Friday, December 20, 2013

Transportation Tips: Travel Safely this Christmas and New Year's Day

As the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays are around the corner, many people will be travelling to see loved ones. Last night three separate bus accidents in the Inland Empire occurred on wet highways which resulted in one passing and numerous injuries. Two accidents involved casino buses at the start of the afternoon peak hour around 2:30 PM, one of which overturned while coming down a hill along the northbound I-15 approaching SR-91 through Corona, the other overturned on the southbound I-15 in Pala Mesa just south of the Highway 76 interchange. Earlier in the day, a collision involving a westbound Riverside Transit Bus Route 27 occurred on Highway 74 in Menifee in between the Romoland and Homoland areas.

All of the collisions are under investigation and should serve as lessons for all us planning to travel for Christmas or New Year's Day: Travel Safely. Drivers especially should be extra careful on the roads. Give yourself plenty of extra time so that you're not rushing or traveling aggressively. Lastly, if you are drinking, do not--under any circumstance--drive.

By the way, if you happen to be in the Redlands area for Christmas and/or the New Year's Day holiday, several local small businesses have pooled resources together to fund a program where people who may have had too much to drink can get a ride home for free or reduced cost in lieu of taxi travel. The Responsible Redlands Safe Rides Home Program will be available starting tonight through New Year's Day. A local public official praised the program.

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos stated, "I would like to commend Hangar 24 and all the participating business owners for spearheading this project, which ultimately has the goal of offering a safe alternative to those who might otherwise feel compelled to drink and drive."

Have a safe and Merry Christmas, a Happy New Year, and we'll talk to you again in 2014.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Shaking down the small business marketplace in the name of ADA

Tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed against California small businesses in the past few years for matters related to the American Disability Act. Some of those cases are trivial. Whenever a business is out of compliance of ADA, one can file a suit to force a business to correct the fault while at the same time, the plaintiff and his/her lawyer can cash in on the awarded damages or settlement.

The ADA is a vital law for America's disabled. If a business is found to be out of compliance, it should be held accountable to fix the problem. However, fixing such problems through litigation goes way beyond the intended purpose of fixing non-compliancy and instead places many businesses in serious financial binds through expensive settlements or litigation. In fact, it has become a full-time job for some in the state to scout for businesses that are out of compliance, file a suit, and then capitalize from the settlement. Local Inland Empire establishments and businesses statewide, especially thriving and growing companies are targets for these suits. Groups of people simply want a share of their profits and they will exploit loopholes in the law to get it. Businesses therefore are in a position to budget more money for lawyers because of this situation. The added expenses weakens the job market because companies cannot afford to hire despite the fact that there is tons of work to be done to improve the Inland Empire's quality of life. Worse yet, if a business cannot afford to fight or settle such litigation, it may end up facing bankruptcy or closure. That is no sound way to enforce ADA.

A local television news station in Sacramento did an extensive investigation on this issue. Without small business growth and a strong competitive economy, job opportunities will stay low, salaries will be down, unemployment will still be high, and our transit systems will not have the resources to grow and flourish. That's a reality.

We the volunteers at The Transit Coalition are no lawyers and have no business interpreting ADA law at the state or national level. We'll thus keep our point simple. We and many fair-minded individuals well know that the current process of enforcing the landmark law unfairly obstructs small business growth. There's no question about it. To be fair, if a business patron or customer does sustain physical or economic damage as a result of non ADA-compliancy and can prove it beyond reasonable doubt in the court of law, it would be perfectly justifiable to file a claim or suit. However, if a plaintiff sues and the case is to be found frivolous, the suing party should be held fully liable for all attorney fees and court costs. Getting businesses to be ADA-compliant in general should be done through an alternative means other than the courts that won't cost them tens of thousands of dollars to fix on top of the modest costs to fix the problem.

A fair way to address this problem is to reform the law. Here's an idea to put up for debate. Set up the system in a way where a business that is found to be out of compliance of ADA law--either through a citizen complaint or code enforcement inspection--has 30 days to correct the problem. After 30 days, the enforcing government agency can levy fines for continued non-compliancy. That would be a fair idea that those in the state legislature and Congress should debate.

It is long past due for lawmakers to close this legal loophole so that the small business marketplace cannot be unfairly shaken down in the name of ADA law.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Another reason why the I-15 needs transit infrastructure

Concept: What the Lake Elsinore Diamond Stadium area may look like with infill marketplace growth and high occupancy vehicle and transit infrastructure.
A Lake Elsinore freeway interchange is currently beginning to look like Temecula where long traffic queues are spilling over onto high speed freeway lanes. Such situations make the highway hazardous as traffic in the far-right lane can come to a dead stop without notice. The location is the I-15 freeway at Railroad Canyon Road in the Lake Elsinore Diamond Stadium area.

For the past 14 years, officials have been attempting to fix this interchange with one problem after another obstructing progress. With peak-hour traffic now spilling over into lanes, governments have ran out of excuses to get this junction upgraded. When safety becomes an issue, officials need to fix it without delay.

On top of the short range interchange upgrade which has taken nearly a decade and a half to plan and fund, public officials should incorporate transit infrastructure proposals into its long range master plan so that high occupancy vehicle travel can become a more feasible travel option in this busy area. RCTC previously proposed adding a single carpool lane along I-15 between Murrieta and Lake Elsinore and dual high occupancy toll lanes each way north into San Bernardino County. The upgrades have since been scaled back to exclude this region. Because of a stubbornly soft economy combined with artificially inflated public construction costs, no HOV or rail infrastructure is proposed for this area other than on-ramp meter carpool lanes and a local RTA bus transit center.

Placing a direct access ramp, transit station, and park & ride at or near this area should be a part of long term plans so that HOV's can bypass the congested interchange altogether and access Railroad Canyon Road via the DAR and the connecting surface streets. With major development proposals in store for the Temecula Valley region down south, dual 2+ carpool lanes for the I-15 freeway and a rail line should also be included in the master plan.  Regarding the specific station locations, this region and the downtown Lake Elsinore area would be prime candidates for a future multi modal train station and an RTA transit hub.

Such HOV infrastructure will be needed to accommodate the existing traffic demands and future growth. Adding general purpose lanes and widening freeway interchanges does redistribute traffic flow with the added capacity, but it's the high occupancy vehicle infrastructure that actually reduces congestion.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Project 91 Breaks Ground

© Wikimedia/Fietsbel CC-BY-SA

The 91 Express Lane extension project entered into its construction phase with a groundbreaking ceremony which lasted two hours according to Press Enterprise blogger Peter Fischetti. Riverside County officials have long proposed extending the HOT lanes from the Orange County line east into Corona with a direct access ramp at the I-15 freeway to/from the south. The groundbreaking was more ceremonial than literal as the event took place on the top deck of the Corona Transit Center parking structure, away from the actual freeway. Transit center and Metrolink station patrons were a bit upset that their parking structure was closed off during a regular business day even as officials notified them ahead of time to park at the neighboring train stations as an alternative.

According to news reports, The Coalition and the public learned two things from the ceremony. Elected officials looked forward for this day which was long overdue and significant inter-agency coordination and cooperation with the private sector were necessary to fullfil the project's challenges. That was basically the show. It took two hours and 16 speakers to get this message to the public.

