Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Don't ditch your Dial-a-Ride pick up appointment

The Riverside Transit Agency has been proactive in curbing unnecessary spending for its paratransit service. As reported, RTA's paratransit service accounts for the majority of its operating budget and better policing paratransit bus spending is vital. RTA is exploring a revision of its policies aimed to reduce chronic no-show's for Dial-A-Ride bus appointments. No shows who ditch their ride create an unfair inconvenience for other passengers and waste RTA's operating resources paid for by the taxpayer. RTA must therefore do whatever the agency can do to minimize such government waste.

RTA proposes to measure the systemwide average for no shows and then identify passengers who significantly exceed this average.  Prior to suspending chronic no show passengers, RTA will conduct a detailed review of such riders’ trip history and no show frequency in compliance with FTA guidance.

After the end of each month, RTA will review passenger no show rates and compare the figures against the system-wide average. Passengers found to exceed twice the system-wide rate may be subject to suspension of services.

RTA plans to set up the following process for those who ditch the Dial-a-Ride one too many times:
  • Passengers in violation of the policy will receive a warning on the first offense.
  • Subsequent non-compliance could result in suspension of services for seven calendar days.
  • RTA also proposes to issue 30-day notifications to chronic no shows prior to suspension which would include an appeals process in fairness of the passenger.

Have an opinion or idea to streamline RTA's paratransit services and combat government waste? Stay tuned for a public hearing period.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Are free FasTrak accounts good fiscal policy in LA?

A sign announcing express lanes.Metro's actions are certainly questionable from both a fiscal and enforcement standpoint.

Now through October 25, 2013, Los Angeles County residents who register for a FasTrak account through LA Metro will have their $3 monthly account maintenance fee waived. Infrequent users of the Metro ExpressLanes which included carpoolers complained of the fee which has been a cause of Metro's decision to cut out the fee for a six month period. Now that infrequent users of the HOT lanes within LA County can benefit with a FasTrak account without the monthly maintenance fee, could we potentially see more carpoolers returning to the high occupancy lanes as Metro intended? We might see an increase, but infrequent carpools still need to fork over at least $40 toward prepaid tolls which may never get spent. Don't forget that to travel for free in the Metro ExpressLanes, HOV's need to have LA Metro's switchable FasTrak; patrons with a standard FasTrak can only use the HOT lanes as a toll-paying traveler.

Metro's actions are certainly questionable from both a fiscal and enforcement standpoint. For many agencies, monthly fees placed on inactive FasTrak accounts generally pay for the maintenance of such accounts which would otherwise get paid for by toll revenue. Prior to the complete waiver of monthly fees for LA County residents, four trips per month in the Metro ExpressLanes would waive such fees. The $3 monthly fee for inactive accounts is therefore a very fair price. County taxpayers should not be on the hook, nor should those who intend on using the ExpressLanes solely for free carpooling.

Suppose Metro did see a rapid increase in the number of FasTrak sign up's because of the fee waiver. As the number of FasTrak transponders increase, so does the complexity of combating carpool cheating. In the Metro ExpressLanes, a motorist's switchable FasTrak declares whether the vehicle is traveling as a free HOV or a toll-paying SOV. A prime reason why Metro mandates transponders for all HOV's is the ability of Metro to have a photo enforcement system, but even with the automated system, carpool enforcement still needs to be done by the CHP under an intelligence-driven model. Because such HOV declarations could easily be done through the absence of a transponder, a potential solution that the Coalition has long advocated is to abolish the FasTrak mandate for carpoolers and increasing the fine for carpool cheating. Several other HOT lane corridors throughout the country utilize this model which has encouraged carpooling and reduced HOV violations. If Metro wants to get more free carpoolers into the Metro ExpressLanes and avert the increased traffic congestion in the general purpose lanes, the agency needs to consider free non-transponder carpooling for their toll lanes.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Friday Tips: Riding Riverside Transit

The Riverside Transit Agency has a three step guide of riding its buses. Before you embark on the bus, follow these steps to make the most of your trip.

