Friday, January 31, 2014

Shuttle Bus Protests in San Francisco and the Job-to-Housing Ratio Problem

© Wikimedia/Coolcaesar CC-BY-SA
The Transit Coalition's Long Term Future Vision for the Inland Empire calls for a balanced job-to-housing ratio on top of improved multi-modal transportation options. That will help reduce the need for long distance commuting by keeping housing costs affordable for the workforce and their families. To keep it short, the Inland Empire certainly can use better high paying marketplace jobs. On the other front, existing high density employment hubs in Irvine, West LA, several beach communities and many areas in San Diego County could use a better supply of housing to make rentals and possibly property sales more competitive and affordable to meet demands. Similar situations are occurring in the Bay Area.

Silicon Valley Employee Shuttle Protests in San Francisco

Thousands of residents living in San Francisco staged a protest claiming that employees who work at major employers like eBay, Google, and Adobe in the Silicon Valley area and elect to live in San Francisco are driving up the cost of living. The demonstration became intense as protesters obstructed privately operated employee shuttles that picked up working residents at San Francisco public transit bus stops and ferried them to the large tech employment hubs.

The City responded by charging the shuttle operators a $1 fee each time it stopped at a public transit bus stop. In of itself and not factoring in job-to-housing ratio issue, the fee is debatable. San Francisco's public transportation system is massive with busy transit buses stopping to pick up passengers every few minutes. The city bus stops should not be obstructed or overwhelmed by private carriers. That's where the fee can be good. On the other side, over-taxing the employee shuttle operators could result in the unintended consequence of service reductions or cancellations even though the $1 bus stop usage fee is very modest. Perhaps a fair compromise to debate is to increase the capacity of the city bus stops through a public-private agreement with the employers so that the employee shuttles can once again freely pick up and discharge passengers at public transit stops without disrupting the public transit system.

Rising costs of living in San Francisco 

The protesters were correct that with higher demands comes higher rental prices. The city has prime real estate and the reasons are obvious. San Francisco is rich in urban activity which makes it a desirable place to call home. There is simply not enough properties to meet the high demands. Supply is short which drives up costs. And San Francisco has a long history of this trend. However, the protesters' reaction by blaming and obstructing the tech employees is unjustified. Some demonstrators went far enough to foolishly vandalize the buses and there were reports of some individuals even trespassing into the residential properties and blocking the driveways of the workers. Such envy is not going to solve this problem. Worse yet, if the Silicon Valley employees elected not to live in San Francisco, less private capital would be flowing into the local economy, thereby weakening it.

© Wikimedia/Sanfranman59 CC-BY-SA
The solution is complicated and should be debated publicly. Many argue a way to address the rising costs is simply construct more residential units until there is enough supply to meet the market demand. However, unlike the Inland Empire, San Francisco is already densely populated and the added growth cannot overwhelm the existing public works infrastructure nor go unchecked.

A way to address this issue is for the city to put together a master plan, find out how much more housing units are necessary, and designate blocks within each district for higher density infill housing while allocating developer fees toward infrastructure upgrades. This debatable solution certainly won't significantly lower the purchasing price of one those landmark single family home properties in the city, but would allow folks who desire an urban life in the Bay Area additional options and choices as rentals and multi-family units become more abundant, affordable and competitive. In addition, such a balance should keep housing in the surrounding suburbs and rural areas in check for those needing their extra space.

Finally, artificial market manipulation in the housing market needs to be dealt with as soon as possible. That is, the practice of purchasing massive amounts of property for the sole purpose of eating up supply and sitting idle on the them which causes prices to artificially go up. To be clear, we're not dissenting legit investments. Good and productive examples are investors purchasing run-down property, fixing them up, and then reselling. Another of course would be renting the property which also can address the supply problem and make rentals more competitive and affordable.

As mentioned, the job-to-housing imbalance for both Southern California and the Bay Area is complex and solutions that will need to be debated will involve more than just building more supply and curbing artificial speculation. However, officials need to begin acting on this matter now so that hard working Californians can choose to live in the city or community of their choice.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Connecting Perris Valley Line Riders to Southwest Riverside County

One constant wish and request that many Riverside Transit Agency bus riders have is better connections to/from the southwest area during off-peak hours. We can say for certainty that both the Coalition and the governments are hearing this. Both the recommended routes from RTA's Comprehensive Operational Analysis of 2007 and the Western Riverside Council of Governments's Bus Rapid Transit Route Planning Project study of 2010 find faster streamlined connections between the Temecula and Murrieta regions and the rest of RTA's transit network up north feasible and desirable.