When Assemblywoman Bonnie Lowenthal spoke explaining why the project was long past due, a political partisanship road block was brought up. That statement certainly is questionable to say the least. A 91 Express Lanes non-compete clause obstructed all infrastructure upgrades for eight years starting in 1995 when the toll lanes first opened. In 2003 when Orange County taxpayers bought the facility through OCTA, the clause was voided and upgrades could then continue. A few years later, the economic recession combined with inflated public infrastructure costs caused by continuous special interest pandering at the state level further obstructed funding resources to the corridor. Those were the true road blocks.

Late dissent over the high occupancy toll lane proposal has begun to surface based on comments left in the PE article. The project is nearly identical to the now-shelved I-405 toll lanes in Orange County which includes a conversion a carpool lane and capacity expansion. The 91 Project proposes to double the capacity and convert the existing 2+ carpool lane into a 3+ HOT lane, add a general purpose lane, and add additional auxiliary lanes. Numerous bridges will be upgraded as well.

Ordinarily, the Transit Coalition would oppose the conversion of an existing carpool lane into a transponder-mandated HOT lane. Look at what resulted in LA. However unlike the I-10, I-110, and the I-405 corridors, when the 91 becomes congested--which it very well does during the peak congestion, many holidays and hot summer days--the carpool lane is just as slow as the general purpose lanes. One will generally not be at a destination any faster by using the single dedicated lane. That's because 2+ carpool demands are so high that they well exceed capacity for the corridor. Therefore, the traffic chaos caused by the displacement of 2-person and non-registered 3+ carpoolers from the high occupancy lane will be minimal at least for the short term. Meanwhile, Riverside officials should plan between now and opening day a strong marketing campaign to convert the 2-person carpools into 3+.

Coalition Concept: Free 3+ carpooling along the 91.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA.
Because ridesharing demands are so high for the 91, our current position is extend the dual HOT lanes as proposed, keep the carpool occupancy requirement at 3+ but gets its debt paid off as soon as possible so that it can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling and upgraded transit infrastructure later down the road. That is, high occupancy vehicles with 3 or more persons would be able to use the HOT lanes free anytime and not have to pre-register for a toll transponder. 3+ HOV's and transit fleets would be able to access the lanes directly from nearby transit stations. Tolls for non-carpools would also be reduced to the market rate. Dual 3+ carpool lanes combined with expanded transit options will certainly be able to accommodate the existing HOV demands and future growth for years to come.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Transportation Tips: Thank you for supporting our fundraising campaign

Please Support our Efforts!The Transit Coalition wishes to thank you for your generosity toward our fundraising campaign. We had a goal of $5,000 by the end of November. That was extended through the end of year. As you may be aware, destructive tornadoes passed through the Midwest United States and the Philippines was hit hard by a typhoon.

As of December 10th, we're almost there! We're a little more than $1,000 shy of our fundraising campaign goal of $5,000 in order to pay for the publication of our weekly eNewsletter and monthly print newsletter Moving Southern California.

We wish to thank our sponsors Leland Dolley, Anil Verma Associates, Ferrovial Agroman US Corp, and the countless individual contributions toward the fund. Please help us reach our goal by making a donation. Your contributions are greatly appreciated!

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Should the state really ban I-405 toll lanes in the future?

The Orange County Transportation Authority has shelved the high occupancy toll lane proposal for the I-405 freeway between the I-605 and SR-73 for now. Local officials however have indicated that they might come back with this proposal at a later time. Bring in California State Assemblyman Allan R. Mansoor. Mansoor said he expects to introduce a statewide bill next year that would block toll lanes specifically along this corridor or require residents to vote for their approval.

As much as we, local cities, and the countless Orange County residents don't want the free 2+ carpool lane along the 405 to be converted into a transponder-mandated 3+ HOT lane, Sacramento really should not be legislating one specific local corridor. Yes, the freeway is state-operated, but its improvement projects and carpool lane usage policies need to be decided locally through OCTA and the local Caltrans district. The carpool chaos last decade with the I-10 El Monte Busway clearly demonstrates why.

High occupancy toll lanes can work for the I-405 if usage policies matched those in San Diego County. That is, high occupancy vehicle traffic with 2 or more persons may continue to use the HOV lanes for free and don't have to preregister for a FasTrak toll transponder. Solo's would have the option to buy their way into the upgraded dual carpool lanes if capacity permits at the market rate. Based on the 13 mile distance of the corridor between the I-605 and SR-73, the maximum market rate toll for solos would be about $4.00 during most rush hours, approximately $7-8 on Friday afternoons, and about $.50 during free flow times. If the dual lanes begin to approach full capacity, dynamic signs would designate entry points for carpools only until space frees up. Significant groups of solo drivers have demonstrated nationwide that they are willing to tax themselves into a carpool lane on days they need to be somewhere quickly. Because OCTA was so focused on the dollar and proposed ill-advised usage policies, getting robust high occupancy infrastructure onto the I-405 will even be more difficult to sell to the public.

OCTA should retain power to manage local projects and we should be thankful that its governing board reflected the value of its residents regarding the I-405 toll lanes. Should OCTA have moved forward with the ill-advised conversion, there would have been much anger, expensive litigation, and potential recall campaigns. When governing bodies fail to represent the value of their residents and their republics, voters will hold them accountable. Look at what's going on in Moreno Valley. However, the state should allow local governments to decide how to upgrade transportation infrastructure.

As we've mentioned before, toll lanes should not serve as government money fountains. They need to be about moving people. Banning local agencies from artificially inflating tolls beyond the market rates and stopping wasteful spending so that the outstanding debt for the 91 Express Lanes can be paid off with taxes instead of tolls could be good starting points for robust debate for state lawmakers.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

A legal lesson to be learned from Metrolink Perris Valley Line

The Metrolink Perris Valley Line project received a $75 million federal grant which clears the project for construction within the next two to three weeks, most likely to begin after the Christmas and New Year's Day holidays. Getting to this point was far from smooth sailing. PVL was the target of a trivial CEQA lawsuit. Its $3 million settlement is a hard lesson for state lawmakers. Lawyers are capitalizing by exploiting loopholes in the law which obstruct both infrastructure projects and marketplace growth. We'll get to that in just a moment.

The new Metrolink branch will extend the 91 Line from Riverside to Perris with stops at the Hunter Business Park in Riverside, March AFB in Moreno Valley, the downtown Perris Station Transit Center and southern Perris. The $248 million project would serve a fast-growing region and has the blessing of USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The one question that many folks in the Inland Empire have long been asking is this: When will the line officially open? Officials predict the summer of 2015. Now that the funded project is ready for ground breaking, high occupancy rail travel options between Perris and points west via the I-215 and 91 freeway corridors will soon be a reality.

Prior to this point, the PVL branch faced one obstruction after another. On top of getting public funds and all of the politics that go with them, the line faced an environmental lawsuit which pretty much had nothing really to do about environmental protection and more about exploiting loopholes in CEQA law so that a lawyer and the plaintiff can capitalize on the project.

When the lawsuit was settled for $3 million back in July, we took a look at some of the numbers. To be fair, some of the promises in the settlement were good and officials have the opportunity to ensure that the funding for the new open spaces and trails benefit the entire county. However, significant portions of the agreement were really about the profits. Over one third of the settlement--$1,005,000 to be exact--was to be set up for homeowners to tap into for various home improvements in the name of countering noise pollution. Residents can apply for up to an astounding $15,000 per dwelling--for window treatments and another $500 for trees. Last time we checked, "Noise Minimizing Window Treatments" do not add up to $15,000 for an entire house. In fairness, any unspent funds will be allocated to the land conservation deal. In addition, $250,000 in public money went to the attorney who represented Friends of Riverside Hills during this lawsuit and this lawyer has a history of capitalizing on loopholes in CEQA law.