First, decide the starting point, where you need to go, and when you need to arrive at your destination. Use the RTA system map to help you determine which set of bus routes would work best. Alternatively, use RTA's Routes by Community to help you determine your bus routes found in the RTA Ride Guide or under the route schedules on RTA's website.

Once you've located your bus routes, follow these three steps to plan out your trip:

1. Using the individual route maps, find the beginning and ending point of your bus trip.

2. Find the time point closest to your beginning and ending bus trip location on the timetable.  Each time point on the route map has a corresponding column on the timetable. Remember that there are numerous bus stops in between each time point.

3. Find the column on the correct timetable that corresponds with your selected time point. Don't forget to double check that you're looking at the correct day of the week and direction of travel. Read down the column below the time point to find the time closest to your desired departure. You can estimate the time for stops between the time points by adding the amount of time it will take the bus to get from the previous time point to your stop.

If you're having trouble planning any public bus trip in Riverside County, be sure to call the RTA Customer Information Center at (951) 565-5002.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Will the Perris Valley Line really cause a threat to a natural ecosystem or not?

The Metrolink Perris Valley Line continues to be stalled and mired in an environmental lawsuit. Ironically, the case has very little to do with long term impacts on the environment and the state can easily address much of the points that RCTC is mandated to correct by changing CEQA law.

Here are the issues that RCTC must address to the court within five days:

A negative impact to a sensitive toad population, the safety of pedestrians using a hiking trail that would cross the tracks, the peace of nearby homes due to wheel noise and the air quality due to the number of truck trips needed to transport soil.

While all of this taxpayer-funded litigation is taking place, the state government needs to continue its debate on amending CEQA law. The legislature could address the rail line's so-called environmental issues by amending the law and making it retroactive. The law needs to hold accountable contracted firms who disrupt the environment during construction, not the taxpaying public. CEQA loopholes need to be closed so that NIMBY groups cannot abuse CEQA law to delay or stop long term environmentally-friendly projects in court simply because they oppose it.

A strong pro-environment CEQA law can address and solve the rail line's issues:
Will a habitat displacement actually cause a threat to the natural ecosystem, or can such populations be safely migrated elsewhere in the wildlife corridor? What does the safety and development of a hiking trail grade crossing have to do with environmental protection? How much total noise in decibels are passing trains allowed to make through quiet zones? Are contracted firms who disrupt the environment during construction being held accountable?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Protecting the people aboard public transit

News reports show that the American Public Transportation Association is advocating for better security protection aboard public transit to counter terrorism. Such advocacy follows a failed attempt by two terrorists of blowing up a passenger train in Toronto. It’s worth noting that The Transit Coalition works to develop a safe, integrated, cost effective and environmentally sound public transportation system for Southern California region. That would include ensuring protective measures are in place to keep our trains and buses as safe as possible while maintaining business-friendly policies for marketplace transit lines. As officials debate for solutions, the federal government must not forget about one major source of the problem. 

Unfortunately, we live in a world where a group of religious extremists believe they have a right to kill innocent people in order to serve their religion. Combating terrorism is going to require both protective measures from the state and federal level combined with religious leaders confronting extremists of their so-called religous duty to mass-murder innocent people. Until this happens, officials need to continue their debates for solutions. One form of intelligence-driven protection that works is bomb sniffing dogs which randomly check for suspicious items aboard vehicles and transit stations. Let’s not forget that we the transit rider must also continue to be on the lookout for any suspicious activities.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Toll Lanes: What the press needs to question

Concept of I-15 facing north at Highway 74
The new high occupancy toll lanes along the I-10 and I-110 freeways in Los Angeles have been getting much negative press during the last few weeks, but why did this not happen in 1996 when the I-15 carpool lanes in San Diego County underwent the same conversion?

After the Los Angeles Times published a front page article reporting worsened traffic conditions in the main freeway lanes along the I-110 freeway, public views of toll lanes in general have declined. Although toll lanes are really not bad as many think they are, having a policy where "All HOV's must have FasTrak" causes toll lanes to deserve the reputation that they've been getting during the last few weeks.