The governments have a opportunity to address these rider requests for the I-215 freeway corridor. Marketplace economic growth from the logistics and medical sectors is up. The Perris Station Transit Center in downtown Perris will cater to extended 91 Line Metrolink trains by the end of 2015. The train schedules have yet to be released, however according the project's environmental impact report, six trains are promised to operate between Perris and Los Angeles each way which includes a midday run.

How can the extended Metrolink train service benefit folks in Southwest Riverside County? What is being done to seamlessly connect the service to/from Temecula and Murrieta? In 2010, WRCOG explored the possibility of express BRT for the I-215 between the Perris Station Transit Center and the southwest area. Also, prior to the release of its 2007 COA, RTA explored such a BRT possibility for the freeway. This corridor stretches from the Perris Transit Center through Menifee and Murrieta south to the Pechanga Resort. Potential intermediate stops that were studied included the South Perris Metrolink Station, a park-and-ride lot at Newport Road, the Loma Linda Medical Center area in Murrieta, the future Temecula/Murrieta Twin Cities Transit Center, and Temecula's Jefferson Avenue corridor where high density economic development is proposed.

WRCOG found that this corridor would be more suitable for upgraded express or hybrid local-plus-express bus service rather than rapid express BRT service. Because the I-215 lacks high occupancy carpool lane infrastructure in this area, there is at present limited opportunities to establish productive express BRT. In addition, RTA found in 2007 that restructuring and streamlining the local bus routes in Temecula and Murrieta with more direct connections to the transit hubs under the hub-and-spoke model is vital. One conceptual routing idea includes a local-plus-express hybrid route with local service along the Margarita and California Oaks corridor in Temecula/Murrieta and limited stop express service between Murrieta and the Perris station.

With economic growth slowly but surely making its way into the I-215 corridor, officials should revisit their master plans and begin to plan short range transit upgrades to speed up both local and express transit connections in and out of the southwest area. Tying such services into the Perris Station Transit Center will provide a strong terminal connection, while the development and service to the Twin Cities Transit Center--hopefully designed to accommodate long term passenger rail service in the future--will enhance travel opportunities to the southwest region and provide the transit infrastructure for both the existing and planned development for Temecula's Jefferson Avenue.

Also, the transit opportunities don't stop with public buses. Longer distance private intercity bus carriers ferrying passengers between San Diego, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas, casino coaches and other private carriers can be provided incentives to stop their buses at these transit hubs. The demand and opportunities are there and there's already been a lot of talk. Now is the time to act.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Spending Disgrace: The $1 Million Bus Stop in Arlington Virginia

© Arlington Transit CC-BY-SA
Tipped off from a recent report of government misspending from The Heritage Foundation, a local bus stop in Arlington Virginia that was built last year in the southern part of town has now gained national attention. Last spring, this single bus stop catering to passengers headed toward Washington D.C. which is located at the southeast corner of Columbia Pike and Walter Reed underwent a massive upgrade that cost local, state and federal taxpayers $1 million. Let's get this straight. The $1 million bus stop was not a transit center, not a transfer hub, not a bus rapid transit station. This is a regular curbside stop with so-called heaters, weather-resistant shelter and a screen quoting live arrival times for buses. To be fair, numerous bus riders use this stop and having benches, a shelter and a live ticker showing what time the next bus is due are all certainly feasible for such stops. Those have already been proven to be desirable. Columbia Pike is also a major corridor linking south Arlington to the Pentagon and the D.C. area. However, that's no excuse to spend seven figures on a bus stop.

According to local reports and interviews the amenities are fail. The shelter provides little protection against the weather. The bus stop heaters--installed in the pavement--do not keep commuters warm or dry. The only amenity that riders generally liked was the arrival time screen. However, predictive software that tracks transit buses and real-time arrival time screen technology have matured to the point where installing such amenities combined with benches, heaters and a shelter won't cost $1 million per bus stop. According to local sources, 80% of the funding for this boondoggle came from the federal government and the State of Virginia. Through federal taxes, we the folks in the Inland Empire paid in part for this madness.

Cost Efficient: Standard ceiling heaters for a Chicago transit station.
Photo: Chicago Transit Authority
It gets worse. The local government had proposals to build more of these "Super Stops." One would think that with the whopping price tag and ill-functioning amenities, officials would stop this chaos immediately. Unfortunately, the government waste doesn't end there. According to reports, officials are spending even more money running an assessment that includes a public outreach to determine whether it would be feasible to build the remaining upgraded bus stops. We all know that standard amenities for popular bus stops like benches, shelters, ceiling heaters and arrival time screens don't add up to $1 million per bus stop. Why do we need to spend more money and resources assessing this situation? Get the infrastructure costs down to the market rates. That's it.

