Thursday, January 31, 2013

Complete Maps for California Rail and Bus Transit

Patriot citizens offer big, yet inexpensive lessons for government transportation agencies. As gas prices go up, we can use complete transit agency system maps.

California Transit Map A group of transit patriots from all over the state teamed up and produced what the government has not: A state-wide transit map linking major California destinations via rail and major connecting buses. The actual map was produced and released last November.

However, the map inspired The Atlantic Media Company, a group exploring innovative ideas, to contact the map developer Alfred Twu and see if it was possible to travel from the Mexico border all the way up into Oregon by only riding public transportation trains and buses. Although the map illustrates Amtrak train routes and major private sector inter-city connectors, the itinerary would exclude these modes.

Twu concluded that such a trip was impractical, but certainly possible: From the southern border crossing at San Ysidro, take the San Diego Trolley to downtown San Diego, connect to the NCTD Coaster, and then transfer to Metrolink at Oceanside. From there, ride Metrolink through Los Angeles Union Station to Lancaster. After that, take some Eastern Sierra Transit Authority buses up US Route 395 to Reno. From Reno, take the Sage Stage bus system into Oregon. According to The Atlantic Media Company, the journey would take over 32 hours, span 480 miles, and cost $41.25. Not to worry, there's a selection of private sector inter-city lines available as a speedy alternative according to Twu's map, yet there are still several transit gaps. The Transit Coalition, for example, continues to advocate for public agencies to clear the way for private carriers to serve the Los Angeles-to-San Diego inland corridor via the I-15 Freeway.

Public transportation agencies also have much to learn from this mapping project. As prices at the gas pump rise, so too will be a surge in the number of people switching to public transportation. The riding public will need agency system transit maps that are complete with both agency-operated and connecting inter-agency routes. By including these routes on their system maps, transit agencies could better educate riders of available routes and thus improve the productivity of their systems at minimal cost. For instance, one would never know that an Omnitrans express bus between Riverside and San Bernardino existed just by looking at this RTA system map. Likewise, how would a San Bernardino County bus rider headed from Ontario to Corona know where to transfer to RTA buses based on the Omnitrans system map alone? OCTA's map leaves this important question: Where's the Metro Line 460 connection into Los Angeles? A resident who lives in Santa Ana and works in LA would more likely travel by bus if he saw Line 460, an all-day local-plus-express hybrid route, on his local agency's bus route map.

In contrast, Foothill Transit smartly illustrates not only its agency-operated lines, but all other connecting inter-agency routes on its system map, thus making bus trip planning in the San Gabriel Valley more efficient. Los Angeles Metro does likewise. Public transit agencies throughout Southern California should therefore make it a standard practice to include connecting inter-agency routes on their official system maps. Twu's state-wide map clearly shows the public benefit and with gas prices once again going through the roof, the public needs to be made more aware of their travel options without having to refer to several maps of multiple transit operators.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An innovative Perris must be economically robust

(1/30/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Bus riders headed to jobs throughout the City of Perris will be delighted to see some additional bus shelters with solar-powered lighting built for the major bus stops around the city. Officials tout that these shelters will collect solar energy to power both the shelter lighting as well as nearby traffic signals, thus potentially saving the city some bucks on its electric bill. 

Perris Council member Mark Yarbrough sees the solar bus shelters as an example of bringing forth innovation to the city, but as good as these shelters are for the riding public going to work by bus, the best innovative ideas originate from robust jobs from the private marketplace. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment in Perris is a staggering 17.9%. 

The Perris City Council may therefore want to consider designating areas within the central city grid as specific plans and offer incentives to get some private sector manufacturing, logistics, and other service-oriented jobs developed to sustain productive public bus transit service and to truly foster innovative ideas in the city. Combating high unemployment needs to be a priority.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

How Tolled Express Lanes can properly 'redistribute traffic'

(1/29/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Los Angeles County Supervisor and LA Metro board member Mark Ridley-Thomas stated that the I-10 carpool lane set to be converted into the Metro ExpressLanes on February 23 will benefit the freeway corridor through LA County, saying, “When solo drivers begin to travel on the ExpressLanes along the San Bernardino Freeway, all commuters will benefit—whether they pay a toll or not—because the ExpressLanes will redistribute traffic across all lanes of the freeway.” 