The Transit Coalition's view of high occupancy toll lanes and congestion pricing is very clear. This mode of transportation works, but HOT lanes must support free non-transponder carpooling.

The questions that the press needs to ask LA Metro are:

1. How many toll-free HOV's versus toll-paying non-HOV's are using the Metro ExpressLanes compared to the original HOV Lanes?
2. Has the number of HOV's decreased in the high occupancy toll lanes?
3. How many HOV's are now using the general purpose lanes?

Traffic has worsened in the general purpose lanes because all of the non FasTrak-registered HOV's were displaced from the former 2+ carpool lanes; all vehicles including HOV's are now mandated to have a FasTrak transponder to use the facility. For toll-free travel, a Metro-issued switchable FasTrak is needed, not just any FasTrak. These are clear facts and here's an example:

The HOT lanes down in San Diego County which permits carpools or FasTrak traffic has better balanced traffic distribution and cut down significantly on commute times because non-registered carpools were never displaced. To be fair, San Diego's latest upgrades included additional lanes, but the actual HOV-to-HOT conversion took place back in 1996 in the original reversible lanes; no new lanes were built at that time and traffic flow did improve in the regular lanes according to reports. Therefore, the I-15 toll lanes didn't receive a negative reputation from the press.

If Metro wants the ExpressLanes to cut down on I-110 commute times, they need to get the displaced HOV's out of the general purpose lanes and back into the high occupancy lanes. If Metro desires to do this while fulfilling its long term goal of reducing the number of solo drivers in the corridor and promote ridesharing, the new regulatory burden on HOV's needs to be repealed. To be fair, most motorcycles and all plate-registered buses (public and private) are exempt from needing a transponder, but the FasTrak mandate for all other HOV's needs to be abolished and that notion needs to be adopted for all other future HOT lanes throughout Southern California. If there's suspected carpool cheating going on, get the CHP to conduct an enforcement sting with media coverage, lobby the state to increase the base fine to $500 and make it a one-point moving violation.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Celebrate Earth Day today

April 22 is Earth Day which is a day dedicated to demonstrate support for the protection of the environment. Naturally, wildlife animals and plants are destined for the common good for us humans. This day reminds us that our power over our surroundings is never absolute and should not be taken for granted.

Joyful joyful we adore our Earth in all its wonderment
Simple gifts of nature that all join into a paradise
Now we must resolve to protect her
Show her our love throughout all time
With our gentle hand and touch
We make our home a newborn world
Now we must resolve to protect her
Show her our love throughout all time
With our gentle hand and touch
We make our home a newborn world

-Earth Day anthem

Friday, April 19, 2013

Friday Transportation Tips: Be Heard

Are the trains and buses you ride reliable? Are they efficient? Is the ride smooth and stress-free? Do the buses or trains stop at your destination whenever you need to go there? Are you able to move around Southern California fast and effectively?

If you’re not satisfied with the answers to these questions, let your voice be heard. First, get your request over to public officials so they have public record of it. Secondly, forward your comments and your opinions over to The Transit Coalition or post a comment to this page of any local transportation or development issue in your community. We'll see if we can integrate that into our Future Vision plan. Also, if you live in Riverside County, let your local TNOW chapter know of the issue.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Future Vision of the Interstate 40 Corridor through the Mojave Desert

What does the future hold for a transportation corridor linking the Inland Empire into the Mojave Valley?

The Coalition's field study of the Interstate 40 corridor between Barstow and the Mojave Valley yielded many findings and several unique marketplace transit and economic development opportunities. Generally speaking, each of the intermediate towns and stops share the following marketplace assets: Historic Route 66, Heat energy, logistics, and the BNSF-operated rail right-of-way.

