Monday, September 30, 2013

Speeding up the slow progress of building true RTA RapidLink service

Several public transportation studies long show that establishing a bus rapid transit alternative for the Magnolia and University Avenue corridors is desirable and feasible. True BRT involves dedicated stops with ticket vending machines, dedicated transit lanes through high density areas, traffic signal priority, 10-15 minute service frequency or better, and early morning to late night service span. Major transfer hubs could also be staffed with teams of volunteer transit ambassadors to assist riders in purchasing tickets and getting them to the right connecting local bus.

The Riverside Transit Agency has been exploring this alternative for a number of years now. The hold-up of getting BRT or even limited stop runs of existing services onto Riverside's streets has long been funding. We really cannot fault either RTA or the Riverside County Transportation Commission on this. Both local agencies are at the mercy of a stubbornly soft Inland Empire economy which provides the local resources. The misspending of transportation dollars at the state level which we pay into also contributes to this madness.

The fact that the cost of public transportation infrastructure is artificially inflated certainly does not help. The State of Indiana, for example estimates that upgrading a railroad crossing with automatic warning devices and gates is about $250,000. Fair enough. Ohio estimates $200,000 per upgrade. In contrast, according the Press Enterprise, Riverside County officials estimate the cost to upgrade a Perris Valley Line rail crossing in Box Springs to be anywhere from $3-$4 million. Even if the surrounding streets required upgrades, that is more than 10 times the cost of a single family home, which requires far more construction labor. We'll take a closer look at the Box Springs railroad crossing drama before making any judgement, but the inflated cost to upgrade the grade crossing is absolutely questionable to say the least.

Also, the City of Riverside must coordinate RTA's RapidLink plans into its Riverside Reconnects project, even if that means using articulated buses as the selected technology in lieu of the streetcar. By the way, here's our take and position on the city's streetcar proposal.

RTA RapidLink funding and proposed phases

Back to BRT. In June, RCTC issued the 2013 Multi-funding Call for Projects (Call) in order to acquire transportation funding from the federal government. RTA reports that available funds from the feds under Call adds up to around $116 million:

• Congestion Management and Air Quality Program (CMAQ): $61 million
• Surface Transportation Program (STP): $52 million
• Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP): $3 million

Money for BRT falls within the CMAQ program. Specifically, the CMAQ program is geared toward transportation projects or programs that are air quality beneficial and provide congestion relief. Hey, shouldn't any major transportation project not contribute toward dirty air and actually address traffic congestion? Anyway, under CMAQ, eligible transportation projects generally include construction activities on highway and arterial capacity enhancements, signal synchronizations, intersection channelization, bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and transit enhancements. BRT is one of these.

RTA staff applied for funding to implement Phase 1 of the RapidLink BRT service...Well, it's not quite BRT just yet, but limited stop service will certainly provide a speedy alternative to slow local bus rides to get across town by bus. The Phase 1 service involves launching peak hour limited-stop bus runs that would operate concurrently with Route 1 between UCR and the Galleria at Tyler bus transfer hub. Here's a map of the proposed route and stop locations.

Under Phase 1, the limited-stop service would serve 15 stops in each direction during peak rush hours as compared to 55 stops in each direction on the local Route 1 between UCR and the Galleria at Tyler. Service will start at 5:30 a.m. and continue through 8:30 for the morning rush hour and from 2:30 p.m. - 5:30 p.m. in the afternoon. The interval between limited stop buses would be 15 minutes. RTA predicts Phase 1 will start in January 2015 pending a public comment period. The agency reports that Route 1 records 7,586 weekday daily boardings, far above the system-wide weekday average of 822 weekday daily boardings among 40 routes which excludes the trolley circulator routes.

Phase 2 extends the limited stop services west to the Corona Transit Center with additional runs during off-peak hours.

Phase 3 would involve all day service implementation on weekdays from downtown Riverside to the Corona Transit Center with additional transit stop amenities, similar to OCTA's Bravo! limited stop runs of Route 43 along the Harbor Boulevard corridor.

Speeding up and getting true BRT onto Riverside's streets

As we've mentioned, a priority for both local elected officials and the state is to encourage the private sector marketplace to invest back into the Magnolia and University Avenue corridors with the jobs that go with it. The state must also stop bowing to the will of labor unions which inflates infrastructure costs. Voters need to hold those in power accountable. These solutions are absolutely necessary to help speed up the slow process of getting true BRT into the dense areas of Riverside County which would transport a productive labor workforce.

Under the current economic and political climate, RTA is forced to restrict its Route 1 corridor upgrades to peak hour limited-stop runs for now. Certainly limited stop bus service costs less than a fully implemented BRT service such as LA Metro's Orange Line and portions of the sbX BRT. However if the state demands its public infrastructure costs to not exceed marketplace rates and as more private investments come back to Riverside with both the entry-level and high paying marketplace jobs that go with them, should they, true BRT would come at faster rate.

RTA and the City of Riverside would then be able to quickly upgrade high density transportation corridors like Route 1 complete with true BRT stop amenities, dedicated transit lanes through dense areas, traffic signal priority, and frequent 10-15 minute service from early morning to late night including weekends by 2015. RapidLink would not just be peak-hour limited stop runs Route 1. That's a rapid reality.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Transportation Tips: Check the facts twice!

Today's transportation tip is a lesson for all us: Check the facts twice!

On Wednesday, we've posted a blog commentary on protecting public school children in comparison to the flurry of bills passed by the state legislature. It took several hours of volunteer man hours to research the stories, piece together the facts and state our thesis which we believed to be fair policy. When the post was first published in the morning, we've mentioned that one bill, SB 131, which would increase the statute of limitations for young adults abused as children to file lawsuits against private organizations would not apply to claims filed against actual criminals. Wrong.

Thanks to a tip a few hours later, just before we were to share the post on Twitter and Facebook, we digged deeper into the actual legal analysis of SB 131 as volunteer laymen and found that our original research was based on faulty news data. The California Council of Nonprofit Organizations for example said the bill "gives civil immunity from prosecution to the actual perpetrators of child sex abuse." and this similar opinion piece reported likewise. We therefore assumed that this was correct. However, the official bill analysis suggests otherwise. Under the comments of the need to revive time-barred claims, the document states this:

This bill would extend the statute of limitations for bringing  
an action based on childhood sex abuse to 43 years of age, and  
also allow a victim to bring a action within five years from the  
day a mental health practitioner communicates the causal  
connection between the injury occuring as an adult and the  
sexual abuse experienced as a child, whichever occurs later.   
This bill would apply these time limits retroactively, and  
create a one year window in which victims who are over the age  
of 43 but made the required causal connection after 2004, may  
bring a claim.  This one year window should allow individuals,  
like the Quarry brothers, who are over the maximum age allowed  
by the statute of limitations, but who made the causal  
connection after the one year window created by SB 1779 (Burton  
and Escutia, Ch. 149, Stats. 2002), to bring a case against an  
abuser or third party (see Background). 

It should be noted that the revival of actions against  
perpetrators or third parties only assures that a claim would be  
heard on its merits.  Any other applicable defense would not be  
affected, and plaintiffs would still have to prove all elements  
of their case.

So, according to the state government, SB 131 would extend the time limits for a victim to file a suit against a specific criminal. So here's the lesson for all of us. Always double check the facts before making a statement, and correct and admit whenever a fact is stated in error. As human beings, we all make mistakes, even the folks who report the news. Heck, even the official analysis stated above had a typo with the word "occurring" spelled with one "r".