It gets worse with questionable trivial lawsuits against small businesses, the American Disability Act, and parking spaces for the disabled. We'll analyse this next week. Meanwhile, the PVL delay and its litigation are strong lessons for the public sector. State lawmakers must work together and close up the CEQA loopholes once and for all at the state level and stop the excuse making and 11th hour changes. While we live a in captitalistic society and both CEQA and the ADA are vital laws to protect both the environment and the disabled population, regulations also need to protect both public works projects and the small business marketplace from trivial lawsuits that do nothing except obstruct economic marketplace growth and public transportation infrastructure projects. Lawyers should not be in a position to exploit loopholes in the law for their own or clients' gain. It's long past due for both the state and federal government to close the loopholes in both of these laws and establish fair means to enforce both CEQA and ADA.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Toll Lane debate all about the money

Concept: I-15 and I-10 proposed HOT lanes need free non-transponder carpooling and transit infrastructure.

High occupancy toll lane proposals throughout the Inland Empire and Orange County took another turn. And the debate has centered around the dollar and not really about moving people.

I-405 Improvement Project - No Toll Lanes for now:

Shelved for now: I-405 toll lanes in Orange County.
The Orange County Transportation Authority Board of Directors on Monday voted 11-4 to add one general purpose lane for the county's I-405 Improvement Project and table the alternative to convert the existing 2+ carpool lane into dual transponder-mandated 3+ HOT lanes each way. Massive public opposition including dissent from city bodies led to the change. The reason for the opposition is this: Money.

High occupancy vehicle demands along the I-405 are high during rush hours in the peak direction: southbound into Irvine in the morning, northbound in the afternoon. The carpool lane experiences reduced speeds, but its flow is generally faster than the general purpose lanes. If its capacity was doubled, carpool lane speeds would increase tremendously. We predict locals would have supported such a proposal since San Diego County's I-15 Express Lane system was well received. However, OCTA staff previously recommended to convert the free 2+ carpool lane into a HOT lane, increase its occupancy requirement to 3, slap an ill-advised mandatory FasTrak transponder requirement on all vehicles including free carpools, and potentially charge mandatory discounted tolls on 3+ HOV's. OCTA staff argued that such policies would raise more money to pay for the project. That proposal sparked the intense opposition which led officials to table the HOT lanes for now.

As we've mentioned, a fair long term compromise that would move more people would be to double the capacity of the existing 2+ carpool lane and permit solo drivers to buy their way into it at the market rate. Many solo's have demonstrated nationwide that they are willing to tax themselves into a fast-moving carpool lane. Toll revenue paid for by solo drivers would be restricted to the corridor. All day high speed express bus service would also be implemented. The lanes would remain free for any 2+ carpool and such traffic would not have to preregister or get a toll transponder ahead of time.

That would be a sound long term proposal to move people quickly through the corridor.

Inland Empire Toll Lanes:

Concept: 91 Express Lanes with free non-trasponder 3+ carpooling.
Meanwhile the Press Enterpise has been educating the public on both RCTC's and SANBAG's highway expansion proposals. On Monday morning, its paper subscribers were greeted with a front page headline article "Future Takes Toll" with much of the debate about funding issues and money instead of moving people. Comments posted on the online version of the article show dissent toward the toll lane proposals and we might be seeing some more Inland Empire toll lane debate in the public square now that the HOT lane proposals have been making headlines.

The Transit Coalition has been covering the HOT lane proposals through the campaign We want Toll Lanes done right! This campaign advocates for free non-transponder 3+ carpooling along the 91 Express Lanes and 2+ carpooling elsewhere via robust dual high occupancy lanes with bus transit infrastructure and the option for solo's to buy their way in with a FasTrak at the market rate. Generally, we would like to see the I-15 Express Lanes from down south expanded into the Inland Empire, a system that can quickly and productively move more people through suburban corridors. Governments have claimed that adopting such sound policies results in reduced toll revenue simply because they have less open capacity to sell to toll-paying solo's. Carpool lane to transponder-mandated toll lane conversions in Los Angeles and Atlanta have demonstrated this reality.

A Coalition comment received from all this comes from a Temecula construction contractor who strongly opposes toll lanes in general. However, he was open to the Coalition's position. We will continue to keep a close watch on the HOT debate. And public officials on all levels need to get their act together and stop the excuse making over transportation funding and government misspending. Even though less tax money appears to be flowing from the gas pump, we still pay high taxes. There is enough demand along the I-405, SR-91, I-15, and the I-10 where state and federal tax money should be paying for capacity and transit improvements and high occupancy vehicle infrastructure.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Bringing about justice in troubled neighborhoods

The Press Enterprise has been providing continuous coverage of independent groups peacefully fighting to take back their communities from Inland Empire street gangs. The tactic that these groups are using is preventing vulnerable youth from joining the criminal culture in the first place. Gangs rely on new members to replace those either killed or incarcerated.

Last October following the murder of 6 year old Tina Ricks, groups in Moreno Valley worked on stepping up their efforts to connect with at-risk youth. More recently, a former Inland gang member who turned away from this culture after serving time in jail has been working very hard to provide a positive place for troubled teens. Terrace Stone founded Young Visionaries Youth Leadership Academy in 2001. There are centers throughout San Berandino County and Moreno Valley. In addition, numerous religious organizations provide mentors, job leads and help for incarcerated youth to prevent them from returning to the gangs upon release.

Research has shown over and over again that countless youth enter into gangs simply because they lack caring parents and have nowhere else to go. That continues to be evident in places like Moreno Valley, San Bernardino, Perris and downtown Lake Elsinore. These criminal cultures violently obstruct the quality of life in communities. The gangs sell illegal drugs which exacerbates destructive addictions. They rely on criminal tactics to get such drugs onto the streets in troubled neighborhoods. These groups destruct communities by marking their "territory" through graffiti and obstruct the transit system. We certainly don't want our buses, trains and transit fleets that we advocate for mired in such crime or vandalism. We want a productive labor workforce aboard a first-rate transit system with safe and robust communities.

Youth group organizations have long been broadcasting the reality that troubled youth will never get the satisfaction they are looking for by entering into the criminal world. As local organizations all over Southern California communities work hard to put an end to street gangs once and for all, the public sector can pitch in for minimal costs. First, law enforcement can be reassigned to better patrol dangerous neighborhoods using intelligence driven law enforcement methods. Non-paid community action volunteers and reserves can be recruited to provide support help to full time officers should public funding be an issue. Secondly, the marketing departments of each public government agency should be allowed to post public messages encouraging parents to take care of their children in order to keep them out of gangs. Good parenting cannot be legislated but putting out a strong public message can be a powerful tool against the violence. Stopping gang crime and violence certainly is a notion that can be universally agreed upon in the public sector.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Transportation Tips: Check out the transit options between San Bernardino and Los Angeles

Yesterday morning, The Transit Coalition conducted a field study of the I-15 Freeway corridor, specifically looking at the route segment between Corona and Ontario. As many transit riders have attested before, transit connections between these two cities is very sparse, slow and circuitous. Area growth has contributed toward peak hour slowing along the freeway through Eastvale, southern Ontario, and through the Cajon Pass. We aim to have this transit gap closed with direct bus connections, both at the local and express level.