Here are just a few suggestions for public officials to consider for clearing the way for a strong and robust transportation corridor:
  • Incline additional marketplace economic investment by designating the central area blocks of each town and village as unique specific plans. Keep the blocks to a small scale. Any development that would induce urban sprawl, or traffic congestion must be discouraged.
  • Keep the job-to-housing ratio balanced to eliminate the need for long distance commuting.
  • Protect the open desert from unchecked sprawl by designating the outer fringes of the villages and towns as rural ranch or agriculture and areas beyond that as open space.
  • Offer incentives to the private sector for the production of renewable heat energy.
  • Commence a town hall meeting with existing investors, local area business owners, and residents to see how the region can be more business-friendly and what government reforms are necessary to build up business. What would entice a private intercity bus operator to the Highway 66 corridor?
  • Fix up the Highway 66 frontage road as more investors come forth.
  • There is a possibility that Class One private railroads including BNSF which long ago discontinued passenger service could reinstate and directly operate passenger trains in the future. Should BNSF desire to move forward with this concept for the LA-to-Flagstaff corridor, public officials should clear the way for the railroad to do so with potential local stops at each of the intermediate cities.

It's going to take a lot of work and vision to get these desert towns and villages back into an economically robust state when Highway 66 was the main throughfare, but history has shown that revitalizing blighted areas is possible and rewarding. One only needs to travel into one of many historic downtown districts throughout Southern California to see such economic development in action. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Could several forgotten desert villages along Highway 66 become what Radiator Springs became in Hollywood?

(4/17/13) – Whose going to represent Lightning McQueen's courage in real life?

(C) Wikipedia/Alienburrito CC-BY-SA
Few Californians may know where a place called Ludlow is, but what’s left of a once-booming village out in the middle of the southern Mojave Desert are few retail outlets catering to the needs of passing I-40 travelers. Ludlow was once a robust village with a rich history. Most of the activity dwindled with the dawning of the freeway as motorists bypassed businesses located along the historic Highway 66 or what is now known as Old National Trails Highway.

Similar stories can be told for the villages of Amboy, Essex, and other Highway 66 stops, but only worse. Since the old Highway 66 veers to the south and away from the interstate east of Ludlow, these remaining villages are now on the verge of becoming ghost towns as I-40 travelers and truckers no longer stop there. Does all of this sound like the true version of the story of Radiator Springs from the “Cars” Disney film?

Hope is underway and some investors have already started to pour money into these lost towns. No, Lightning McQueen is not going to bail out Amboy by setting up shop there, but the corridor has been sparking interest. Since Highway 66 has been drawing attention from preservationists and historians, the deviating segment east of Ludlow might be seeing some market demand for tourism and leisure. Add to that potential logistics points served by the existing BNSF rail line and heat energy sources.

With these assets, these small towns could one day become what Radiator Springs became: Several forgotten towns transforming into robust tourist destinations and producers of renewable energy. One result could be additional marketplace passenger trains between Los Angeles and Flagstaff with stops at each town. San Bernardino County officials should consider clearing the way for potential revitalization of these almost forgotten villages. Who's going to represent McQueen's courage in real life?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

A look at Newberry Springs

(4/16/13) – What does the future hold for this agricultural town?

The Transit Coalition continues to explore ways to improve multi-modal connections between the Inland Empire and points north of the Cajon Pass. There are numerous services that link Southern California to destinations like Las Vegas, Laughlin, and the Grand Canyon National Park, but what about the small towns in between?

Twenty miles east of the City of Barstow lies the town of Newberry Springs along Interstate 40, a robust agricultural, ranching and farming center made possible by the irrigation from the Mojave Aquifer. The region also benefits from local leisure-goers, snowbirds, some tourists utilizing the man-made lakes. Numerous live/work agricultural ranches can be found throughout this region which contributes toward a better balanced job-to-housing ratio.

The town’s rural demographics make fixed-route public transit a difficult endeavor for now, but what can be done to improve transit mobility?

What could a small centralized town center bring to Newberry Springs?