We know such mistakes are embarrassing and annoying because many concerned citizens and top leaders who follow The Transit Coalition depend on our fact-based positions to be accurate.

By the way, we've got a big reaction from our analysis of SB 131 from readers and it appears there is a strong debate flowing in from both sides; so please continue to post comments directly to this blog or provide us tips to sources. For the record, we did not take a formal yes/no position on this bill as a transit advocacy group, but we are doing what we can to expose both its merits and its issues into the court of public opinion as the outcome will affect all of us. The response has been tremendous and the debate productive. Please continue to post constructive comments on this topic and any other policy matters you may run across.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tale of an old Christmas tree farm in the Badlands

The Transit Coalition ran across a very minor, but interesting piece of recent history during a study. We were looking at the satellite aerial imagery of the 60 Freeway corridor through the Badland hills in between Moreno Valley and Beaumont and checking out what kinds of rail and highway work would need to be done to prevent this freeway from being congested or bottlenecking at either end of the wildlife corridor should the World Logistics Center warehouse hub proposal in Moreno Valley become real. During the study, we ran across something that appeared natural but was actually planted by man not too long ago.

On the south side of the expressway portion of Highway 60 just east of the Jack Rabbit Trail intersection, there are some rural properties with sections of naturally growing pine trees. These pines are actually not part of the natural ecosystem nor simple landscaping, but are healthy trees that were left to grow from an old Christmas tree farm. In the late 1980's through the 90's, one of our volunteers who was a child back then passed through the Badlands regularly and remembered when the farm was in its robust state. A 2011 Google Street View snapshot currently shows an old Christmas tree farm entry sign posted at the property gate. Today, the farm is out of business, but the pine trees themselves continue to grow, mature and have become adapted to the natural ecosystem given the presence of a nearby creek and plenty of groundwater.

The groves are on private property and cannot be visited without permission from the owners, but if you ride along through this area regularly or take bus Route 35, 210 or 220, take a peak over on the south side of the 60 just east of Jack Rabbit Trail and take note of a small, but growing Inland Empire pine tree ecosystem several years in the making with each tree originally destined to end up in the living rooms of the Inland Empire.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Protecting the Inland Empire's school children from abuse

Last Friday, we called on those who are in the position of raising children to resolve to take full responsibility of them in order to keep them out of the gang, crime and drug cultures which now plague significant portions of the Inland Empire. Parents, guardians and teachers have a serious obligation to provide for the needs of these children so they can grow up, learn the skills to be a productive worker and compete in the American marketplace, and become responsible and selfless leaders when they assume a position of authority.

It is becoming evident that many in the state legislature and several public labor union leaders are supporting policies that harm public school children. They have backed several examples of state legislation which do not hold public sector employees who commit child abuse crimes fully accountable. As a transit advocate, that is absolutely unacceptable. As illustrated in the A Better Inland Empire logo, we advocate for policies that will bring the Inland Empire to economic prosperity free from corruption with a first-rate transportation system in a pollution-free environment, not only for ourselves but also for our children who will be our future leaders. That means getting behind legislation that hold child abuse criminals accountable and protecting innocent kids.

A disgraceful act and trivial regulatory obstructions in the public schools

In January, 2011, this man, former Miramonte
Elementary teacher Mark Berndt, was
accused of abusing his students.
In January, 2011, former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt was accused of abusing his students, feeding his own semen to 23 innocent school children while teaching at Miramonte Elementary School under the Los Angeles Unified School District.

The disgraceful evidence of this crime is overwhelming. According to an LA Weekly blog post, investigators confiscated over 400 photos of the in-class lewd acts, which authorities believed to have recurred over a two-year period between 2008 and 2010.

When presented with such evidence like that, both the school district's human resource office and the principal should have been able to immediately fire Berndt and hold him criminally liable for such actions. That would have been the just and right thing to do. Unfortunately, LAUSD was politically strapped from doing so.

According the LA Weekly, Berndt was immediately removed from the classroom, but the LAUSD didn't officially fire him until March no thanks to a mandatory 45-day notice period. Also under trivial rules, the accused criminal appealed the termination. In the end, the school district was forced to give Berndt a $40,000 payout just to convince him to drop the appeal and accept resignation. These trivial obstructions to remove an accused offender can be blamed on a complex teacher discipline system put together by the teacher unions. To be fair, investigators did instruct LAUSD not to conduct a duplicate investigation which may have contributed to the termination chaos, but that is no excuse to strip LAUSD or the school principal of the authority to immediately suspend Berndt without pay pending the results of such a serious investigation involving 23 children. Right now, the accused teacher is being held in jail. He has pleaded not guilty in court and his bail is set at $23 million.

The situation gets worse. This week the LAUSD was forced to hand out $27 million in settlements to victims to settle dozens of court claims. News reports indicate that the money will actually go to victims. Without question, victims should certainly be compensated for such crimes. However, this dole out came out of LAUSD's general fund, which means the good people of Los Angeles are forced to pay for Berndt's alleged crimes. LAUSD is trying to recoup some of the money from insurance, but why does it not have the power to work with law enforcement and file restitution charges in court against Berndt?

A disturbing response from the legislature

In 2012, inspired by this horrific incident and the political circus that continues to this very day, California Senator Bob Huff introduced state legislation that would give school districts more power to fire individuals accused of such criminal activity. SB 1059 passed in the Senate, but it died in the Assembly due to pressure from the California Teachers Association and other unions. The special interests claimed that SB 1059 would have taken away the teachers’ constitutional right to a fair hearing in order to confront their accusers. That is a big lie. The Founding Fathers never placed such rights into the law of the land, but have established the judicial branch to deal with such matters. SB 1059 does not abridge a teacher's right to file a wrongful dismissal claim in court, the proper forum to counter frivolous terminations should a public employee and the human resources office fail to resolve a conflict. However, union-pandering legislators thought otherwise.

The defeat of SB 1059 was a disgrace which caused public backlash; so the legislature passed AB 375 this year which awaits the Governor's signature. The bill reforms some teacher dismissal procedures but still falls well short of what SB 1059 would have done to protect school children from predators. According the San Diego Union Tribune, the bill would actually grant more job protections which led its editorial board to oppose the legislation.

The final bill, if signed into law, does nothing to protect innocent children in our public schools who are our future of San Bernardino and Riverside counties. That is absolutely disgraceful.

Discriminatory public-sector exemptions of SB 131

Bring in SB 131. This law would allow lawyers of victims to file lawsuits against private organizations for child abuse cases where the statute of limitations had expired. It's no question that abuse victims should receive restitution toward damage recovery and the law would buy them time to build up a case as mature adults. However, the bill exempts public schools and other government agencies from such litigation thanks to public employee union pandering. This is outright discriminatory. Where's the protection of our public school children from predatory teachers in this bill?

For the record we do not oppose this bill outright, but feel both its merits and issues need to be exposed. To be fair, according to the official legislative analysis report, SB 131 also extends the time limits for victims to sue against the actual individual abuser, but in 1998 and 2002, similar time limit extension laws were passed. It was AB 1651 in 2002 that targeted private organizations as a whole which created a furry of lawsuits. The law allowed victims to sue a whole organization for damages beyond age 26 with a one year window whenever some corrupt leader inside was covering up child abuse crime. The 2002 law didn't target the necessarily target criminals nor those who abusively covered up, but the private organizations as a whole. That means, victims can sue for damage restitution, but innocent donors and sponsors may end up paying the bill, not those who committed the crime.

