Friday, May 31, 2013

Friday Tips: Never quit or give up

Conceptual Smith Avenue Direct Access Ramp

The Transit Coalition has long envisioned for multi-modal transportation options for the 91 and I-15 freeway corridors in the Inland Empire. One ongoing threat is continued freeway and highway development without transit infrastructure. Our long term future visions for these major transportation corridors are high speed intercity and commuter rail service from early morning through late night combined with robust high occupancy lanes along the freeways complete with bus transit infrastructure and direct access ramps to/from transit stations.

Judging by RCTC's plans of addressing the chronic traffic congestion of the 91 and the car-oriented nature of the I-15 freeway, such a future vision seems a long way off even with the proposals to extend the 91 Express Lanes further east into Corona, north to Ontario, and south to Lake Elsinore. The Coalition can understand the public's frustration with substandard transportation infrastructure and limited public transit options outside of rush hour. We share your concerns for the future of Inland Empire transportation.

As the state continues to divert transportation and gas tax revenue away from the rails and highways, local agencies like RCTC must look for other means to fund projects, just to get the transportation corridors up to par. Mass transit often loses out when such funding diversions happen. That's why seamless connections between the proposed HOT lanes and adjacent transit stations remain unfunded and transit services remain peak-hour oriented. With the public constantly saying "enough" with the state funding diversions and ongoing anti-business climate, this is no time to give up on these corridors. Our future vision of establishing a robust, multi-modal transportation system for these corridors and the remainder of the Inland Empire remains unshakable and we will not allow funding obstructionism at the state level determine the outcome of this vision.

This week's tip: Never quit or give up whenever you experience trouble. Keep trying and you could convert what appears to be a failure into a victory.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Riverside Transit Agency's 10-Year Transit Plan survey

As part of a 10-Year Transit Plan, also known as a Comprehensive Operational Analysis, the Riverside Transit Agency is currently conducting an online survey of bus service in Western Riverside County.

Much of the survey deals with collecting travel patterns, personal information and demographics data from RTA bus patrons. Here is what the survey had to offer along with some commentary.

1. What reaction do you have when you hear "RTA"?
The name “RTA” certainly gives an impression that the organization is a government transportation agency.

2. Have you ever visited RTA's web site at
Yes. Getting information, news, public records and data from RTA's web site is necessary for The Transit Coalition's work.

3. How often you ride RTA?
It varies between individuals who contribute toward the Transit Coalition's campaigns. We conduct regular field studies aboard various bus routes throughout the year.

4. Which RTA services have you used?
We've used local bus services and CommuterLink for on-board field studies. We've also observed paratransit services from the street. Individual travel patterns vary.

5. Do you participate in any other forms of ridesharing?
We also conduct field studies aboard private carpools, marketplace intercity buses, and Metrolink trains. There are contributors who also use these modes for regular commuting.

6. How often do you participate in ridesharing?
It varies between individuals who contribute toward the Transit Coalition's campaigns.

The next set of questions provide useful commuter information to RTA to better plan local and CommuterLink routing and services:

7. Which destinations do you travel to at least once a week?
8. Which destination do you travel most frequently to?
9. Where do you typically start your commute?
10. Where are you commuting to?
11. What is your average daily travel distance (one way) for the destination you commute to most frequently?
12. What is your average daily travel time (one way) for the destination you commute to most frequently?

The remainder of the survey focused on personal questions related to the collection of local demographics data.

13. What method of transportation do you normally use for the destination you commute to most frequently?
14. How many persons in your household (counting yourself), are in a certain age group?
15. What is your age?
16. What is your gender?
17. What is your current employment status?
18. Are you a U.S. veteran?
19. Are you disabled or do you have a long-term disability?
20. What is your ethnicity?
21. What is your annual household income?
22. How many operating vehicles (cars, motorcycles, vans) do you have in your household?
23. Additional comments?

RTA has reported that the survey should take about ten minutes to complete and responses are kept confidential. Take the survey here.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

A colossal accounting failure aboard the SunBus

Accounting for transportation taxpayer dollars is a serious matter. Regular audits protect public finances from potential misuse. The Transit Coalition was discouraged to hear that the SunLine Transit Agency failed to complete its annual audit even though the transit agency was granted a quarter-long extension. It is without question that regular audits of public transportation dollars is essential to minimize wasteful spending. SunLine's budget has remained strong for the last several years; any spending abuse must be uncovered and stopped to keep the transit agency fiscally healthy.

SunLine's Board of Directors placed its General Manager C. Mikel Oglesby on paid administrative leave while the Riverside County Transportation Commission was forced to withhold $812,000 in state funding. Ogleby claimed last week that the audit failure was linked to personnel issues. It's true that SunLine's finance director Brenda Walker was recently fired, but HR issues are no excuse. The three month extension was more than enough time to address the issues. Now transit riders in the Coachella Valley are losing out in delayed state funding while Oglesby faces big trouble. SunLine's operating budget has remained fiscally healthy over the course of the past decade; let's keep it that way.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Don't drive out logistics jobs in Moreno Valley with the pollution and sprawl

Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater

Could the City of Moreno Valley, let alone the Inland Empire as a whole, use thousands of additional blue-collar marketplace jobs in the logistics sector? With far more workers than jobs residing in Riverside County, the news of private investors proposing to build logistics hubs in Moreno Valley seems highly welcoming on the surface. Two major projects for example--the World Logistics Center and March Business Center--promise to provide Moreno Valley with billions in construction investments, thousands of permanent logistics and truck jobs, and millions in commerce for supporting Moreno Valley businesses. The Inland Empire could use this kind of private investment.

