Friday, August 30, 2013

Friday Tips: Demonstrate good, productive and honest labor at work

Hardworking Americans know that in the market economy, job advancements, promotions, and raises are be achieved based on job performance and other common sense factors: Does the employee show up to work on time? Does the worker show a professional appearance? Does he/she show leadership and initiative? What about the discipline to learn and grow in the company or the industry? What's the worker's attitude toward the clientele and rest of the team? Ordinarily, one who performs well in these areas will take on greater responsibilities and thus attain additional pay and benefits.

This week's tip for Labor Day weekend: Enjoy the festivities, be safe on the highways, trains, and buses. Have fun. Of course, don't drink and drive. When you go back to work after the holiday, be a good, productive and honest laborer. Through merit and performance, more opportunities will be offered to you.

Fast food strike, the marketplace economy and transit

By the way, news of yet another labor dispute has flooded national headlines. Many non-union workers working in the fast food industry have joined a nationwide strike to demand livable wages, $15 per hour to be exact which is more than double the federal minimum wage.

Not surprisingly, U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Thomas Perez--the one who is responsible of putting our transit systems in fiscal limbo over frivolous labor union disputes--jumped to the conclusion that the strike demonstrated a need for the federal government to raise the minimum wage. It's too early to judge whether the sudden rise of these labor disputes were staged all because of the political views of Perez; there's no public evidence of that. However, President Obama needs to tell Perez to knock off this fiscal madness right now. Meanwhile, the federal minimum wage now stands at $7.25 per hour with California at $8.00 per hour.

Increasing marketplace wages the right way

One thing we need to make clear of the marketplace economy is private companies have every right to pay employees below the marketplace median average but never below the regulated minimum. The federal minimum was set as a floor to counter corporate corruption and workforce abuse. Of course, in today's economy, minimum wage is not sufficient to raise a family outside of the poverty line if only one member works. Look at impoverished places like Mecca near the Salton Sea. However, the answer is not for Washington to spike the nationwide minimum wage to $15 per hour which would exacerbate the problem with higher consumer and living costs. The solution lies in getting the private sector to invest back into the marketplace economy which would increase the value of the wage dollar.

In the late 1960's prior to the fuel crisis, the federal minimum wage was under $2.00 per hour, but tie in inflation and the value of $2/hour in the 60's adds up to over $9/hour in today's currency with a spike across the $10 mark in 1968 based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That, of course, exceeds both the state and federal minimum wage today. Informed individuals know that the country experienced its longest uninterrupted period of economic expansion in U.S. history during the 1960's. In contrast, during the late 1930's, minimum wage was less than $.50, but worth about $4 in today's currency coming out of the Great Depression. So it's clear that the value of hourly wages goes up when the job market is strong. If Perez wants to increase the value of nationwide wages as demanded by the unions and fast food workers, he needs to support the fact that the trivial federal regulations that obstruct economic expansion needs to be streamlined or repealed by Congress.

Tips for the labor workforce

Economics teaches that the value of marketplace wages rise and drop based on the job market; as more private sector jobs come back into the economy, marketplace wages naturally rise as more "Now Hiring" signs and ads are posted. Another fact is that not every fast food and retail business pays minimum because the industry knows that paying wages too low results in high employee turnovers. That's why places like McDonald's, Burger King, Taco Bell, many gas stations, and Wal-Mart consistently hire during a robust economy, but that's their business model which works for them and they are free to practice it. In addition, such a business model provides entry-level workers a place to start building up experience in the marketplace. Even the burger restaurant Wendy's acknowledged that it was "proud to provide a place where thousands of people, who come to us asking for a job, can enter the workforce at a starting wage, gain skills and advance with us or move on to something else."

Again, here's today's tip for the hardworking labor force:

If you want more bucks for your work, perform well at your job. Be willing to learn more about the industry. Seek opportunities. Innovate. If there's trivial government red tape that stands in your way, put it in the public arena for debate. Don't use unnecessary government regulations as an excuse not to prosper.

If your employer does not take care of you or feel you're being morally cheated, seek work elsewhere. If you work at a fast food place that pays the minimum and believe you've built up the experience necessary to move on to something better, put in applications at places you know will take better care of its employees. Why do you think outlets like In and Out Burger, Starbucks Coffee, and Costco have better employee retention rates, yet are harder for entry-level workers to get into? You need to perform well to earn more in the marketplace economy.

Filling up our trains, buses, and HOV lanes with a robust and productive marketplace labor workforce depends on you.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Are the special interest labor groups smarter than a 10th grader?

Anybody familiar with high school academics and has watched the television game show Are You Smarter than a 5th Grader knows where this point is headed.

It is becoming evident that the leaders of many special interest labor groups have forgotten what is taught in high school economics and world history, or at the very least, they are not living it out. That's why we have been questioning their authority and their policies.

The fact is that their notions are hurting working class Americans. To make matters worse, the U.S. Department of Labor continues to bow to their will which puts our transit systems in fiscal limbo. The groups support high livable wages and benefits for workers which, to be fair, is a noble idea. However, the only way that wish is going to come true is to get the economy back into a robust state, not force taxpayers into paying out unaffordable perks. If you're wondering why our local agencies like RTA, RCTC, and Omnitrans cannot afford to build out public transportation infrastructure at a faster pace, this is a prime reason.

For those who have forgotten the basics of how the economic system works, let's take a review, and we'll peak through the textbook World History: Connections to Today California Edition which is now taught in many California high school 10th grade history classes. If you've ever wondered why knowing your history is so important, "putting today's controversies into perspective" is a prime reason, as quoted from a 1990's syllabus by former Capistrano Valley High School U.S. History teacher Paul Pflueger. So, here it is.

The Industrial Revolution, Labor Unions and the Market Economy

Let's turn to page 178 of the textbook and review the worldwide Industrial Revolution. Here's the introductory paragraph of the lesson:

The Industrial Revolution brought great riches to most of the entrepreneurs who help set it in motion. For the millions of workers who crowded into the new factories, however, the industrial age brought poverty and harsh living conditions. In time, reforms would curb many of the worst abuses of the early industrial age in Europe and the Americas. As standards of living increased, people at all levels of society would benefit from industrialization. Until then, working people would suffer with dangerous working conditions; unsafe, unsanitary, and overcrowded housing; and unrelenting poverty.

Back then, labor unions were vital in getting world governments to intervene on the corporate corruption of the maltreatment and abuse of the working class. There's no question this was the right thing to do. Back then, such groups met in secret because many jurisdictions outlawed organized labor. Because of these labor groups, the governments passed fair and just laws which included collective bargaining rights. By the way, such labor abuse that occurred 200 years ago is still abundant in third world countries which make a significant portion of American marketplace products like clothing. The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is currently working with such hard working laborers. If the feds and the Department of Labor want to crack down on worldwide worker abuse in factories where our products are made, that's where the attention needs to go, not toward our law-abiding transit agencies.

Back home, we have a situation where significant amounts of public employee wages and benefits are above what is offered in the marketplace. California wants to crack down on it by reforming pensions offered to future employees to market value, and the unions are using the name of "bargaining rights" to obstruct it. This type of behavior is irresponsible and puts the working class in danger of losing jobs in the marketplace. If the labor groups want to maintain the status quo of high pension benefits, they need to support policies that will get the marketplace economy back into a robust state. Here's what the history book has to say about it on page 182:

Despite the social problems created by the Industrial Revolution--low pay, dismal living conditions--the Industrial Age did have some positive effects. As demand for mass-produced goods grew, new factories opened, which in turn created more jobs. Wages rose so that workers had enough left after paying rent and buying food to buy a newspaper or visit a music hall. As the cost of railroad travel fell, people could visit family in other towns. Horizons widened and opportunities increased.

