, the Twin Cities Transit Center down south promises to address a growing region in the Inland Empire and coordinating the project with future high-speed rail is finally in the talks. But what is disappointing to the Riverside public is the lack of cooperation between local and federal officials to get the worthy Vine Street Transit Center built with the $7 million in funds already collected, among other issues (Page 5).

$7 million is more than enough to start up a first phase of the project by adding additional bus stops along the existing streets and moving the hub and bus routes over. The truth is the project was so strapped with rules and regulations that such a logical and cost-effective move wouldn't likely work on a sheet of legal paper, but work fine out in the real world. These political roadblocks must be reformed. Unnecessary federal regulations and political football games with transportation money only delays worthwhile projects, adds layers of cost, and is destructive to Inland Empire mobility. It will be continually confronted by The Transit Coalition

The Riverside City Council also indicated that RTA was potentially moving to a grid-based bus system based on a post on the Riding in Riverside Transit Blog. It's far too early to determine what proposals are in store, but Riverside County's street layout and demographics make a countywide grid-based bus system absolutely illogical. We all remember in 2000 OCTA's ill-advised Point-to-Point grid system that negated ridership systemwide. That colossal blunder led OCTA to alter several of its routes back to a hybrid grid and hub-and-spoke model. RTA's current system operates smartly on this hybrid system: The majority of routes connect at a major hub, fan out over the region, and emulate the grid system with direct service via major streets before rejoining again at the next hub. Aside from some changes outlined in The Transit Coalition's Future Vision, RTA should maintain its current route model.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

LA Metro ExpressLanes and Casual Carpoolers

LA Metro officials have to rethink their solutions toward casual carpoolers.

The current ExpressLanes policy. Los Angeles Metro officially launched the Metro ExpressLanes along the I-110 freeway, a pilot, one-year demonstration program. The program included the conversion of the carpool lanes into tolled express lanes (also known as HOT Lanes). Tolling along this corridor began late night on November 10, 2012 with the I-10 toll lanes set to launch later in 2013. All motorists including carpools are mandated to have a FasTrak transponder to enter the facility; HOV traffic must use the Metro ExpressLanes switchable FasTrak for toll free travel.

A Good Opening Weekend:
So far, the lanes are off to a good start, after opening to the public last weekend. Granted, using the lanes will cost as much as $15.40 per use, but these are mere grumblings that officials will take in stride, as the toll lanes intend to provide congestion relief and needed revenue. ( These letters to the LA Times, however, suggest differently.)

TTC's HOT Lane Position:
The Transit Coalition advocated for free non-transponder carpooling along the Metro ExpressLanes, but Metro never adopted the concept citing enforcement issues. Nevertheless, the Coalition's HOT lane campaign page illustrates how non-transponder HOT lanes can be enforced effectively by the CHP in lieu of an automated system. TTC's A Better Inland Empire HOT campaign page goes deeper into the facts.

Keep on Carpooling, Patriots:
Moving forward, several motorists are certainly disappointed, but should accept the situation and explore ridesharing alternatives offered by Metro and the private marketplace. Existing casual carpools should continue to share the ride as a means to reduce traffic. Carpooling is a patriotic act of combating congestion. Same holds true for using public transit. The truth is that the I-110 HOT lanes according to Metro will operate at speeds of at least 45 mph, even during peak hours. Metro claims the main freeway lanes will also benefit, but the verdict will be shown as commuters hit the road during the next few weeks. Let's hope we don't end up with a repeat of the I-85 toll lane disaster in Atlanta.

Carpoolers. Seeking Solutions for Non-Registered Casual Carpoolers:
Meanwhile, officials have to rethink their solutions toward casual carpoolers, HOV traffic coming from the Inland Empire, taxi cab drivers, private sector bus lines, and all other HOV patrons who may be negated by the transponder policy to prevent a drop in the number of private carpools for the corridor. The good news for transit advocates and the public is that the responsibility and pressure are now on Metro and LA officials; if free mobility and ridesharing do not improve for both the HOT and regular lanes along the I-110 freeway over the course of the pilot period, the notion of converting carpool lanes into transponder-mandated HOT lanes as a means to reduce congestion will be struck down, thus opening the door for possible non-transponder carpooling in the Metro ExpressLanes.