However, environmentalists are questioning Moreno Valley's proposed logistics centers and filing CEQA lawsuits on a project-by-project basis. Several of the CEQA claims are legit and must be addressed if Moreno Valley is to have robust and clean distribution center sites. For example, the World Logistics Center master plan covers a sprawling 3,918 acres in eastern Moreno Valley over undeveloped property at the base of the Badlands hills; there is no freight rail line for miles. Diesel trucks meanwhile remain a major contributor toward pollution. Unlike the Perris Valley Line lawsuit where it was NIMBY-led, these cases are being led by the Sierra Club, and whenever this giant environmental organization gets involved, there's bound to be legit environmental concerns that need to be fixed.

The Transit Coalition will continue to examine these projects. The region would certainly benefit with a robust, environmentally friendly logistics job center to cut down on long distance commuting and truck trips to/from other major hubs in Ontario, San Diego and Long Beach. As the two sides continue their debates, they must avoid driving out logistics jobs from the Inland Empire while trying to control bad diesel pollution, traffic congestion and runaway urban sprawl. The parties must be careful not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Friday Tips: Don't forget what our ancestors died for this Memorial Day

In the mix of sales from your local department store to hot dog parties at the beach this Memorial Day weekend, we must not forget the roots of why Memorial Day is such an important federal holiday. We live in a free country and we owe our gratitude to the men and women who died for freedom in the past, and we should also remember the soldiers who are now risking their lives in war to defend our liberty which we enjoy every day.

This Memorial Day Monday, take an hour and attend a Memorial Day service near you, or if you are unable to attend one, take a few moments and watch a televised or recorded service.

Also, just a friendly reminder for those travelling this weekend: Please remember to consume alcoholic beverages smartly. If you are drinking, do not, under any circumstances, drive.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The logic behind the Reason Foundation's view of Los Angeles toll lanes

While no one can deem the Los Angeles Metro ExpressLanes on the 10 and 110 Freeways a success or failure yet, Libertarian pundits exhort patience when discussing expansion of the concept to other freeways. Reason Foundation transportation analyst Baruch Feigenbaum notes that similar toll lanes elsewhere in the country had a slow start but eventually attained the intended goals of reducing travel times on both toll and free lanes, while also enhancing parallel bus service.

For the most part, the Reason Foundation is right; however Feigenbaum leaves out one important fact in the argument. The problem with Feigenbaum's argument--as the Reason Foundation is well aware of--is that Minneapolis, San Diego, and Seattle HOT lanes allow for free non-transponder carpooling. That is, any HOV can get in the toll lanes for free and go without having to pre-register ahead of time or get a toll transponder. That's why traffic flow improved for both the HOT lanes and freeway lanes for these areas as stated in the op-ed. Like LA, Atlanta had a rough start because both of these HOT lanes have ill-advised policies of requiring a toll transponder for toll-free HOV's; non-registered HOV's were displaced from the high occupancy lane, causing traffic to worsen in the regular lanes.

The questions that need to be answered for both LA's and Atlanta's HOT lanes: How many 2+ and 3+ HOV's used the former carpool lanes before the conversion? How many toll-free 2+ or 3+ HOV's are now using the high occupancy lane versus toll-paying non-HOV's? Is there a drop in HOV traffic in the high occupancy lanes?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Amending CEQA law to counter trivial lawsuits while protecting the environment

California Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) has introduced a bill, SB 731, which proposes to address some of the more infamous loopholes in state environmental law. CEQA law currently mandates that major developments have a respective environmental impact report which addresses potential harm to the environment. This law is very noble and has allowed for cleaner development projects throughout the state. It's roots must be maintained. However, it is a clear fact that this landmark legislation has been misused by various opposing parties of many projects; such NIMBY groups exploit loopholes to delay or stop projects through the judicial system while their notions have nothing to do with protecting the long term welfare of the environment.

As reported earlier, NIMBY opposition has placed an indefinite delay on the Metrolink Perris Valley line extension when a judge tossed out the project's EIR over trivial concerns on May 16, 2013. According to a May 20, 2013 Los Angeles Times editorial and information from CEQA Working Group, there are several other cases of CEQA abuse:

  • A local gas station owner in San Jose wanted to install three additional gas pumps at his gas station and received city approval to do so. A competing gas station owner filed a CEQA lawsuit, demanding an EIR over frivolous traffic concerns. The gas pumps were then delayed for years and ended up costing the owner approximately $500,000 in added costs to fight the lawsuit and complete the EIR.
  • Sacramento Senior Homes, infill senior housing development in Berkeley - NIMBY opposition foolishly claims the development was not  “visually compatible with its surroundings”. The property was previously an abandoned storefront; so the development was actually a significant “visual” improvement. The NIMBY's lost in court, but the suit placed $3 million in extra costs for the project and an extra $2 million in taxpayer expenses, enough money to build a second development.
  • A school renovation project in the San Francisco Bay area - delayed for 4 years by frivolous CEQA litigation. The NIMBY's lost, but the taxpayer bill was at least $10 million.
  • LA Metro Purple Line subway toward the sea extension - CEQA abuse is evident where NIMBY opposition aims to prevent the subway extension from crossing under Beverly Hills High School.

To be fair, there are cases where certain elements of CEQA needs to be maintained to control runaway urban sprawl. The Villages at Lakeview and Travertine Point are two prime examples. The former rightly got it's EIR struck down in court; the latter, currently opposed by The Transit Coalition, is facing a legit CEQA suit.