A small centralized downtown district for the ranchers and a community farmer’s market targeted toward travellers and truck drivers could make a bus route extension from Barstow a feasible option. Has the County of San Bernardino worked with the local residents on building up the agricultural marketplace? Has the state worked on making such trade more business-friendly and feasible?

Here's some more benefits of a downtown district: A private sector intercity bus operator like Greyhound could one day be inclined to stop a few of its through-buses in Newberry Springs. How about a future Class One BNSF-operated train west into Los Angeles, or east to Flagstaff? Bridle paths adjacent to major through-fares, complete streets, and a much-needed repaving of the Highway 66 frontage road east toward Ludlow would be possible from the added tax revenue. But in this current business climate, such public amenities and economic upgrades are not possible.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Controlling Cajon Pass traffic during inclement weather

(4/15/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Transit Coalition is aware the micro-climate in the Cajon Pass area can become unstable at times. For instance, the skies could be clear in Victorville and it could be calmly drizzling in San Bernardino...Yet, the Cajon Pass which separates the regions could be very windy, wet and foggy. Commuters and regular travellers are also well aware that the Cajon Pass separates the inland chaparrals from the desert.

Since the weather through the Cajon Pass can become unpredictable, it would be wise for Caltrans and San Bernardino County to adopt measures to control the speed limit based on the current conditions. During normal conditions, the speed limit would be 65-70 mph, but if a layer of pea soup fog blankets the Cajon Pass, digital signs leading up to the affected area would warn drivers ahead of time to slow to a safe speed depending on the thickness of the fog. A sign such as “DENSE FOG AHEAD – 35 MPH ZONE 2 MILES” would be useful. Safety is paramount along steep-grade roadways, especially where the weather can be unstable.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Tips: Malfunctioning traffic signals or V-Calm signs? Report it.

Everyday, there's a commuter or traveller who is bound to find burnt out traffic lights, pedestrian crossing buttons which mysteriously activate automatically in the suburbs for no reason, and V-Calm "Your Speed" signs which tell drivers to slow down when in fact the passing car is going 10 miles under the posted speed limit.

In Temecula, The Transit Coalition noted that a newly installed V-Calm sign in a local neighborhood flashed "SLOW DOWN" when a driver exceeded 25 mph. The only problem: The roadway's posted speed limit was 35 mph. Each time a V-Calm sign flashes "SLOW DOWN" to alert speeding drivers, the speeding "violation" is tracked, and if a roadway shows a high speeding violation ratio, local police would normally dispatch traffic enforcement officers. In case you're wondering, Temecula's public works department was notified.

If you should spot such obvious fixes in your neighborhood, do the right thing and let your local public works department know by reporting it. In this day in age, even with advanced computer technology, there will always be areas where human interaction is needed to signal the need to fix broken devices which regulate transportation. Incorrectly programmed V-Calm signs which count law-abiding drivers as speeders is such an example. We need to continue to be the eyes and ears in keeping the Inland Empire moving with functioning traffic control devices.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Addressing the Perris Valley Lawsuit ruling

Enhances Transit NetworkThe California State Legislature has some work to do to reform state environmental law. An April 1, 2013 court ruling on RCTC's long-proposed Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension shows that Judge Sharon J. Waters ruled in favor of the opposing party on 5 of the 15 environmental concerns brought up in court: Negations to the soil, track lubricant usage, pedestrian safety, train wheel noise pollution, and construction related noise.

The organization responsible for this lawsuit is a group called Friends of Riverside Hills. The organization argues:

The Perris Valley line will be comfortable. But cost and convenience are simply not there. That makes it poor public policy.  The environmental impacts are being challenged in the Friend’s lawsuit.

It is quite clear that Friends of Riverside Hills opposes the Perris Valley Line, but using the courts to overturn a project they claim is "poor public policy" in the name of the environment encroaches the separation of powers. This has allowed a judge to decide the fate of the rail line from the bench. The ruling leaves the Perris Valley Line case in a complicated position under the current law, but the legislature has the power to avert further delays caused by broad court rulings through its power to change the law.