However, Metro believes the agency has developed a sound toll lane facility and we should continue to explore ways to improve the corridor, especially for those who share the ride, either by public transit or private carpool. There are two ways the Metro ExpressLanes can affect I-110 mobility: First, as Metro claims, the express lanes will improve free mobility for both the HOT and regular lanes. Or secondly, the transponder-only HOT lanes could be a repeat of the I-85 toll lane blunder with worsened traffic congestion in the regular freeway lanes with the drop of casual carpools from the express lanes. If the former, stop-and-go traffic will be the thing of the past. If the latter, Metro made a big mistake of mandating FasTrak transponders for carpoolers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Twin Cities Transit Center and High Speed Rail

Coordination between local and state public agencies would be an efficient and cost effective way to build a true multi-modal Twin Cities Transit Center.

A park in Murrieta. The Riverside Transit Agency has secured the funding for a proposed world-class transit center in the Temecula and Murrieta region. What makes this facility set apart from other transit centers? According to public officials, the Twin Cities Transit Center is envisioned to be a multi-modal transportation hub serving local bus routes, express bus services, potential bus rapid transit, and possible Metrolink rail extensions associated with the near term implementation of the Perris Valley Line.

It is evident that the Temecula Valley is not getting a full scale Grand Central Terminal just yet, at least not initially. To compare, the $9.1 million Twin Cities Transit Center will likely mimic the Montclair TransCenter or Pomona TransCenter; both cater to local routes, express lines, Silver Streak BRT and Metrolink trains. In contrast, Anaheim's massive intermodal transit center facility with its eye-catching architecture cost $184 million.

The transit center will without question benefit the riding public. However, The Transit Coalition has long been wondering how future high-speed rail service will fit into this transit center and has advocated for project coordination between this facility and the California High Speed Rail Authority's proposed Murrieta train station. The result would be a centralized first-rate multi-modal facility for the region. Such cooperation for a combined project has not happened and planning for two separate transit centers spaced less than two miles apart continue.

Another questionable expense of the RTA Twin Cities Transit Center is the reported $364,000 price tag for scouting a suitable location along Jefferson Avenue. To be fair, existing studies never included future rail extensions and making the transit center Metrolink and high-speed rail compatible is essential for long term planning. The site feasibility study may also address the separate train station plans by CHSRA in Murrieta, but this six-figure public expense may have fared better if the research was combined with another study, such as the Highway 395 Corridor Study or Jefferson Avenue Study Area. Officials need to ensure precious public transportation dollars are making it to the streets and are not being wasted with too many studies.

Nevertheless, the Twin Cities Transit Center remains promising for the future of mass transit in the Temecula and Murrieta region. Existing bus riders will benefit. Demand for a high-speed inland rail link through this region north to Los Angeles and south to San Diego will continue to grow. Project coordination between local and state public agencies would be an efficient and cost effective way to build a true multi-modal Twin Cities Transit Center.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Public Officials Must Stop the Nonsense with the Riverside Transit Center

Get the private sector onboard with a public-private partnership.

Downtown Riverside. Even though there has already been much discussion about it for the past several years, let alone the last few weeks, the location of a proposed transit center in Downtown Riverside is once again back on the public agenda in Riverside. This time, the Riverside Transit Agency's Board of Directors will vote to rescind last month's approval to redevelop the existing Downtown Terminal station and instead direct agency staff to study alternative locations.

Recap of Riverside Transit Center Progress:
The Riverside Downtown Terminal is currently located northwest of the downtown core and the current facility is too small to sustain the growth in transit demand. Greyhound Bus Lines also operates a terminal next door; its facility is long overdue for a remodel. Local officials proposed closing the Downtown Terminal and developing a multi modal transit center at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station to address long term growth; a smart thing to do. In 2006, Compass Blueprint studied the area and concluded that private developer investments be included to fund recommendations such as a pedestrian bridge over the 91 Freeway into the downtown core. Public officials have not been able to secure the funding as of now.