How does all this relate to the Inland Empire? Our local transit agencies and cities should use this as a big fiscal lesson when it comes to building and maintaining individual high-ridership bus stops and small 1-3 bus bay transfer hubs. Incorporate any new ideas for amenities into public transit infrastructure like heaters under the sidewalk after it has been proven to efficiently work beyond reasonable doubt by the private sector. That's how "Super Stops" can be made more affordable.

Finally, if you're happening to be touring Washington D.C., you might as well include a visit and enjoy this glorified bus stop at Columbia Pike and Walter Reed because we the people paid the $1 million for this bus stop.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Better RapidLink Transit in Riverside and Economic Justice

The Riverside County Transportation Commission announced the allocation of federal and local transportation funds totaling $152 million to various infrastructure projects. Based on this Press Enterprise report, transit and bicycle infrastructure allocations include:
  •     $9.2 million toward peak hour RapidLink service on University and Magnolia avenues in Riverside
  •     $2.4 million for a trailway along the Santa Ana River through Riverside
  •     $5.1 million for a trail along Salt Creek through Menifee and Hemet
By the way, the start-up cost for RTA's RapidLink service is $12.3 million which includes the purchase of 40 additional buses and 3 years of operations. The new service certainly will not be true bus rapid transit just yet. BRT provides a quick and speedy alternative with frequent service and early morning through late night service span. Through dense areas, BRT often uses dedicated transit lanes and offsite ticket vending machines. However, the limited stop service will at least provide a faster alternative to get up and down these corridors during peak hours. For those looking for true BRT for Riverside County which we hope will happen soon, economic justice and growth will be a necessary component. More in a moment on that.

In addition, RCTC dedicated the following funds for these highway projects:
  •     $26.8 million for truck lanes on SR-60 through the Badland Hills
  •     $16.5 million for extending Clinton Keith Road from the I-215 into French Valley
  •     $14.6 million for the upgrade of the Newport Road interchange along I-215
  •     $13 million for Temecula's "ultimate" interchange along the I-15 at Temecula Parkway
  •     $6.5 million for the grade-separation of the SR-60 and Potrero Boulevard interchange
  •     $2.7 million for the Ramona Expressway in San Jacinto
  •     $2.6 million for a widening of Magnolia Avenue in Riverside
  •     $1.6 million for the I-215/Nuevo Road interchange in Perris
It was mentioned that a key source of this funding was due to improvements in the economy. There is some truth to that. Amazon will be developing two hubs in the region bringing in thousands of marketplace positions. Logistics development also continues to grow which will provide the entry-level workforce and some skilled laborers more choices. Medical jobs which includes some entry positions also continue to go up throughout the region. However, the Inland Empire is still a long way off from income and economic justice.

According to various sources, the purchasing power of the dollar in the Inland Empire has declined. During the robust economic times of the 1990's, local median annual income was just more than $33,000 with a purchasing power of about $56,000 in today's currency. In 2000, it grew by a grand to about $57,000 in today's currency ($42,000 in year 2000 dollars). In 2008, it was $59,547.

Following the economic collapse, the median household income in Riverside and San Bernardino counties combined fell back to $53,201 in 2011 and to $51,695 in 2012 based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau. We might see some improvements for 2013, but nowhere near the peak levels.

The reasons why the purchasing power of the dollar is in decline is very complex, but the continued lack of marketplace jobs in the region is a big factor. Domestic manufacturing for example continues take massive hits under the current trade agreements with third world countries especially China. Also, taxes and fees continue to increase. Los Angeles Metro for example has proposed massive wholesale fare hikes for its bus and rail system. With the exception of the San Diego region and the Bay Area, carpoolers have to get a toll transponder and sometimes have to pay discounted tolls in order to use high occupancy toll lanes. Such hikes and taxation weaken the purchasing power for we the people and thus the local economy weakens. Finally, a complex regulatory system to establish a business in the state inclines entrepreneurs to invest elsewhere. That's a prime reason why the Inland Empire lacks social income and economic justice for its people.