As reported, the state legislature has been working on and should follow through on its promise to close up California Environmental Quality Act loopholes so judges cannot veto large projects from the bench which actually benefit the environment and reduce traffic congestion like the Perris Valley Line. Such rulings delay important projects which get paid for by the taxpayer. It is a common fact that a rail transit alternative for the I-215 corridor would reduce congestion and pollution by providing a multi-modal transportation option to single-occupancy automobile travel, thus fulfilling the goals and intents of state environmental law which is to protect the environment. In addition, RCTC owns the already-developed rail right-of-way.

To be fair, issues such as construction-related pollution should be dealt with by fining construction firms that excessively pollute. Same holds true for pedestrians who illegally trespass into an active rail right-of-way. However, these issues combined with CEQA loopholes should not be excuses for a judge to veto or delay the rail project from the bench.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Across-the-Platform Connections Between Public Transit and Private Sector Intercity Carriers

The Transit Coalition uruges public officials to work with major intercity bus service providers like Greyhound Bus Lines and casino bus carriers for improved connections between these lines and local public transportation services at major transit centers and hubs. Currently, several private bus carriers stop to pick up and drop off passengers at points that are far from major public transit centers. Public officials should explore incentives and amenities so that private sector carriers would be inclined to use multi-modal transit centers and their adjacent streets as bus stops.

Private sector intercity bus service is vital for productive express bus service through suburban and rural areas where off-peak public express bus transit would otherwise not be feasible. By attracting carriers to transit centers, passengers will have seamless across-the-platform transfer connections between lines. In addition, coordinated service with streamlined fare and transfer agreements between operators can make both intercity bus travel and public bus service a more feasible transportation option at minimal costs to the taxpayer.

By setting policies that would allow private carriers to generate additional profits with the added ridership, Inland Empire bus riders would be given additional express intercity bus service options in a productive manner at centralized transit centers.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Now is the time for complete streets in the Inland Empire

(4/9/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Transit Coalition supports the development of complete streets, which in addition to the main roadway, includes concrete sidewalks, bicycle lanes or a paralleling cycleway, wide shoulders for potential street parking, and marked crossings through developed areas. For rural areas, a single multi-use bridle path located adjacent to the major roadways can complete the street. Such streets and roadways provide safe and efficient transportation choices to move people.

We believe the streets of Southern California ought to be designed to support a variety of transportation options, not just automobile travel. Streets that are designed to accommodate solely automobile traffic often cause inconveniences or even safety issues for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and equestrians.

This is possibly the case in regards to a March, 2013 pedestrian injury in Temecula. Two pedestrians were struck by a car along a segment of a major road without sidewalks which links a city library into the western part of town. Pauba Road in some parts is complete with the exception of its western segment where the injury took place. Pauba Road also has portions in the east where only the southern half of the road is complete. A local resident, Mike Baxter is petitioning to get the western segment of Pauba into a complete street which is long past due. To be fair, the city has been proactive in ensuring its streets are complete, but sidewalks feeding to/from the city library without exception need to be finished promptly on both sides of the road. Now is the time.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Smart Growth and Cul-de-Sacs

(4/8/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

Cul-de-sac streets have long been a top market item for tract developers but a bane for urban planners. Conceived as a way to decrease traffic on residential streets, they cause the unfortunate side effect of making a car necessary for almost every kind of trip. However, there are a few faithful developers who are getting smart by searching for ways to emulate the grid system for pedestrians and cyclists.

Smart Growth and cul-de-sac residential streets can coexist. Many newer developments and master planned communities have attractive and safe interconnected pedestrian/bicycle access points placed between cul-de-sacs and other areas. Such layouts eliminate through automobile traffic while allowing everybody else multi-modal, carfree connectivity and through-access to other areas of the neighborhood, activity centers, and main streets by emulating the traditional grid development system. For private communities, such points can be gated.