We will keep a close watch on Steinberg's bill which we hope will give the state a strong policy to protect the environment while closing up loopholes to stop NIMBY abuse.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Oklahoma City tornado disaster relief help

A powerful tornado seriously damaged an Oklahoma City suburb on Monday, destroying homes, damaging cars and crushing two elementary schools filled with children during class session.

If you're looking for ways to help residents in Oklahoma, the following relief organizations are already working in the area according to various news sources:

American Red Cross

The American Red Cross has several shelters open in Oklahoma and Red Cross Emergency Response Vehicles have begun delivering hot meals throughout the affected areas. The Red Cross is also working to link loved ones in Moore who are OK through a website called Safe and Well. Text REDCROSS to 90999 to give $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief, donate online, or donate by phone at 1-800-RED CROSS.

Catholic Charities of Oklahoma City

Catholic Charities' disaster relief team is in the impacted communities providing counseling, emergency assistance and case-management to those families who have been displaced by the tornadoes. Donate via their website.

Salvation Army

The Salvation Army is activating disaster response teams and mobile feeding units to help residents and rescuers in Moore, OK, as well as in other locations in the Plains and the Midwest that were impacted by tornadoes. Donate online or text STORM to 80888 to contribute $10 to the Salvation Army's relief efforts or make a donation by phone at 1-800-SAL-ARMY. If you're sending a check make sure you put the words "Oklahoma Tornado Relief" on the check, and mail it to: The Salvation Army, P.O. Box 12600, Oklahoma City, OK., 73157.

Operation USA

LA's international relief agency Operation USA announced it's providing emergency aid where needed to community-based health organizations across Oklahoma. Donate online at, by phone at 1-800-678-7255 or, by check made out to Operation USA, 7421 Beverly Blvd., PH, Los Angeles, CA 90036. You can also donate $10 by texting AID to 50555. Corporate donations of bulk quantities of disaster-appropriate supplies are also being requested.

Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief

Oklahoma Baptist Disaster Relief says it has deployed at least 80 volunteers to respond to severe weather in Oklahoma. Those interested in helping can make a tax-deductible donation to the BGCO's Disaster Relief ministry online or call (405) 942-3800. You may also send checks to: BGCO Attn: Disaster Relief 3800 N. May Ave. Oklahoma City, OK 73112.

United Way of Central Oklahoma

United Way is activating a disaster relief fund as of May 21 so that individuals can specifically donated to tornado relief-and-recovery efforts.

"Financial contributions are the best way to help unless otherwise requested." Donations can be made online.

Feeding America

Through its network of more than 200 food banks, Feeding America will deliver truckloads of food, water and supplies to communities in need and will set up additional emergency food and supply distribution sites. You can donate online here.

If you know of any other legit organization helping out with disaster relief efforts, please post them in the comments and they'll be added to this page pending review.

Sources: USA Today, NBC News

An abuse of environmetal law to further delay the Perris Valley Line

Is the State of California really becoming a puritanical state?


As The Transit Coalition has been covering for the past several months, the combination of NIMBY opposition and loopholes in state environmental law is actually harming environmentally-friendly transportation projects. The latest project to take such a hit is the Metrolink Perris Valley Line extension, a long overdue public transit alternative for the Perris Valley region. Here's what the Sierra Club, the oldest, largest, and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the country, has to say about public transportation:

Smart, green transportation is the key to moving beyond oil. Only half of all Americans have access to public transportation. Americans win when they have a choice for every trip -- whether it's high-mileage, advanced technology, or electric cars; convenient rail and transit; or safe walking and biking.

As many of the public are aware, the Perris Valley Line project basically involved upgrading an existing active rail right-of-way to support passenger service and develop a series of train stations along the way. The first of trains would simply be an extension of the existing 91 Line to Fullerton and Los Angeles. That's it. On May 16, 2013, Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters ordered that RCTC decertify the project's EIR within 90 days because of puritanical environmental issues which could be easily resolved. The ruling places yet another indefinite delay on the project which was, at one point, slated for operations back in 2008. It demonstrates how CEQA law can be misused and why the state legislature needs to close the landmark legislation's loopholes and make it retroactive.

The CEQA lawsuit boiled down to this: NIMBY opposition was centered in a residential neighborhood near UC Riverside, where a group of residents claimed the added noise of passing Metrolink trains would impact their homes, despite the fact that louder freight trains already pass through the area. The group demanded that the area be designated as quiet zones. To address their concerns, RCTC officials delayed the project for two years and postponed the planning and development of the UC Riverside station from the project.

Not satisfied, the Friends of Riverside Hills group filed the CEQA lawsuit in August, 2011, citing several concerns not addressed in the project's EIR. On May 16, 2013, the group won its case when judge Waters threw out the rail line's EIR over few of the concerns, a clear abuse of exploiting CEQA law loopholes. Here are the issues: Track lubricant usage, hiker's safety, train wheel noise pollution, and construction related noise.

As mentioned before, the safety of hikers is irrelevant to environmental protection; that's a fact. However, to be fair, the illegal trespassing into an active rail right-of-way needs to be policed better. The other issues the state legislature can address and make retroactive are: How much total noise in decibels are passing passenger trains allowed to make through quiet zones? What types of track lubricants can be used to comply with CEQA? Are contracted firms who disrupt the environment during the construction phase being held accountable?

Even with these minor issues, The Transit Coalition does not believe that the Perris Valley Line would have contributed to worsened pollution, increased traffic congestion, or disrupted a natural ecosystem. There is no question that this case is NIMBY obstruction and a puritanical abuse of CEQA law. This whole case is shameful.