Concept: Marketplace job growth in Moreno Valley
A proven solution to this problem is building up the private sector job market locally. The marketplace needs incentives to invest in the Inland Empire and to hire a productive labor workforce. Key policies to prevent sprawl, pollution, and corporate corruption are necessary public policies. However over-regulating the marketplace with a complex tax code, lengthy permit and license process, and high fees discourages job growth because such investments are kept out of the Inland Empire let alone the rest of the state. It's long past due to reverse this trend. Our region offers huge opportunities for fresh ideas and innovation. Any trivial obstructions from the government must be addressed without excuse so that the business marketplace can invest in the Inland Empire.

Private investments means more jobs. Jobs mean more public resources to build our transportation infrastructure and expand transit. Ridership growth means a productive and paid-for first rate transit system which includes true BRT for Riverside County.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Temecula Interchange Projects: Get On It!

Proposed: Temecula Parkway Ultimate Interchange with Park & Ride.
Long Range Concept: Dual 2+ Carpool/HOT Express Lanes along I-15, direct access ramp, transit station, high speed rail corridor, and gateway into Ecological Reserve.

Long traffic queues and congestion along the southbound I-15 at the Winchester Road and Temecula Parkway offramps have long been a common sighting for locals. These areas are infamously known for forced-flow conditions with stopped cars spilling onto the freeway during rush hours, the majority of the day, and most weekends. They have also been the site of numerous fender-benders including a serious accident involving a Riverside Transit Agency bus a few years ago. The situation is grave since we now have a fatal accident at hand.

Last week, a Murrieta motorist died when his pick-up truck collided with a big rig that was slowing down as it approached a long traffic queue at the Winchester Road offramp from southbound Interstate 15. According to the CHP, preliminary evidence showed that the big rig truck was travelling south in the far right freeway lane when the pick-up truck that was travelling behind it slammed into its trailer, killing the driver. Our condolences go to the family and friends of the motorist.

This offramp does have an auxiliary lane and warning signs do alert drivers to watch for stopped vehicles in lanes, but such traffic can go from full speed to a halt in a matter of mere seconds. The situation can catch alert motorists off guard. One reason of this chaos is that some motorists foolishly cut in the middle of the long queue which seriously exacerbates the forced-flow conditions of the exit lane and the far right general purpose lane.

A local interchange project will help take care of this problem, but with a fatality at hand, the governments need expedite it. Phase I of the French Valley Parkway interchange project which will provide a second offramp from the southbound side of the freeway is expected to be finished early this year. Government officials hope to have the Phase II designs done by mid 2015 and ground broken by the end of 2015. We hope the public sector can coordinate, get Phase I done by the end of the month and expedite Phase II so that construction bidding and groundbreaking can start this year because the safety issues at stake are grave. The same goes for a separate interchange project for the Temecula Parkway bottleneck.

Like the Winchester offramp, long traffic queues spill onto fast moving freeway lanes creating hazardous road conditions. Even worse is the fact that Temecula Parkway lacks a dedicated exit lane. Likewise, some motorists often cut in the line of stopped cars, creating a serious safety hazard along a 70 mph freeway corridor. Local officials have been trying to get the southern project moving by piecing together the public funds. A disturbing fact from all this is that the local governments are facing inflated project price tags with costs much higher than the market rate. Part of the Temecula Parkway interchange project includes a $2.36 million park & ride lot for 157 cars on undeveloped, already graded land. According to construction stats from the University of North Texas and data from Anthony P. Chrest's book Parking Structures: Planning, Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Repair, surface lot parking spaces generally cost anywhere from $2,000-$6,000 per space to construct. The per-space construction cost of the Temecula Park & Ride adds up to over $15,000 per space which is about the market rate for a space in a parking structure according to both sources. With that kind of money, we hope to see a grand multi-modal transportation hub with bus infrastructure within the parking lot when it's complete.

Back to the Temecula Parkway offramp. Like Phase II of French Valley Parkway, officials hope to break ground early next year. Later down the road, we hope to see some multi-modal transit infrastructure developed for the corridor on top of the interchange capacity expansions. However with grave safety issues at stake including the recent fatality, there should be no excuses to get these interchange projects paid for, placed out for bid, and construction started this year with long term planning to incorporate transit infrastructure into them in the future. Get on it!

Monday, January 20, 2014

Supporting Racial Unity on the Bus

The Montgomery city bus that Rosa Parks boarded. © Wikimedia/Maksim CC-BY-SA
Prior to the historic Civil Rights Movement, racial segregation was a well known infamous common practice in American society. Policies including the Jim Crow laws enforced racial segregation policy until the 1960's from the state to local level. Such disgraceful policy mandated racial segregation in all public facilities in the Southern states which led to conditions for African Americans that were far inferior to those provided for whites. That included public transit buses.