There's a number of transit opportunities at hand for this region, both through the public agencies and the private sector. We'll have a future vision of the area drawn up soon. Omnitrans has already explored expanding its sbX bus rapid transit network into Corona. RCTC proposes high occupancy toll lanes for the freeway which, if designed right, can provide the infrastructure for future express buses. More on this at a later time.

During our study, we stopped by the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station. It's large parking lot was nearly filled to capacity; all of those commuters who would otherwise be driving those hundreds of parked cars are benefiting with the regional rail option. It's no question with the presence of the Metrolink San Bernardino Line which also offers several midday, evening and weekend runs, freeway traffic congestion along the I-10 and SR-60 has been reduced.

This week's tip: If you regularly commute solo along the I-10 or SR-60 corridor, check out what transit options are already out there. The transit corridor between Los Angeles and San Bernardino has grown tremendously with early morning to late evening service, especially at the Montclair TransCenter and points west with the presence of the Silver Streak BRT. Folks headed into Los Angeles have several options to get around and LA's Metro Gold Line will also one day serve the corridor. Take advantage of the expanded options.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Riverside: Going for high speed rail done right

Okay, it's not quite high speed rail just yet, but it's turning out to be higher speed rail. Officials in the City of Riverside are moving forward in their master plan to separate the railroad grade crossings all throughout the city at the major crossings.

One such crossing due to be separated is along the Union Pacific Railroad right of way at Riverside Avenue. The Metrolink Riverside Line and numerous UPRR freight trains utilize the corridor. The $33 million project will be paid for through local, state, and federal sources with private capital coming from UPRR.

It's no question that separating these grade crossings will speed up mobility both along the rails and the roads. With fewer at-grade crossings, existing trains would be able to travel safely at higher speeds, especially along the straighter segments of the line.

Both the logistics industry and the riding public have much to gain. Faster moving freight trains improves economic productivity of goods movement and reduces waste in the industry. Faster moving passenger trains allows Metrolink to operate more productively and could bring private investments into the Inland Emipre's rail transit corridors for expanded service. Should the travel trip times for a passenger train to travel between Los Angeles and points east be reduced thanks to public infrastructure improvements such as separated grade crossings, both the private sector and the Class One railroads themselves may be inclined to expand passenger rail service on top of expanded Metrolink service from early morning through late night.

Higher travel speeds would entice more choice riders to use the train instead of driving or flying, thus making intercity and regional rail corridors profitable. Imagine being able to board into a business class UPRR passenger train in downtown Riverside and arrive in the Coachella Valley or Los Angeles in about an hour. Or, how about having a more reliable, corridor-based Metrolink train network for those needing to travel local or looking for affordable fares.

Certainly there's much more work to be done beyond local separated grade crossings to speed up trains headed to/from Riverside, but getting robust rail infrastructure into the Inland Empire's transit system that supports faster mobility could one day incline the marketplace to invest private capital into true high speed rail infrastructure.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Bus carriers capitalize during the Thanksgiving holiday

Things were relatively quiet in terms of public transportation in the Inland Empire during the Thanksgiving weekend. However private sector bus carriers stood out in the news.

Greyhound for example reported growing popularity on its newer bus fleets over the holiday. The Press Enterprise interviewed waiting passengers at the Riverside Downtown bus terminal and found that they find convenience in taking the bus for their holiday travel needs. We've also conducted field studies aboard several private sector coaches in the past and find that spending a few extra hours on the bus is a lot better than dealing with the plummeting air service. 

The bus ridership growth boils down to this. Passengers who elect to take the bus do not want to put up with the airport madness and expensive fares for short and mid-haul trips. Even though the bus may not win the race, going Greyhound, riding the Megabus or any other private coach is less stressful. Carriers are capitalizing on this.

Greyhound bus passengers headed to northern portions of the state said they preferred the bus over the train simply because there's no direct rail connection between Sylmar and Bakersfield. Gee, we wonder how that can be solved. Oh yeah, high speed rail done right. Follow this link and scroll down for a detailed analysis of the numerous benefits of running high speed trains through the Tejon Pass. Amtrak does operate the Coast Starlight between Los Angeles and points north along the coast but the train bypasses destinations in the San Joaquin Valley. Closing the rail gap through the Tejon Pass combined with local infrastructure improvements could one day make the backbone rail line profitable as ridership on the existing intercity lines would soar. Private investors would thus be inclined to pour more capital into California's rail transit system. 

Back to intercity buses. If this growth pattern continues, we may be seeing more robust marketplace competition for intercity bus travel very soon. However, it is certainly in the public's interest that such carriers pick up passengers at or close to existing public transit hubs. We advocate for public officials to make both streetside and open bus bays at Inland Empire transit centers and major transfer points available for the private sector coaches which would considerably improve express bus transit options for riders at minimal public costs. 

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Have a safe and Happy Thanksgiving

California may be mired in countless problems with its transit system but we also have much to be thankful for, especially our constitutional freedom and liberty to express our opinion. The transit system throughout the region has improved throughout the years and it took a lot of work and sacrifice to get where we are today. With the countless blessings and constitutional rights that we now enjoy, Southern California will one day be one of the finest places of this earth. We are very thankful for this and much work still needs to be done in order to perfect the system. Meanwhile, let's take this time to celebrate and give thanks for what we already have.

If you are traveling, please remember to be extra careful on the highways and give yourself plenty of extra time. Be patient. The roads, airlines, trains, and buses will be very busy this weekend. Be especially careful and patient if you plan on shopping anytime this weekend. As you may know, the major retailers will be packed. If you happen to be working in the retail sector and are cut short from the Thanksgiving festivities, be sure to schedule at least a full day with your family sometime after the weekend and share some meals together; you deserve to celebrate this time of Thanksgiving too. From all of us at The Transit Coalition, have a blessed and happy Thanksgiving and we'll talk to you again on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Tale of Two Toll Lane Proposals

Concept: 91 Express Lanes entrance that supports free non-transponder 3+ carpooling with a transitional weave lane.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA or RCTC.
Two Southland high occupancy toll lane proposals are nearly identical: The 91 Express Lanes extension and the I-405 Improvement project in Orange County.

Both propose to double the capacity of the existing high occupancy carpool lane to two lanes each way, raise its occupancy requirement to 3, and allow non HOV's access for a toll. Both corridors would require all vehicles to preregister for a FasTrak transponder including free carpools. The 91 will have mandatory 50% tolls for 3+ carpoolers during the PM rush hour in the peak direction and the I-405 may adopt a similar policy. Also, both projects propose to add a general purpose lane each way, expand auxiliary lanes, and upgrade freeway interchanges.

Despite the fact that both of these projects are similar in scope, the public response has been sharply different. The 91 project has been generally accepted. The I-405 toll lanes are opposed by many individuals, groups, and even cities. Why so? Here are some facts.

91 Express Lane Extension:

Inland Empire commuters who use the 91 Freeway are generally welcoming the capacity improvement project. Opposition has been fairly quiet over the carpool lane conversion other than some local belly-aching from local businesses displaced by the project. Ordinarily, The Transit Coalition would oppose converting carpool lanes into transponder-mandated toll lanes. Both Los Angeles and Atlanta demonstrated that such conversions displace non-registered carpoolers with the leftover space being sold to non HOV traffic.

