Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Is Riverside Public Transportation really poor?

Source: Riverside Transit Agency
Printed in Monday's Press Enterprise newspaper opinion page, Ted Green of Westminster thinks so. In fact, his letter was headlined "Public Transportation Poor."

The message implies that Green missed a Metrolink train connection in Corona due to an RTA bus connection failure; the bus was behind 10 minutes. Green had to wait for the next train and used the time to write his letter of complaint. The story mentioned very few specifics. We have no information whether he used the West Corona or North Main Corona station. The specific bus route running late was also not reported. We also don't know when this incident took place. We believe RTA has more facts and is taking care of this issue and a follow up post will come should we get more details.

However, there are some points brought up in the complaint that need to be addressed.

Wheelchair Boarding: Green's letter implies that boarding passengers in wheelchairs delays the bus to the point of inefficiency. That can be very true for a number of contracted RTA routes that use small buses or trolleys as equipment and are equipped with a wheelchair lift instead of a ramp. If the contracted bus driver is undertrained to use the lift to board such passengers quickly, the delays can be very dire. We have seen this problem along some of the contract operated routes, especially in the Southwest region. We can certainly share Green's frustration here on this point. RTA needs to hold its contractors accountable for properly training bus drivers to board wheelchairs efficiently. In addition, lifts should be tested regularly. Eventually, as new buses are rotated into the system, RTA's contract fleet of small and mid size buses should be low floor with wheelchair ramps.

We believe RTA is on it as the newer small buses have these features.

Source: RCTC
Scheduling & Routing: The letter also mentions that RTA's schedules are arbitrary and that the routes themselves are inefficient. The timetables are clearly not picked out of the hat. They are calculated on traffic patterns and distances travelled. Also, RTA's routes run on a hub-and-spoke model which is the most efficient routing method given the region's demographics. In fairness to Green, RTA should incorporate more predictable clock-face scheduling (eg. bus every 10, 15, 20, 30 or 60 minutes) and there are some routes that deserve to be streamlined and made less circuitous to make them more efficient. That would include the bus routes in the southwest region. In addition, transit hubs should offer timed transfers.

Generally speaking, Ted Green won't be coming back anytime soon according to the letter, at least under the current system. However, RTA can't take 100% of the blame for not implementing the routing and scheduling improvements. The agency runs on a very tight budget beyond staff control; however, that's no excuse. State and County elected officials need to get rid of trivial regulatory red tape so that infrastructure and labor costs are in check and private businesses can drive up the Inland Empire economy which provides resources for RTA.

Ending on a positive note: RTA does has a good crew of bus drivers with some who are heroes. Last May, driver Bob Owens caught a runaway criminal aboard his bus and successfully had police waiting at the Galleria at Tyler hub. Last week, driver Ted Jenkins who was walking home from work, saved a man who was lying a few feet from active railroad tracks in Riverside due to a bad medical reaction. The man happened to be a regular wheelchair rider aboard Route 1.

RTA may have a long way to go before it becomes a first-rate transit system for Riverside County, but it is far from poor. People who dislike their transit system should express their opinion, but also be a part of the solution. That's why The Transit Coalition, Transportation Now, and independent blogs like Riding in Riverside watch over the bus system. The future of Inland Empire public transportation can be great and more efficient. Let's make it happen.

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