Last decade, these child abuse lawsuits filed against organizations flooded the courtrooms of California. Today, many of these court cases have been settled between victims and the offender--Correction--the offender's organization and its donors. Billions have been paid out by the non-profit sector to the suing parties, a significant portion of which didn't even go to the victims, but to the lawyers. The situation allowed for attorneys to profit from private organizations' treasuries funded by donors who played no roll in this disgraceful criminal activity. Do we really need a repeat of this entire fiasco?

Because of these flaws, many private groups are opposing the bill and have strong and legit reasons to back up their position. The California Council of Nonprofit Organizations poured $258,000 into fighting the bill. However, some in the media are not reporting all of the facts, causing the public to brand such organizations as child-haters for opposing SB 131. Here's how the Los Angeles Times and the Huffington Post spun it; click on the links to read how these outlets reported the story and how the readers responded. On the other side, this Sacramento Bee opinion piece shows that SB 131 won’t allow lawsuits to be revived against the actual perpetrator of abuse – just his or her employer. Upon further review, that is incorrect. The bill would extend the statute of limitations for suits against actual criminals with the information buried in the official legal analysis.

Read more here:

It's without question that the offending criminals, pedophiles and those who willfully cover up such acts must be held accountable. Corrupt leaders in many organizations have gravely messed up, especially those in the Roman Catholic Church. The offenders must be ousted from their jobs, serve mandatory jail time and pay restitution to the victims out of their own pockets. That's fair legislation. However there is no reason to throw out a whole organization with the flawed leaders; Judas was an apostle. Today, many organizations take responsibility for such criminal activity. Most churches have implemented child protection policies such as banning Sunday school classes and clergy appointments in private homes. Volunteers and employees who work with children are subject to criminal background checks. Some organizations go as far to train such people to be mandated reporters. Do we really need to penalize such entities for that?

Is SB 131 really about protecting children by bringing those who commit or cover up such horrible crimes to justice, or are the union leaders and lawyers looking to make even more money by putting a financial strain on the non-profit sector? You be the judge.

Again, for the record, we do not outright oppose this bill, but its legal loopholes need to be brought up for discussion in the court of public opinion.

Protecting our children from the political fiscal fiasco

In fairness, California workers need protection from labor abuse; that's why they have a right to organize into a labor union. We are also in no way dissenting good and productive honest labor by hardworking teachers and those who work in the public sector. However, there is no question that many of today's union leaders are making huge sums of money paid for by the state taxpayer and the dues-paying worker. Abuse has allowed greedy leaders to buy spots in the legislature through lavish donations to politicians which have given the special interests indirect power to dictate state policy and has thus crippled the California Republic. Californians therefore have to put up with high taxes, a poor transportation network, unfriendly business regulations, and a system that holds very little accountability for public workers who abuse our children. Who exactly is running the state?

Take Action!

The madness taking place in Sacramento is a disgrace to democracy. It's time for the people of the State of California follow the example of the what the good folks in Moreno Valley are doing to reclaim their republic. It's now time to rise up against this political corruption that is harming innocent children and their future.

For the record: A previous version of the blog post incorrectly mentioned SB 131 would not extend the statute of limitations for suits against actual criminals based on faulty resource data. Upon further review of the official legislative analysis, the time limits do apply.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The RTA route maps have become easier to understand

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
Some time ago, about four years ago to be exact, The Transit Coalion in this report asked RTA to consider making their bus route maps published in the Ride Guide more complete and easier for an everyday rider to understand. Back then, we analyzed the graphical layout and design of the published bus route maps.

Including the freeways and major streets on the individual bus route maps certainly would make them more clearer to understand. We've noted that the bus agency adopted some of the suggestions we made back in 2009 for the September 2013 bus service change. See for yourself in the Ride Guide.

Other basic ideas that we've suggested to RTA in order to make the bus system more understandable includes the renumbering of the bus routes based on the type of route it is. Such a move won't break the bank and such a proposal was recommended back in 2007 through a comprehensive operational analysis study. Here's a potential route classification system with some example routes:

Conceptual RTA Bus Route numbering system with example routes:
Some of the example routes listed include lines that are conceptual or are RTA COA-recommended in 2007, but not in service. Do not use for RTA trip planning!

Local/Trunk Routes: 1-99
             Route 1 - Corona - Downtown Riverside - UCR local
             Route 16 - Downtown Riverside - Moreno Valley local
Community shuttles and circulators: 100-199
             Route 133 - Hemet Ladybug circulator
             Route 108 - Lake Elsinore Grand Avenue connector
Express Routes: 200-299
             Route 202 - Murrieta - Oceanside CommuterLink
             Route 206 - Temecula - Lake Elsinore - Corona CommuterLink
Inter-regional Connectors and Local+Express Hybrid Routes: 400-499
             Route 403 - Lake Elsinore - Corona - Eastvale
             Route 431 - Pass Area - Moreno Valley - Downtown Riverside
             Route 479 - Temecula - Hemet
Metrolink Station Rail Feeders and Special Routes: 600-699
             Route 650 - Downtown Riverside Jury Shuttle
             Route 651 - UC Riverside Crest Cruiser
             Route 655 - Harveston Trolley Shuttle
Limited Stop / Rapid: 700-799
             Route 701 - Corona - Downtown Riverside - UCR
             Route 716 - Downtown Riverside - UCR - Moreno Valley
             Route 719 - Moreno Valley - Perris
             Route 723 - Lake Elsinore - Temecula - Pechanga Resort
Rapid Express Service: 900-999
via 91 Express Lanes, San Diego County I-15 Express Lanes, and future RCTC I-15 High Occupancy Tolled Express Lanes
             Route 915 - Lake Elsinore - Corona - Fullerton
             Route 917 - Murrieta - Escondido - La Jolla
             Route 991 - Riverside Downtown - Corona - Anaheim ARTIC

Monday, September 23, 2013

Temecula Valley's I-15 Freeway upgrades, rapid transit and the Ultimate Interchange

Proposed: New interchange design at the I-15 Freeway
and Temecula Parkway.

Concept: Direct access ramp linking conceptual dual 2+ carpool lanes with a FasTrak toll option for solo drivers in the area of the I-15 Freeway and Temecula Parkway. The DAR links the express lanes with a conceptual transit station to the west and an officially proposed park & ride to the east.
Drivers and transit riders who regularly pass through Temecula along the southbound side of the I-15 freeway are well aware of long off ramp traffic queues which often spill over onto the freeway at the city's three exits: Winchester Road, Rancho California Road, and Temecula Parkway.

The Temecula Parkway exit is by far the most hazardous as the off ramp lacks an auxiliary lane which causes the long lines to back up into the far right general purpose lane. Sometimes the backup spans a whole mile. With a curve along the freeway just a half mile north of the offramp, the hazard is serious. Traffic in the far right lane cruising along at 70 mph will often, without warning, see the lane come to a dead halt, leaving drivers little time to react. The area has been the site of numerous traffic collisions. The hazard has also created a minor traffic bottleneck.

The City of Temecula has moved one step closer toward breaking ground on restructuring this congested and hazardous freeway interchange located on the southern end of town, a project long overdue. According to the city, construction would require the relocation of utility, water and sewer lines through an existing Arco gas station. The city therefore negotiated a purchase of the property for $5 million. The city also reported that this construction is dubbed "ultimate" with the expectation that this will be the final interchange upgrade and the new configuration is expected to be able to handle growing traffic volumes until 2030. The project also includes re-striping Temecula Parkway to four lanes in each direction between the freeway and Pechanga Parkway.