The fact is carpool demands are so high for the 91 that whenever the freeway loads up through Corona during peak commute hours, hot summer days, many weekends, and most holidays, so does the HOV lane. Speeds in the carpool lane are just as slow as the regular lanes. Such extremely slow speeds are also often the case for the mile long transitional buffer along the eastbound side of the freeway between the existing 91 Express Lanes and the 71 Freeway where there is a set of dual 2+ carpool/FasTrak lanes.

Note: Signage Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA.
Those examples show that 3 should be the carpool for the 91 and the public is generally accepting that for now. The Riverside County Transportation Commission has been very transparent on this proposal and The Press Enterprise recently ran this story which landed on the front page of a Sunday newspaper. Currently, we are advocating for the local agencies to get the 91 Express Lanes debt paid off so that it can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling. That is, any 3-person HOV would be able to use the high occupancy vehicle lane infrastructure for free while non-carpools have the option of using it for a toll.

With the capacity improvements associated with the 91 Express Lane extension, the chaos caused by the displacement of non-registered and 2-person carpools should be minimal for the short term with the added general purpose lane. That's why we will not oppose this project. However, there is enough interstate demand on this corridor where both the state and the federal government should contribute resources toward getting the debt paid off so that the 91 can have a robust dual 3+ carpool lane that would be long-lasting. We're also looking to get additional express bus infrastructure and direct access ramps into the facility so that it can better support high speed express bus transit service. RCTC should also launch a strong marketing campaign to convert 2-person carpools to 3 prior to the carpool lane conversion.

I-405 Toll Lanes through Orange County

The tone is much different in Orange County. The I-405 toll lane proposal has received massive amounts of opposition. Unlike the 91, the existing I-405 carpool lane loads up during peak commute hours in the peak direction. Even with the reduced speeds during peak congestion, the HOV lane sustains faster speeds. If its capacity is doubled, there would be no reason to raise its occupancy requirement to 3. Dual carpool lanes would allow 2+ carpoolers fast speeds during the rush hour.

As we've mentioned, if the I-405 had a facility similar to San Diego County's I-15 Express Lane system where carpools 2 or more can travel for free and not have to preregister for a toll transponder, the public would likely be satisfied with the end product. OCTA staff claim a revenue shortfall if 2's a carpool, but that is no excuse not to develop transportation infrastructure that already works down south. Toll lanes must not serve as money fountains for the government. They need to be about moving people. Because the I-405 is a major interstate, our transportation tax money should be going to this corridor. Since one of the proposed I-405 alternatives to be paid for by taxes was to add 2 general purpose lanes in each direction; a fair compromise would be to add one general purpose and one carpool lane. The dual high occupancy lanes would support free non-transponder carpooling; solo drivers who wish to buy their way into the carpool lanes at the market rate would have that option. Stats show there are groups of solo motorists would be willing to tax themselves into the high occupancy vehicle lane.

Because the I-405 toll lane debate has become more about money than moving people, the public's view of it has become very negative. The corridor certainly is in need of high occupancy transit infrastructure between Irvine and the San Fernando Valley. We're currently supporting a light rail proposal into West Los Angeles from Sylmar dubbed the JEM Line. However, high speed rapid transit infrastructure needs to be extended between West LA into Irvine. Dual carpool lanes with rapid express bus service might be able to do that for the Orange County branch.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Courageously standing up for freedom in Moreno Valley

The Press Enterprise has provided continuing coverage of hot issues that continue to plague Moreno Valley. At stake are environmental, logistics transportation, and economic issues. Heavy campaigning is evident from both sides: Residents versus the special interests. The former is uniting to take back their city through an intense recall campaign. The latter is pouring big money to maintain the status quo.

For the record, The Transit Coalition does not endorse the recall election. As a non-profit organization we are forbidden to do so. We take positions on the policies themselves. We support clean air, properly planned growth, and efficient transportation infrastructure. We also back a robust economy which pays for the transit system. We certainly support the freedom to assemble and organize, voice our position, and engage in robust debate.

It is without question that whenever a governing body begins to encroach on our liberties and the republic, standing up and defending such freedom is a patriotic duty. Believing that the City of Moreno Valley has fallen under the power grab of the special interests of logistics development to the possible point of illegal corruption, its citizens are peacefully fighting back to reclaim their city.

There's growing evidence that City Hall is behaving badly in a number of ways. First, elected officials are stonewalling valid World Logistics Center criticism at public meetings. As currently planned, WLC is an example of undesired urban sprawl. By definition, elected officials serving in the republic must reflect the values of the people they represent. That can't happen when officials try to block or ignore residents' valid concerns of proposed projects by plugging their ears against their voices. A second controversy was the failure to at least conduct a public interview process to replace Marcelo Co on the Council. That is a complete disgrace to democracy and the U.S. Constitution. The Founding Fathers would never have allowed the city to appoint Yxstian Gutierrez the way it did. And the continued pandering to developer Iddo Benzeevi, possibly illegally given the ongoing investigations by the federal government, weakens the power of Moreno Valley's people. Again, such pandering goes against the principles of the republic.

The controversies taking place in Moreno Valley is clearly not about jobs versus the environment. It is about a group of concerned citizens' desire for freedom and claiming back what they believe has been unjustly taken from them. Countless men and women have shed blood on the battlefields to give we the people the freedom to assemble, unite, and to fight back peacefully. The groups that have formed all over the city and on the social networking sites have plenty of reasons to believe that they are losing freedom to the power grab of the special interests and money. Citizens grassroots organizations have awakened and declared that they will not allow this to happen in the valley "Where Dreams Soar".

Special interests may have the power of money, but they better watch out. As more and more concerned citizens unite, history has shown that their one voice dominates. History from all over the world has shown that if enough people unite for a common interest such as declaring that they will not be ruled by special interest pandering, they can overwhelm the spending power of the few. Will Moreno Valley's history state likewise? Will Moreno Valley's future generations learn from their history class that their ancestors fought to preserve the intentions of the very people who have sacrificed everything for this country and for all of us? 

To be continued...

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Community and Job Transformation in Moreno Valley

It is beginning to look like a presidential election in the place "Where Dreams Soar". The Press Enterprise published a detailed story continuing the coverage of the contraverial issues that continue to plague the city. Stay tuned for an updated analysis on what's going in Moreno Valley.

On top of the big name issues addressed by residents, there are other goals like getting better high paying jobs into the city, getting rid of crime and gangs, and making the city streets safer. What could this smart growth look like? How can this be integrated into the existing community without disrupting the quality of life? Take a look a the photos below of Alessandro and Perris Boulevards, two of the major commercial corridors for the city.

Alessandro Boulevard Existing Conditions:

This is Alessandro Boulevard facing west. The area is very blighted and can use some attention. Bicycles lack a dedicated lane. The public sidewalk is very uninviting. The private properties are long overdue for investments. Renovations don't necessarily mean driving businesses elsewhere. Displacement of the existing businesses in the shopping center can also be minimal, allowing their owners to support revitalization efforts.

Alessandro Boulevard - Conceptual Future Vision:

In this concept, Alessandro is re-striped with street parking and a bicycle lane. The public sidewalk is beautified. Street lamps and palm trees are added and the sidewalk is colored which makes it more inviting.