Early in September, with transit rerouting yet to be analyzed and federal funds in jeopardy, the City of Riverside had considered shelving the multi-modal project altogether and instead decide to renovate the existing downtown bus terminal. After the September 27, 2012 RTA Board meeting where the agency approved plans to demolish and rebuild the existing Riverside Downtown Terminal, the Riverside City Manager and the downtown business community contacted RTA and expressed concerns regarding the plans. The specifics were not disclosed; however the issue will be brought up again at the November 13, 2012 Riverside City Council Meeting. In response, RTA convened a special Executive Committee meeting and staff was directed to conduct another site feasibility study of the Riverside Transit Center.

Stop the Nonsense:
The Transit Coalition believes public officials at both the local and federal level must stop this stuff right now. We already have an existing report explaining the benefits of building the Riverside Transit Center adjacent to the Metrolink Station. Spending extra public money to re-scout and re-study the transit center's location is not the best approach, even if its bundled with RTA's upcoming Comprehensive Operational Analysis report. If Downtown Riverside's market economy was robust and RTA's bus system was first-rate, we could invest additional transportation dollars for another site feasibility study for the Riverside Transit Center. But the Compass Blueprint report has sufficient data. The private industry also continues to have limited confidence in Downtown Riverside. That means private expansion remains slow and very few new jobs being created. Unnecessary spending of precious public transit dollars must stop. There is no question about that.

Funding the Riverside Transit Center at the Metrolink Station:
As The Transit Coalition has been addressing for the past several years, seamless connections between the growing Metrolink train network and connecting local RTA buses at Downtown Riverside is limited. The 91 Freeway also continues to divide the train station with the heart of the downtown core. Compass Blueprint studied these issues and opportunities and offered several suggestions. Other than adding a carpool lane to the 91 freeway, not much has changed since 2006 in regards to demographics. These are the primary reasons why the Coalition continues to advocate for the transit center to be built next to the train station combined with a pedestrian bridge over the freeway.

Public officials may not seem to know what to do to build this transit center and bridge. So let The Transit Coalition offer a possible solution. Get the private sector onboard with a public-private partnership. Incline developers into the area by designating the Metrolink station block as a specific plan as suggested by Compass Blueprint. Offer a developer incentive for including the bus bays, parking structures, and the freeway pedestrian overpass as part of the transit-oriented development. Establish business-friendly policies so that owners and entrepreneurs can better invest in property and build up a private sector job marketplace. The result would be a powerful free market job site like Irvine Towers in Downtown Riverside complete with a multi-modal transit center, seamless rail connections and a pedestrian bridge to the downtown core.

Now that's good oversight on building a robust transit center for Downtown Riverside that would "meet [RTA's] needs well into the future".

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Robust Inland Empire Economies - Paying for "More Buses"

San Bernardino and Riverside need a robust private sector job market for economic and mobile prosperity.

An Omnitrans bus heading to Chino Hills.The City of San Bernardino was once an economically powerful region in Southern California, but it has constantly degraded over the past several decades especially since the closing of Kaiser Steel and the Norton Air Force Base in the 1980s and 1990s respectively.

More than half of the city's population now receive public assistance. The current per capita income is less than $16,000. Violent crime is also up. The city budget is out of control and is now bankrupt. Various grass-root coalitions have formed to combat the crime and public spending issues, but the fact remains that this once robust city as well as Downtown Riverside are both starved for a stronger private sector job market. Entrepreneurs continue to have little confidence that local officials will do what's necessary to improve the market economy. The lack of tax revenue thus negates transportation efficiency.

Record Bus Ridership...and Overcrowding
As gasoline prices have risen, many local commuters and travelers are turning to public transportation. It's been a long fact that whenever prices at the pump go up, so does ridership aboard public trains and buses. However the latest spike has caused not only record ridership figures for both Riverside Transit and Omnitrans, but serious overcrowding issues along major routes to the point where patrons are being turned away and have to wait for the next bus. Transit agencies simply cannot just add more buses as they are not in the fleet. There must be a means to pay for them. Each public entity will need to work out a solution to address the increased bus demand. A robust market economy is vital for productive funded public transportation.