Ridley-Thomas’ statement would be true if the ExpressLanes supported free non-transponder carpooling. The notion is almost undebatable. Since the conversion of the carpool lanes to Metro ExpressLanes through South LA, traffic in the I-110 general purpose lanes has worsened according to many commuters all because of the FasTrak transponder mandate for carpools and other high occupancy vehicles. Many legit HOV’s such as private buses simply migrated back to the general purpose lanes in lieu of registering for valid economic reasons. The same worsened congestion occurred in Atlanta when the carpool lane was converted to a transponder-only HOT lane along the I-85 corridor. Likewise, the new I-495 Express Lanes through Virginia were lightly used as well; although to be fair, the I-495 HOT lanes did not involve a carpool lane conversion which therefore didn't cause worsened traffic in the main freeway lanes.

In contrast, back in 1996 when the I-15 reversible carpool lane in San Diego County was converted to a HOT facility that maintained non-transponder carpooling, traffic improved for the whole corridor since the existing HOV traffic was never displaced by ill-advised usage policies. There’s no denying the facts. Southern California toll lanes need free non-transponder carpooling if traffic is to be properly redistributed as Ridley-Thomas envisions.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Where’s that $450,000 worth of driving going toward?

(1/28/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Several members of the public were disappointed to hear that state officials from both houses of the legislature denied requests by the The Sacramento Bee of reimbursement details in the vehicle mileage logbooks for state lawmakers. Those logbooks detail how state government elected officials received $450,000 in mileage reimbursements in a single year. At a reimbursement rate of 53 cents per mile, that adds up to more than 849,000 miles driven on the taxpayer dime. 

To be fair, many lawmakers have big districts to travel around and the logbooks contain specific residential street addresses of which should certainly not be published to protect the officials. However, by refusing to disclose any information, the state government leaves open the speculation and possibility that some politicians might be abusing our taxpayer money. If a lawmaker travels to a private event such as a campaign fundraiser or leisure trip, we must not be footing the gas mileage bill. Such activity must be uncovered. The legislative leaders should release the reimbursement details from the logbooks while keeping the addresses confidential.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Innovative Sobriety & Highway Enforcement Tools

A UC Riverside professor and his students embrace intelligence-driven highway enforcement, for citizens, to combat drunk driving.

A smartphone application. A computer science professor from UC Riverside with the help of two students has developed a smart phone application that allows citizen drivers to participate in intelligence-driven highway enforcement, specifically to combat drunk driving. Professor Frank Vahid and UCR computer science majors Timothy Cherney and Daniel de Haas developed the free program called DuiCam which allows a mounted Android or iPhone to video record 30 minutes of highway activity.

Should drivers suspect dangerous drunk driving or any other serious illegal activity such as a hit-and-run, they can pull over, dial 911, and forward any relevant footage to law enforcement with a push of a few buttons. The program could also be used to document traffic collisions, reducing the speculation of who is at fault. Many transit buses and trains are already equipped with similar cameras and recording devices, but UCR has now provided a free software alternative for private motorists. Obviously Vahid, Cherney and de Haas want to get Southern California moving safely. They are patriots for developing a free citizen's intelligence-driven enforcement tool to combat drunk driving. This tool also opens the door for even more efficient and more powerful CHP enforcement innovations at minimal costs.

Take a look at this Transit Coalition conceptual enforcement graphic of the planned I-15 Tolled Express Lanes in Riverside County. The concept shows a point-of-view from a CHP patrol car with an enforcement computer monitor with multiple intelligence-driven features. The monitor is connected with the patrol's video camera and uses existing radar technology to clock a vehicle's speed. Using a connected remote infrared scanning system, the monitor also shows the vehicle occupancy count. For non-HOV's, the computer can also check for the presence of a valid FasTrak, link the transponder to an account, and show whether it was properly mounted upon HOT lane entry. Intelligence-driven enforcement has a future in transportation.

A rendering of the I-15 HOT Lanes. Meanwhile, Los Angeles Metro has been responding to criticism regarding the usage policy of the I-110 Metro ExpressLanes which includes numerous complaints of worsened traffic congestion along the general purpose lanes. The agency is exploring four alternatives. Could it be that Metro is considering eliminating the FasTrak mandate for carpools and adopting intelligence-driven HOV enforcement for the I-110? Sadly, this wise alternative is not being considered. By the looks of Metro's proposals, the discussion is all about the $3 monthly FasTrak account fee, not about moving legit non-transponder HOV's like private sector buses.

