Monday, March 31, 2014

Will Omnitrans' Bus Drivers Strike?


We have another transit-related dispute that has risen between the government and the powerful public labor union lobby. The latest threat involves yet another potential transit driver strike--this one is against the cash-strapped Omnitrans bus system. So, the question worried bus riders are now wondering: Will Omnitrans bus drivers strike?

Short answer is...We don't know.

We know too little to make an educated prediction on this question. Right now, one of the best things to do is to be prepared. He here are some hard facts on this issue:
  • Based on data from the Omnitrans' About Us webpage, approximately 16 million passengers use the bus annually.
  • Omnitrans has a $12.8 million shortfall through 2020 and has already proposed to hike fares.
  • Omnitrans bus drivers are part of the Amalgamated Transit Union, the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the United States and Canada, with over 190,000 members in over 240 local unions spread across 46 states and nine provinces.
  • The Sun reported that drivers from the local unit voted 234-17 to approve the strike, but must muster approval from Riverside union leaders and by the ATU International Headquarters.
  • Drivers have been working without a contract since March 31, 2013--a whole year.
  • The dispute is over an "arbitrator’s decision to offer benefits to employees on medical leave for only three months, rather than indefinitely — or for either one or two years, depending on circumstances" based on a report from The Sun.
  • Omnitrans has a team of field supervisors and other employees trained to drive buses in the event of a strike, thus service along vital transit corridors will certainly continue should the drivers do strike.
  • Drivers have not received any salary raises from the last five years.
Omnitrans predicts the strike authorization is a negotiating ploy, implying that the drivers may not actually strike. Because the discussion sessions and union meetings are confidential, we have no specific data of what solutions are currently being debated nor what ATU plans to do should the discussions continue to lead nowhere. Therefore, Omnitrans' statement is speculation.

But here's what's not speculation: Transit strikes have long proven to be devastating to mobility; they worsen traffic conditions, isolates transit-dependent workers from their employers, and exacerbates the local economy which drives down the tax revenue to pay for the benefits. We certainly do not want a strike to occur.

Also, both the ATU and the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Labor Thomas E. Perez played key roles in holding up federal transit funds last August by exploiting loopholes in the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Act. That obstructed sound pension reform laws at the state level.

To be absolutely clear, we are in no way dissenting labor unions as a whole nor the hard-working public and contract-operator employees who get up in the morning and provide for the government services that we need. It is vital to ensure that their labor rights are protected. Anybody questioning this notion should check out what happened during the Industrial Revolution. Public workers must have the basic right to assemble and bargain collectively. We want public workers to have a decent means of living. And the facts back up the notion that a robust market economy where jobs are plentiful ensures that such benefits can be paid for fairly.

What the ATU should consider to maintain high wages & benefits: A Robust Market Economy

The powerful public labor union lobby needs to get out of their ideological fantasy that all of this money they want for their workers comes out of the heavens. The fact is that we the people--We the taxpaying public--pay for all of this. And the facts are the Inland Empire's economy is soft, job opportunities are still down, people seeking full time jobs is still high, fuel taxes are through the roof, our public works infrastructure and transit services are overdue for upgrades, the United States functions on a capitalistic economic system, and Omnitrans and LA Metro are millions in the red.

The labor union lobby needs to stop opposing measures that will strengthen the market economy. It's leaders should know that if elected officials institute laws and policies that obstruct marketplace growth in the name of guaranteeing promising wages and benefits for government workers, the problem will only worsen later down the road. If the unions want to maintain high government salaries, a robust market economy is essential. The generous benefits promised would be paid for simply because the salaries will actually be in line with the what is offered in the private sector during a robust economy. That also means our public works infrastructure and services would be fully paid for as well. The money to maintain government employee health benefits has to come from somewhere.