More Private Sector Jobs: More Buses
Financial investors and small business owners know that a local economy cannot thrive with high government-mandated expenses. San Bernardino and Riverside can be thriving cities once more with a first-rate transportation network, safe streets and a robust private market like West LA, Irvine, Pasadena, and Rancho Bernardo. However, it appears these cities are still saying "no". The goal of the Transit Coalition is "Getting Southern California Moving". The goal of the cities of San Bernardino and Riverside should be "Improving Economic and Mobile Prosperity": Incline the private sector to invest in the downtown cores; eliminate all wasteful public spending and unnecessary policies and mandates. Serious damage has already occurred in San Bernardino, and the public is well aware of it.

Photo © George Lumbreras CC-BY-SA

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Bus Transit Efficiency in Temecula & Murrieta

The cities and RTA should straighten up the routes to attract riders.

Looking to get more people to ride its local buses, the Riverside Transit Agency launched a promotional campaign for the Murrieta and Temecula area which allows local residents and employees to try out the bus for free during the month of October. RTA ran ads in local newspapers and mailed out flyers in the area. Each ad had a coupon good toward an RTA day pass which could be redeemed aboard two of the area's local bus lines, Route 23 or 24. Both routes have seen substantial ridership gains; however, productivity performance for these routes remains a bit lackluster.

Fix the Circuitous Bus Routes:
Local area bus riders have attested in the past that both of these routes are extremely long and slow, or more accurately, very circuitous. Circuitous local bus routes have many loops and extensions, are difficult to understand, and use excessive resources. This explains why Routes 23 and 24 averaged less than 8.5 passenger boardings per hour combined with a high subsidy-per-passenger rate during the month of August despite the reported ridership gains.

Studies Back Straighter Bus Routing:
Two 2007 studies, one local, one federal, confirm that Murrieta's and Temecula's bus routes should be more direct. However, one doesn't even need these studies as evidence. The RTA System Map already shows the overwhelmingly circuitous nature of Routes 23 and 24 and local trips between southern Temecula and northern Murrieta can last in excess of 1 1/2 to 2 hours according to RTA route timetables.

Here's the reality: No choice rider would want to spend well over an hour aboard a bus for a 5-7 mile local trip. If RTA and the local cities desire to incline more patrons to ride the bus in Southwest Riverside County, each of the public entities must consider ways to simplify and streamline the area's local bus routes to offer more direct and bidirectional connections while also reducing unproductive costs and maintaining local transit mobility. Streamlined bus routing with through-service at the proposed Twin Cities Transit Center and timed transfers to connecting routes would significantly speed up trips. Travel times between major activity centers would then be reduced dramatically. That's how the public can be inclined to patronize the local bus system.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Riverside Transit Center Mired in Political Money Games

Stop the Madness: Incline the Private Sector to Invest in the Vine Street Riverside Transit Center and a bridge across the freeway.

RTA Vine Street Transit Center Concept

Lack of public funding has long been a reason why many Riverside Transit buses don't operate during late night hours and why several capital improvement projects seem to be moving along at a snail's pace. This includes a long-awaited transit center just footsteps from the train platforms at the Downtown Riverside Metrolink Station. However, there may be some contributing factors behind this "lack of funding" appearance. As The Transit Coalition and local press have been reporting, political games with Inland Empire transportation money have reached epidemic proportions. The September 2012 RTA Board of Directors Agenda illustrates the latest money madness with not only Downtown Riverside's Metrolink bus transit center project, but also a planned inter-modal facility in Temecula.

Lack of Public Funding Efficiency and Fairness in Temecula:
The federal government awarded RTA over $1.3 million toward the development of an intermodal transit center in Southwest Riverside County at the border of Temecula and Murrieta. Despite the fact that the Twin Cities Transit Center has been in RTA's plans for several years, the Federal Transit Administration de-obligated and rescinded those funds because the money appeared to sit idle for too long. The problem is RTA was caught in a catch-22 situation; additional funding had to be secured before the federal money could be spent. How can the feds expect RTA to spend money on a worthwhile project that the agency doesn't have?