That's how the system worked back in the 1800's. The marketplace innovates and provides the jobs while the government oversees and combats corporate corruption and abuse, environmental pollution, and urban sprawl. As more jobs are added to the marketplace, wages and perks go up as more and more "Help Wanted" and "Now Hiring" signs end up on shop windows. If a business fails to take care of its employees in a robust job market, it is faced with high employee turnover which drives up its employee training and recruitment costs; look no further than your local McDonald's and Wal-Mart.

The statistics overwhelmingly show that the market economy does not collapse or negate the lives of hard working individuals as shown by higher quality products, lower prices, and competition. If the labor groups want higher wages, both the unions and the feds need to accept the fact that the economy cannot be dictated or managed from Washington or the state governments; the private sector needs to have the freedom to expand the economy and the jobs that go with it. As more jobs are added to the marketplace, benefits and wages increase.

Putting the high school history lesson into today's controversies:

Here's some ideas for those in labor groups and public office to improve the local economy: You want a robust transit center at the downtown Riverside train station and more downtown jobs? Entice a private entrepreneur to build the public facilities with a manufacturing job hub next door. Want to transform the Hyperloop pipe dream into a marketplace high speed rail system done right? Allow Inland Empire innovators to explore, mature, research and develop the technology into a robust system in the marketplace just like how the airplane evolved from a once dissented play toy into an industrial victory. What to get rid of drug and gang crime out of impoverished neighborhoods? Permit local marketplace researchers to participate in strengthening intelligence-driven enforcement solutions and procedures that law enforcement can use to catch and lock up more street criminals. You want more high paying jobs with benefits? There it is.

That's the type of policy the labor groups should be advocating which in turn fuels our transit systems toward prosperity with a productive workforce, and informed 10th graders well know it.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Do California bullet train opponents actually want high speed rail done right?

Political Columnist Dan Walters for the Sacramento Bee has long been a critic of the California High Speed Rail Authority, stirring up debate in the public arena. His library of published op-ed commentaries and newspaper columns make some valid points and objections for the statewide high speed train project: Quoted costs are much higher than projected. Public support is down. State law is being spun to the point where legit lawsuits against the project are being filed. Judges are ordering the Brown administration not to bend or go around the rules of the game. Here's one of his latest pieces. The fact that public employee pensions are also above what is offered in the private marketplace certainly does not help; that contributes to inflated costs.

So it may appear that many informed Californians oppose high speed rail for the Golden State. Well, not exactly. While many rightly question the state-sponsored CHSRA bullet train project and voice legit objections toward its business plan, they may actually generally support the concept of having fast moving passenger trains as means to get from here to there. A better way to look at it is Californian's don't want high speed rail done wrong as the statewide bullet train is clearly demonstrating.

The evidence of such a notion continues to build and is becoming more clearer everyday. In Riverside, numerous grade separation projects are already in place for the BNSF rail line between downtown and the I-15 freeway which will allow for existing trains to travel faster. This is already demonstrated in South Orange County between Mission Viejo and Tustin. Similar projects are in place for eastern Orange County and the San Gabriel Valley. If officials finish this master plan and then electrify existing Metrolink, Coaster, and Amtrak trains without interfering with the freight trains, local high speed rail can be a reality without the bloated price tag.

Even Walters published this piece advocating for a high speed rail connection for the I-15 freeway corridor between San Diego and Ontario with direct airport connections. He believes such a connection will better distribute traffic flow between the two airports. Of course, the political madness with the Ontario Airport has to be resolved in order to entice airlines to land their flights there.

Just to refresh the public's memory, Walter's HSR idea is indeed already part of the statewide bullet train master plan that he appears to oppose. Therefore, it may be clear that he and other critics want high speed rail done right. By the way, the Riverside County Transportation Commission studied the feasibility for inland I-15 train service locally back in 2005 and 2008. Cost is a huge challenge and will require private investment mainly due to numerous hills, soft soil, and lack of dedicated right-of-way.  The private sector will need to be inclined to find ways to make tunnel boring more affordable or explore how electrified linear motors can be integrated for steel-wheel trains to better transverse steeper grades.

If the local public agencies can get together, plan this portion of the rail line the right way, establish additional commuter-oriented runs, and tie the endpoints into existing intercity rail corridors for corridor-based service, that could entice private investment for the remainder of the Southern California portions for statewide high speed rail and create a productive and profitable Los Angeles to San Diego high speed rail line via the Inland Empire. That's high speed rail done right.

For the record, as shown by comments left on Walter's op-ed, San Diego did undergo an airport expansion as reported here to address capacity issues and infrastructure for international flights.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Public officials engaging in the business community

100 Businesses in 100 Days

Congressman Rep. Mark Takano announced earlier this month that he will be touring “100 Businesses in 100 Days,” gathering input from the private sector within his 41st Congressional District. According the official press release, Takano will tour manufacturing, exports, retail, construction, high-tech, hospitality, food service, and more. His office will compile a report that will be used to direct future federal legislation to improve the marketplace economy.

The Transit Coalition has long advocated for officials and leaders to get out from behind their desks and engage the community, just as the Coalition does to prepare its transit-related campaigns. We take part in gauging passenger behavior, identifying needs, and providing solutions to real-life transit problems. Additionally, we meet face-to-face with the community and pitch our fact-based positions to top transportation officials. This is what our field studies and research is about.

Takano who represents a large portion of Riverside County's population kicked off his tour on August 14. From the south, his 41st District includes the Perris region, Moreno Valley, Riverside, and Jurupa Valley. As he continues gathering input from business leaders, finding ways to streamline federal regulations and working with the state and local jurisdictions to get rid of unnecessary legal red tape on their books will need to be a key component to future federal legislation. While those receiving unemployment benefits countywide has dropped from a peak of 15-20% three years ago and continues to go down, the rate still stands at 9.5%, and that does not factor in those who dropped out of the workforce altogether and became a dependent. The City of Riverside's rate stands at 9.7%, Jurupa Valley near 10%, Moreno Valley 11.1%, and Perris at 15%. It's clear there is work that needs to be done to get the private sector to invest in these regions with more full time jobs.

A call for action from Washington

From the national standpoint, one historic reason of why the United States has been such a robust country is because of its free marketplace economic system which promotes competition, motivation, and innovation which improves quality and lowers prices. Small business entrepreneurs and leaders need the assurance that public officials will do what is necessary to improve the economy without inducing urban sprawl, corporate corruption or pollution.

It's a fact that Washington should not inject more federal money into the private marketplace economy because the national debt is fast approaching $17 trillion. To be fair, the Treasury Department reported paying $35 billion toward the debt back in April, but according's U.S. National Debt Clock, the feds have spent an average of over $2 billion per day since September of last year. Vital programs such as defense, intelligence, public safety, public works capital and operations (which includes our highway and transit infrastructure), tax money oversight, and the government itself must remain, but the finances need to be policed better to get our federal budget out of the red.

All federal misspending must stop, especially with the bloated pensions. The special interests must concede and acknowledge the truth; the government cannot afford to pay public employees above marketplace wages, period. If the unions want higher wages and livable benefits, they need to follow Takano's lead, find out what needs to be done locally to improve the job market, and lobby for better economic conditions. That will get their workers the higher wages and full time hours.

With this and the government waste covered during the last two weeks on this blog, all of us will be negated if the misspending madness continues. Just look at the 91 Freeway and compare it with the 9.5% countywide unemployment rate. We don't want our state or country to go bankrupt.