On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks boarded a transit bus in Montgomery and sat in a seat that was not designated for the African American race. She was arrested for refusing to give up her seat. Edgar Daniel Nixon and Reverend Martin Luther King Jr responded selflessly and took leadership roles toward a public boycott of the Montgomery transit system which lasted well over a year and nearly brought the city-operated transit system to bankruptcy.

The fiasco finally concluded with a United States District Court case. The judgement of Browder v. Gayle ruled that bus segregation was unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment. As we all know and celebrate today, King's role in the bus boycott transformed him into a national figure and the influential spokesman of the civil rights movement.

The civil rights movement still has work to do. Racial segregation continues to be a major issue in today's society. One undeniable issue is the lack of concern and leadership to combat gang violence and rebuild divided families in troubled African American neighborhoods like South Los Angeles and southern Chicago. Many in power simply ignore the true source of the issue which forces law-abiding African Americans to defend and protect their neighborhoods all by themselves. That's because trivial distractions obstruct the movements and leadership necessary to combat such grave issues.

Phony claims and nonsense such as the ill-advised notion that the expansion of LA Metro's rail transit system outside of South LA discriminates against African Americans only hurts the civil rights movement, divides the people and weakens their voice. That's because when a legit and grave controversy like an uptick in violent gang crime in troubled African American communities comes up, many in power simply walk away from the source which leaves behind a dangerous criminal culture in troubled communities where at-risk youth who have nowhere to go end up in the local street gang. The tragic results are time in jail or death.

The Transit Coalition is strongly committed to Affirmative Action and Equal Opportunity and never takes positions or  discriminates on the basis on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, veteran status, disability, marital status, or sexual orientation in any of its programs or activities. The gang violence happening in many African American and other ethnic communities throughout the country is serious. The issue goes beyond race. Communities like South LA, southern Chicago, San Bernardino, Riverside's Eastside, Moreno Valley, Fontana and downtown Lake Elsinore are troubled, but can become robust communities where peace, unity and justice prevail with selfless leadership. Good parenting, raising children with discipline, and maintaining strong families cannot be legislated, but the gang violence can be stopped once and for all with a strong, firm and universal message to rebuild the family unit which spans across all races. In addition, resources can be set aside for the good people so that they can step up and be loving mentors for the vulnerable youth who desperately need help and the discipline in order to keep them out of gangs and lead them to be the selfless productive workers and leaders of the marketplace of America. It's time for the civil rights movement to follow King's selfless legacy, unite the people who long for justice in troubled neighborhoods, and lead all races out of this dangerous and divisive situation.

Friday, January 17, 2014

A look at the Long Range sbX Master Plan

Regional transportation planners have envisioned several corridors for future sbX BRT, the first of which of course being the E Street transit line that runs through the heart of San Bernardino and Loma Linda. Officials plan to expand the rapid transit network into other areas of San Bernardino County if the starting segment is found to be successful.

As mentioned earlier this week, the high density destinations along the starting route combined with a future seamless connection to/from Metrolink in downtown at the future San Bernardino Transit Center will provide sbX with a strong pool of potential riders. As officials seek choice riders to use the BRT line, the transit center project certainly will entice more commuters to leave their cars at a park & ride and take transit. With the extension of Metrolink into downtown San Bernardino where out-of-area train riders can seamlessly transfer to sbX at the E Street & Rialto Station, more choice riders will use the bus instead of driving.We have reason to believe that sbX will be a success.

Officials have long range plans to bring BRT further west which includes routes that span into the distance suburbs. It's quite clear that busy corridors such as Foothill Boulevard would be prime candidates for short to mid range planning. There's plenty of activity along these roads to warrant limited stop BRT service. Enticing smart marketplace infill growth through these segments will also be key to acquire local funding. However, some of the north/south future branches appear to span deep into suburban and even undeveloped areas based on the long range map, especially through Rialto and Eastvale. It's certainly premature to launch a clone of the E Street BRT system through these regions now, but including these corridors into longer range plans will better help the governments manage future economic growth.

Last Friday, we've advocated for officials to incorporate the future Grand/Edison sbX transit corridor into long range plans to improve transit connections between Eastvale and points west starting with a traditional local bus route that runs hourly. Please keep in mind that at present, these outer corridors are in no way feasible for full-fledged BRT just yet, but are suitable for improved traditional local service. The start-up lines should be marketed as standard local bus routes under the current demographics.