One last stat, courtesy of CNN: According to the Congressional Budget Office, public government jobs where the applicant is a high school graduate, college graduate, or a grad school graduate generally pays more than the equivalent job in the private sector, especially the lower-responsibility positions. Citizens with a doctorate degree were the general exception. Labor groups must realize that a growing number of voters are seeing this troubling pattern, putting together the facts, adding them up, and declaring, "enough!"

Friday, March 28, 2014

Why the Inland Empire Transit System is not as strong as it should be


During our analysis of the proposed changes in store for the Riverside Transit Agency, Omnitrans, and Los Angeles Metro, we've noted that there are policy changes that need to take place which go well beyond what the planning departments of these agencies can do. For years, we've called for a robust public transportation network for the Inland Empire. However, the public resources have to come from somewhere. One of those sources is getting infrastructure costs under control so that more money can be allocated to transit operations.

Many transit supporters are correct that if transit agencies like RTA had a mere fraction of the massive amounts of money purposed for highways, improved bus service would be possible.
Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
Inflated Highway Infrastructure Costs

Many transit advocates believe a reason why our transit systems are underfunded is simply because too much transportation money is being allocated toward expensive highway infrastructure and freeway projects.

Generally speaking, that is certainly a correct argument and perhaps one of the top frustrations for those who do transit advocacy. It is a proven reality and obvious fact that if a tiny fraction of massive highway-dedicated funds were re-purposed to RTA and Omnitrans, RTA's operating budget would be more than doubled, both the long-range sbX and RapidLink BRT proposals would be fully built out, LA Metro and Omnitrans would not be forced to raise fares, RTA would not be dependent on JARC funds to upgrade years-overdue service span upgrades, and every proposed transit center in Riverside County would be built and paid for including a multi-modal transit hub at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station.

However, what transit advocates should also know is the simple fact that public works capital projects all over the state cost way more than the current private sector market rates even during a soft economy here in the Inland Empire. That is without doubt the icing on the cake that must be broadcasted into the public square debate.

Why can't RCTC afford free non-transponder 2+ carpooling for the proposed I-15 HOT Express Lanes?
Graphic: RCTC
Why Tolling?

To make matters worse, infrastructure costs are so high that both the SANBAG and the Riverside County Transportation Commission argue that tolling will be necessary to bring robust HOV infrastructure into traffic-choked corridors beyond building a single carpool lane, robust HOV/transit infrastructure like the El Monte Busway and the I-15 Express Lanes that would last and be freely moving for decades.

Here at home, RCTC is expanding the 91 Express Lanes to the I-15 and proposes future dual high occupancy express lanes for the I-15 freeway each way, but financial constraints would require RCTC to exclude transit-oriented direct access ramps, adopt a policy where 3's a carpool, every vehicle in the HOT lanes will need a FasTrak toll transponder including the 3+ carpools, and that discounted tolls may charged to the HOV's. Here's what RCTC has to say.

The projected growth and development forecasts indicate that traffic volumes will continue to increase along the corridor. Traditional Federal and State funds are not available to provide this needed congestion relief; therefore Tolled Express Lanes are the most beneficial solution. Tolled Express Lanes are proven to offer time savings in all lanes and commuter choice when traveling through an area of continually high traffic volumes. Tolled Express Lanes are designed to save time, offer choice and reliability, boost safety, enhance access, promote ridesharing, and reduce pollution along the region’s roadways.

However, RCTC omitted some important facts in its statement, thus leading the public to imply that transportation tax funds are not collecting enough money. That is not the case. By the way, The Transit Coalition generally supports HOT lanes with transit infrastructure and the following usage policy: Except for the 91 where the carpool occupancy requirement should stay at 3+ simply due to high demands, carpools 2 or more should travel free always without needing to pre-register for a FasTrak. But why are traditional tax funds "not available" according to RCTC? For what reasons? We'll tell you why.