Improving the marketplace economy for fully funded transit infrastructure

Last year, Congressman Rep. Mike Kelly hit the nail on the head with a possible solution to improve the national economy with this speech. For the record, we did not analyze the actual bill that was being debated back then--HR 4078: Red Tape Reduction and Small Business Job Creation Act--and therefore did not take a position, but Kelly's point is absolutely true.

While critical safeguards to prevent corporate corruption, combat urban sprawl and control pollution are necessary, over-regulating the private sector costs businesses huge amounts of money each year. That leads to higher prices and lower quality. In addition, companies are forced to scale back hiring and shift times to pay for the added costs. With the fewer jobs and resulting lackluster job market, those who have jobs will be paid less and work fewer hours.

How do the feds think they are going to get more high-paying full time private sector jobs if they continue to sack businesses with such red tape? How can the feds and local leaders of Takano's district entice business entrepreneurs into investing in downtown Riverside with robust marketplace job hubs? What is holding up the private capital from going into the downtown train station which would fully pay for an adjacent RTA bus transit station, a pedestrian bridge over the 91 Freeway into the downtown core, and direct access ramps the highway's carpool lanes? The feds know that the U.S. economy cannot thrive under excessive trivial regulations; that fact is taught today in high school social science.

On top of engaging the business community which is a great start, Rep. Takano should take his findings, work with colleagues on the other side of the aisle including Rep. Kelly, and craft a report and a bipartisan bill--without throwing any public money into the marketplace--which will lead the nation and the Inland Empire back into economic prosperity. That is how we can better fund the government and our transportation needs.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The pension madness gets even worse

A troubling trend has started on this blog. It seems like about every other day during the second half of August, we mention something about government waste and how it negates the Inland Empire public transportation system.

Yesterday, the Associated Press discovered that special interest lobbyists from private entities are receiving taxpayer-funded pension packages which includes non-government entities in California. The public should be outraged over this finding. While it's fine for a lobbyist directly employed by a government agency and advocating under his/her elected governing board to receive such perks, the situation is much different with the private sector.

As private entities, such lobby groups have no public oversight of their activities and can lobby for policies which conflicts against the will of the people. Furthermore, such benefits unfairly drain precious resources from public coffers. Those are reasons enough to ban such a practice. According to the AP, New Jersey and Illinois are two states considering legislation to stop this madness.

Illinois Rep. Elaine Nekritz stated, "It's a question of, 'Why are we providing government pensions to these private organizations?'"

Fiscal Impacts

To be fair, the AP did mention that the staffs of the involved lobby groups are small enough not to make a grave fiscal impact on the public pension system. That's understandable, but this situation is still serious enough to be classified as wasting public money. Throw in Stephen Acquario, the executive director and general counsel of the New York State Association of Counties, who was featured in the AP story.

"We want the people that work in local governments to continue to be part of the solution," he said. "We represent the same taxpayers." According to the AP, Acquario argues that his group gives local government a voice in the statehouse, and the perk of a state pension makes it easier to hire people with government expertise.

We get his points. It's understandable that private lobby groups provide the public with a greater voice and it's no question that adding a pension perk into a job opening will draw more applicants. However, taxpayers should not be taking care of a private lobbyist's retirement package. Right now, there are taxpayers who may disagree with positions by private lobby groups, but are paying into their employee's benefits. That has to stop.

The Transit Coalition's advocacy work

The Transit Coalition too lobbies its transportation positions to top officials. We are a dedicated, grassroots, all-volunteer organization that advocates a balance between many transportation modes. Our interest is in improving bus, rail, bike, airport access, goods movement, physically challenged access, and private automobile transportation in Southern California. Therefore, we have an understanding of what concerned citizen lobbying is supposted to entail, but since when are we entitled to taxpayer funded retirement benefits?

As much as we independently put together fact-based positions to give transit riders a voice, the public has every right to question and disagree with what we advocate. Those who disagree with us should not have to pay into the Coalition's campaigns through their taxes, and for the record, they do not. However, to those who do agree: We invite you to donate to The Transit Coalition.

If private entities want to lobby to the state and feds, they have every right to do so. However, they need to play the game by the rules. Entities should sell their positions to the public and business sector and pay their lobbyists through collected donations and sponsorships. However, we the people should not be in a position to pay for their operations through our taxes. If you ever wonder why we cannot afford to expand our transit operations and infrastructure despite our high taxes, this would be one of several examples.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Friday Tips: Spend some undivided time with your children

A Better Inland Empire's emblem features a family prospering in a clean and economically robust Inland Empire. The logo shows that we want Riverside and San Bernardino counties and all of its communities to be a robust place to get around, live, work, and play--not only for our generation, but for our children and youth as well.

This week's transportation tip calls for all parents, grandparents, guardians, uncles and aunts to spend some undivided time with their children. The events that occurred this last week demonstrate why.

As mentioned all over the national news media, three Oklahoma teenage boys are accused of the murder of Christopher Lane, an Australian baseball player visiting the United States. The incident was gang initiated, yet Lane was murdered for no reason whatsoever. Various follow-up stories are showing that the three accused teenagers were not only in trouble before, but also lacked involved fathers during their childhood according to James Johnson, the man who knew of and called law enforcement on the three alleged killers. "They don't have proper fathers in their lives. You can't be a friend to your son, you got to be the father," Johnson stated.

It gets worse. Sources show that one of the accused--17 year old Michael Jones--appeared in court with his girlfriend. She is a pregnant minor.

The Transit Coalition's A Better Inland Empire will be looking into this story and similar youth-related crimes that occur here locally more in detail. What good does all the buses and trains in the world do if a significant portion of our next generation lacks the will to compete in the marketplace and gets involves in gang violence?

Meanwhile, the Lane family is currently raising funds through an online donation drive to cover the cost of returning Christopher's body and to pay for funeral expenses. The family states this:

We would like to take this moment to thank everyone who has made a donation in Christopher's Name. We have appreciated the support we have revived from all around the world. We want people to know we don't believe what happened was a reflection of the people of Duncan or Oklahoma. Christopher was chasing his dreams and we believe everyone should do the same. Money left over after paying for his funeral expenses will go into a foundation which will make donations in Christopher's name to organizations he was passionate about and hopefully help full fill others dreams. Christopher would be so proud he had a made a difference in so many lives.

By the way, if you would like to donate, visit the campaign page.

It's certainly true that this event is an embarrassment for our country and the solution to combating gun crimes in the U.S. as a whole and the Inland Empire is constantly debated in the public arena to this very day. Being a transit advocacy organization, we do not take sides on such matters and turning this tragedy into a political circus is absolutely unacceptable at this time. One possible fact-based solution as demonstrated with combating bank robberies and child predators could be making legit criminal offenses with a gun or weapon a federal crime with a mandatory floor in sentencing.

However, one fact that absolutely cannot be overlooked as a primary source of youth-related crimes is the lack of involved families, especially from the father. The evidence is overwhelming. Professionals in this field have yielded alarming facts. Take a look at this chart published by's Wayne Parker. Google "no father more crime."

There is positively no question that children who grow up in homes without caring parents, especially from the father, have a much greater risk of encountering serious problems as teenagers and adults since they grow up without discipline and motivation in their homes. We will be following up with this issue, gather more common facts, and will tie it into our advocacy work for A Better Inland Empire. Our transit fleets and the people who use them deserve to be in a robust state, not mired in crime or vandalism.

Meanwhile, we call all those who are in a position of raising children, especially fathers, to spend more undivided time with your young ones starting this weekend. If you're in a position of a single parent or guardian, do some homework for your child and find him/her a caring mentor to fall back on. It doesn't have to be a paid professional, just a caring relative, friend or neighbor. That's how we can bring about a better Inland Empire.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

What the heck is going on in Moreno Valley?