Concept: An extension of Bedford Court from Temecula Parkway serves as a direct access ramp to potential high occupancy toll lanes along the I-15 through Temecula. Numerous casino buses and future public express buses would utilize it. A transit station on the opposite side of the freeway would cater to connecting RTA buses and potential local high speed rail toward Los Angeles to the north and San Diego to the south. A gateway into the Santa Margarita Ecological Reserve would also support the transit station and serve as a tourist stop.
We believe this area, let alone the freeway itself, will be seeing more projects to come. Therefore, upgrades are far from over. Pictured here, the Coalition is exploring the possibility of an additional interchange add-on at Temecula Parkway that would cater to high occupancy vehicle traffic, carpools, vanpools, future express buses, casino buses headed to the Pechanga Resort, and solo motorists willing to tax themselves into a carpool lane.

Concept: Dual 2+ Carpool lanes with a FasTrak toll option for solo drivers with the existing 4 general purpose lanes along the I-15 Freeway through Temecula.
With major high density development proposals planned along the western side of the freeway through Temecula, the freeway could very well use a set of dual high occupancy 2+ carpool lanes in each direction with express bus infrastructure which would seamlessly connect San Diego County's I-15 Express Lanes system to the south with the the proposed Riverside County Transportation Commission I-15 high occupancy tolled express lane network to the north. The conceptual Temecula-to-Elsinore HOV 2+ segment would also include direct access ramps to future transit stations near the Promenade Mall area, the Golden Triangle area or other selected spot for the RTA Twin Cities Transit Center, downtown Wildomar, and downtown Lake Elsinore. The lanes would also permit solo drivers to buy their way in by paying a toll with their FasTrak transponder. As we have been campaigning and as demonstrated by San Diego's system, all 2+ HOV's would travel free without a need to preregister for a transponder.

As much as officials want to designate the Temecula Parkway interchange upgrade as "ultimate," it certainly will not be the area's final infrastructure upgrade to come, especially with the projected growth in Temecula's west side.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Friday Tips: Honor Righteous Authority

Last week, the Friday transportation tip was "Question Authority." As Americans, it is a patriotic duty to question those in power whenever one suspects the government or a special interest is abusing its authority and not honoring the values of the people they are supposed to represent. Bring such matters into the court of public opinion for debate. The situation happening in Moreno Valley, exploiting CEQA law to capitalize on the Perris Valley Line, and the abusive federal financial fiasco at the U.S. Department of Labor under President Obama are a prime examples. There is positively nothing wrong with having constructive debates on controversies, but there is a line between questioning authority in the public arena and becoming outright disrespectful and disobedient.

Drawing the line

It is an absolute fact that every person living today is under some type of authority and it is our duty and responsibility to obey everything that is righteous and lawful to this authority. Yes, we and many fair-minded individuals would like to see the mandatory peak hour tolls and FasTrak transponder mandate abolished for 3+ carpools on the 91 Express Lanes with its outstanding debt paid off through tax revenue under a robust economy and responsible state fiscal policy. However, here's where the line is drawn. Even though, we at The Transit Coalition question OCTA's toll lane usage policies, we will continue to obey the rules and mount the FasTrak transponder before using the 3+ high occupancy lane to bypass traffic congestion.

Likewise, the good folks in Moreno Valley are exposing potential abuse and developer pandering in City Hall. They are taking the matter to the public square through peaceful protests and social media. Their message is clear: "No" to worsened pollution. "No" to urban sprawl. However, the line in this example which should never be crossed is obstructing traffic during protesting or infusing personal attacks or threats on Facebook. Thankfully, the residents are behaving themselves and we've not ran into any major reported incident.

On the other side, elected politicians also have the responsibility to honor the values of the people they represent. Judges have the responsibility of interpreting the law impartially. Californians should hold those in power accountable by their votes at elections and the power to recall fundamentalist politicians and biased state judges.

Lastly a tip for those who are raising children:

Resolve to take full responsibility of your children and youth to keep them out of the gang, crime and drug cultures. Be their leader, protector and their provider. Spend more time with them and be with them throughout their lives. Teach them to honor righteous authority through proper discipline. Be a mentor for a child who lacks caring parents, especially to children who lack fathers. Work smartly to provide for the needs of these children so they can grow up, learn the skills to compete in the American marketplace, and become responsible and selfless leaders when they assume a position of authority.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

AB 1290: California Transportation Commission reform for the right reasons

A state transportation bill awaits the Governor's signature which would affect a major state transportation agency. The California Transportation Commission (CTC) is responsible for the programming and allocating of state funds for the construction of highway, passenger rail and transit improvements throughout California.  According to the transportation advocacy group TransForm, the CTC is the only state transportation body that holds regular public hearings of where the state should allocate transportation funds. AB 1290 will restructure the CTC and add pedestrian and bicycle projects as transportation modes eligible for state funding.

We and many informed individuals understand that state public works infrastructure projects often have artificially inflated price tags, no thanks to bloated labor salaries which exceed the market rate. California's dismal highway conditions reflect that. Look at the chronic traffic congestion along the 91 Freeway into Orange County. Calculate how long it would take to get through West Los Angeles at 4 pm. Try to find a sidewalk or a bike lane and count the number of cracks along Highway 74 west of Hemet through Green Acres and Homeland. Let's not even mention the inflated price tags for the Oakland Bay Bridge eastern span and the California high speed rail project which have caused concerned citizens to come into the public arena and voice opposition. As mentioned, California's ongoing failure to deal with its transportation network and the artificially inflated infrastructure costs at a statewide level is a disgrace.

A first look into AB 1290

Let's take a first look at the proposed law. The important bill would modernize CTC. AB 1290 certainly is not the answer to the misspending of transportation money and won't necessarily make infrastructure projects more affordable, but will give CTC some more decision making power to allocate state transportation funding toward additional multi modal options including bicycle and pedestrian travel. Governor Brown has pushed for the CTC to have more control over such transportation options. The Coalition has noted locally that local pedestrians and cyclists utilize State Highway 74 west of Hemet, but the road lacks sidewalks and bike lanes. For a pedestrian to get between the Riverside Downtown train station and the downtown core, one has to undergo a circuitous journey around the 91 Freeway.

AB 1290 would modernize the CTC by adding new members with a focus on sustainability, and integrating new climate pollution reduction policies into its mission of official responsibilities. Sounds like the bill has a connection with the climate change debate. As mentioned, man-made global warming is still a hot debatable topic; there are valid facts on both sides of the issue from both scientists and meteorologists. However, it is no question that we have to continue to take a serious stand on pollution and traffic congestion.

Simply put: Breathing dirty air is destructive to life. Let's work together to make the planet cleaner.

Modernizing the California Transportation Commission

Having multi modal transportation options goes beyond climate change and cleaner air. The reasons are obvious. Having sidewalks and bicycle lanes to transverse locally along Highway 74 west of Hemet outside of the car is sound policy in the name of safety. Having an option of taking a train into downtown Riverside, being able to get off it and walk over the 91 Freeway into downtown core would eliminate the necessity of driving into this dense area, and thus cut down on traffic and parking lot congestion. How about extending the Colton Avenue bikeway over the I-215 freeway into downtown San Bernardino, again for the safety of bicycle commuters?

Although AB 1290 may have been written in the name of climate change, having options to get around other than a car is vital. Having the option to allocate state funds to the projects mentioned warrants its support.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Disposable Home Appliances, Safety and Pollution

It is a disturbing fact that many household appliances have now become disposables. In the past, when an appliance breaks down, it gets repaired. What's troubling now is that repair costs are so expensive that users find it more affordable to purchase a brand new appliance than to have the broken one fixed; thus more refrigerators, ovens, dishwashers, stove tops, coffee makers, and washing machines end up in the trash.