Two Metrolink locomotives. Going forward, RCTC plans to discuss what's next at their 6/12 Commissioners board meeting. There's a number of ways this case can go:
  • RCTC can appeal the judgement at a higher court.
  • According to Len Nunney, the secretary for Friends of Riverside Hills, RCTC can engage in a settlement without having to recompile its EIR.
  • The state legislature can reform CEQA in a way which could affect the judgement in favor of RCTC. US Rep. Ken Calvert (R-CA 42nd District) plans to work with his federal colleagues and the state legislature. To be fair, CEQA needs to control pet projects like football stadiums from being fast-tracked through the system but also protect environmentally sound projects from being vetoed from the bench just because a group opposes it.
It's far too early to predict how RCTC and the state will handle this ruling, but widespread public support all but guarantees that the Perris Valley Line, or some form of environmentally friendly passenger rail service, will eventually service the corridor. The point boils down to this: The state cannot continue to be a place of CEQA puritanism. Major environmental groups like the Sierra club support public rail transit; the Perris Valley Line fits into this category. There comes a point where CEQA abuse in the name of NIMBY obstruction needs to be controlled.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Friday tips: Demand the State of California for a business-friendly tax code

As the Riverside Transit Agency finalizes an updated Short Range Transit Plan, the county itself could be experiencing unprecedented present-day transportation circumstances. Citizens have long been willing to tax themselves for better transportation infrastructure and improved transit service; we're beginning to see some fruits of it. However, despite the fact that we are paying some of the highest taxes around, improvement projects still appear to be moving along at a snail's pace.

An RTA bus. To be fair, we have seen some robust progress over the last decade. RTA bus patrons who have long demanded for late night bus service and better inter-regional connections will finally see these requests put into action within the next few years. LA's Metro Rail and Metro Rapid network has blossomed. Downtown San Bernardino will soon have a north/south BRT line. Down south, the once car-centric I-15 freeway through San Diego County is now a multi-modal corridor with HOT lanes that support free non-transponder carpooling, numerous HOV park & ride facilities, improved traffic flow, and a soon-to-be all-day express BRT line between Escondido and Downtown San Diego. However, with the amount of taxes we're paying, we really should have this type of first-rate infrastructure already in operations in the Inland Empire and throughout the state.

The 91 Freeway corridor between the Inland Empire and Orange County has long been the miserable car-oriented Corona Crawl. Traffic is jammed during peak hours and weekends. HOV demands are high; transit services remain rush-hour oriented. Non-FasTrak 3+ HOV's including private buses and motorcycles cannot use the high occupancy express lanes. The county is going into nearly a half billion dollars in debt to address this because not enough money is coming from the state. Even though the 91 corridor will see transit and highway improvements down the road, RCTC must wait out on fixing another serious traffic bottleneck along the I-15 through El Cerrito and Dos Lagos. Expect the Corona Crawl to merely shift to the east for now.

Getting many of The Transit Coalition's campaigns and future visions from concept to reality in a timely manner are beyond the power of local transportation agencies. The state certainly has some work to do. Here are some facts:
  • Californians are paying some of the highest taxes in the nation.
  • Motorists pay the most state taxes at the gas pump, scheduled to go up again this July, 2013.
  • Even with these high taxes, much of our transportation infrastructure remains substandard and many corridors car oriented.
  • The high cost of doing business in California has encouraged businesses to move out of the state which seriously negates the private job market and local tax revenue which would normally pay for transportation.
Marketplace job creation is a key to a healthy economy and a funded robust transportation network. The state must get the private sector back to growing the economy of the state and ensure our tax money is making it to our transportation infrastructure.

Here is today's tip:
  • Demand the state to support laws that create private sector jobs and marketplace investments. Any proposals that drive out businesses elsewhere needs to be questioned and/or opposed.
  • Continue to hold the state accountable for its spending actions. Demand that a fair portion of the state money makes it to the rails and highways as it should.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

RTA's 2014-2016 SRTP: Closing regional transit gaps

RTA's Short Range Transit Plan has a glimmer of good news for The Transit Coalition which is buried in the last sentence of the last paragraph of section 3.2 of the SRTP. Over the course of the next few years, RTA plans to expand "weekend service on routes that will complete the backbone of the network to close gaps between sub-areas."

The Transit Coalition's Close the off-peak Bus Gap campaign aims to close transit gaps between pairs of regions so that public bus travel can be a reliable option to get between these regions during midday and weekends when peak-only CommuterLink service is not available. Because RTA is currently building an updated Comprehensive Operational Analysis study, the agency did not specify how such gaps would be closed, but based on previous COA findings in 2007, here some possible route proposals for FY15 and FY16:
  • Increase the service span on Route 216 (Riverside to Orange express) to all day with hourly off-peak headways and possible 30 minute headways during peak hours.
  • Add a new regional connector route between Lake Elsinore and Corona with all day hourly headways.
  • Restore the Corona-Norco-Downtown Riverside connection.
  • Streamline route connections between Corona, Eastvale and Ontario into a hub-and-spoke model.
  • Streamline the bus routes in Temecula and Murrieta into a hub-and-spoke model with a direct link to Lake Elsinore via Jefferson Avenue and Mission Trail.
  • Increase the span on Route 79 (Hemet to Temecula) to include weekend trips and streamline the route through French Valley.
  • Extend Route 7 (Lake Elsinore local route) east along Clinton Keith Road to French Valley and the Southwest Justice Center area upon completion of the road.
  • Restructure Route 35 into a hybrid regional connector/express route between the Pass area and Downtown Riverside and increase span to include weekends. Operate hourly.
  • Work with Omnitrans for an extension of Omnitrans Route 9 into the Pass area funded by Pass area cities and Riverside County, linking this region to Redlands, Loma Linda, and San Bernardino. Passengers would pay the local Omnitrans fare and may board and alight at any stop. Operate hourly.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

RTA's 2014-2016 SRTP: Holiday service may return in July

According to its 2014-2016 Short Range Transit Plan, the Riverside Transit Agency has proposed reinstating bus service on three major federal holidays: Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Labor Day starting on July, 2013. Service on these holidays, which was originally cut back in 2010 as a cost savings measure, will operate under the Sunday bus schedule.