Whenever elected officials pander to the special interests or the wants of themselves instead of the needs of the people, problems for both themselves and the jurisdiction they're supposed to represent are sure to occur. As many are aware, former council member and Mayor Pro Tem Marcelo Co of the City of Moreno Valley is in big trouble. He is charged with multiple counts of felony fraud, accused of illegally collecting nearly $15,000 taxpayer-funded government assistance money that was supposed to go toward the care of his mother. He was also the target of renting out properties that were not up to code. The City Clerk reported on the same day of his bust that residents initiated a move to recall Co. The accused councilman eventually resigned from his post the next day. His days in power are over.

Things aren't much better for the remaining City Council members. Both the Riverside County district attorney's office and the federal government have been investigating a potential political corruption probe in the city separate from Co's case. We really cannot pass much judgement of the probe until the facts are made public; however, one of the city's pet projects--The World Logistics Center--deserves further straight talk.

Moreno Valley Protests & Proposed World Logistics Center

Fed up with the political circus and officials pandering to logistics developers, Moreno Valley residents are fighting back. On Tuesday, hundreds of protesters showed up outside of City Hall to support a recall of the remaining council members, voice opposition to the sprawling World Logistics Center, and demand Co's replacement be elected from the jurisdiction.

Last May, this blog brought up a point regarding the proposed World Logistics Center: Don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. The baby being the private sector jobs in the logistics sector, the bathwater being unnecessary urban sprawl, added diesel truck pollution and excessive truck traffic. It's no question that the locals oppose the bathwater as the World Logistics Center demonstrates.

However, the region could use a well planned marketplace job hub to increase wages, and logistics would fit well with the area's blue-collar demographics. Local unemployment is still above 11%. Robust facilities along existing rail corridors and industrial areas near the March ARB which link to the proposed GRID project in Long Beach would be prime spots to develop these job sites. Incentives for the private sector to develop clean ways to move freight would be welcome. If Moreno Valley wants to build up logistics jobs, do it right. Having sprawling industrial parks like the World Logistics Center at the base of the Badlands hills adjacent to the San Jacinto Fault with no rail line for miles is undesired runaway urban sprawl.

A disgrace to free speech

Lastly, local residents including our high school youth ordinarily would have every right to go to City Hall and question government proposals and development projects which includes the World Logistics Center and voice their opinion and concerns to their elected representatives; however this Press Enterprise blog post suggests otherwise.

Since becoming mayor in December, Owings has regularly taken on the city’s critics. He has called them “smear merchants,” accused opponents of the World Logistics Center of being racists and anti-Semitic, and even cursed on occasion. “We’re a great city and we don’t need to hear this crap every damn council night,” he said during an April 23 council meeting.

To be fair, Mayor Tom Owings did openly apologize during a June 4 meeting about this type of behavior, but it's all too common to turn toward personal attacks when one cannot win the debate and not concede. Does that mean that if we go to City Hall and question the World Logistics Center and bring fact-based evidence into the discussion, we're going to be publicly humiliated without any evidence to back it up?

Officials know they cannot defend such vile personal attacks, and many politicians reserve such behavior to their election campaigns, not the public chambers. The political madness caused by residents simply questioning the logic of the World Logistics Center clearly demonstrates that City Hall does not care of the negative impacts caused by developing the hub at the base of the Badlands. What the city appears to be doing is catering to the will of developers while ignoring the legit and fact-based concerns of their residents.

What the heck is going on in the city "where dreams soar?" Fed up residents are looking to fix that.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

What happens to transit when the U.S. Department of Labor bows to labor unions?

It is nearly a stone-cold fact that the U.S. Department of Labor is currently in full support of the will of special interest labor groups. The agency is spinning federal law in a way that penalizes our local transit agencies without due process just because California wants to--at least--begin to contain the out-of-control pension madness fire.

The federal government clearly has the power both from Congress and the White House to stop this political football game right now which is occurring in the Labor Department. Here's what's at stake: The 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act gave Labor Secretary Tomas Perez authority to hold federal transit grants as a means to hold transit agencies responsible for respecting their worker's rights to bargain collectively. In this day in age, that clause is questionable; a more sensible approach is to hold those in power directly accountable for respecting the basic rights of workers. If an agency manager unlawfully retaliates a group of employees for organizing or bargaining, fine him or lock him up. Don't subject innocent citizens to public service disruptions.

The Rights of...Job Applicants?

When the labor unions cited the 1964 law and complained to the feds, they relied on the rights of non-hired future employees to back up their claim. Perez' unwillingness to take exception to this notion clearly overreaches the power of his office. Many fair-minded individuals and several newspapers conclude that California's Public Employee Pension Reform Act actually does not wipe out a worker's right to assemble, organize and to bargain collectively. What the law did was close up loopholes to stop unjustified and unfunded hikes to pensions for future workers who apply for the job.

In other words, what the special interests object to--and what Perez is bowing toward--is taking bargaining and benefit rights away from those who are not even on the payrolls of California transit agencies. Since when does a non-employee of a transit agency have the same rights of those on the payroll? This misguided madness is now placing the budgets of our transit agencies in limbo.

Any fair-minded individual knows that a job applicant who has yet to be hired has no business to get directly involved in labor negotiations. It's true members of the public can voice support or objections toward labor unions by writing letters and choosing whether or not to patronize businesses or cross picket lines during a strike. However, since when do outside individuals have a right toward any benefits designated to transit workers? We'd like Perez and President Obama to address that. If this madness continues, we might see this situation end up in federal court with transit agencies spending precious resources preparing for the worst. The public arena must hold the special interests, Perez, and the feds accountable.

No Excuses: Getting real about transit worker labor rights

The labor unions need to look at real solutions to protect the rights of their workers and ways to improve the marketplace economy which in turn increases marketplace wages and benefits. The President needs to order Perez to release the transit funds and take exception to the frivolous objections. Congress needs to explore amending the Urban Mass Transportation Act and close up its loopholes. Heaven forbid, should a transit agency or the state actually abuse its public workers through unsafe working conditions, unjustified labor, paying workers below minimum wage, or preventing them from bargaining collectively, and the labor department and the feds have evidence of such abuse, that would be probable cause to have the feds look into criminal charges against the offending officials with mandatory fines and/or jail time. If a boss unlawfully abuses an employee, fine him or lock him up. Don't obstruct transit operations like a NIMBY. Have the special interests proposed fair legislation like that?

Today, there is absolutely no logical reason to hold federal transit funding--let alone transit riders--hostage in the name of worker's rights. It's time for Congress and President Obama to lead us out of this federal fiscal fiasco.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Another reason why Toll Lane Congestion Pricing should be real-time

A surprising study conducted by Michael Janson and David Levinson of the University of Minnesota shows that their state's high occupancy toll lane system attracts more vehicles and free carpoolers whenever tolls are set higher, and that's not factoring in added traffic congestion.

The study includes two years of MnPass Express toll lane data along two freeways. A series of unannounced toll manipulations for non-carpoolers--certainly a questionable motive--was done to collect data and responses from motorists. The MnPass Express Lanes is a toll lane facility that supports free non-transponder 2+ carpooling--a notion we support and advocate; so the the new findings here will be significant for the campaign We want Toll Lanes done right.

Informed individuals know that Economics 101 teaches the basic logic of supply and demand. One would think that if the toll goes up without demand, the number of toll-paying motorists would go down. So without factoring in added traffic congestion, why would increasing the toll for non-carpools cause more motorists to flock into the high occupancy lane?