Lots and lots of cash. The Politics of the Vine Street Riverside Transit Center:
Likewise, $7 million has been secured to date for a transit center in Downtown Riverside that was planned to be built next to the nearby Metrolink station. However, the same federal time clock is ticking on $3 million of its funds. Earlier in September, the Riverside City Council responded by allocating the federal money toward improvements of the existing Downtown Terminal station with the local money toward the Metrolink transit station. However, the City Council does not have fiduciary responsibility over the project's funds; RTA does...and the transit agency had other plans.

Back to the Downtown Terminal Drawing Board:
The RTA Board of Directors instead voted to direct the transit center's local money toward a full scrap-and-build renovation of the existing Downtown Terminal and the next door Greyhound bus station at $4.5 million. The remaining federal money would be spent on constructing bus bays, not at the downtown Metrolink station, but at the RCTC-proposed Hunter Park train station.

Incline the Private Sector to Invest in the Station:
The truth is the Downtown Riverside area is in desperate need of a private sector job marketplace and The Transit Coalition has offered concepts to address this. A strong private marketplace is imperative for a healthy public transportation system. And we are not buying "lack of funding" until the political football games stop.

Public transportation officials need to understand that giant money games like these which are going on at all levels of the public sector negates mobility and quality of life.

Once again The Transit Coalition believes public agencies should respect transportation dollars, coordinate efforts, and work together for a first-rate transit system. Bickering and strict rules only game the system and we all pay for it. The City of Riverside is starved for private sector jobs and is long overdue for a multi-modal transit center with across-the-platform rail-to-bus connections. Incline the private sector to invest in the downtown Metrolink station. "Lack of funding" is no excuse.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Some Facts behind HOT Lane Transponder Mandates for Carpools

Traditional enforcement should be considered in lieu of "Nanny Lanes".

Ever wonder why some agencies such as Metro and OCTA mandate FasTrak transponders for carpoolers in their respective HOT lanes? A 2011 Policy Study by the Reason Foundation combined with a 2007 federal report and preliminary studies from the I-15 Express Lanes project in San Diego County show why. By mandating all vehicles and carpools to preregister before using a toll lane facility, HOT lane policy enforcement is a simple snap. If somebody enters without a transponder and hasn't registered: lights, camera, violation notice in the mail.

Better public revenue is also a point made to support transponder-only carpooling according to these reports.

Okay, good enough, but...

Remember the Goal of HOT: Get SoCal Moving!
What may be good for better enforcement and revenue may not be good for getting Southern California moving, a possible reason why SANDAG rightfully retained its policy for free non-transponder carpooling for the I-15 Express Lanes and probable cause of local opposition in Orange County which helped prompt the OCTA's Regional Planning and Highways Committee to recommend shelving the I-405 toll lane project through Fountain Valley.

Statistics back Casual Carpooling:
Policies which mandate preregistration for carpools is a disincentive to rideshare in the first place.

According to a 2012 study of congestion pricing by UC Berkeley, casual carpooling attracts users not just because of time and cost advantages but also because casual carpoolers like traveling for free, giving a stranger in need a ride, and using a dedicated set of lanes on the freeway. Ironically, free access to an HOV lane is advertised as an incentive to carpool. What happens when a preregistration roadblock is put in the way?

"Nanny Lanes" in Atlanta:
A November, 2011 poll by InsiderAdvantage and WSB-TV reported that Atlanta's HOT lane facility with an ill-advised toll policy of mandated preregistration shows that nearly half of the region's commuters believe that the I-85 Express Lanes has made traffic actually worse for the corridor. In contrast, the I-15 Express Lanes with its sound toll policy has better balanced traffic distribution and cut down significantly on commute times.

But get this: In Atlanta, holders of personal toll accounts who decide to rideshare one day have to change their "toll mode" on their accounts to 3+ HOV at least 15 minutes before using the roadway either online or by a mobile app; forget flipping the car's transponder switch or using a separate 3+ lane...