Employees in the tourism and retail sectors and other patrons who rely on RTA bus service on these holidays will find this proposal welcoming. Dense activity centers like hospitals, casinos, full service hotels, and major retailers don't close on these days; their employees should have the bus as a travel option.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

RTA's 2014-2016 SRTP: Evening and Late night bus service

According to RTA and numerous Transit Coalition field studies, "demand for later service has been on the rise." RTA has proposed later evening and potential late night bus service service on major regional and local routes over the course of the next three years.

RTA has planned to begin implementing later evening and possible late night service with routes that serve major destinations such as large employment centers and colleges and universities. In FY2013-14, RTA has proposed to expand the service span of Routes 1, 15, 16, 18, 20, 31, and 32 into the later hours of the night.

Currently, service span for many of RTA's bus routes ends shortly after the evening peak hour. This prevents several retail and entertainment sector employees who work into the late night hours from using the bus system to return home. Lack of public funding has long been a major hurdle and RTA has worked hard to allocate such money to extend the span of service for these routes.

Public-Private and Inter-agency Partnerships for expanded service span

Several transit agencies including RTA have entered into public-private and inter-agency partnerships in the past to quickly fund expanded service. Here are few within the Inland Empire:

  • Metrolink Rail 2 Rail® is a cooperative ticket and service program provided by Metrolink, Amtrak and Caltrans. The Rail 2 Rail® program allows Metrolink monthly pass holders along the Orange and Ventura County corridors to travel on Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trains within the station pairs of their pass at no additional charge, including late night and weekend trains. 
  • Coaster Rail 2 Rail® COASTER monthly pass holders can purchase a Rail2Rail-UPGRADE by visiting the Amtrak ticket offi ce in Oceanside, Solana Beach or San Diego Santa Fe Depot to ride the extra Pacific Surfliner trains.
  • RTA Route 55 - Temecula Trolley - A local home developer started a high school shuttle service in Temecula. The city currently maintains full funding of the RTA-operated route.
  • NCTD 388/389 - Pala-Escondido - Through the Reservation Transportation Authority, a federal 5311(c) grant funds expanded service of a regional connector and casino hopper bus route in inland San Diego county. NCTD operates the line with a regular local fare policy. Last bus leaves the casinos during the 9PM hour.
  • The Job Access and Reverse Commute federal program funds expanded trips along selected RTA CommuterLink routes. 
Here are some additional partnership concepts local officials may want to consider:
  • Major entertainment destinations in Orange County: With partnerships with major sports centers, the Disneyland Resort, and beach destinations, additional express buses can be added for the SR-91 Corridor between Riverside and Orange County for both customers and employees from early morning until late night with potential owl service on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Pechanga Resort & Casino currently offers several bus trips for its Player's Club members from all around Southern California. Through a small agreement, pick-up and drop-off locations can be established at public transit centers or along the adjacent street and such connections can be included in the RTA schedules.
  • Fantasy Springs, Morongo Casinos: Like Pechanga, these large casino resorts operate adjacent to the I-10 corridor between the Inland Empire and Coachella Valley. Such a partnership can help support the existing peak-only express service between the regions during off-peak hours for casino patrons and employees.
  • Bus Wraps: Branded vehicle advertising from the entertainment sector would provide additional late night service revenue.
  • Use of Smaller Buses for Late Night Runs: Based on ridership data from other transit agencies offering such service, use of smaller buses for lower-demand late night runs will help keep agency costs low for routes operating near RTA bus yards. For example, the former Bear Runner Shuttle used a 15-seat passenger bus while the daytime Highlander Hauler used a larger trolley bus.
  • Transit Oriented Development with developer-funded capital investments at RTA station stops, transit centers, and high density bus lines.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Going over RTA's 2014-2016 Short Range Transit Plan

This week, the Transit Coalition will go over the Riverside Transit Agency's 2014-2016 Short Range Transit Plan and FY 2013-2014 budget and will report it here. TTC has published a copy of the proposed 200+ page 2014-2016 RTA SRTP/budget here.

Here are some of the proposed highlights:

Late night bus service on high-demand routes, reinstating service on major holidays, RTA's Travel Training impact on paratransit service, closing transit gaps between regions, and updates on RTA's comprehensive operational analysis study.

Stay tuned to this Blog this week for detailed commentary. Do you have an opinion for RTA's SRTP? Let RTA know during its public hearing period and post your views in the comments below.

Public Hearing Period:

RTA proposed to its Board to open a public hearing period during the agency's Board meeting on May 23 at 3 p.m. at the Riverside County Administration Center, Board of Supervisors Chambers, 4080 Lemon Street, First Floor, in Riverside. RTA will close the comment period at the June 27 RTA Board meeting. RTA will accept comments at the meetings, by phone at (951) 565-5002, emailed to, or sent via standard mail to 1825 Third Street, Riverside, CA 92507. RTA has requested that the public address comments to the Director of Planning.