According to the researchers, if motorists spot high tolls, they will think that the general purpose lanes will be congested ahead, thus will be inclined to take the high occupancy lane. This shows there's a significant group of solo motorists who are willing to tax themselves into a carpool lane. However, without congestion--as lower tolls show, there is little incentive to use the lane as a toll-paying patron.

Have the researchers uncovered a potential toll lane money making scheme here? We don't have enough evidence to make that judgement just yet, but we'll keep a close watch on a possibility as tolls along the 91 Express Lanes and LA's Metro ExpressLanes are often on the high side even when the general purpose lanes are free flowing.

Want an example? Let's check out the 91 Express Lanes on Christmas Eve. Take a look at the picture to the right. On December 24, 2012 at 2:30 PM, the westbound toll for non 3+ carpools was $2.10. The main freeway lanes were nearly at a free-flowing state between Corona and Orange County as shown in the image--unusual for the 91 during a holiday. Motorists had a high level of comfort passing through into Orange County at that time in the regular lanes. The Level-of-Service was right in between an A and B for the freeway. The toll lanes were in a free-flowing state. If tolls for the 91 Express Lanes were based on real-time traffic congestion, the toll for non-carpoolers should have been under $1 based on what other HOT lane systems charge for a 10 mile trip. A $2.10 toll may entice drivers that the freeway has at least some sort of slowing. The two non-HOV 3+ cars pictured above driving under the toll antennas should not have been in a position to buy their way out of non-existent traffic congestion all due to inflated tolls.

As previously mentioned, high occupancy toll lanes should not be about generating revenue. They should be about moving people. The fact of the matter is that there are non-carpoolers who would be willing to pay a price to access a high occupancy express lane to bypass congestion; however, such a motive absolutely should not be exploited by having high tolls during free-flow conditions. This is a clear example of why congestion pricing tolls should be based on real-time traffic congestion and not on a fixed schedule. Artificially manipulating tolls should also be banned and rates should be based on marketplace demands. While its true that having a fixed toll schedule provides predictable rates, posted tolls that do not reflect real-time traffic demands distorts the corridor's traffic flow by luring more toll-paying cars into the high occupancy lane than necessary and vise versa. Many real-time HOT lane systems have a $.25-$.50 minimum during free-flow conditions and $8-$10 maximum during rush hours for non-carpoolers. Motorists should not be "fooled" into thinking a highway is congested when it really isn't by artificially raising the posted toll beyond the market rate.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Debating the Riverside Reconnects Streetcar Project

Earlier this month, several news reports indicated that the state has granted the City of Riverside $237,500 to fund a study of returning streetcars to the city. Riverside Mayor William Rusty Bailey has been responsible for advocating such an idea.

The proposal has brought on some robust debate in the public arena and the community has been making many valid points. Here are some examples:
  • The Press Enterprise in an editorial objects to the project and points out that such public resources would be better spent toward separating the grade crossings along the existing rail line. That of course would speed up existing Metrolink, Amtrak Southwest Chief and BNSF freight service and eliminate several surface street bottlenecks. The newspaper also objects to transit service duplication. It's worth noting that RTA bus rapid transit for the existing Routes 1 and 16 have already been studied and found feasible in Riverside several times. PE Columnist Dan Bernstein also questions the streetcar project.
  • Lester Jones of Corona wrote back to the newspaper, arguing that the streetcar would spark private investments with transit oriented development. If you've been through Riverside, you will find that residents and business owners certainly could use the opportunity to revitalize their neighborhoods.
  • Justin Nelson of the Riding in Riverside transit blog illustrates some very valid points: Streetcars operating in mixed traffic could worsen mobility and that public transit resources would be better spent toward expanding RTA's transit service span later in the night. We also believe late night bus service in Riverside and other portions of RTA's service area is long overdue.
With the state now getting involved, Bailey's idea has now become a real proposal. The Magnolia and University Avenue corridors in Riverside could very well benefit with a mass transit rail system operating in a dedicated set of lanes or right-of-way combined with area revitalization. However the truth is that under the current economic climate, lack of a robust business marketplace, and substandard transit infrastructure and operations, we simply cannot afford the streetcar just yet. 

On top of the grade-separation projects and implementing late night RTA bus service, the city has other infrastructure projects that deserve priority before getting into the streetcar business. Getting a robust RTA transit center to the Riverside Downtown train station and linking the hub to the downtown core with a pedestrian/bicycle bridge over the 91 Freeway has long been mired in fiscal madness. Let's not even talk about linking the downtown transit center to the SR-91 and SR-60 carpool lanes with direct access ramps. These issues must be addressed and we didn't need to ask for $237,500 in taxpayer money to draw up these fact-based conclusions.

However if Riverside manages to attract private capital and investment to the city by improving its business climate and the State of California stops displacing our transportation money to special interests, we might be able to afford paying for these infrastructure proposals without going into massive debt or worsening existing mobility. We've already pointed out that developers could invest money into a marketplace employment hub at the Riverside Downtown station which would pay for the transit center, pedestrian bridge, and HOV lane direct access ramps. The fact is that Riverside is starved for an improved business climate, the revitalization of troubled neighborhoods, and upgrades to other transportation infrastructure. Riverside Reconnects needs to be done right, even if "reconnect" means a more practicable transportation alternative to the streetcar.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Friday Tips: Demand your elected officials to release federal transit money

U.S. Department of Labor officials seem to be unwilling to release federal transit funds that Inland Empire taxpayers paid into in the name of bargaining rights, when in reality, the dispute between labor unions and the transit agencies is over trivial issues in relationship to California's pension reform. Special interests are demanding exemptions of the reformed law and are relying on the labor department and legal loopholes to freeze transit funding from RTA and Omnitrans without due process. U.S. Labor Secretary Thomas Perez appears to be bowing to the special interest's requests. To be fair, Perez cannot go above the law, but there is little evidence that he is even willing to work with the White House or Congress to close up the loopholes for the general public's good.

Granting transit labor groups exemptions of California's pension reform law is not a practicable option as any fair-minded individual well knows. Bloated salaries and unfunded benefits contributes to government waste and a substandard transit system--just look at the 91 Freeway. If the state gives one group an exemption, other special interests are going to pressure the state for the same. California will then be on the road to bankruptcy. This whole situation is also clearly not a labor rights issue; otherwise why would the special interests place numerous transit jobs and private sector employees who take transit into limbo? That's not defending worker's rights. That's abuse. We simply cannot afford the status quo.

It's time for Gov. Brown, Congress, and President Obama to take control of the situation. This week's tip: Ask your elected representative, the Governor and the White House to work together to do whatever they can in their power to get the funds released without permitting exceptions to California's pension reforms, close up the loopholes so that the states can freely decide on pension policy, and amend federal labor law where labor groups can continue to have the freedom to assemble, organize and bargain, but not have the freedom to garnish transit agencies' funds without constitutional due process.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Getting around the excuse-making with the 91 Express Lanes extension

Conceptual Smith Avenue Direct Access Ramp

Getting the 91 freeway corridor moving between the Inland Empire and Orange County has been a challenge for the last two decades. The Riverside County Transportation Commission is set to break ground next year on upgrading the corridor through Corona by expanding express bus services, adding a general purpose lane, and extending the 91 Express Lanes through Corona. RCTC illustrates the layout of the proposals which we believe don't go far enough despite the fact that Riverside County taxpayers are going into massive debt to pay for such upgrades combined with Californians paying some of the highest taxes in the nation. The Transit Coalition's future vision of the congested corridor is very similar, but mimics the existing I-15 Express Lane facility in San Diego county with the exception that the center median will be fixed--not movable--and that the occupancy requirement for carpool is 3+ instead of 2+.