The amount of e-waste is so high that it has become an industry of itself. Numerous resources are being spent to handle the recycling of such waste. However, much of that "recycling" involves the demanufacturing of the product. Without strict regulations and safety procedures for protection, such labor is damaging to both the worker and the environment. Worse yet, recycling companies are finding that the cheapest way to demanufacture broken appliances is to ship them to third world countries where protective safeguards are not existent.


The evidence of pollution from disassembling appliances is overwhelming, but here's the stat. According the textbook Principles of Environmental Science, taught in California's colleges and universities, groundwater and surface water contamination in China's demanufacturing areas alone are found to be as much as 200 times dirtier than what the World Health Organization considers safe.

It gets worse. A significant portion of the very cargo ships that are used to haul our consumables from developing countries which may include the very vessels that export our natural resources and electronics waste to China are dangerously demanufactured by boys and teenagers in Bangladesh. The groundwater has to be polluted beyond belief, but worse yet, such workers are regularly injured and killed under the dangerous conditions.

The Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights is credited for exposing that colossal scheme back in 2009. When presented with such shocking evidence like that, repairing and reusing such ships, the broken television set, desktop printer, or rice cooker might not be such a bad environmental and economic idea after all. We are now living in a disposable culture and the environmental and safety costs are grave even with the recycling programs. If every living person in the world lived like us, the entire globe would be flooded in such contamination. Have Congress, President Obama and the union-pandering U.S. Department of Labor cracked down on this maltreatment of workers?

Repair and Reuse

So what exactly makes repair costs so expensive? In many cases, the spare parts are proprietary or outsourced. Therefore, many parts are simply not available at your local Home Depot. What's worse is that many cases of broken appliances center around faulty electronic control panels, whereas the rest of the hardware works perfectly. Replacing such proprietary parts such as the computer microchip would be too expensive and therefore near impossible for the user. So, throwing out the whole unit and replacing it with a another one is the only option left. The cycle normally would repeat itself well before the next decade.

Today, there is certainly a market demand for a return to appliances and electronics that are not only user repairable, but also last for decades at a time. Many people are fed up with the disposable culture. The fact is that if appliances are built to last, less would end up in the trash and fewer units would have to be demanufactured. The question is what exactly is preventing start up companies from introducing such premium products into the marketplace? It's true that many companies capitalize on the sales of brand new complete units, but why not profit from the spare parts or on the repair guy? It's certainly doable. Look at commercial-quality machines. Look at the Odyssey Electronic Validating Farebox found on a transit bus near you. How about electronic traffic control systems like the stop light? Profits can still be made with premium quality appliances.
"Energy Star Plus" Concept:
A powerful sell item toward
appliance buyers looking for
long lasting products that can
be easily repaired.

Tax Incentive: "Energy Star Plus"

Many appliances today carry the Energy Star logo. The famous symbol is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency voluntary program that provides an incentive to manufacture and sell clean and energy efficient electronics. The star has been a powerful sell item toward buyers. If one sees the seal on an appliance, he/she knows the machine won't drive up the utility bill. However, because most machines cannot be repaired by the user let alone a professional repairman, the Energy Star symbol becomes absolutely meaningless whenever a breakdown occurs and the appliance has to be thrown out.

Perhaps Congress should authorize the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to implement a second incentive program called the "Energy Star Plus" with the tagline "Long lasting with user repairable parts." This powerful seal combined with a tax rebate would incline manufacturers to get back into the business of manufacturing durable appliances that can be easily repaired.

The incentive includes the requirements needed for an Energy Star seal, but would also entice manufacturers to design and develop long lasting appliances with common user repairable parts and open source circuit board firmware which can be easily replaced should they fail or break. This would include spare user repairable microchips, electronic components, display screens, and buttons for easy repair of defective appliance circuit boards. Such common spare parts would be sold all throughout the marketplace with plenty of competition to keep quality high and prices low. The man of the house would once again be able to fix broken down machinery. Servicing jobs would be created as both supply and demand for affordable appliance repair would significantly rise. E-waste pollution would be significantly reduced. Deaths and injuries in developing nations caused by unprotected demanufacturing would drop. What's the hold up?

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Detecting defective FasTraks along HOT lanes that support free non-transponder carpooling

The Transit Coalition ran across an excellent question about the We want toll lanes done right campaign, a project where we're advocating for free non-transponder carpooling for the 91 Express Lanes and along proposed Inland Empire high occupancy toll lanes for I-15 and I-10. The question deals with defective FasTrak transponders along tolled express lanes that support free non-transponder carpooling. What would happen if a solo driver wants to buy his/her way into a HOT lane system that supports free non-transponder carpooling, follows the rules of mounting a FasTrak transponder on the windshield, but unknowingly has a defective transponder that won't get read by the overhead toll antennas?

That's a great question, and on the surface it might appear to be a red flag toward supporting free non-transponder carpooling in the toll lane network. In HOT lane corridors that mandate transponders for carpoolers like the 91 Express Lanes and LA's Metro ExpressLanes, photo enforcement systems ensure that tolls are collected for any vehicles that pass through with a defective FasTrak. Cameras take the picture of the license plate of any vehicle that does not have a transponder. If the license plate happened to belong to a preregistered vehicle, the toll amount is automatically deducted from the patron's account; otherwise, the vehicle owner will get a toll payment violation notice in the mail.

Addressing the issue of defective FasTrak transponders in HOT Lanes

For HOT lane systems that support free non-transponder carpooling like San Diego County and Bay Area corridors, if the toll antennas don't detect a working FasTrak, the system assumes that the vehicle is a free carpool. So, that leaves an issue of solo drivers who follow the rules of the road but are not paying the toll.

There are three ways address this, each using intelligence driven enforcement methods. First, prevention measures would include the regular rotation of FasTrak transponders and proper maintenance of the toll antennas.

Secondly, the overhead toll antennas combined with other traffic cameras along the corridor could be set up in a way to visually detect defective transponders. If one is found, the license plate number would be photographed and agency staff would review the case in confidence. If necessary, the account holder would be asked to exchange the FasTrak transponders for no additional charge.

Lastly, the CHP would visually check for the presence of a transponder for non-carpoolers combined with using remote mobile transponder readers to check for its functionality and account status. If a FasTrak is properly mounted, but not functional, the officer would pull the motorist over and validate the FasTrak account using the transponder's ID number. If a valid toll account from any FasTrak agency is found, the account is simply billed by the officer, data collected from traffic cameras would determine the toll amount, and the account holder would be asked to replace the defective tag. The driver is then free to go. If the FasTrak is not linked to any valid account, the driver is issued a carpool violation ticket. Any counterfeit, altered or fake transponders would also be confiscated and used as evidence toward the carpool violation ticket. Those are ways to solve this problem without having to mandate transponder accounts for toll free carpools.

Separating the toll traffic from carpools near the toll antennas

The I-25 HOT lane system in Denver which supports free non-transponder carpooling separates the toll traffic from free carpoolers at the overhead toll antennas. Toll paying solo drivers who drive in the tolled lane and pass through without a working EXpressToll transponder will have their license plate photographed with a bill sent in the mail. The separated HOV lane is a dedicated carpool lane; solo drivers caught in the lane will have a chat with law enforcement.