The SRTP will be one of three public hearing items. RTA will also gather public comments for proposed changes to its Dial-a-Ride no-show policy and the agency's Title VI Policies and Plans. Once again, stay tuned to this Blog for detailed commentary.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Friday Transportation Tips: Try the Park & Walk

As the Transit Coalition continues to advocate for multi-modal transportation alternatives within the Inland Empire, the fact remains that residents in several regions are totally dependent on the car. This means driving an automobile is necessary to get from one point to the other in a timely manner. The Coalition hopes to change this.

However, one can currently get a little bit of ridesharing in for many car trips through the "Park & Walk" model. Thanks to ADA regulations, many newer shopping centers, schools, and employment hubs have pathways and marked crossings that link the establishment with the public sidewalk. This makes parking offsite and walking to the destination more practical. Remember, ridesharing is defined as a means to travel other than driving solo in a car.

Here's how it works: Suppose a parent picks up a child from school. Instead of driving into the school campus and battling traffic, the parent parks into a pre-determined parking area or on the street about 300-400 yards offsite and walks the remaining distance to the school. After picking up the child and walking back to the car, the parent can drive off without having to deal with the school traffic.

Park and walk campaigns are a quick and easy way to not only bypass, but reduce traffic congestion around schools and shopping centers and encourage physical activity. Give it a try.

  • Get a small taste of ridesharing for the last quarter-mile of your trip, even in the most car-oriented regions.
  • Encourages physical activity.
  • Reduces traffic congestion at schools and shopping center parking lots.

  • Be vigilant of the surroundings.
  • Identify where you're parking and the safe walking routes between the parking area and your destination.
  • If you're using a parking lot and plan on walking off the property, be sure that parking is not restricted. 
  • This model can be challenging in very dense areas such as Downtown Riverside, San Bernardino, or college/university campuses where street parking is limited and heavily regulated. As an alternative, park a few miles offsite and ride a connecting bus route into these areas.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

The $35,000 Fullerton train station vending machine

A Better Inland Empire took note of the federal government potentially paying more for a library book vending machine at the Fullerton Transportation Center than what similar equipment sells for in the marketplace. The Fullerton Public Library installed the machine last summer which allows Fullerton area train and bus riders an option to borrow select titles from the public library without having to set foot into a physical library.

The idea is certainly noble. Giving more people free access to reading materials is very productive for education and gives regular commuters an incentive to continue using public transportation to get to/from work or school. However, the concept of expanding public library amenities beyond the building's walls may have fiscally played out better through a public-private partnership with a private retailer within the station area.

As mentioned, the federal government might once again be guilty of wasteful spending. The price tag for the book vending equipment was a whopping $35,000; the feds paid for that through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. At, similar equipment sells for about $5,000-$8,000 with shipping. The cost to convert the coin and dollar slots into a library card reader should not have cost more than a few thousand dollars. A small outdoor industrial book drop would be $3,000-$4,000 according to the marketplace. This does not add up to $35,000. This is another example of why federal spending needs to be policed better. $35,000 for a train station book vending machine certainly warrants a public audit.

To be fair, being able to complete government-related business remotely is a sound idea and deserves further exploration. Expanding the public's exposure to worthwhile reading material is certainly a productive option. Public-private partnerships is a practical means. The concept has worked before with private retailers selling RTA bus passes and is fiscally friendly.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Transforming Inland Empire smart growth talk into action

The Western Riverside Council of Governments, the San Bernardino Associated Governments and the Riverside County Transportation Commission have been looking at smart growth principles to address potential growth demands within the Inland Empire. Leaders have predicted that the region will grow by 800,000 within the next 25 years.

Public officials pitched that future development should be along transit corridors such as freeways, rail lines and bus routes. Government officials have been talking about smart growth for many years, but what needs to be done to put it into action?

Here are some facts: It is expensive to own a house or rent a dwelling place within the primary job hubs in LA, Orange and San Diego Counties. Demand is high; supply is short. It's a sellers' market. Housing in the Inland Empire is more affordable, especially for larger families. However, there are far more workers than jobs which keeps local wages down and unemployment high.

Therefore, many have to live inland and commute long distances to reach their jobs. With the exception of the San Bernardino-to-Los Angeles corridor, these routes remain very car-oriented. Carpool and HOV demands within the Inland Empire are very high.

Putting Smart Growth in action: A priority should be to balance the job-to-housing ratio. This includes establishing business-friendly policies to foster marketplace job growth in the Inland Empire. At the job centers, what can be done to improve housing supply and residential options to address such high demand?

Secondly, high occupancy toll lanes linking the bedroom communities to the job centers have been in the talks to accommodate carpools and those willing to buy their way out of traffic. Will these HOT lanes include bus-friendly infrastructure such as direct access ramps between the highway and adjacent transit centers like the Corona Transit Center or the Montclair TransCenter? How is the state government addressing these transportation issues since we're paying some of the highest taxes in the nation?

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A powerful example of Intelligence-driven Law Enforcement aboard Riverside Transit

Wanted criminals who use public transit should beware. Their last stop could be the jailhouse.

The Riverside Transit Agency recently credited one of its bus drivers, Bob Owens, with helping law enforcement catch a suspected criminal involved in a felony violent robbery. RTA had posted "Wanted" flyers in a bus driver lounge; suspect Eric Cunningham was one of them. Owens identified Cunningham when the suspect boarded his bus in Riverside. Not doing anything that may cause Cunningham to flee such as using the radio or acting nervous, the bus driver remained calm. Once at a point where he could quietly converse with another bus driver, Owens makes his report in confidence; Cunningham is unaware that he's being watched.    