Should the market economy be inclined to develop pedestrian-friendly destinations and job hubs along these commercial corridors, especially within already developed areas, officials can use the sbX master plan to begin acquiring the funding to implement more frequent local runs, limited stop rapid runs, sbX infrastructure and branding, and ticket vending machines at major transfer hubs. Officials need to entice the market to invest in generating job sites along these corridors through proper land use planning and business friendly policies all without inducing urban sprawl, traffic congestion or disrupting what's left of the existing agricultural market. If entrepreneurs are sold into placing robust economic job hubs in places like the Eastvale Gateway area or transform central Corona into a true downtown destination, high speed multi-modal transportation options to get around the Inland Empire would become a reality.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Addressing sbX public comments

Source: Omnitrans
A few days after The Press Enterprise published its Sunday headline of "Fast Buses | Big Hopes" on the sbX, the newspaper was flooded with reader comments. We'll take a look at a few and address their remarks:

Ricardo Montes de Oca, co-owner of R&V Bikes and Parts, and Philly Steak and Subs writes, "I really hope San Bernardino put all that money in for something good. ... I hope it works out." We hope so too. Just to refresh everyone's memory, the cities of San Bernardino and Loma Linda combined contributed 4.2% of the funds for the sbX infrastructure based on this fact sheet. Almost 74% came from the federal government, 15.7% from the state, and 6.2% from the county. Omnitrans is the agency that led this infrastructure project, not the cities.

Bud Ammons, owner of Ammons Diamond & Coin Gallery on E Street in San Bernardino stated, "Everybody’s lost business all up and down the street. ... They had parking out here for more than 100 years. This is the craziest thing I ever heard of." Whenever construction takes place at or near any establishment, fewer patrons will show up. That's a reality. Could have communications and negotiations between the affected businesses, the land owners and the government been better to offset business closures and displacement? Likely. Officials need to take whatever flaws occurred during negotiations as lessons for future projects.

Online user GabrielRFelton claimed, "So is Omni taking out the bus service on that route, so now everyone has to walk a half mile to the next shop. That sounds like progress." Last time we checked, the folks needing access to the local stops will continue to use Route 2.

Commentor Rusty_Hilli argues that the "area does not really need rapid transit. the same could have been done without new elongated buses. omnitrans needs limited stop/express service and commuter buses. having transitways/rapid transit makes no sense since almost everyone who lives in this region commutes to la/orange/san diego county." As we pointed out yesterday, sbX will provide a speedy alternative to slow local bus riders for the E-Street corrridor for riders commuting between the bookend destinations and major hubs in between. BRT is feasible and desirable and the technology has already been proven to be successful in other dense areas such as LA. However, the post was correct that better connections for out-of-area commuters is needed. The Metrolink extension into the downtown core with seamless sbX transfers will certainly address this.

Finally, a user that goes by "opaque/ebfc1cf8-5324-11e3-a4a0-000bcdcb2996" stated, "Most of the evening Cal State classes last until 10 pm. What good will this service be if it stops running at 8 pm? "Hey, kids! Take SBx to class, but have a nice walk home afterwards?" Here's a solution to that problem if a student or staff lives between downtown and CSUSB. Take Route 2. Bus departs the college at 10:35PM.

Omnitrans has heard much belly-aching over the shorter BRT operations hours and will be considering extending the sbX span beyond 8 pm should ridership warrant it. In the meantime, the local Route 2 remains an option for those needing later evening service.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

How will sbX Fare with Ridership?

Photo: Omnitrans

How will sbX fare with riders? That's a big question that centers around the continued ongoing debate of San Bernardino's bus rapid transit system as the construction phase ends and testing begins. Another question is whether choice riders will utilize the line. Yet another is how will such figures compare against projections. There's a lot of speculation and predictions going around. However the fact is that we really won't know the answers until after a few months of operations. At that point, that's when we'll have some real facts directly related to sbX.

However, it doesn't hurt to make some educated predictions based on past transit projects. When the LA Metro Orange Line through the San Fernando Valley opened on October, 2005, the line was busier than projected. Ridership grew rapidly with the Orange Line now operating at full capacity during part of the day. The Metro Orange Line operates on a dedicated transitway. Likewise during the expansion of LA's Metro Rapid network, the frequent limited stop service lines that operates in mixed traffic provided a speedy alternative to slower local bus lines for longer trips all throughout LA with the fewer stops.