This method of enforcement works with Denver and could also work with the Inland Empire's HOT lane system. The challenge is predicting and keeping track of the number carpools and toll paying traffic to determine if additional lanes need to built to prevent bottlenecking and control lane weaving.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Californians have to wait again

The 2013 state legislative session concluded last Friday with the Legislature scheduled to reconvene January 6, 2014. Generally, the state government has once again failed to pass legislation that will allow the private sector to improve the state's market economy and the state's spending spree under the will of labor groups continues. Between the state and local governments, Californians owe nearly $850 billion in debt, and that figure will likely top $1 trillion according to a report by The California Public Policy Center if the public wage and pension madness continues in the state.

That debt can never be paid off or controlled under the current economic and political climate no matter how high taxes are increased. In August, we've called for the state to take action on this spending fiasco problem by passing fair and sound legislation. Trivial regulations have sapped marketplace economic expansion. Government misspending and high public employee salaries have led to overpriced and delayed transportation infrastructure and operations. Both controversies place heavy obstructions on getting Southern California moving with a first-rate transit system. So what kinds of bills did the Legislature actually send to Governor Jerry Brown? How did the lawmakers fare in solving our transportation problems from the state level? Let's take a look at few:

CEQA Reform - Under current law, loopholes in the landmark legislation allow just about anybody with a lawyer to send any major development project to court whether or not such development would actually negate the environment. This undoubtedly inflates costs.

Guess what? Significant reform will have to wait until 2014. Instead, the state approved special favor legislation that would speed up the judicial review process of any lawsuits filed specifically against the replacement of an NBA sports arena in Sacramento. To be fair, the new arena will serve as a replacement venue from the existing Sleep Train Arena and the facility will be developed in the downtown area. We'll take a closer look at this project before making a judgment, but granting special favors and exemptions in general is certainly not fair public policy. By the way, local officials in Riverside County requested a similar favor when the Metrolink Perris Valley Line was stalled in court; that never became law. 

Wage Reform and California's Market Economy - We've called on the state to seriously reform public employee wages and pensions to match salaries offered in the marketplace. We've pushed for the state to support legislation that would allow the private sector to invest in the state's economy without directly dumping any public money into the marketplace. That would have increased the value of worker wages and benefits. A strong labor workforce fuels our transportation systems with the resources needed to operate. Such policy would be a win-win for both businesses and their workers. Did the state and unions propose productive legislation like that?

Nope. Instead, the state approved a bill that would hike California's minimum wage to $10 per hour by 2016 in a vain attempt to prop up the economy. Brown reported that he would sign the bill into law. To be fair, many working Californians will see an increase in take home pay and may be inclined to spend more. Although it looks fine on the surface, the value of the wage dollar will only go up under a robust economy and the abundance of marketplace jobs. Under the current political climate and job market, that's not going to happen. Instead, Californians are going to see the dollar further inflated and devalued if nothing is done to improve the state economy.

To make up for the losses, businesses are going to have to increase their prices or cut positions. That's a reality. Just wait and see how much you'll be paying for a Big Mac a few years from now. Also, with the devalued dollar in the state, fed up Californians and businesses may simply move out.

The state had better whip up some plans to make California a better place to do business and fast. The state needs to cut out trivial state regulations so that the wage hike doesn't worsen a soft state economy nor cause a cost hike of already overpriced transportation infrastructure projects. Specifically, California will need to get its economic level to match the robust economic times of 1968 where the value of a $2-per-hour federal minimum wage spiked over $10 in today's currency. This must be done without inducing pollution, urban sprawl, traffic congestion, or corporate corruption. You want a high minimum wage? That's how it's going to work for the economy. In fairness, the state did pass modest public pension reforms last year and is fighting to keep the legislation active in federal court. However, much more must be done to get California's economy back to a robust state. 

Clean Air - On the pollution front, things aren't so bad. China's top climate negotiator and Brown signed a Memorandum of Understanding on Friday to combat dirty Chinese air. The MOU does reference heavily on global warming, still a debatable topic, but the fact is that China's pollution remains at disastrous and unhealthful levels and must be controlled. The focus certainly should be about protecting the lives and the health of the Chinese with clean air, especially given that much of our consumables are manufactured there. We'll see if this MOU does anything to clean up China's disgraceful air quality.

We'll continue to analyze what's happening up in Sacramento and see how the proposed laws will impact the future of Inland Empire mass transit. However, it generally looks like fair and sound legislation to fix California's transportation system with a strong and productive marketplace labor workforce is going to have to wait again.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Transportation Tips: Question Authority

One of the countless blessings we have as United States citizens is the freedom to peacefully question authority under the 1st Amendment. The good folks in Moreno Valley are showing that being an informed individual pays off. Instead of going forth with their individual agendas, many in the valley "where dreams soar" have noted questionable special interest pandering in City Hall and responded by exposing it in the public arena. The controversy is the logistics development industry indirectly dictating city policy. Developers have donated to politicians in order to get them elected and, thus, attained a government that would say "yes" to whatever projects they applied for with total disregard to the people's will. Concerned citizens caught on to the madness and are peacefully fighting to take back their local republic called Moreno Valley. Residents are peacefully protesting in front of City Hall. Multiple Facebook pages have emerged opposing the runaway warehouse development. Residents are even organizing a campaign to put those sitting on the City Council out of power. The local press has been on board with detailed articles and sound editorial positions which echo the public's will.

This week's tip calls for you to question authority whenever you suspect the government or a special interest behaving badly. Besides Moreno Valley, we've pointed to several other controversies that have been obstructing both the market economy and the expansion of the Inland Empire's transit system. We've got a federal executive branch, the U.S. Department of Labor specifically, possibly overreaching its power to pander to the will of labor unions. Government labor groups are demanding higher wages without proposing realistic ways to improve the market economy and the value of the wage dollar that goes with it. Public infrastructure costs are artificially high because public workers are paid more than market value. The feds continue in a vain attempt to form a centrally controlled economy by pumping money into the marketplace which saps motivation, devalues the dollar and worsens the $17 trillion national debt. The State of California is one of the least business-friendly states in the nation. Trivial regulations are restricting the growth of jobs to part time or contract only.

With today's technology of blogs, social networking, and instant access to the news, getting legit and fact-based concerns into the public arena has never been easier. If you think that a special interest or a governing body is behaving badly by obstructing a robust transit system, clean air, and a first-rate market economy, question its authority.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Are Atlanta's Interstate 85 Toll Lanes really Lexus Lanes?

A new report has given a high occupancy toll lane system in Atlanta a possible "Lexus Lane" label, a term used to show that highway toll lanes are just for the wealthy. Here in Southern California, numerous public agencies have conducted studies on HOT lanes and their results seriously question this notion. So does Atlanta really have Lexus Lanes? Here's an analysis.

Analysis of the study A Highway for All?

The Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), an Atlanta-based regional nonprofit organization engaged in environmental advocacy, including promoting more sustainable transportation policies, compiled the report A Highway for All? It suggests that the I-85 Express Lanes primarily caters to wealthy drivers and thus contributes toward income inequality. The high occupancy toll lane system mandates a Peach Pass transponder for all vehicles and has a carpool requirement of 3 or more for free travel. It spans 16 miles on the northern end of Atlanta from Old Peachtree Road to Chamblee Tucker Road.

The report starts off describing the presence of other HOT lane systems throughout the country, the state's plans to expand the toll lane network to other Atlanta freeways, and then it jumps into the debate regarding income demographics:

Three general approaches have been used to assess the equity impacts of managed lanes. The first and most common approach uses driver opinion and willingness-to-pay surveys to discern whether low-income drivers have different opinions of managed lanes than higher-income drivers. The second approach examines whether low-income drivers enroll in the managed lane tolling program or obtain toll transponders at differing rates than higher-income drivers. The third and least common approach examines actual data to determine whether managed lane use changes with income level. As a whole, these studies find that drivers of all income groups share similar opinions of the lanes, enroll in the tolling programs at comparable rates, and on occasion use the lanes. However, the studies of actual use data find that low-income drivers use managed lanes less frequently than their higher-income counterparts.