Once the bus reached the Galleria at Tyler bus transfer hub, police greeted Cunningham and completed the suspect's trip, a ride to jail. Public transit agencies could use more drivers like Owens to keep our streets and transit fleets safer. If all public transit agency drivers and security camera monitors are trained in basic intelligence-driven enforcement to recognize and catch wanted suspects without blowing the cover, public transportation may one day no longer be a safe means to run from a crime. This example shows that it is foolish for wanted criminals and at-large suspects to use public transportation; the bus may just take them straight to jail.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Does Riverside County really need to go into massive debt to fund the 91 Express Lanes extension?

Why is less and less state transportation tax money making it to the 91?

HOT Entrance at SR-55 - Better HOV 3+ Usage Policy for 91 Express Lanes
The Riverside County Transportation Commission voted unanimously to approve a $1.3 billion finance plan to extend the 91 Express Lanes to the I-15 interchange, develop HOT lane direct access ramps to/from the I-15 south, and add a general purpose lane to each side of the 91 through Corona. RCTC's financing strategy includes funds from local Measure A transportation sales-tax collections and anticipated toll revenue. This project is long past due and persons needing to transverse the corridor would welcome the infrastructure upgrades combined with plans to double the existing express bus services and improve rail transit options. However, why does Riverside County need to borrow nearly a half billion dollars in order to get one piece of its transportation infrastructure up to par?

Corona Crawl stuck in decades of massive debt:

The plan includes the selling of bonds and a $435 million federal loan which are to be repaid through tolls, roughly 1/3 of the total bill, but get this: RCTC estimates that it will take a staggering 35 years to collect enough revenue to pay off the debt. RCTC predicts that the agency will be able to use 15 years worth of toll revenue toward corridor improvements. The Commission also planned not to make payments on the loan until 2022 and will not touch the principal debt until 2027. That's decades of sitting debt for one piece of RCTC's highway and HOT lane master plan.

With this massive debt obligation, it would be almost a given that if The Transit Coalition approached OCTA and RCTC and pitched its We want toll lanes done right campaign, the public agencies would most likely point to the lack of revenue as a chief concern. If more toll-free carpoolers are using the lanes than toll-paying non-HOV's and the tolls are based on marketplace demands, how could RCTC possibly pay down the debt?

County Line Access Point - Better HOV 3+ Usage Policy for 91 Express LanesDisplacing state transportation revenue and gas tax funding to "who knows what?"

So why can't Riverside County develop a HOT lane master plan which supports free non-transponder carpooling and bus transit infrastructure despite the fact that entities all over the country have been able to do so in the past? The public can rightly question the state for this problem because the state government continues to divert your tax money dedicated to transportation away from the rails and highways, even though the public has repeatedly said, enough! As reported earlier, state spending on transportation decreased 30% since FY 2007-2008 even through we are paying more in sales taxes, 25% more in government employee retirement benefits, and gas taxes are scheduled to go up yet again in July. When such funding cuts and displacement happen, RCTC must look for other ways to pay for the extension of the 91 high occupancy 3+/toll lanes through Corona and along the I-15. What we end up with is toll lanes enslaved in decades of massive debt without transit infrastructure that mandates all HOV's to preregister for a FasTrak and pay discounted tolls during the PM rush hour. Such policies result in a reduction of HOV traffic instead of single occupancy vehicles for the corridor.

Chances are both OCTA and RCTC would likely consider adopting free non-transponder 3+ carpooling for the 91 Express Lanes if state taxes actually paid for a better portion of the expansion. With the amount of taxes we pay to the state, the 91 Freeway corridor should be completely robust with multi-modal bus transit infrastructure and expanded passenger rail service and rapid express buses from early morning through late night.

The state can also afford it too

Take a look at this finding: Earlier this year, the Reason Foundation released a study, examining 20 years of state highway improvements in seven categories: miles of urban Interstate highways in poor conditions, miles of rural Interstates in poor condition, traffic congestion, deficient bridges, highway fatalities, rural primary roads in poor condition, and the number of rural primary roads flagged as too narrow.

Conceptual Smith Avenue Direct Access RampReason found that in between 1989 and 2008, 11 states made progress in all seven categories. 11 more states improved in six of the seven metrics. 15 scored five. Seven fulfilled four and five states improved in three areas. California, with the highest gas taxes in the nation, was the only state that failed to improve in five of the seven areas, being able to improve only in reducing the number of deficient bridges and slightly curbing fatalities. Freeway surface conditions worsened significantly; take a look at this chart:
  • Urban freeways in poor conditions: up 20.7%
  • Rural freeways in poor conditions: up 10%
  • Rural highway in poor conditions: up 1.1%
  • Traffic congestion: up .9%
  • Deficient Bridges: down 3.9%
  • Fatality Rates: down 1.1%
  • Rural roads too narrow: up .1%
  • Total disbursements per mile: down $5.84M

Conceptual Smith Avenue Direct Access Ramp

The irony: With the high amount of taxes Californians are forking over to the state including a potential 70.1 cents/gallon gas tax come July 1st , we really should have some of the most efficient multi-modal transportation corridors in the world, but with 30% of our transportation tax money being cut from 6 years ago, as KRON 4's Stanley Roberts once said, "to who knows what," we are stuck with insufficient transportation infrastructure and staggering debt.

That "who knows what" might be toward government employee retirement benefits and healthcare. California’s has seen an ongoing chronic fiscal mess with anti-business-friendly regulations and continued tax and fee hikes over the past few years. Now, the local governments are charging carpools to use the high occupancy lanes just to build and maintain transportation infrastructure. It is long past due to reverse this trend.