No wonder why HOT lanes are often mislabeled as "Lexus Lanes", or more accurately "Nanny Lanes": Casual 3+ carpools in Atlanta simply cannot or will not use their HOT lanes simply because they are mandated to preregister to freely use the facility. The result according to UC Berkeley: a drop in carpooling. Private carpoolers should be treated like adults when they decide to freely rideshare and contribute toward better mobility. Bureaucratic policies hamper their efforts as the stats show. The Georgia state government is working on fixing that colossal mess.

Balancing HOT Enforcement with Moving Southern California:
So how can an agency balance free mobility with violation enforcement and steady toll revenue? The answers are clear.

Steady Toll Revenue Stream: Designate the HOT lanes for carpools while raising the tolls on other traffic further, thus keeping the toll revenue neutral while providing a greater disincentive to driving alone. Use dynamic congestion-based tolls to better redistribute traffic flow between the express and free lanes. Tolls go up as traffic increases; tolls lower as congestion goes down--Simple economics supply-and-demand.

Traditional Police Enforcement: Enforce HOT lanes like HOV lanes have been enforced in days past--use the police. By definition, a peace officer's job is to enforce the law. If a solo vehicle evades a toll, have the police ding the driver with a $400 carpool violation ticket. Equip the CHP with mobile enforcement transponders, enforcement beacons and other fool-proof tools; that's how it's done in San Diego County. If internal statistics or complaints show chronic problems, charge the cops to do a carpool sting operation like this one in San Francisco.

Facts also confirm issues regarding automated enforcement; OCTA, for instance, reports that a whopping 60% of automated violation notices from the 91 Express Lanes are dismissed (only 11% pay up, 20% go to collections).

Above all, officials need to encourage ridesharing in the toll lanes: Abolish the transponder and preregistration mandates for carpools who are freely showing what they can do to get Southern California moving.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Inland taxpayer transportation money being tossed around at colossal rates

The Transit Coalition takes the misuse of public transportation money seriously as it pays for your mobility. We don't want that money to be wasted.

The celebration of the new and improved Omnitrans.

The two county-seat regions in the Inland Empire are caught up in a game of political football with your public transportation dollars at hand.

Omnitrans' Rebranding Project:
Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie Macduff wasn't too pleased when the reporter discovered that the Omnitrans Board of Directors was never consulted over the transit agency's $1.9 million rebranding project. The proposal was reported to be approved as a line item buried deep within Omnitrans' budget. Fortunately, the final bill for the graphics and printing turned out to be well under budget at approximately $500,000 which included this rebranding ceremony.

Future rail service to Redlands.SANDAG and Omnitrans' operating budget:
At the same time, Omnitrans is not happy about what the San Bernardino Associated Governments is up to with their proposals. SANDAG is figuring out how to pay for the $130-$150 million Redlands Passenger Rail project which will likely be a Metrolink extension to Redlands or a dedicated light rail line. Normally, affected transit agencies would back rail upgrades. However, Omnitrans shot back after analyzing SANBAG's reports; the transit agency claimed it would lose a whopping 20% of its bus operations budget toward contributions to the rail line's price tag. Although nothing has been finalized by the SANBAG board, the Transit Coalition believes the idea of tapping into Omnitrans operating budget to pay for the rails is a wrong move.

At present, there are no commuter or express buses overlapping the proposed rail corridor to restructure. Maintaining Omnitrans existing service or even adding rail feeder service is key to the region's continued transit growth. The Transit Coalition would like to see a first-rate rail line linking San Bernardino to Redlands, but it must be done right. SANBAG must find a sound means to pay for the train; tapping deeply into Omnitrans operations and causing a 20% decrease in bus service--absolutely unacceptable.

The Downtown Riverside Transit Center:
In Riverside, the Transit Coalition called for officials to keep the Vine Street Transit Center Project and the Riverside City Council agreed. Most of the project's secured funds will be spent toward the new transit center. However, due to federal deadlines combined with the 2008 public buyout of the Riverside Greyhound bus station, $3 million of the funds must be spent on upgrading the existing Downtown Terminal Station. Riverside Mayor Ron Loveridge treated this funding situation as a lesson. The city would be wise to spend the $3 million on capital items that could be repurposed at the Vine Street Station later, such as benches, live next-bus-arrival signs, information kiosks, security cameras, and trash cans.