However, to be fair, the majority of existing cul-de-sacs are still dead-ends for all. Studies have confirmed major side effects of these dead-end streets. One study shows that those who live along interconnected streets travel 26% fewer miles than those who live near or on cul-de-sacs without pedestrian/bicycle access points. Have there been any developer incentives to allow those on foot or on the bike pedals through-access at planned cul-de-sacs?

Friday, April 5, 2013

Friday Transportation Tips: Disabled Placard Abuse...Report it.

Disabled placard cheating in the name of convenience is a serious problem. Disabled parking spaces are designated for those who have a disability and require front parking; that is, those spots are a necessity for the disabled travelling by automobile. Non-disabled persons have no business using a disabled space which unfairly affects those who are disabled. Abuse of disabled placards by those who are not legally disabled has become widespread.

If you or somebody you live with has a disabled placard, remember that only the person of whom the placard was issued may use it to park in those blue parking spots. That is, he/she must be present. According to the DMV, it is illegal for a disabled person to give or lend his/her placard to another person. It is also illegal to use another person’s placard. 

Law enforcement agencies in the Bay Area have noticed that placard abuse is so bad that they have conducted placard checkpoints and undercover stings to catch placard cheaters. If you get caught, the fines can creep into the thousands of dollars plus placard confiscation. If you suspect placard abuse in your community, report it. 

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Can the 91 Express Lanes support 2+ carpooling instead of 3+?

The short answer is: Not quite.

What signage should look like for the 91 ExpressLanes.

Transit Coalition Community Engagement Director Nicholas Ventrone has continued to solicit public opinion and feedback regarding the campaign We Want Toll Lanes Done Right, which advocates for free non-transponder carpooling on Southland high occupancy toll lanes. Many support the Coalition's position. Carpoolers especially like it. Non-HOV's who are willing to buy their way out of traffic and frequently use the 91 Express Lanes also support maintaining FasTrak as an option. Therefore, HOT lanes which support free non-transponder carpooling continue to gain steam.

However there were some commuters who questioned the 3+ occupancy requirement for carpools using the 91 Express Lanes instead of a typical 2+ HOV. Currently, the 91 Express Lanes defines 3 persons as a carpool, and all vehicles using the 91 HOT lanes must have a FasTrak transponder. The Coalition aims to abolish the FasTrak mandate and all tolls for carpoolers to encourage 3+ carpooling. Pictures such as this one show concepts of the Express Lanes with a 3+ HOV or FasTrak usage policy.

So the question is: Can the 91 support dual high occupancy toll lanes in each direction with a 2+ occupancy requirement instead of three. Short answer is: Not quite. With all politics and bureaucratic red tape set aside, here are the facts:

  • Much like Interstate 10 east of Los Angeles, the 91 corridor through Anaheim Hills has more carpool demand than a single 2+ HOV lane can supply at most times during the day. The HOV lane through Corona is consistently congested in both directions.
  • What about 2 sets of HOV 2+ or FasTrak lanes? Currently, where the eastbound 91 Express Lanes becomes a single 2+ HOV lane near Highway 71, there is a mile long buffer with two lanes dedicated to 2+ HOV's or FasTrak traffic (set of 2 carpool lanes, FasTrak ok). These lanes are consistently high in volume, but to be fair, they sustain acceptable speeds most of the time.
  • The 91 experiences surges in traffic congestion during the weekends and holidays. Most through-travelers are 2+ HOV's.
  • Other corridors like the I-10 east of LA and the Oakland Bay Bridge which have such high demands for 2+ carpools without the infrastructure to support it also have the increased occupancy requirement for carpool as 3+.
  • With an overwhelmingly high HOV market demand in the area shown by the congested carpool lanes and filled park & ride lots, the focus may already be incentives to convert 2-person HOV's into 3+ HOV's.
To be fair, the 3+ occupancy requirement on the 91 could be lowered to 2+ during off-peak hours once future infrastructure and additional lanes are built, but it is far too early to support such a change. Therefore, the 91 through Anaheim Hills between the 55 and I-15 Freeways would fare better with 3+ HOV's for its HOT lanes until additional data can be collected from the new infrastructure.