Shopping Center Transformation: By designating existing commercial land areas of Alessandro Boulevard as specific plans, landowners can invest private capital into their properties, convert front parking lots into pedestrian plazas and develop multilevel parking structures in the back while keeping the displacement of existing businesses to a minimum. Note how the existing buildings can be renovated and expanded so that existing tenants are not driven out. The property can support a high paying job hub and a youth center as well as additional retail outlets. In this concept, a small fictitious local news outlet offers 100 skilled-based jobs.
Perris Boulevard at Cottonwood Existing Conditions:

Conceptual Future Vision:

Perris Boulevard can be a corridor "Where Dreams Soar." This concept adds pedestrian amenities, bike lanes, street parking, and shows an expansion of the Hometown Square shopping center. With proper land use zoning, investors can put private capital into Hometown Square and transform it into a true village center complete with an engineering firm (50 jobs) or other high paying job site.  Parking is underground or in the back; stores face the street. In addition, an existing open space is transformed into a park with a separate pedestrian bridge further down Perris Boulevard going into Hometown Square.

These simulations show how these two Moreno Valley commercial corridors can be revitalized, made safer and more livable with high paying local jobs on top of logistics. Urban sprawl is not the only choice Moreno Valley has!
Urban Design: The Transit Coalition

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is Riverside Public Transportation really poor?

Source: Riverside Transit Agency
Printed in Monday's Press Enterprise newspaper opinion page, Ted Green of Westminster thinks so. In fact, his letter was headlined "Public Transportation Poor."

The message implies that Green missed a Metrolink train connection in Corona due to an RTA bus connection failure; the bus was behind 10 minutes. Green had to wait for the next train and used the time to write his letter of complaint. The story mentioned very few specifics. We have no information whether he used the West Corona or North Main Corona station. The specific bus route running late was also not reported. We also don't know when this incident took place. We believe RTA has more facts and is taking care of this issue and a follow up post will come should we get more details.

However, there are some points brought up in the complaint that need to be addressed.

Wheelchair Boarding: Green's letter implies that boarding passengers in wheelchairs delays the bus to the point of inefficiency. That can be very true for a number of contracted RTA routes that use small buses or trolleys as equipment and are equipped with a wheelchair lift instead of a ramp. If the contracted bus driver is undertrained to use the lift to board such passengers quickly, the delays can be very dire. We have seen this problem along some of the contract operated routes, especially in the Southwest region. We can certainly share Green's frustration here on this point. RTA needs to hold its contractors accountable for properly training bus drivers to board wheelchairs efficiently. In addition, lifts should be tested regularly. Eventually, as new buses are rotated into the system, RTA's contract fleet of small and mid size buses should be low floor with wheelchair ramps.

We believe RTA is on it as the newer small buses have these features.

Source: RCTC
Scheduling & Routing: The letter also mentions that RTA's schedules are arbitrary and that the routes themselves are inefficient. The timetables are clearly not picked out of the hat. They are calculated on traffic patterns and distances travelled. Also, RTA's routes run on a hub-and-spoke model which is the most efficient routing method given the region's demographics. In fairness to Green, RTA should incorporate more predictable clock-face scheduling (eg. bus every 10, 15, 20, 30 or 60 minutes) and there are some routes that deserve to be streamlined and made less circuitous to make them more efficient. That would include the bus routes in the southwest region. In addition, transit hubs should offer timed transfers.

Generally speaking, Ted Green won't be coming back anytime soon according to the letter, at least under the current system. However, RTA can't take 100% of the blame for not implementing the routing and scheduling improvements. The agency runs on a very tight budget beyond staff control; however, that's no excuse. State and County elected officials need to get rid of trivial regulatory red tape so that infrastructure and labor costs are in check and private businesses can drive up the Inland Empire economy which provides resources for RTA.

Ending on a positive note: RTA does has a good crew of bus drivers with some who are heroes. Last May, driver Bob Owens caught a runaway criminal aboard his bus and successfully had police waiting at the Galleria at Tyler hub. Last week, driver Ted Jenkins who was walking home from work, saved a man who was lying a few feet from active railroad tracks in Riverside due to a bad medical reaction. The man happened to be a regular wheelchair rider aboard Route 1.

RTA may have a long way to go before it becomes a first-rate transit system for Riverside County, but it is far from poor. People who dislike their transit system should express their opinion, but also be a part of the solution. That's why The Transit Coalition, Transportation Now, and independent blogs like Riding in Riverside watch over the bus system. The future of Inland Empire public transportation can be great and more efficient. Let's make it happen.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Big Trouble in Moreno Valley City Hall

Photo: U.S. Department of Justice
As reported all over the media, both the Moreno Valley city government and the developer Iddo Benzeevi of the proposed World Logistics Center are on the radar of the federal government. One politician is already in big trouble.

Earlier this month, the feds reported that former City Council member Marcelo Co agreed to plea guilty to what could have been one of the worst examples of developer pandering in Moreno Valley history. Co accepted a multimillion dollar bribe from an undercover FBI agent posing as a real estate broker in return for favorable land use decisions. Such an act is a disgrace to democracy. Such special interest pandering is so bad that bending the law simply doesn't go far enough for those involved. It's no doubt that if one is planning to commit a white collar crime behind closed doors, the feds may be watching. That's intelligence-driven enforcement at work.

Co's days of such corrupt power are over. Had the politician got away with this and had the good citizens not risen up against the corrupt madness, Moreno Valley as a whole would be in grave trouble. The FBI reports that a single scam can destroy a company, devastate families by wiping out their life savings, or cost investors billions of dollars. All three occurred last decade in the Enron fiasco. 

The elected Council governing body of any city is supposed to represent the values of their residents, not the special interests. Elected officials should know that both intelligence driven law enforcement and voters will hold them accountable if they try to game the system. The Press Enterprise has reported that both the justice system and concerned residents have risen up before to stop such madness.

  • In 2004, Highland voters recalled three City Council members after they used about $11 million of the city’s reserve funds to balance the budget. The LA Times further reported that recall supporters charged that the three council members attended a water board meeting in November, where they allegedly offered to buy a parcel from the district for $10 million.
  • One year later, in 2005, Murrieta residents upset about traffic congestion, zone changes and urban sprawl projects recalled the mayor. The LA Times reported that the mayor had lobbied city planners to approve his daughter's day-care center, a clear conflict of interest. The city also approved zoning changes questionable to the will of the residents. The overwhelmed north/south transportation corridors between Murrieta and Temecula are still recovering from that unchecked growth. Voters kept two other council members from being recalled.
  • In 2010, San Jacinto residents ousted four City Council members busted for money laundering, tax fraud, bribery and other charges. Their days in power are over. All four pleaded guilty. 
These events should be clear warnings to anybody in public office: Don't underestimate the authority of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States of America. Moreno Valley is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Its people will not allow special interest pandering to perish the local republic from the earth. Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address applies to us in the Inland Empire. And Moreno Valley politicians are being held accountable.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Stopping Urban Sprawl in Moreno Valley: The World Logistics Center

Photo: © Wikimedia/Raunet CC-BY-SA

Urban sprawl has no universal meaning, but can be defined as uncontrolled growth with no regards to land use controls or negative impacts to transportation infrastructure or the environment.

The Transit Coalition along with several groups of local Moreno Valley residents and the Press Enterprise are questioning the World Logistics Center, a giant proposed logistics hub on the eastern edge of the city at the base of the Badlands Hills. The newspaper generally holds conservative-moderate, business-friendly positions on controversies. However, the PE is not a fan of unchecked growth. Nor are we. Currently, WLC is urban sprawl which needs to be opposed until questions about traffic and pollution are addressed, put into the master plans, and reflect the values of residents.