The Transit Coalition takes the misuse of public transportation money seriously as it pays for your mobility. We don't want that money to be wasted, but it is an ongoing issue. Whether it's hiding a multi-million dollar rebranding project as a line budget item, raiding a transit agency's operating budget for capital improvements, or the lack of oversight in building a transit center on time, political football games with precious public transit dollars is a serious problem. It must stop.

Another reason why both Trains and Buses are good for Southern California

The Transit Coalition is pro-bus and pro-rail, and the two can coexist and complement each other.

A Metro Red Line train. Los Angeles Metro is defending its rail expansion practices against critics that say expansion of rail in Los Angeles County is a boondoggle and has cannibalized bus service. One persistent criticism is that Metro Rail does not build ridership. However, a more nuanced look at new rail lines compared to previous bus service in those corridors reveals that ridership actually goes up in new rail line corridors.

Overall, the 183 Metro bus lines serving 1,433 square miles in Los Angeles attract an average weekday ridership of 1.1 million. The five rail lines, on the other hand, which only have 87 miles of track, serve 351,000 riders per average weekday. This is precisely why per-mile operational costs on Metro Rail are lower than buses. The same will be true for the Westside Subway Extension, for example. Not only will the subway extension offer a better ride for existing Wilshire Blvd. bus riders on the 20 and 720, but allow the network to take even more riders to the Westside.

Bus service is paramount to feeding riders into the rail lines. The Transit Coalition is pro-bus and pro-rail, and the two can coexist and complement each other. View the Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit to see what's in store for the Inland Empire.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Bridging the Transit Gap between LA and the Coachella Valley

Commuter buses are back and future intercity train service promises to bridge the transit gap between LA and the Coachella Valley. Let's get it moving.

Bus service between Palm Desert and Riverside has arrived. SunLine Transit has established a commuter link between the desert city and the Downtown Riverside Metrolink system. The route started operating on Monday and features twice-daily service for six bucks a ride. The agency will operate two trips into Riverside during the morning peak hours and two return trips in the afternoon. Although an end-to-end trip lasts nearly 2 1/2 hours, most passengers will likely utilize the route's intermediate stops. The route is considered a supplement to rail service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley should it eventually become a reality.

A Union Pacific train. Officials in Riverside have already backed a proposal to establish rail service between Los Angeles and Indio. It was a unanimous vote on a motion that urges Amtrak to get going on their plan to upgrade their Sunset Limited service. The plan would put a daily Coachella Valley stop on the route between LA and San Antonio. It also calls for consideration of multiple daily departures on a Surfliner-like intercity service between LA and the high desert. We believe such a route would be very productive.

The expansion of inter-city passenger rail service between Los Angeles and the Coachella Valley has been widely supported since the early 1990's. Therefore, if the tracks and stations are already in place, then what exactly is preventing the extra trains from leaving the station? The rail right-of-way linking the Los Angeles basin to the Coachella Valley is operated by the Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR), not by public agencies. UPRR continues firm opposition to any new Amtrak service on its tracks through this area. Despite widespread public support, local and state officials have no unilateral powers to force UPRR to permit expanded Amtrak service. Public agencies would also have to invest at least $500 million for a new set of tracks.

However, there may be a possibility that Class One private railroads including UPRR which long ago discontinued passenger service could reinstate and directly operate passenger trains in the future. Should UPRR desire to move forward with this concept for the LA-to-Indio corridor, public officials should clear the way for the railroad to do so and allow UPRR to stop their trains at existing transit stations. Public incentives to offset any losses connected with passenger service should be considered and discussed in lieu of the massive $500 million public investment.

Photo © Flickr/Jerry Huddleston CC-BY-SA 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Don't Scrap the Vine Street Transit Center Project

Should the City of Riverside really shelve plans to build a transit center next to the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station?