San Diego County I-15 Express Lanes with
free non-transponder 2+ carpooling
And that last point is true. Most agencies concur that many toll-paying HOT lane patrons don't use the lanes every day, but at times when they need a fast travel option. For instance, we at A Better Inland Empire have a standard FasTrak transponder and use the high occupancy toll lane systems along both the SR-91 into Orange County and the I-15 in San Diego County when traveling to/from those areas, but certainly not on a daily basis. Many of our trips are also toll free carpool trips. We'll get to that in a moment. Regarding the surveys, we'll have to search for and take a look at the specific questions asked and where the surveys were sent out before making a judgement. The fact also remains that there are significant groups of people who are willing to buy their way into a carpool lane to bypass traffic.

Not surprisingly, Georgia state officials disagree with A Highway for All? The State Road and Tollway Authority told WSB-TV News, "With respect to the top ZIP codes, the report shows that the people most likely to use the lanes are those who live near the top end of the corridor. When you compare the top five median income ZIP codes map to the top five highest-use ZIP codes map, only two of the ZIP codes overlap." That's true. According to the report, here are the top five Atlanta ZIP codes that use the toll lanes: 30019, 30024, 30043, 30519, and 30548. Those areas anchor the northern endpoint area of the toll lanes. Factor in households making more than $80,000 per year and that leaves 30019 and 30024. By the way, that's household income, not individuals. The possibility of multiple workers living under a single roof has not been ruled out. Then, we have the carpool factor.

Carpools with Peach Pass toll transponder travel free

We'll keep this short. Carpools 3 or more with a Peach Pass transponder can travel in the I-85 Express Lanes free. Do we have any specific information on what percentages of the top five ZIP codes are toll free carpoolers? That remains unanswered. To be fair, when an agency mandates a toll transponder for free carpoolers, the free carpool-to-toll ratio generally leans more toward more toll-paying traffic as the extra capacity left behind by displaced non-registered carpoolers is sold to toll paying traffic.

Some points that A Highway for All and we recommend to officials...

The report does make two valid recommendations of fixing this toll lane system. Let's take a look.

Maximize Carpool Access: Before they were converted into HOT lanes, the managed lanes on I-85 were operated as carpool lanes. As part of this conversion, the occupancy requirement for high-occupancy vehicles was raised from two-persons to three. This change deters the formation of carpools and makes it more difficult for lower-income drivers to utilize the lanes via the untolled carpool option. Future toll lane proposals in the metro Atlanta region contemplate eliminating the high-occupancy option altogether. Allowing two-person carpools to utilize the region’s managed lanes is sound policy both from an equity and a transportation performance perspective.

Concept: 91 Express Lanes with free
non-transponder 3+ carpooling
While the 2+ occupancy requirement could be questioned if local carpool lanes are congested, adopting free non-transponder 3+ carpooling during peak congestion and 2+ carpooling at other times would be sound and fair policy as The Transit Coalition has been advocating.

We do understand that changing a congested carpool lane's occupancy requirement from 2 to 3 will be somewhat chaotic as 2-person carpools would be displaced, but implementing a strong marketing campaign to form 3+ carpools, vanpools, and upgrading express transit services prior to implementation would offset much of that. Such a campaign to form 3+ carpools would have to include abolishing the mandate to register for a toll transponder.

While we're on that topic, proposals of placing mandatory tolls and transponder mandates on carpoolers is irresponsible; that will drive HOV's out of the express lanes and lure more toll-paying non-HOV's into the lanes. In addition, long term planning should include doubling the HOT lane capacity with two express lanes in each direction which could make free non-transponder 2+ carpooling a feasible option with strict land use controls to combat urban sprawl in the outer regions and direct access ramps to adjacent park & ride lots and transit stations for HOV's. Speaking of that...

Use Toll Revenue to Fund Parallel Transit Service: Transit vehicles use managed lanes free of charge, and managed lane supporters argue that low-income commuters can benefit from these projects by using transit. However, this argument assumes the existence and sufficiency of transit service in the managed lane corridor. Using a portion of toll revenues from the managed lanes to fund transit service in the corridor ensures that this untolled option exists. A number of states have adopted laws requiring toll lane revenues to be flexed to support parallel transit service as mitigation strategy, and Georgia should do the same.

While the income argument is certainly debatable, having bus infrastructure and all day express transit services in place is certainly a desirable option. Do you ever wonder why we advocate for bus transit infrastructure on proposed high occupancy toll lanes with services from early morning to late night?

Lexus Lanes?

Is the I-85 Express Lanes, let alone HOT lanes in general A Highway for All? Based on the facts, the I-85 Lexus Lanes are not just for the rich. However if agencies in Atlanta together with LA Metro, OCTA and RCTC want to move more people in its express lanes than cars, the mandatory tolls for HOV's and the transponder mandate needs to be dropped. We want toll lanes done right.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

September 11, 2001 - Never Forget

Today marks the 12th anniversary of the tragic events which took place on September 11, 2001. There will be several memorial services held throughout the Inland Empire today as reported in the Press Enterprise. Check with your local city or jurisdiction for a service taking place near you. Check your t.v. schedules or around the Internet for televised services if you cannot attend a service in person.

Let's never forget those who perished 12 years ago from today and continue to defend our nation's freedom.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rep. Mark Takano's office engages The Transit Coalition

We've mentioned a few times on this blog that Congressman Mark Takano kicked off his "100 Businesses in 100 Days" tour in the 41st Congressional District which covers the Perris region, Moreno Valley, Riverside, and Jurupa Valley. The Congressman has also surveyed his District 41 residents on transportation matters.

It's vital for elected officials and leaders to get out and see what's going on in the community in order to gather the facts needed to draft and support sound policy for the public's good with all partisan politics set aside. Takano plans to use this information toward crafting future federal legislation.

Takano's office staff contacted The Transit Coalition last week and we've engaged in a productive teleconference. Besides what was posted on this blog the morning of the conference regarding the transit survey and the 100 Businesses and 100 Days Tour, the Coalition learned one other major item regarding Takano's community engagement.

For the record, it's common for concerned citizens and the media to talk with public officials and gather information and exchange comments. However, we never make any political deals with any politician about any matter whatsoever.

What we learned:

From his staff, Takano is also concerned of ongoing freeway expansion without transit infrastructure. Such a mobility threat was mentioned once before in a Riverside Transit Agency Strengths Weaknesses Opportunities Threats (SWOT) analysis based on an RTA February, 2013 Board of Directors report. We've already pointed out and made it clear during the teleconference that the proposed high occupancy toll lanes in Riverside County need direct access ramps adjacent to transit centers and park & ride lots, much like the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County. Certainly, such decisions need to be made locally and not by the feds, but we've pointed out that those in Congress do have significant voices in the public arena.

We did mention some other ideas to Takano's staff that needs to be considered for future bipartisan federal legislation which includes policies for controlling the deficit and the $17 trillion federal debt. The focus at the federal level needs to be improving the economy by allowing the private sector to freely innovate and drive the marketplace to prosperity. While not mentioned in the teleconference, Takano supports eliminating trivial government red tape, but also generally supports direct government investments in the market economy. In other words, more deficit spending in an attempt to prop up the economy. Those are proposals that must be closely watched. We don't want the country to go bankrupt.