The sbX E-Street line mimics the Metro Orange Line through downtown San Bernardino and Metro Rapid elsewhere. It's true that the overall population density of San Bernardino is less then Los Angeles. We don't expect sbX ridership to match LA's system. However, both bookends of sbX and its central core are high density activity centers: CSU San Bernardino to the north, Downtown San Bernardino in the middle, and the Loma Linda University Medical Center area to the south.

It's therefore safe to predict that many transit riders who ride the current Route 2 will transition to sbX for longer trips. The local Route 2 therefore will have fewer riders, but will remain a vital local service for the short-haul trips. That will be a reality. Likewise we estimate that more students and staff who attend both universities will utilize the sbX to save a few bucks on parking with the faster service. Therefore, the bus line will likely see some choice riders.

Another big draw later down the road for choice riders will be an extension of the Metrolink San Bernardino Line to connect to sbX at the proposed downtown transit center as many folks who ride the train do have the option to drive but leave their cars at home. Once the extension occurs, train riders would be able to transfer to sbX to get to the bookend destinations or points in between. Choice ridership will thus soar.

We therefore predict sbX will not fail and will fare well with a strong pool of riders. San Bernardino County Supervisor Janice Rutherford was concerned that failure will hamper with future funding, but BRT has already proven to provide a speedy alternative to local bus travel. Comparing sbX's actual ridership numbers with official projections and predictions will be a waiting game and there will always be ways to improve the system.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

sbX Bus Rapid Transit in the Media Spotlight

Omnitrans was placed heavily in the media spotlight, specifically on the sbX bus rapid transit project courtesy of a full front page headline and special reports on Sunday's Press Enterprise. The starting line would provide a speedy transit alternative along a major local corridor in San Bernardino. Currently, Omnitrans Route 2 serves the north/south E-Street corridor; however getting between the major destinations along the route is slow because its local stops are heavily used making longer distance bus trips slow. sbX will address this, emulating the Metro Orange Line through the higher density areas and Metro Rapid elsewhere. Much of the sbX debate now centers on whether choice riders would switch from their cars and use the bus and whether developers would be inclined to build and invest along the bus route with the abundance of street crime.

We'll analyze he detailed reporting, remarks from those interviewed, reader comments, and constructive criticism from skeptics later this week as officials have big plans to expand sbX all over San Bernardino County. Stay tuned and be sure to post any comments you may have about sbX here.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Improving RTA Bus Transit In Eastvale

In response to reported rider requests in the Eastvale area that took place during the Christmas holiday, The Riverside Transit Agency will be taking a fresh look of how public transportation can be improved in the region as part of its Comprehensive Operational Analysis study. Will that be enough to convince officials to better close the transit gap with routes in San Bernardino County?

Improving the connections between the counties has taken several years already with little to no progress in this area. A previous COA in 2007 recommended RTA to work with San Bernardino County officials and establish a transfer hub at the South Ontario Metrolink Station. That never happened; the collapse of the economy can be partially blamed. A long range plan for expanded sbX bus rapid transit service shows that Omnitrans is at least interested in addressing this issue.

As shown on this map, getting between Eastvale and San Bernardino County currently involves a long, circuitous journey. From the south one must take Route 3 to Eastvale's transfer hub at the Eastvale Gateway shopping center. From there, the rider would take Route 29 and then transfer to Route 21 in the Mira Loma area and head to another hub just north of the Country Village area. The lone Omnitrans connecting line in Country Village is Route 82 which runs about once every hour. A short ride between many parts of Eastvale and destinations in San Bernardino County can take several hours which is why we need an improved routing system through the region under the hub and spoke model.

Currently, we are calling on officials to improve the Eastvale Gateway transit hub with timed transfers between routes, extend Route 29 past the Eastvale Gateway area to better cover the western parts of town and streamline Route 3 to cover the Hamner Ave corridor with a future extension south to Lake Elsinore. In addition, we're advocating for two additional Omnitrans routes that would better connect to points north. One would be a local line that connects Eastvale directly to Chaffey College via Miliken Ave with train connections at the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station. The other--based on long term official proposals--would be along a future sbX Rapid corridor from Eastvale west through Chino into Diamond Bar with connections to Foothill Transit. The route would start as local route and evolve into a rapid route conditioned on pedestrian-friendly growth along the corridors.

Pending such area growth, a future local line could link west Eastvale with the Ontario Civic Center transfer hub to the north with the Corona Transit Center to the south. Also, officials from both counties are planning high occupancy toll lanes for the I-15. Having a HOT lane direct access ramp to/from the Eastvale hub would provide the infrastructure for future rapid express lines and existing private sector routes.