The State's Misspending of Record-Breaking Transportation Tax Funds

Take a look at these charts put out by the Census Bureau and the California Board of Equalization:


Not Seasonally Adjusted T13 Motor Fuels Sales Tax [Millions of Dollars]
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
These reports show that both the federal government and the state are getting records amounts of fuel tax money from us. Both governing bodies are getting more transportation tax revenue than ever before. Yes, revenue did take a short-range dip during the recession, but taxes have fully recovered whereas the local economy has not. The problem is not that we have enough transportation tax money to grow the transit system, but how it's being spent. Here is a look at the facts:

According this Census Bureau spreadsheet, state and local governments throughout the nation are taking in an average of $10-$11 billion in fuel taxes per quarter since 2011. Car taxes were $7-8 billion per quarter. That adds up to $68 billion in transportation-related taxes per year. Both stats are at record levels.

For California, more records are being broken. According to the California Board of Equalization, the state will received just under $7 billion in transportation taxes, a vast majority from the gas pump and just under $1 billion from commercial vehicle weight fees--a record that surpassed FY2007-2008 mark just before the economy tanked. This fiscal year, the estimate is more than $7 billion which might be higher factoring in the $4+ per gallon price spike that occurred last month. We'll likely see more records ahead but the local economy and job market are not much better here at home.

At the federal level, fuel tax receipts for 2013 clocked in at just under $30 billion according to the Federal Highway Administration, another record with inflation. In '94, the feds collected about $13.9 billion.

With that kind of transportation tax money collected and the fact that construction costs and working salaries are down in the marketplace simply due to the stubbornly soft Inland economy with the job market flooded with many experienced construction workers seeking the few full time jobs for less pay, both of The Transit Coalition's long-range future vision for LA and Inland Empire should be built out, in operations, and fully paid for. Our transit infrastructure, buses, and trains should be at their absolute prime. Statewide high speed rail and Metrolink Max should be built out fully with no debt. But our system clearly shows that our record transportation taxes are not fully making it to the rails and roads as they should even with all that transportation money flowing into Sacramento and Washington DC. So, just where is it all going?

It's clear that government waste and inflated costs are certainly out of control at the state level. Political ideology and foolish spending are the prime culprits. It's very clear that RTA, Omnitrans, SANBAG, and RCTC cannot control this issue on their own. It has to be reformed at the state and federal levels. But evidence shows that political ideology and special-interest pandering in the state legislature are going to continue where ill-advised policies keep public works projects expensive even through a soft economy with the special interests feeding from this out-of-control money fountain.

But that's no excuse to do nothing. Elected officials here at the local level need to stand up for what is right by putting out a firm message, pass resolutions and inform the public of why our transit and infrastructure systems are mired in such a mess without spinning or omitting these facts. Our local governments need to present real solutions to fix these problems, and not tolerate any more excuse-making from the state.

One last fact: Last July, we took a field study along the I-15 freeway in Salt Lake City and Las Vegas. In 2011, we toured the Phoenix Valley area. Their transit and highway infrastructure is keeping up with the growth. All three generally have smoother roads and growing transit systems--They're not perfect, hence some outter parts of the Phoenix Valley Metro system should be  hub-and-spoke instead of grid, but they are in a much healthier state. All three states that house these urban centers take in fewer tax dollars at the gas pump than California.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Getting Metrolink and More Express Buses into Lake Elsinore and Temecula



What is all planned and envisioned to improve Southwest Riverside County mass transit? Our Long Range Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit advocates for fast and frequent multi-modal transit moblity options for the I-15 and I-215 Freeway corridors in between the greater Los Angeles area and San Diego through the Southwest Riverside County region supported by a robust market economy, less crime, and sound fiscal spending. The long-range vision plans for high speed intercity rail lines for both the I-15 and I-215 corridors in which local regional services like Metrolink can be a part of.