This Greyhound bus, for example, was found sitting in traffic along the 91 Freeway during a Coalition field study last weekend, all due to a transponder mandate for 3+ HOV's to use the 91 Express Lanes. That Greyhound coach alone lost approximately 10-15 minutes worth of trip time in congestion, a preventable expense that gets paid for by the rider. Southern California transportation officials need to get out, spend a few days in San Diego County, the Bay area, Seattle, Denver, Utah, and Minneapolis and see exactly how agencies there operate their toll lanes done right.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Carpools 2 or more only - Corporations OK?

The California Vehicle Code should specifically state that a vehicle occupant for carpool is a born, bodily, living human being.

Once again, loopholes in written law are being exploited at the expense of vehicle registration taxpayers and law abiding freeway motorists. San Rafael political activist Jonathan Frieman has a problem with corporations being defined as persons, but his campaign involves exploiting a loophole in the California Vehicle Code combined with citing the opinion of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. His intent is to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court case.

Frieman traveled solo with corporate paperwork in Bay Area carpool lanes purposely trying to get caught by the CHP so he can get his case through the court system. Citing both CVC 470 and the opinion of the Citizens United case, he frivolously argues that a corporation can count as a passenger to satisfy the occupancy requirement to travel in a 2+ carpool lane. As unusual as it sounds, Frieman actually hopes to keep losing through the court system so he can appeal the corporate personhood case back to the U.S. Supreme Court. He recently lost at the Superior Court level and has planned to appeal.

The Transit Coalition does not take sides on any political matters that do not relate to transportation. However, the state legislature must close the claimed loophole in the California Vehicle Code immediately. Even though Frieman hopes to lose his case throughout the appeals process, should a judge at any level decide to rule in Frieman’s favor, HOV lanes as we know it could be in dire trouble statewide. The legislature needs to write into law who a vehicle occupant is in the California Vehicle Code: a born, bodily, and living human being.

Robust debates in a free democracy are welcome and if Frieman has a solid argument against Citizens United, he should take action. However, exploiting California Vehicle Code loopholes and being a carpool cheater to advance agendas through the courts does nothing to get Southern California moving. And if the CHP took as long as Frieman claimed to catch him driving alone in an HOV lane, lawmakers might as well increase the carpool violation penalty and increase CHP enforcement to better deter carpool cheating. Set the base statewide fine to at least $500 and make it a one-point moving violation.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Metro Rapid in the Inland Empire

SANBAG's plans to bridge transit gaps between transfer hubs with local/rapid buses is long overdue. How about seamless rapid connections to the high occupancy lanes?

What rapid bus service in the Inland Empire can look like. Remember when the fast-expanding Metro Rapid bus system brought a speedy and immediate alternative to slow local bus rides along major corridors throughout Los Angeles? That same expansion may soon be a reality along major streets in San Bernardino County, and these rapid connections also promise to bridge major transit gaps too.

The San Bernardino Associated Governments has major long-term plans to bring Metro Rapid-style lines or even dedicated bus rapid transit routes west from San Bernardino all the way across the LA and Riverside County borders with proposed seamless local/rapid connections to Riverside and Foothill Transit buses at major transit centers. The proposals include three existing local bus route extensions which would close major gaps between Riverside, Los Angeles and San Bernardino County activity centers. The extensions are long overdue and have been long addressed by The Transit Coalition.

  • One extension connects the Highway 83 corridor in Ontario with the Corona Transit Center. Currently, getting from Ontario to Corona by bus, city center to city center, peak hour or off-peak, involves a 2+ hour circuitous journey through Eastvale and Jurupa Valley with many transfers.

  • The second extension directly connects Eastvale with Chino and Diamond Bar via a single line. Currently, bus riders must transfer between several routes to get around this gap outside of peak travel times.

  • The third planned extension creates another north/south connection from Downtown Riverside to the City of Rialto and points north. This will eliminate the need for Riverside Transit riders of the necessity to travel northeast to Downtown San Bernardino and backtracking west.

    The Transit Coalition stays appraised on developments regarding enhanced bus transit. Be sure to check out an up-to-date Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit which illustrates the proposed rapid transit corridors and enhanced north/south connections.

    sbX Highway 83 Corridor and the 91 Express Lanes

    Conceptual Smith Avenue Direct Access Ramp

    Let's talk about the proposed sbX rapid service for the Highway 83/Euclid corridor through Ontario. According to this SANBAG map, the line will go south along Highway 71, to the 91 Freeway and terminate at the Corona Transit Center. Rapid buses are clearly high occupancy vehicles worthy of passing by freeway traffic congestion; so does it make sense to have a direct access ramp along the 91 Express Lanes at the Highway 71 junction and a second bidirectional ramp at Smith Street in Corona to link to the Corona Transit Center so that BRT doesn't have to sit in 91 freeway traffic?