Improving the routes and infrastructure will require additional resources from both RTA and Omnitrans that should be considered and budgeted. It is long past due for officials to implement better hub and spoke routing through Eastvale. For years, The Transit Coalition has advocated for better transit connections and now, such improvements are at least somewhat being considered in official plans. We hope that such improvements do become a reality.

For the record: A previous version of this post showed that we advocated for an sbX transit route between Eastvale and Diamond Bar which omitted that it was long range and conditioned on pedestrian-friendly transit oriented growth along the corridor, implying that we supported BRT with the current suburban demographics. We've clarified the statement.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hyperloop: Does Pneumatic Tube Transport have a Future in California?

Interest continues to grow in a rapid transit technology that would propel cylindrical-shaped high speed passenger pods through a network of vacuum tubes by using compressed air. One such project that has been making the news recently has been the Hyperloop. Supporters have been selling the concept to the public, possibly prematurely.

Proponents hope that the negative news of the statewide California High Speed Rail Authority can bring good tidings to their efforts. Entrepreneur Elon Musk envisions transport-sized pneumatic tubes that would serve the I-5 Freeway corridor linking passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. Future conceptual Hyperloop branches would extend east to Las Vegas and south to San Diego through the Inland Empire. Interestingly enough, no stops were conceived anywhere in the Inland Empire. As presented now, the pod "trains" are very small in size. Passengers would be seated single file in a reclined position.

The concept is still very premature to support and positively no public money should be thrown at the Hyperloop just yet. The technology certainly should be evolved into a more mature state and tested well before developing the tubes along a major transportation corridor such as the I-5.

The technology certainly deserves to be improved by innovators in the private sector and constructive criticism will be necessary for that to happen. Please keep in mind that when aviation transport was being created, many ideas including the airplane were once heavily dissented in the public square of debate. Hard working groups matured the pipe dream concepts into an industrial victory for air travel. The same history can repeat itself for pneumatic tube transport as the technology is already being used to quickly transport documents, money and small objects in large buildings.

The Hyperloop has a way to go before it can be supported as presented. Entrepreneurs and private investors should continue to work on maturing these vacuum tubes and get its costs down. The pod sizes should be at least as tall and wide as a passenger van. Proponents should test the technology on private property paid for by private dollars and use the facts to evolve it. The government should stay out of the business financially until pneumatic tube transport can be proven to safely move people quickly and efficiently beyond reasonable doubt. At that point, government officials can then begin debating the incorporation of the technology into public works infrastructure.

The best equipment and technology for use in mass transit infrastructure is determined after unbiased research and study. The Transit Coalition has strong concerns in starting with a technology or type of transportation vehicle and then working backwards to justify a predetermined conclusion.

Pneumatic tube transport needs to be created and innovated the right way as it could have a future in mass transportation.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Getting Safe and Reliable Casino Buses onto the Inland Empire's Freeways

The Transit Coalition has long explored ways to improve longer distance inter-regional mobility transit options throughout the Inland Empire. The expansion of private sector coaches and intercity bus competition can certainly address this. One sector that is performing well in terms of ridership are casino buses which ferry patrons from pick up points all over Southern California to the gaming resorts.

However, with the ridership growth came the unexpected uprising in bus collisions. During the 2013 Christmas holiday season alone, four separate reported casino bus wrecks occurred on Inland Empire highways which included fatalities. In addition, Riverside Transit Agency bus Route 27 crashed in December along State Highway 74 through Romoland.

Because of this serious situation, regulators and lawmakers at the state and federal level will need to explore safety policy to stop preventable operator-at-fault collisions from occurring. Regulators need to better enforce existing law. Operators must be held accountable to ensure its bus drivers are properly trained and safety protocol is followed. Officials also need to be careful not to drive out the industry by over-regulating the market. Drawing a sound solution will require productive debate between the affected parties.

The long term solution of balancing bus safety regulations and sustaining a profitable bus market economy needs to be debated publicly between the governments, industry experts, the casinos, and contracted bus operators. We want the marketplace to grow and expand the bus industry and have its buses serve existing transit hubs. It provides the improved transit options to corridors where public bus travel is not financially feasible. Competition provides incentives to improve service and lower fares. At the same point, lives positively cannot be put into jeopardy through lax safety rules. We look forward to seeing some good robust debate on real solutions to this problem.