The vision includes additional intermediate access points and direct access ramps to adjacent transit centers and park & ride lots which would provide express bus transit infrastructure and speed up travel times for existing and future bus routes and private carpools. The vision also includes expanded Metrolink and potential reinstated high speed intercity passenger rail service provided by BNSF or another operator.

The Coalition's 91 Future Vision appears to conflict with analyses conducted by RCTC and the Orange County Transportation Authority in regards to opposing mandatory tolls for 3+ carpools during the PM rush hour and supporting intermediate access points. According to the agencies, if the corridor supported free non-transponder 3+ carpooling 24/7 and had additional intermediate access points, traffic congestion in the HOT lanes would result, thus defeating the purpose of the HOT lanes. That notion is questionable. Time for some straight talk on these points to weed out the excuses from the facts:

Free 3+ Carpooling vs. 50% tolls during the afternoon rush hour:

In May, 2003, shortly after OCTA acquired the 91 Express Lanes for $207 million, the agency allowed 3+ high occupancy vehicles with a FasTrak transponder to travel free in the HOT lanes except during the PM rush hour where tolls are 50%. The 4-6PM eastbound toll was included because traffic studies at that time show the lanes operating at or near capacity. OCTA officials therefore concluded that the additional traffic generated by free 3+ carpooling would have congested the lanes.

To be fair to OCTA, high occupancy toll lanes were in their adolecent years back in 2003. The agency simply did not have the data that The Transit Coalition now has in regards to alternative solutions to prevent peak-hour congestion in the HOT lanes. We cannot fault OCTA on this; however there is enough data now to support the change. As mentioned before, the 91 corridor has such a high demand for carpooling that the occupancy requirement for carpool should be maintained at 3+ for now; it could be lowered to 2+ during off-peak hours once future infrastructure and additional lanes are built out.

Opening the 91 Express Lanes to additional 3+ carpoolers will bring these additional HOV's into the Express Lanes, no question. To prevent congestion, some of the toll-paying non-carpoolers will need to use the general purpose lanes. As other HOT facilities have shown throughout the nation, that can be acheived two ways:

  • Designate the HOT lanes for toll-free travel for 3+ carpools while raising the tolls on other traffic further as traffic volume along the corridor increases. This will keep the toll revenue neutral while providing a greater disincentive to driving alone.  
  • 3+ Carpools only - Should the HOT express lanes reach capacity, dynamic regulatory signs would permit only high occupancy vehicles to enter the facilities until capacity opens up for toll-paying traffic. FasTrak traffic already in the lanes would be permitted to complete their trips.

Of course, adopting free non-transponder 3+ carpooling for the 91 Express Lanes will significantly reduce agency toll revenue since more free carpoolers are traveling than toll-paying traffic, but as mentioned before, under no circumstances should high occupancy toll lanes be used as cash fountains. Ongoing displacement of state transportation tax money needs to stop, those resources need to be returned to our local agencies to fund transportation infrastructure, and such resources need to pay down the debt for the 91 Express Lanes and the extension into Riverside County. Once that happens, our local agencies will have no excuse to toll carpoolers in the high occupancy lane.

Intermediate Access Points/Direct Access Ramps:

Upon completion on the extension, 91 Express Lanes access points will be provided at these locations:

  • Western Terminal: SR-55 and SR-91 Interchange
  • Intermediate: On the 91, west of the Green River Road Interchange for drivers heading in either direction
  • Eastern Terminal: I-15 and SR-91 with a direct access ramp with the I-15 to/from the south.
RCTC analyzed additional intermediate access points in Corona through an engineering study and did not adopt the proposed entry/exit points. The design variation 2 plans of a direct access ramp at Smith Avenue in Corona are also not part of the project. Traffic weaving and congestion were cited as concerns. As mentioned before, there is a solution around this which was not taken into consideration: Whenever the express lanes are too congested for additional traffic at the intermediate points or direct access ramps, signs would only permit 3+ HOV traffic to enter or tolls would simply be higher for non-HOV's. This has been demonstrated before elsewhere and the public cannot accept this as an excuse to not link the Corona Transit Center with the 91 Express Lanes.

Moving more people in the 91 Express Lanes:

We must make this point clear once more: High occupancy toll lanes need to be designed in ways to move more people, not cars. The potential consequences of mandating 3+ carpoolers to pre-register for a FasTrak and pay rush hour tolls have been the subject of much debate. These consequences include:
  • Many carpoolers reverting back to SOVs or sitting in traffic in the general purpose lanes as demonstrated in LA and Atlanta.
  • New solo vehicles being attracted to the corridor as a result of the additional capacity.
  • All general purpose lanes, including any newly added ones, becoming congested while eliminating a free-flowing alternative to those who choose to carpool with 3 or more but do not have a toll transponder.

This is why the state needs to get its act together and stop mispending our transportation dollars. This is why high occupancy toll lanes need free non-transponder carpooling. It's time for both the public and our local agencies to stop the excuse-making and hold the state accountable for funding our infrastructure projects which includes a robust SR-91 transit corridor.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Who is responsible for the Omnitrans sbX fiscal mess-up?

An April audit by the Federal Transportation Administration potentially shows that significant portions of Omnitrans' $191 million sbX bus rapid transit project may not be making it to the E Street corridor as it should. The audit which was made public last week accuses Omnitrans of violating more than 20 federal guidelines, more specifically, how construction contracts were awarded and managed. According to the press, violations included a contract worth $15 million without going through the bidding process. Another mess-up includes a 15% price hike on all change orders--the feds prohibit cost-plus percentage.

While Omnitrans and its new leadership are defending a few of the violations brought up, the agency has acknowledged responsibility of most of the accusations including the cost-plus percentage count. We predict that under the leadership of newly appointed Procurement Director Jennifer Sims, the transit agency will be able to resolve this matter by cooperating with the federal government. At this point, the agency has not reported whether or not all of this fiscal madness fell under the fault of former Omnitrans CEO Milo Victoria or whether the violations were intentional or done in error. What we do know is that Victoria resigned earlier this summer abruptly, yet at the same time, this is the first time Omnitrans has ever taken on a capital project of this scale.

What the public needs to find out is who exactly is responsible for the violations so that such a fiscal disgrace does not repeat itself for the proposed long term sbX extensions toward the west. Omnitrans has promised the feds to come up with a report by the start of next week and work is underway to update fiscal procedures, but more needs to be done. Officials also need to investigate the matter to determine if any crimes were committed with these transit funds. As mentioned, anybody found guilty of defrauding or embezzling our public funds should be put away in jail with mandatory sentences.

Regarding the sbX project itself, this project is certainly no boondoggle; it will be a fast north/south transit alternative to slow local bus rides in the area. The limited stop BRT line promises to speed up public bus transit times for a transportation corridor linked by high-volume activity centers: Cal State San Bernardino, downtown San Bernardino, the Loma Linda University area, and points in between. sbX will connect to a future Metrolink station in the downtown area. The line will mimic LA Metro's Orange Line through downtown and LA Metro Rapid in other areas--both are productive means to move people. Currently, one of Omnitrans' busiest local bus routes--Route 2--serves the corridor and current end-to-end trip times can last in excess of an hour. If officials can clean up the line's fiscal mess, it will be okay.

We want sbX done right!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Special interests obstructing RTA and Omnitrans transit

Before addressing this controversy, we must make one point very clear for the men and women working for the Riverside Transit Agency and Omnitrans. We understand that the vast majority of individual employees working for our transit agencies and their contractors work very hard everyday to service our transit needs and to provide for their families. By no means are we dissenting such productive and honest work. What we and many fair-minded individuals question are the actions by the special interest groups, entities which are supposed to represent the will and rights of their dues-paying workers.