For WLC to work as proposed, designated truck routes away from neighborhoods and schools would need to be established, likely along the freeways. Trucks on the surface streets must be restricted to local deliveries only; that includes Alessandro and Perris Boulevards. New trucks will need to use clean technology to prevent Moreno Valley's air quality from worsening. The air already gets pretty dirty on many days. With the lack of a rail line in the WLC area, the 60 Freeway through the Badlands would have to be expanded, possibly beyond Caltran's proposal of adding truck climbing lanes so that traffic bottlenecks do not form on either side. If no rail alternative is built, the freeway corridor may even have to be doubled in size to sustain WLC operations, not only for truck traffic but for commuting workers.

In fairness, the trucking industry has begun to work on cleaning up their trucks by using alternative fuels. The WLC buildings are proposed to be eco-friendly. Logistics development adjacent to existing freight rail lines and airports generally work. Amazon has brought a fulfillment center into town, placed just outside the southeast corner of the March ARB. That will drive up the job market for better paying logistics wages with 1,000 additional full-time jobs in Moreno Valley. In addition, integrating Inland Empire logistics growth and the badly needed jobs that come with them into Long Beach's proposed GRID hub would certainly help dispel the sprawl from economic growth and potentially spark logistics movement competition with the Panama Canal expansion. Has Iddo Benzeevi been inclined to innovate and make bank from this opportunity?

Many valid questions about traffic and pollution are not being addressed in WLC plans and the Moreno Valley City Council continues to pander to the developer--possibly illegally--and stonewalling valid criticism by concerned citizens. Many trucks still run on dirty diesel fuel. Traffic through the Badlands hills is already approaching capacity, more than 16% of the total traffic is logistics movement and there are no truck capacity improvement proposals except for plans to add truck climbing lanes.

Got to get smart about logistics growth.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Transportation Tips: How to help Typhoon Haiyan survivors in the Philippines

The Philippines was hit from a powerful typhoon last week, causing widespread death and destruction. According to sources, Typhoon Haiyan affected millions people across the Philippines with at least 600,000 being displaced. Survivors were described as being in desperate need of clean drinking water and food. Experts in the field have urged those who want to help to send a cash donation to a charity in lieu of material donations. A Red Cross official says the charity purchases survivors' needs locally or domestically after disasters to help revive the economy, control transportation costs, and ensure items are appropriate for the culture.

According to sources, many charities are stepping up to provide help and outlets for donations.

The American Red Cross
The Philippine Red Cross
Catholic Relief Services
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors without Borders)
National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON)
The Salvation Army
Operation USA

If your local charity is providing help, feel free to post them in the comments. Remember, please only post links to legit charities. Spam and bogus links will be removed.

Thank you for your support.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

RTA's Dial-a-Ride Contractor and the Inland Empire Job Market

Source: Riverside Transit Agency
The Riverside Transit Agency's own newsletter dubbed The RTA Reader reported that Veolia Transportation was awarded a new contract to operate RTA's Dial-A-Ride services. The current contractor, Southland Transit Inc, operated the DAR service since 2006 and has been undergoing unsustainable losses. The provider requested RTA to withdraw from the DAR agreement and bidding was opened last May. After a tough and thorough selection process between four vendors, Veolia was found to be the most qualified and best value provider. Veolia has a long resume of operating transit fleets under contract all throughout the Southland. We'll keep a watch on what improvements take place aboard Riverside County's paratransit services.

The selection process between the bidding vendors involved a challenging inquiry and examination process which is a sound way of balancing quality contracted services with cost control. RTA designed this process to be challenging, with candidates presented with real operational scenarios requiring them to demonstrate their experience and critical thinking skills. The process allowed RTA to base candidate scores on these facts and not on costs alone. The results: Management teams from two vendors were unable to demonstrate a level of expertise that met the RTA's expectations. One vendor failed to make the full team of management candidates available for interviews. RTA didn't disclose the specifics, but here are the technical scores between the four:

First Transit - 82.5
Ride Right LLC - 33.3
SCR Medical Transportation - 31.6
Veolia Transportation Inc. - 92.6

Because Veolia scored considerably higher during the interviews, RTA engaged the vendor to negotiate the contract to better match the competition: $69,011,213 over a 3-year base period. Such challenging examination processes are certainly necessary to help keep contract and government employee hiring fair and equal with quality workers at competitive marketplace rates and wages. Yes, some of the politics and the trivial steps toward getting extra helping hands for a government agency should be debated and streamlined, but the specifics are not for us to decide as a transit advocacy group. However, there is one fact that is not questionable: Getting a job in the Inland Empire marketplace is a lot harder under a soft economy and trivial policies that obstruct growth need to be revisited.

The IE Marketplace Job Interview of today

Like the Dial-a-Ride contract, similar pre-job challenges are abundant in the Inland Empire marketplace since there are still far more workers than jobs. The Press Enterprise Columnist and licensed therapist Mitchell Rosen wrote this piece on situations where job seekers often feel humiliated during a job interview. Because the job-to-worker ratio leans more toward workers than jobs, the local economy is an employer's market. When a job gets posted, people looking for work flood the employer with applications, making such tough screening processes necessary for selection.

While the employer is the dominant party under a soft economy and thus can control salaries and place job applicants through additional examinations and inquiries to screen the pool, it's certainly wrong to bully or humiliate them as pointed by Rosen. To be fair, many if not most interviewing managers are civil to their candidates and humiliation is not deliberate. What is actually happening is that since so many job seekers are applying for a single position, employers have to resort to hard interview questions, scoring systems, and examinations to help narrow down the candidate pool. When a candidate goes in for an interview and expects a traditional Q&A-type setting only to be confronted in answering to a real-time scenario, he/she might have a sense of humiliation of not being prepared to answer such tough questions. Such reaction can be discouraging to hard working people looking for work.

In a robust economy, job applicant pools are smaller and starting salaries are higher because employers actually need to recruit them.

In the late 1990's when the economy was soaring, a local McDonald's had such a high employee turnover that the franchise owner offered a higher start-up wage for students with higher GPA's. It was almost a given to see a "Now Hiring" sign on the window. The turnover was so high that hard working crew members who elected to stay trained and advanced easily through the company within their first year of employment and the raises that went along with them. At one point, the majority of hourly Swing Managers, McDonald's entry position into management at that time, were under age 21. That position was just below the Assistant Manager position, a post that offers a livable full time salary.

Such perks, employee retention, and job advancements are not needed in today's soft economy. However positive changes may happen as the logistics sector grows. It's true that many warehouse jobs are currently paying entry-level wages, but as the job-to-worker ratio leans more toward jobs and the number of unemployed people seeking work goes down, warehouse employers will be in a position where they have to raise salaries and advance hard working people through the company in order to fill open job positions, retain employees, and control costly turnover. Be sure to check out the latest development of the GRID logistics proposal in Long Beach and how it can be integrated into the Inland Empire.

Job growth is vital for a productive transit system as such workers combined with a strong economy pays for the system. Local and state officials need to see what policy changes need to take place to get the Inland Empire's economy growing again without the sprawl. Next week, we'll continue to watch over the growth of the logistics sector in Moreno Valley so that such development does not translate into undesired problems such as pollution, traffic congestion or corruption.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

How intercity bus competition can strengthen Inland Empire transit

The Transit Coalition ran across a Sacramento Bee article which tells the story of a rider who traveled along an intercity corridor served by two competing private bus carriers: Greyhound and Megabus.