We are long past time to be able to transverse from places like Lake Elsinore and Temecula via mass transit quickly. Here is a run-down of what is being proposed and what we are advocating:

Short-Range:

  • Develop the Twin Cities Transit Center located at or near the border of Temecula and Murrieta and ensure that it is compatible to handle the future rail service.
  • Restructure and streamline the circuitous local bus routes in Temecula and Murrieta into a more-direct, hub-and-spoke routing system with the Twin Cities Transit Center serving as the main hub supported by minor transfer hubs in Old Town Temecula and the Southwest Justice Center area. Several government studies back this notion up.
  • As part of the route streamlining, run a direct local bus route from Pechanga to Lake Elsinore with major stops at Old Town Temecula, the Jefferson Avenue corridor, Twin Cities Transit Center, Murrieta Civic Center/Downtown, the Inland Valley Medical Center hub, central Wildomar, the Lake Elsinore Diamond Stadium area and the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center. Major smart growth development proposals are planned for this Historic Highway 395 corridor.
  • Streamline Route 61 in north Murrieta and extend north to the Perris Station Transit Center.
  • Close the Lake Elsinore-to-Corona off-peak transit gap with an all-day regional connector operating every hour between downtown Lake Elsinore and the Corona Transit Center. The connector could be an extension or interlined with Route 3.
  • Announce a mid-range master plan to bring high occupancy vehicle express lanes and bus transit infrastructure to the I-15 Freeway in between Escondido and the high desert and ensure future rail/highway projects are compatible for the upgrades. Start acquiring the funds. Hold the state accountable for ensuring infrastructure costs are not inflated.
  • Study potential locations for direct access ramps in between the planned high occupancy lanes and adjacent transit centers. 
  • Finish and open both phases of the French Valley interchange project.
  • Build the Temecula Parkway interchange project and make sure it is compatible for longer-range infrastructure projects for the freeway.
  • Construct and open the Temecula Parkway Park & Ride. Get its inflated costs down to the market rate. 
  • Incline the private sector to expand intercity bus service competition for improved services into Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix, and Las Vegas for the I-15 corridor with stops at or near public transit centers.

Mid-Range:
Conceptual I-15 HOV Express Lanes direct access ramp in Temecula
  • Advance and acquire the funding to extend the Perris Valley Line south to the Twin Cities Transit Center with a branch into the Hemet Valley which should be coordinated with statewide high speed rail plans.
  • Develop a central multi-modal transit center in Lake Elsinore in the downtown or Diamond Stadium area.
  • Start advancing plans for the I-15 Rail Corridor between San Diego and Ontario with direct connections to Los Angeles via existing or planned high speed rail lines. Like the PVL, the plans should be coordinated with statewide HSR.
  • Add a second north/south local bus route for the I-215 corridor in between the Twin Cities Transit Center and the Perris Station Transit Center as the medical sector grows in the region.
  • Add an all-day regional connector from the Twin Cities Transit Center to NCTD buses down south.
  • Work with the Reservation Transportation Authority for a direct connector from the Twin Cities Transit Center to the casino resorts in north San Diego County via the Pechanga Resort with potential owl service on Friday and Saturday nights.
  • With the economic growth in the region, speed up the plan to get carpool lanes on the I-215 freeway south of Moreno Valley with potential direct access ramps at transit centers and connecting HOV infrastructure. 
  • Get the I-15 Express Lanes/bus infrastructure fully funded, paid for, debt-free, and constructed in between Escondido and Corona. Adopt San Diego County's usage policies of free non-transponder 2+ carpooling for the system.

Long-Term:
  • Get the private sector on board to fund and complete the intercity rail network.
  • Implement rapid express bus service using the express lane and direct access ramp infrastructure as the region continues to grow. Operate one line in between the Twin Cities Transit Center into San Diego County. Operate a second line from Downtown Lake Elsinore into Orange County.
  • As smart growth development matures along the Jefferson Avenue and Highway 395 corridors, upgrade the bus route serving the corridor with limited stop rapid runs with possible dedicated lanes through dense areas.
Did we miss anything that sounds desirable? Are we making any mistakes? Post them in the comments and we'll debate so we can better form sound and fact-based propositions to improve the region's mass transit options and quality of life.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Why Fare Increases are NOT toxic for Southern California

© Wikimedia/David Iliff CC-BY-SA
We have to confess that LA's Bus Riders Union, under the umbrella of the Labor/Community Strategy Center can be funny at times. The bus transit advocacy group of 200 active members, 3,000 dues-paying members, and 50,000 supporters based on data from its website continues to announce proposals that tend to be laughable according to fair-minded citizens. For years, the BRU has labelled fare hikes "racist". Last month, we refuted that statement with the facts and solutions that would actually combat racial division, poverty and crime in troubled minority neighborhoods--solutions that public officials and the civil rights industry really should take into account.