What we commented:

We've made our points clear to his office; so here it is. With spending out of control, the federal government simply cannot afford to pump more money into the marketplace. The feds should not directly hand out money to the private sector; this is a pathway toward a centrally controlled economy which is not compatible in the U.S. marketplace. If the federal government wants to clean up the trucking industry for example, which it should, regulate pollution but also give the private sector a tax incentive to develop the technology needed for cleaner trucks. That will clean up the air without killing the trucking business, but don't directly dump huge sums of federal dollars into the industry. Tax incentives have historically worked well with the funding of non-profit organizations, but we certainly don't want a repeat of the Solyndra fiasco.

We also made it clear that while common sense rules to combat corporate greed and corruption, pollution, and urban sprawl are vital, streamlining and/or eliminating trivial regulations and red tape are key to getting the marketplace back to a robust state. We know that building a clothing factory next to Yellowstone National Park is pure urban sprawl, but what exactly is preventing investors from building such a job site next to downtown Perris? By the way, we've brought Rep. Mike Kelly's speech on the economy and his legal nightmare of reopening a renovated ballpark into the conversation.

Increasing the value of the wage dollar:

We've also made this point: Under the Obama administration and heavy pressure from labor unions to increase wages for working Americans, the feds continue to pump and print money into the marketplace which causes the value of the dollar to weaken. Under a healthy economy with abundant jobs, the value of the wage dollar goes up. In the 1960's, the federal minimum wage was $2.00 per hour, but translate that figure into today's currency and that adds up to over $9.00 per hour; that's more than the current minimum and possibly a livable wage for a single worker. Do the feds and the unions understand that if they want higher wages and benefits, allowing the private sector to invest back into the economy is key to making it happen?

Drafting a bipartisan bill to improve the economy: 

Rep. Takano should take his findings, work with colleagues on the other side of the aisle, and write up a report and a bipartisan bill to get the economy back to where it needs to be without handing out any federal money. The bill needs to be written in a way that will address the spending madness. The legislation needs to open the door for the private sector to lead the nation and the Inland Empire back into economic prosperity with a productive labor workforce.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Enough with the urban sprawl in Moreno Valley!

During the last several weeks, local Moreno Valley residents have been objecting and questioning the runaway logistics development now taking place in the heart of their city--oops, we made a typo. Runaway logistics sprawl is taking place at the outer edge of their city in the eastern residential areas and in spots that once had rural ranches and agricultural farms.

There's been much local response to our recent post on this matter as shown on the Facebook pages of Save Mo Valley, and Moreno Valley Residents Against Warehouse expansion. Residents are demanding the city government to put the brakes on the World Logistics Center, and for good reason. On Sunday, The Press Enterprise put in its opinion pretty much echoing the Coalition's position. We've noted that the newspaper generally supports business-friendly policies in its editorials, but also knows that pollution control is one of those government regulations that is absolutely vital.

As demanded by the local residents, public officials from all levels need to wake up and take action! Right now, the Moreno Valley City Council is not looking out for their residents, is pandering to logistics developers, and does not care if the the quality of life collapses in Moreno Valley with the resulting diesel pollution and added truck traffic through the Badlands hills.

Moreno Valley Urban Sprawl: World Logistics Center

Here's a fact that needs to be factored into this whole situation. According the South Coast Air Quality Management District and reported by the PE, out of the total square footage of proposed warehouses and distribution centers in Southern California since 2010, Riverside County dominates a whopping 75% of the Southland's logistics sector of 112 million square feet. Factor in San Bernardino and that adds up to 97%, but here's the headline. More than one third of the 112 million square feet of warehouses points to the proposed World Logistics Center at the base of the Badlands hills.

Right now, there are no proposals to link this hub via rail to the proposed Long Beach GRID logistics hub and there's a multitude of other unaddressed questions. Where are the plans to increase capacity on the 60 Freeway through the Badlands without disrupting the local ecosystems? Where are the private sector incentives to develop cleaner truck technology already in use on our buses to clean up Moreno Valley's air quality? We don't want the 60 and the 91 Freeways turning into the I-710. We don't want Moreno Valley turning into the smog-covered Los Angeles of the 1980's. We certainly don't want the Inland Empire's air quality turning into Beijing's. The World Logistics Center is an epitome of urban sprawl, and concerned citizens and the local press are well aware of it.

A call for action

The situation in Moreno Valley is not about global warming. It's not about UN's Agenda 21 which, for the record, we do not support at all. It's about doing away with pollution and corporate corruption. If Moreno Valley wants jobs and more housing, allow the private sector to come in, invest, and revitalize the existing Sunnymead and Perris Boulevard corridors. Keep the logistics jobs as close to the rail lines and the March ARB area as possible and offer incentives for cleaner ways to move freight. If the land owner of the World Logistics Center property wants to invest in it, find alternative ways for the entrepreneur to capitalize on the land that's compatible for the local area and the Badlands ecosystem, such as dividing the land parcels for rural ranches, creating a robust agricultural district for local produce, investing in a mixed-use recreational or youth district for residents, building a great park which would boost the tourism sector, or any other proposal that will benefit the welfare of Moreno Valley and provide the much-needed marketplace jobs without the pollution and traffic congestion.

Enough with the urban sprawl!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Tips: Be an informed transit advocate

Background Photo: (C) Justin Nelson CC-BY-SA
Some in the transit field are likely wondering why this transit advocacy blog has talked more about labor and the economy rather than demanding more RTA and Omnitrans bus service during the last few weeks. The reason is simply because ongoing problems in both income inequality and the present state of the market economy are primary sources of substandard transit service and insufficient transportation infrastructure despite the fact that Californians are paying some of the highest taxes in the nation.

The Inland Empire marketplace is still not at a robust state as shown by the lack of growth of private sector full time jobs in places like Riverside, San Bernardino and Perris. The value of the working wage dollar is down due to the presence of more unemployed workers than full time jobs, and the fact that the feds continue to flood the marketplace with currency only exacerbates the problem as the federal debt continues to spiral toward $17 trillion with a weakening dollar. To be fair, corporations and the stock market are profiting, but that could be attributed to the income inequality caused by declining wage values and the lack of a need for American workers. Labor interests are demanding higher wages and benefits but are not providing realistic solutions to pump up the economy. That leads to artificially higher prices, an inflated dollar, and fewer full time positions. The fact is numerous trivial state and federal regulations are preventing huge amounts of private capital from being invested back into the local economy. Small businesses are sapped with unnecessary government bureaucracy, preventing them from innovating and competing in many industries starved for better competition and affordable prices. Because of that, the job market suffers.

By the way, such financial barriers which sap innovation also obstructs start up businesses from penetrating the oligopoly market in several industries with fresh ideas and the jobs that go with it. Could places like downtown Riverside house an independent mobile communications hub using existing secure Wi-Fi and high speed internet technology set apart from the big phone companies which would significantly lower the price of making a local call? Could an entrepreneur launch a small airline business in Palm Springs which caters specifically to the snowbird market in the U.S. Northeast with better services, more legroom, quality food, live entertainment, and lower fares than the big name carriers? Stay tuned later for a post on that.

This week's tip calls for our transit riders to become more informed of how the capitalistic system works in America and how it relates to our transportation needs. We certainly want more frequent services, late night buses, a robust transportation network and multi-modal alternatives to automobile travel. A productive labor workforce and market economy needs to provide the resources necessary to pay for the infrastructure and bus operations in the RTA, Omnitrans, Corona Cruiser, and Pass Transit service areas. If you want more buses and lower fares, get to know how the funding structure works, get the facts, see how other systems work, and propose realistic, fact-based solutions in the public arena.