When the blue Megabus coaches came into California, Greyhound knew that it no longer had monopoly power of intercity services and therefore needed to upgrade its services and lower fares in order to compete. Of course when that happens, riders benefit with better bus service.

Like the bus connections between northern California and LA, Stagecoach Group PLC has also recently brought the Megabus to operate between the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station and Las Vegas. Transportes Intercalifornias also provides intercity service to/from Mexico. And to this day, numerous casino buses are offered to ferry passengers from all over Southern California to the Inland Empire's gaming resorts. If this pattern continues, we may be able to get around Southern California one day by bus during any time of the day at reasonable fares.

We're looking for additional carriers to come into the Inland Empire so that locals can get around the Southland and points beyond quickly by bus with increased services and lower fares. Greyhound Bus Lines should not be in a position to monopolize the Inland Empire intercity bus market. Public officials should continue to work with intercity bus service providers to improve marketplace competition among intercity lines. We're not looking at direct taxpayer subsidies as we don't need a repeat of the Solyndra failure, but incentives to lure existing and start up companies to existing corridors and transit hubs.

On top of the growing limited stop express options, we're also looking for additional local intercity services for the SR-91, I-15, I-215, and I-10 intercity corridors with competitive fares offered by the private sector. Riders would be able to board and alight at any stop. This would provide additional express bus services at times when public commuter express services are not available.  What can be done to entice an existing or start-up carrier to offer express services with stops in the Inland Empire? 

Limited Stop Intercity Service Corridor Concepts:
Offering quick and speedy connections between dense areas of the Inland Empire

OC - Inland Empire - Las Vegas Limited:
Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center
Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center
Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station
San Bernardino Transit Center
Baker (Meal Break)
LV South Strip Transfer Terminal
LV Downtown Bonneville Transit Center

San Diego - Las Vegas Limited:
San Diego Santa Fe Depot
Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station
San Bernardino Transit Center
Baker (Meal Break)
LV South Strip Transfer Terminal
LV Downtown Bonneville Transit Center

Tijuana - San Diego - Los Angeles via Inland Empire Limited:
San Ysidro Transit Center
San Diego Santa Fe Depot
Temecula/Murrieta Twin Cities Transit Center
Montclair Transcenter
Los Angeles Union Station

Los Angeles to Phoenix Limited:
Los Angeles Union Station
San Bernardino Transit Center
Thousand Palms
Blythe Kmart Transfer Center (Meal Break)
Phoenix Central Station

Local Intercity Service Corridor Concepts:
With the additional stops, these routes would offer intercity connections to/from transit hubs in the suburbs.

OC - Inland Empire - Las Vegas Local:
Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center
Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center
Corona Transit Center
Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station
San Bernardino Transit Center
Victor Valley Transit Center
Barstow Amtrak Station
Baker (Meal Break)
LV South Strip Transfer Terminal
LV Downtown Bonneville Transit Center

San Diego - Las Vegas Local:

San Diego Santa Fe Depot
Escondido Transit Center
Temecula/Murrieta Twin Cities Transit Center
Perris Station Transit Center
Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station
San Bernardino Transit Center
Victor Valley Transit Center
Barstow Amtrak Station
Baker (Meal Break)
LV South Strip Transfer Terminal
LV Downtown Bonneville Transit Center

Tijuana - San Diego - Los Angeles via Inland Empire Local:
San Ysidro Transit Center
San Diego Santa Fe Depot
Escondido Transit Center
Temecula/Murrieta Twin Cities Transit Center
Downtown Lake Elsinore
Corona Transit Center
Montclair Transcenter
El Monte Bus Station
Los Angeles Union Station

Los Angeles to Phoenix Local:

Los Angeles Union Station
El Monte Bus Station
Montclair Transcenter
Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station
San Bernardino Transit Center
Beaumont Wal-Mart
Downtown Palm Springs
Thousand Palms
Indio Transportation Center
Desert Center (pending future growth/revitalization)
Blythe Kmart Transfer Center (Meal Break)
Tonopah (pending future growth/revitalization)
Phoenix Desert Sky Mall
Phoenix Central Station

Got some routing ideas of your own? Post them in the comments.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Robust Debate for the Riverside Reconnects Streetcar

Photo: © Riding in Riverside CC-BY-SA

The Transit Coalition has long been advocating for better Metrolink and bus service through the central City of Riverside. Both the Riverside Transit Agency and the city government have big plans to bring rapid transit along the city's dense corridors. A light rail car to be delivered to San Diego made a stop in downtown Riverside. The Siemens S70 train was parked on University Avenue offering a real-time preview of what rapid rail transit might look like along the streets of Riverside. Based on a Riding in Riverside blog post, city officials hope that one day, Riverside will mimic Portland complete with multi-modal transit mobility and transit oriented development. The project at hand is Riverside Reconnects, a streetcar proposal advocated by the City of Riverside.

Proposed Streetcar Study Area
Photo: © Riding in Riverside CC-BY-SA
Even though the streetcar appears to be Riverside Mayor Rusty Bailey's pet project, public debate on this proposal has been robust. For Riverside Reconnects to work, it will need to be done right and coordinated with the Riverside Transit Agency. The finished product must not duplicate existing RTA bus service, proposed bus rapid transit, nor obstruct existing traffic flow. The technology used to move Riverside's people must also be fact-based and cost-efficient. The local press has opposed the streetcar for those very reasons.

We want the very best public transit systems for Riverside with quick and speedy alternatives to get across town. But at the same point, we don't want politician's pet projects nor government waste to obstruct other vital transportation projects. Riverside Reconnects can work if it's done right. Here are some facts.

Coordinating Riverside Reconnects with RTA's RapidLink BRT Proposal

Source: Riverside Transit Agency
RTA has recently proposed to phase in peak-hour limited stop runs of Route 1 within the next few years with long term plans for all day RapidLink BRT service with station stop amenities. Numerous past studies find BRT feasible. We've originally envisioned dedicated transit lanes for the higher density areas for the RapidLink service so that the rapid buses do not obstruct existing traffic nor are stuck in congestion through these areas, much like how the sbX system is being developed in San Bernardino. Also envisioned are RTA ticket vending machines at each of the RapidLink stations to speed up the boarding process. We also have a blog post on how officials can speed up the BRT project. RTA and the City need to network and coordinate these two projects. We don't want RTA to spend precious funding resources on RapidLink only to find out that a separate trolley line will scrape and replace BRT only a few years later.

There is no question that both the Magnolia and University Avenue corridors are need of better rapid transit options and a quick and speedy alternative to slower local bus service for longer trips. Could the city benefit with the streetcar system? How about light rail? Or maybe BRT that mimics LA's Metro Orange Line through dense areas?

Both agencies need to work to actually get first-rate transit lines built for Riverside and both need to agree on which technology would work best in regards to moving people and keeping costs in check, whether it be rails or BRT. The city also needs to ensure Riverside Reconnects doesn't bypass Metrolink. In terms of connecting the city's existing and proposed mass transit system to Southern California's regional rail system, the sound idea of establishing the downtown transit hub at the Metrolink station with a pedestrian overpass across the 91 Freeway into the core has been on the drawing board for almost a decade. As pictured here, job development incentives can transform the train station into a robust transit and marketplace employment hub with the transit center, a Riverside Reconnects station stop, and the bridge integrated into the development. The infrastructure would be fully paid for. No taxpayer debt. No waiting for decades for public money. Getting private capital and marketplace jobs into Downtown Riverside will be key to getting a funded, robust transit system for Riverside's streets.