    Speaking of HOT lanes, these facilities are quickly spreading across the nation. Several areas around the country have toll lanes of their own, while Los Angeles and Washington, DC, opened their toll lane systems last fall. Despite their promise of fast travel to those who can pay to use them, opponents continue to decry them as lanes for the privileged and that the physical lanes are built through funds taxed from existing road users.

    It is a fact that people of all income levels use toll lanes, especially HOV's who use the lanes for free or a discount. Field studies and public agency stats back this statement up. "Lexus Lanes" are not just for the rich. To be fair, the state should be held accountable for paying its share to construct HOT lanes so that any 2+ or 3+ HOV is exempt from paying tolls or preregistering. Posts to Metro's Facebook ExpressLanes Page continue to show that traffic on LA's I-110 freeway has worsened since the freeway's HOV lanes were converted to transponder-mandated HOT lanes.

    Meanwhile, toll lane proponents believe these lanes provide a market value to increasingly scarce road space and additional revenue for highway and transit projects, although our expensive state gas tax funds should really be footing these bills. The Transit Coalition continues to monitor this development, especially in light of efforts to bring non-transponder carpooling to HOT lanes in the Inland Empire, as part of our We want Toll Lanes done right campaign.
  • Friday, January 4, 2013

    Intelligent Transit Enforcement

    The US Border Patrol finds success in intelligence-driven enforcement. Would such a strategy work for enforcing transit fares and HOV usage?

    A Border Patrol vehicle. As we head into the New Year of 2013, law enforcement continues to head toward better technology and methods, which in one case has reduced traffic congestion on Southern California freeways. Motorists who travel regularly from LA, Orange County or the Inland Empire into San Diego County and back may have noticed that the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoints along the I-5 and I-15 freeways appear to be "closed" more often than in years past; northbound drivers for the most part now proceed through and go. Fewer have to wait. Likewise, tactical enforcement checkpoint turnouts located along the sides of several inland two-lane roads as they cross the northern San Diego County border appear to be "less" used. Don't be fooled by those appearances. Those who are planning on breaking the law are being watched even more.

    That's because the Border Patrol has now been tackling criminal border-related threats head on by collecting information and coordinating with local law enforcement agencies that allows the federal agents to look for certain behaviors instead of simply screening every motorist, a method known as intelligence-driven enforcement. The San Diego stats clearly show that this win-win method actually works for both the Border Patrol and law-abiding travelers. As the Border Patrol continues to bust more criminals than it did before, so too are fewer and fewer northbound motorists and buses that have to stop in a 5-15 minute queue at the federal checkpoints. The benefits are clear: More criminals being caught; less delays while leaving San Diego County. Yes, there are times that agents are called to operate the checkpoints, but their motive is backed by intelligence, and on several occasions, they have stopped criminal activity.

    Would a similar intelligence-driven enforcement system work for combating transit fare evasion and carpool cheating? Here's some ideas local public agencies may want to consider:

  • Undercover fare enforcement and/or loss prevention inspectors posing as bus/train riders looking for signs of fare evasion, illegal resales of tickets and passes, and people turning back when they see a uniformed fare inspector on the platform.
  • The same undercover enforcement teams monitoring how bus drivers handle fare collections and safety protocol.
  • Volunteer station transit ambassadors helping transit riders with purchasing tickets/passes and boarding the correct buses/trains. Uniformed ambassadors deter sneaky evasion tacticts because they are trained to report criminal activity at the stations.
  • Installation of infrared scanning systems along HOV and HOT lanes; systems similar to equipment used to log speeders with "Your Speed" automatic radars seen on streets and freeways. The data can be passed to the CHP with potential enforcement sting operations in areas with a 10% or more HOV violation ratio. Their sole use should be for automatically monitoring and tracking carpool cheating as our Fourth Amendment U.S. Constitutional rights must be respected.
  • Equipping the CHP with remote infrared scanners, mobile enforcement transponders, enforcement beacons and other fool-proof tools to catch carpool cheaters in HOV and HOT lanes.

  • By the way, if you spot anybody selling illegal Metrolink, RTA, or Omnitrans tickets or passes, please be sure to report it to local law enforcement.