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.