Under heavy pressure from informed Californians to control wasteful government spending, overpaid pubic employee salaries, and unfunded retirement benefits, special interest groups are becoming desperate and turning toward trivial means to maintain the status quo. We've all seen and heard about the BART fiasco up in the Bay area, but it gets worse locally. The desperation is so bad that one local Inland Empire group is going as far to obstruct RTA's and Omnitrans's federal funding sources. Instead of acknowledging the fact that the state simply cannot afford the continued spending madness, this special interest labor group has clearly demonstrated that defending labor rights includes putting their worker's jobs in limbo.

Claiming that the California's Public Employee's Pension Reform Act of 2013 violated collective bargaining rights, local leaders of the Amalgamated Transit Union in April filed objections to the U.S. Department of Labor which led to a freeze of Federal Transit Administration grants last week to RTA and Omnitrans. Federal transportation money is a major source of funding for our local transit agencies and is rightly so given that all of us here in the Inland Empire pay into the federal system. $31 million of RTA's $79 million total annual budget comes from the feds--almost 40%. Omnitrans gets $30 million from Uncle Sam. As a result, both of these agencies have begun contingency plans for the next fiscal year should the federal government decide not to obligate the funds at all. If that happens, serious transit cuts will be on the table and The Transit Coalition will fight against it by holding ATU, the state and feds accountable. Here's the irony behind all this: Many of ATU's workers will have their hours cut--or worse yet, face layoffs. Omnitrans has reported the possible layoff of 200 workers should the agency not receive money from the feds.

Here's how trivial this case is. According to an editorial by the Press Enterprise, California's pension reform only affected new hires. The new law also did not obstruct future negotiations or bargaining over pensions, but merely caps what the state government can offer going forward. Californians should be appalled at how loopholes are being undermined by these special interests with their agendas all in the name of worker's rights.

To be fair, labor unions have played an important role in history, bringing workers days of rest, safer working conditions, breaks in the day, justified hours, livable wages, child labor laws and other vital labor rights issues. However, there comes a point where agendas can turn into abuse. The fact is that the pension madness in the Inland Empire will actually harm hard working transit workers, putting hundreds of transit jobs in jeopardy, and well over a third of the Inland Empire's transit operations in fiscal limbo. Both the state and federal government must step in, work together, get RTA and Omnitrans the funding that Inland Empire taxpayers paid into, close up the federal loopholes, and pass fair and fiscally sound labor laws which cannot be exploited.

If the state wants to increase wages and benefits statewide as demanded by the special interests, make California a better place to do business, inspire entrepreneurs to come back and invest in the Golden State which will stimulate the job market and balance the job-to-worker ratio. Underpaid employees will then have the option to seek better work in the marketplace which drives up employee retention and salaries. Employers not taking care of their workers will be faced with high turnovers--something that many businesses want to avoid. Remember the days when you always saw the "Now Hiring" signs at the corner McDonald's or Wal-Mart? That's how we can get rid of the double-digit unemployment and increase wages and benefits to livable levels. It's long past time for the special interests, the state and the feds to accept and adopt this notion.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Banning Silver Fire Help and Lake Elsinore Falls Fire update

Banning Silver Fire: 
In response to the Silver Fire which broke out of control at the base of Mount San Jacinto near Banning earlier today, evacuation shelters have been set up at the following locations according to news reports:

Evacuation Centers:

Hemet High School
41701 East Stetson Avenue
Hemet, CA

Beaumont High School
39139 Cherry Valley Boulevard
Beaumont, CA

Animal shelter:

San Jacinto Valley Animal Campus
581 South Grand Avenue
San Jacinto, CA

Highway 243 between Banning and Azalea Trail in Poppet Flats is reportedly closed as firefighters continue to fight the out of control fire.

8/12/13 - Falls, Silver Fire Update:

The Falls Fire was reported to be fully surrounded Saturday, 8/10 in Lake Elsinore. Ortega Highway remains closed to through-traffic, but repair/replacement work has commenced. The Silver Fire is expected to be fully surrounded later today.

8/8/13 - Lake Elsinore Falls Fire update: 

At the time of this post, firefighters have the majority of the Lake Elsinore Falls Fire surrounded (78% containment). Since the fire damaged signage and guardrails along Ortega Highway, the CHP is escorting only local traffic through the highway until further notice. The highway will remain closed for through-traffic until the damaged infrastructure is replaced.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Lake Elsinore Falls Fire Help

At the time of this post, firefighters have begun to surround the Lake Elsinore Falls Fire located in the Santa Ana Mountains in the El Cariso area (20% containment according to news sources). The American Red Cross has opened an evacuation center at:

Lakeside High School
32593 Riverside Dr.
Lake Elsinore, CA 92530

Volunteers are present to provide assistance. Please contact the Red Cross if you or your organization can provide help. If you are travelling or commuting into Orange County, be sure to give yourself plenty of extra time due to the Ortega Highway closure.

Red Cross Riverside County Chapter

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

August 7 Update - As of 10 AM today, firefighters have mostly surrounded the Falls Fire (73% containment) according to news reports and predict full containment by the end of the week. Ortega Highway remains closed to through traffic from Elsinore to Antonio Parkway in Orange County.

Citizens' jump start on feasibility studies

You may have heard the phrase "You can't ride a study" before. However, whenever a public agency pours money into conducting such research, the results often provide critical planning data for The Transit Coalition and the public. We look at such research, ensure any political spin is out, and use this information toward our positions. More often than not, these research-and-development projects come with a high price tag which can creep into the six figure mark.

As transit studies are vital to us, public entities and regulators need to realize that highly useful fact-based transportation data is already available to support such government transportation research. They just need to spend some time to certify existing published facts and common knowledge for contractors tasked to do studies. Reducing redundancy can save taxpayers thousands of dollars per study as the focus would be spotting and addressing red flags on the original ideas. 

Las Vegas Intercity Corridor - Transit Station "Feasbility Study"

Let's suppose an agency needs to research possible intercity transit stops in and out of Las Vegas. Here's a clever piece of data that's out there in cyberspace: A combination of recent time lapse videos showing a transcontinential drive from LAX to Orlando through Las Vegas.

Yes, you heard that right. Courtesy of a YouTube user, we have a cross country time lapse of video imagery of from cost to coast, through Las Vegas, available to watch:
 A video-savvy researcher can take a look at the video and adjust its playback speed to match real time travel speeds. There it is. Some useful ideas of where to place station stops and rest areas would be available on the spot. The actual government study can then focus on the specifics and finding issues.

As mentioned before, government agencies should review the massive library of current and recent data that is out there to be researched and used for intelligence-driven studies. Agencies should have the power to be able to certify relevant facts and current common knowledge for transportation planning so it doesn't have to be researched a second time all in the name of legal fine print. Even a few hours worth of research at hand can improve research productivity and save big bucks in taxpayer money on studies.

"Feasibility Study" for dual high occupancy carpool/toll lanes on I-15

Want another example? Let's look at the possibility of extending San Diego County's robust and award-winning I-15 Express Lane facility all the way to Victorville. San Diego County is exploring the Escondido-Temecula segment, Riverside County has looked at the segment between Lake Elsinore to Ontario, and San Bernardino County has been studying Ontario-Victorville link since 2008. With the obvious fact of Temecula's big plans to redevelop its western side of the of the city, why not close the Temecula-Lake Elsinore gap? Here's another time lapse of the I-15 between San Diego and Vegas. Could you draw any suggestions of where the direct access ramps to existing transit stations should go? How about the intermediate access points?