Therefore, The Transit Coalition will continue to oppose mandatory tolls and transponders on carpoolers and advocate for free non-transponder carpooling on Southern California's high occupancy toll lanes.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Friday Transportation Tips: Summit Fire relief in Banning

Friday Transportation Tips

As Riverside area firefighters continue to fight a wind-driven blaze in the Banning area near the windy San Gorgonio Pass, the American Red Cross will continue its efforts to assist affected residents. Volunteers are currently running an evacuation center. If you live in the Pass Area and you or your local organization can lend a hand or donation toward disaster relief, any efforts will be appreciated.

The evacuation center is located at:
Banning Community Center - 789 N. San Gorgonio, Banning, CA 92220
(located near the intersection of Wilson Street)

If you help out, please remember to stay out of the way of the first responders and emergency crews and do not enter into an mandatory-evacuated area. The Red Cross will remain in close contact with local officials and is on standby to provide additional assistance as needed. Evacuees are encouraged by the Red Cross to come to the Banning Community Center for food, information or "even a shoulder to lean on." 

For more information, please contact:

Riverside County Chapter

6235 River Crest Drive, Suite A
Riverside, CA 92507
(888) 831-0031

Edit: As of Saturday, May 3rd, 2013, the Summit Fire has been fully surrounded.

Comparing the Perris Valley Line lawsuit with the Villages of Lakeview case

Two Metrolink locomotives.California Environmental Quality Act: 'Yes' to a clean environment, 'No' to abuse.

Last year, Superior Court Judge Sharon Waters ruled that a CEQA-mandated environmental report for a massive development in the town of Lakeview failed to address potential pollution and increased traffic congestion; the judge therefore invalidated the project's EIR.

The Villages of Lakeview project called for the development of 11,000 residential units and 500,000 square feet of commercial space. Inland Empire commuters well know that the I-215 and 91 Freeways certainly do not need 11,000 households worth of cars in these already congested corridors. The plan also had the potential of disrupting Lakeview's agricultural and farming sectors and balanced job-to-housing ratio. Since the Villages of Lakeview did in fact create potential negative impacts toward the environment and traffic congestion, the court rightly agreed that this traffic impact presented in court had enough merit to warrant the invalidation of the project's EIR.

The Metrolink Perris Valley Line extension faces a similar judgement through the same court, through the same judge. It's quite clear that four of the five environmental points ruled against RCTC will have very little impacts toward the environment in the long term; however loopholes in CEQA law have allowed for such a negative judgement against the transportation agency:
Track lubricant usage, pedestrian safety, train wheel noise pollution, and construction related noise.

As mentioned, the safety of hikers is irrelevant to environmental protection; however, to be fair, the illegal trespassing into an active rail right-of-way needs to be policed better. The environmental questions the state legislature can address and make retroactive are: How much total noise in decibels are passing trains allowed to make through quiet zones? Are contracted firms who disrupt the environment during the construction phase being held accountable?

This leaves in question the last point RCTC must address: Will the construction of the Perris Valley Line really disrupt a natural ecosystem of toads? If a small percentage of the affected toad population can be safely migrated away from the tracks without damaging the ecosystem, RCTC should be able to address this without having to redo its entire EIR at the cost of the taxpayer. The state government needs to continue its debate on amending CEQA law to protect the environment from unchecked urban sprawl while closing loopholes to prevent its abuse by NIMBY's just because they oppose it.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More Toll Lane Madness in Los Angeles

Are taxpayers paying for government officials to drive alone in LA high occupancy toll lanes?
Concept of I-15 HOT Lane Enforcement
CBS2 News conducted an exclusive investigation where government vehicles along with some elected officials are using the Metro ExpressLanes without a FasTrak transponder. CBS2 investigative reporter David Goldstein uncovered nearly 4,000 FasTrak violations along the I-10 and I-110 high occupancy toll lanes by government officials. If these vehicle trips were non-HOV's, Metro is rightly owed the nearly $50,000 in outstanding tolls and fines. Talk about potential toll payment and carpool cheating on a massive scale by public officials. These violations exclude responding emergency vehicles, public transit buses, and on-duty Caltrans vehicles; such traffic is rightly exempted.

After Goldstein questioned the public agencies involvled, the entities such as LAX and the City of Los Angeles began to pay up. The question remains: Were the outstanding amounts paid for by the assigned operator of the vehicles or by taxpayers? If the latter, the public official behind the wheel basically got a free ride. To be fair, CBS2 reported that Councilman Tom LaBonge, whose vehicle was caught without a transponder, paid his share from a personal check. However, because CBS2 broke this story, measures must be put into place to prevent potential abuse of the Metro ExpressLanes by government officials. With the exception of law enforcement, first responders and Caltrans trucks, taxpayers should not be paying for government officials to drive alone in the high occupancy express lanes.

Controlling Cheating with Intelligence-Driven Toll Lane Enforcement

This event also clearly shows why the Metro ExpressLanes, the 91 Express Lanes and other high occupancy toll lanes throughout Southern California need free non-transponder carpooling. Under an intelligence-driven enforcement system, if the CHP catches a government employee or elected official driving alone without an active transponder mounted at all times in the HOT lanes, the CHP would issue the driver, not taxpayers, a heavy carpool violation ticket. Once again, both LA County and the state government need to consider increasing the carpool violation base fine to $500 and make it a one-point moving violation to fund increased intelligence-driven enforcement along the highways. That would control suspected toll cheating in the Metro ExpressLanes.