Speaking of HOV 2+ lanes, Caltrans has also concluded that much of Orange County's carpool lanes are congested during peak congestion times, which could signal the need to increase the carpool occupancy requirement to three during peak hours to get the lanes moving again. Also up for discussion are converting the HOV 2+ lanes into HOT 3+ lanes. If the latter, officials must not impose a mandatory transponder requirement for usage; otherwise the county risks seeing a decline in HOV usage.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Transparency of the NCTD Sprinter train interruption

(4/3/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The North County Transit District has been working hard to provide continuous coverage of the transit district’s progress of the Sprinter train interruption. As mentioned, NCTD suspended all Sprinter light rail service between Escondido and Oceanside due to maintenance issues with one of three sets of braking systems on the train.

North County Transit District Chief of Safety Tom Tulley was tasked to lead the effort for the Sprinter Recovery Task Force which includes posting blog posts on updates and publishing answers to common questions which were backed up with facts. NCTD can be credited in keeping the public well informed with fact-based plans and solutions to get the trains rolling again.

However, this level of transparency was certainly not the case when the brake issue was first discovered just one year after the Sprinter opened. The San Diego Union Tribune reported that a Sprinter subcontractor and a NCTD engineer initially knew about the problem, but failed to pass the information to NCTD staff. The engineer later resigned.

Meanwhile, The Transit Coalition has been following NCTD’s Sprinter-ruption blog and praises Tulley’s efforts in keeping the public informed with reader-friendly blog posts. NCTD has a rather surprising fact and lesson for the state and the federal government: Nearly all U.S. manufacturers of diesel multiple unit trains have gone out of business. With demands for mass transit on the rise in the country, shouldn’t the state and feds explore incentives to get train manufacturing back into the United States?

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Reforming environmental law to get the Perris Valley Line moving

(4/2/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The California State Legislature has some work to do to reform state environmental law. An April 1, 2013 court ruling on RCTC’s long-proposed Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension shows that Judge Sharon J. Waters ruled in favor of the opposing party on 5 of the 15 environmental concerns brought up in court: negations to the soil, track lubricant usage, pedestrian safety, train wheel noise pollution, and construction related noise. This leaves the Perris Valley Line case in a complicated position under the current law, but the legislature has the power to avert further delays caused by broad court rulings by changing the law:
  • Are all environmentally sensitive soil areas and wildlife habitats throughout the state documented as protected nature reserves?
  • Which types of rail lubricants harm the environment to the point that they should be outlawed?
  • How much noise caused by train wheels is too much?
  • How much construction noise is too much near residential areas? If a construction contractor generates too much noise, does local code enforcement have the power to fine the violating firm?
 As mentioned, the state legislature should follow through on its promise to close up California Environmental Quality Act loopholes so courts cannot delay, veto or overturn large projects which actually benefit the environment and reduce traffic congestion like the Perris Valley Line. Such lawsuits delay important projects which gets paid for by the taxpayer. It is a common fact that a rail transit alternative for the I-215 corridor would reduce congestion and pollution by providing a multi-modal transportation option to single-occupancy automobile travel, thus fulfilling the goals and intents of state environmental law which is to protect the environment.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Productive Transit Service through Old Town Temecula

(4/1/13) – IE Transit Talking Points Short

The Transit Coalition is going to state this one more time: The bus routes running through Temecula and Murrieta need to be more direct, especially the transit lines running through Old Town Temecula. 

The City of Temecula is looking to improve public transportation options for its robust city center as numerous private sector lines, taxis and pedicabs serve the area. Talks are in place of establishing shuttles which would ferry passengers from the downtown's parking structure and public lots into the downtown core. Additional bus stops are also being conceived. Such service may work well. However, the city must not forget that streamlined public bus service under a hub-and-spoke model would also fare well for both Old Town and the connecting commercial arterial roads. Officials need to get serious of streamlining the region’s over-circuitous bus routes.