Having a set of two high occupancy express lanes in each direction where 2+ or 3+ carpools can travel for free without a transponder and solo drivers have the option to buy their way into the carpool lane works. Link the lanes with direct access ramps for seamless connections to transit centers and park & ride lots. Offer a fast and friendly rapid express bus network with timed connections with the local routes to get up and down the corridor quickly. There's plenty of data out there to build up an impartial case that would support such an expansion. Conducting a real feasibility study for such a robust facility would involve checking for red flags on the initial ideas conceived and providing fact-based solutions to those problems.

Monday, August 5, 2013

California State Transit Funding

As most are aware, local public transit is a vital government service, similar to defense, emergency, and public school services. Transit entities such as the Riverside Transit Agency and Omnitrans rely on a mix of various funding sources from the local level all the way to the federal government in order to provide us with the means to get around. These taxpayer resources pay for both transportation infrastructure and operations, a service that benefits the general public.

Recently, public transportation budgets have tightened due to continued spending toward special interest groups and the failure to police government expenses. Transportation funding has long been an issue despite the fact that Californians are paying the highest gas taxes in the country. While its true that funding reductions can be attributed toward the Great Recession, both the state and the feds continue to displace such resources into programs which too often benefit special interests and not the general public. Local agencies have therefore had to come up with other ways to pay for our transportation infrastructure and operations: service reductions, fare increases, delayed capital improvement projects, and mandatory tolls and transponders for private carpools to use the high occupancy lanes.

The Transit Coalition coordinates with other transportation advocacy organizations to fight for and protect critical state funding and to make sure such resources actually make it to the streets and rails as it should.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Friday Tips: Back to school transit riding tips

Lots of children, youth, and college students will be heading back to school soon. Our public transit buses will certainly be hauling more passengers within the next few weeks as classrooms all over the Inland Empire get up and running. With that, let's review a few basic transit tips courtesy of our local transit agencies:

On the train:
  • Arrive at the Metrolink train station at least 10-15 minutes beforehand to allow time to purchase tickets. Be ready at the platform at least 5 minutes before departure. Stops are brief.
  • Passengers must a have valid ticket or pass prior to boarding the train. Remember, they are not sold on board.
  • Use the handrails while using the stairs or moving around the train car.
  • Listen for your station. Get to know the structure of the rail system beforehand.
  • Check to be sure you have all your belongings before leaving the train.
  • Be ready to exit the train when your stop is approaching. Again, stops are brief.
On the bus:
  • Be at the public or school bus stop 5-10 minutes before the bus is scheduled to depart.
  • If you're riding public transit, watch for your destination. About one block before your stop, ring the "Stop Request" bell by pressing the strip or pulling the cord between the windows.
  • Check to be sure you have all your belongings before you leave.
  • Exit through the rear door whenever possible, especially if other passengers are boarding at the stop.
  • Wait for the bus to depart before crossing the street at any uncontrolled crosswalk unless the bus goes into layover at the stop.
Safety tips:
  • Never run after or next to a moving bus or train.
  • Stand back from the curb or platform edge.
  • Watch your children and hold onto the young ones when the train or bus approaches.
  • Offer the front seats or any other designated spots to senior/disabled riders.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Inland Empire transit and California government waste

The Transit Coalition's future vision of mass transit in the Inland Empire is not an unaffordable dream. It could be a welcoming reality if officials from the local, state, and federal level work together to control unnecessary government waste. The fact of the matter is that state officials up in Sacramento must take the responsibility of getting California's transportation infrastructure to a stable and robust level. We've seen a lot of talk, and to be fair, progress has been made at the local level. However, it is without question that in order for us to have a robust transit system all throughout the Inland Empire and Southern California, state government programs must be streamlined and reformed.

Other states have done it:
As mentioned earlier this week, The Transit Coalition checked out the transportation infrastructure in the Salt Lake City metropolitan area and other regions in the western United States. While taxes are lower in these states, their transit systems are blossoming. By the end of the decade, there will be several options to get around the Salt Lake region between Provo and Ogden.

Go to Laughlin and check out the Needles Highway corridor linking the city with the I-40 freeway. Why is the highway segment through Nevada in far better shape than the California segment? How about the inspection stations travelers pass through as they cross state borders. The Yermo inspection station near Barstow is long overdue to be renovated. In contrast, Utah's freeway port of entry stations utilize modern facilities. Meanwhile, Southern California continues to be mired in some of the worst traffic congestion in the country while residents pay some of the highest taxes.

Tolling our way out of traffic:
There are a number of proposed toll lane projects all throughout Southern California which will serve as money fountains to fund local transportation projects because state money is being displaced elsewhere. The Riverside County Transportation Commission states this:

Some drivers question why tolls are needed, in light of gasoline taxes and retail sales taxes that are charged. In the past, gas taxes were enough to fund transportation improvements. Over time, though, the power of gasoline taxes has eroded. Since 1993, gas taxes have remained the same, with neither federal or state taxes tied to inflation.  In addition, with more fuel efficient vehicles on the road, drivers are paying less and less in gas taxes.

The problem with that statement as California state officials well know is that other states like Utah and Nevada have the resources to expand their transit and highway networks in relation to the population demand. They too have more fuel efficient cars and their fuel taxes are even lower than California's. This is what happens when taxpayer money is not mispent or wasted. As mentioned, congestion pricing in the high occupancy lanes does work, but tolls are no substitute for state transportation tax funding. California's ongoing failure to deal with its transportation network at a statewide level is a disgrace. That can be called NIMBY obstructionism.

It's true that we have an expensive high speed rail project breaking ground in the Central Valley, but the statewide rail network will be just one piece of the pie.

Getting Southern California Moving...
Fair-minded individuals and many at the local level know that there are numerous ways to solve this problem, but our state lacks the courage to stand up for it. Here are some statewide fiscal controversies that need to put into perspective and up for debate and action:
  • Wages: Set public employee wages and benefits to match the salaries and retirement programs offered in the marketplace. Whose going to stand up against the special interests? This is no longer a labor rights issue; we simply cannot afford a continued "Gold Rush" of overpaid positions. Officials need to check out what's going on in the other states and the private sector to stop the waste.
  • Consolidate duplicate agencies. At the local level, Riverside County has the Riverside County Transportation Commission and the Riverside County Transportation Department. Let's debate a potential consolidation. At the state level, why are there multiple separate tax collection agencies? To name a few: The state Board of Equalization, the Franchise Tax Board, and the Employment Development Department.
  • Business-friendly policies: Get businesses to come back and invest in the Golden State to build up the marketplace economy without jeopardizing the environment or disrupting neighborhoods through urban sprawl.  
  • School funding spending: Police the funds going to California schools to ensure that the funding actually reaches the classroom, not a special interest. California taxpayers spend much more per pupil, but just like our transportation system, quality is worse than in several other states.
  • Stopping fraud: Set a zero-tolerance law on fraud with state programs, especially worker's comp. Impose a mandatory floor on prison time for defrauding the state and any of its programs. If the state wants to stop theft of its money, that will stop it.
  • Prisons and jails: Speaking of prisons, give the special interests a "get out of jail free" card and get them out of the system. Reducing expenses by matching salaries to those offered in the marketplace, privatizing facilities and camps would help address California's jailhouse problems and cut waste. Mobile convicts in jail also should be active in some form of non-punitive prison labor so that taxpayers are not giving them free housing and meals.
If public officials want funding, there it is. That's a prime way we can afford to build out our transit infrastructure and rid Southern California of chronic traffic congestion. Debating and adopting these ideas will do it. However, the state as it is now has little will to man up to this situation. Pandering to the special interests seems to be an easier way to do the job.

In the mean time, Southern California is mired in a substandard transportation system. It's long past due to reverse this trend.