BigIdeas. Could the private sector be inclined to salvage a worthwhile Downtown Riverside multi-modal transit center project at its Metrolink station? With transit rerouting yet to be analyzed and public funds in jeopardy, the City of Riverside has considered  shelving the multi-modal project altogether and instead decide to renovate the existing downtown bus terminal...Not good.

According to the  Riding in Riverside Transit Blog and from previous field studies, the existing Downtown Riverside Terminal lacks capacity for existing and planned expanded services including future rapid buses.  A neighboring public parking lot would likely need to be acquired and converted into bus bays to accommodate the new BRT. Adding on-street bus stops is likely out of the question; several express buses already layover on the neighboring streets.

The Transit Coalition would like to see the transit station developed at the Metrolink station complete with outlets for private bus carriers such as Greyhound in conjunction with a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the 91 freeway seamlessly linking the station with the downtown core. A public-private partnership with a developer, private bus carriers, and/or investors, in which The Transit Coalition has advocated in the past, may be the long awaited answer to get this stalled transit project moving. Incentives to get the private sector to invest in Downtown Riverside must be considered by local officials if Riverside is to have a robust transportation system with a local job market.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Toll Lanes Need Non-Transponder Carpooling

The Transit Coalition believes that it is essential for carpools to have free access to all HOT lanes, without a requirement for transponders.

Southern California is home to a growing network of toll roads and "High- Occupancy Toll" (HOT) lanes, each with differentiating toll policies for the various corridors such as the Metro ExpressLanes, the 91 Express Lanes, and the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County.

For the HOT lanes, the Transit Coalition believes that it is essential for carpools to have free access without a requirement for transponders. Here are the toll policies of a few agencies in Southern California (as of 08/01/2012):

Metro ExpressLanes: FasTrak required for all vehicles. If carpooling, plan on using the new transponder with the single/2+/3+ switch or be prepared to pay the full toll. Carpools with the new FasTrak travel free (carpool is 2+ or 3+ depending on the time of the day and the corridor used). Several bus lines will utilize the lanes.

The Toll Roads (SR-73, 133, 241, 261): TCA, which operates the dedicated toll roads throughout Orange County (not to be confused with the 91 Express Lanes) has proposed to phase out cash payments. Drivers will be required to have a FasTrak, or patrons can also register their license plate numbers with TCA as an alternative. No carpool discounts announced at this time and no transit routes are available.

91 Express Lanes: FasTrak required for all vehicles. If there are three or more in the car, use the 3+ lane when nearing the toll antennas. 3+ carpools travel free except the PM rush hour in the peak direction where the toll is discounted 50%. Commuter bus lines currently use the corridor and expanded express service is planned.

I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County: 2+ carpools free. FasTrak required only for solo vehicles. Simply put the FasTrak away in a mylar bag so it cannot be read by the toll antennas if carpooling. Commuter bus lines currently use the corridor and expanded rapid express service is planned. This toll lane facility won the "Project of the Year Award" from the California Transportation Foundation in 2012.

The Transit Coalition is open to high- occupancy toll lane conversions that implement rideshare-friendly policies similar to those adopted by counties like San Diego and Santa Clara, with carpools defined as 2+ or 3+, depending on the time of the day and the demographics of the corridor, and without requiring transponders for carpools.

The Coalition objects to toll policies that would result in a reduction of carpools instead of single occupancy vehicles. Researchers from UC Berkeley reveal that not only has the San Francisco Bay Area Toll Authority's ill-advised imposition of mandatory FasTrak transponders and tolls on carpools resulted in a 26% reduction of vehicles in the carpool lane, but that many carpools are not picking up additional passengers along the way as before--a double-whammy, reducing the number of people utilizing the carpool lane by well more than 26%.

With that, the Transit Coalition wants to ask this question to each public transportation agency and each elected official who is proposing future toll lanes as a means to reduce congestion for everyone:

Would you consider following the example of San Diego County's award-winning project, adopting congestion-based tolls for solo motorists and opening up your express lanes for free travel for all 2+ or 3+ carpools and private buses, not just those who have FasTrak?