Last Friday, the BRU published "Stop the MTA's Toxic Fare Increase," connecting the latest fare hike proposals with global pollution. Here's how the BRU views it:

Los Angeles generates massive quantities of greenhouse gases & air toxins from the automobile, with 8 million cars on the road in a county of 10 million people. The only way to reduce these toxins, and save ourselves and the planet from run-away global warming is to massively restrict private automobiles and massively expand public transportation. The MTA's proposed fare increase would generate more greenhouse gases by driving people off of public transit and into their cars.

The BRU is correct on the point that our highways and land use policies need to better support  mobility other than driving alone in a car. Look no further than Southwest Riverside County and the 91 Freeway between Riverside and Orange counties. Traffic congestion is a disgrace during rush hours and many weekends. However, the thesis of the BRU's argument that fare hikes causes greenhouse gases is flat out false.

The spun notion is this: If LA Metro raises its fares, LA will become more polluted because fewer riders will be able to afford the bus and will thus will switch to driving alone, which in turn causes more pollution. That argument is easily refutable and here are the simple facts.
  • Local transit fares have generally gone up throughout recent history since the government began subsidizing trains and buses. There are exceptions, but inflation, artificially bloated infrastructure costs, and decreased spending power of the dollar must be factored into the situation. Remember the days when it only cost a few dimes and a nickel to ride the bus?
  • LA's smog and pollution have gone down since the 1940's. LA's air quality was at very dangerous levels back then, likely as bad as many urban centers in China are today. LA still has ways to go in terms of improving air quality, but the city is much cleaner than it was back then even though fares to ride government-subsidized public transportation are higher today than a few decades ago.
  • Historical stats confirm ridership is sustainable even when fares go up. Generally speaking, transit ridership for any transit agency takes a short-term hit following any fare increase. However, the BRU cannot prove beyond reasonable doubt that a significant number of riders will switch to driving alone in gas-guzzling cars and remain. The Riverside Transit Agency for example had fare hikes in 2005 and 2008. RTA took a short-term dip during the recession, but ridership today is now at record high levels. Metro expects to see these ups and downs following each phase of the proposed fare changes. 
  • High gas prices provides an incentive to take transit and carpool. It was unthinkable at one point a few decades ago, but $4+ per gallon gas prices have led more car-loving Californians into taking public transportation and carpooling. Both forms are high occupancy vehicles which reduce greenhouse gases and traffic congestion.

Do we all see where the BRU's argument falls apart?

Lesser of the Evils: Fare Hikes or Service Cuts?

We do agree that increasing fares is universally loathed and the BRU is using this reality as a front to draw up support and dues-paying membership. It plans to stage a protest this Saturday at LA Metro's headquarters. However what BRU leaders surely know is that two alternative solutions to fare hikes that Metro has at the local level is to reduce waste internally or cut services. The former is very sound, but only can go so far. The latter is very destructive to mobility. When a transit rider learns that his/her bus route is proposed to be cut due to budget problems, paying more to ride it wouldn't sound so bad. Cuts certainly have a more devastating effect on transit ridership. Metro was correct in not proposing any cuts.

As we've mentioned during our analysis of the Omnitran's fare hikes, fiscal solutions that go beyond LA Metro's power need to be debated and considered--answers like gang crime reduction and job growth in South LA and stopping ongoing special interest pandering at the state level that drives up capital infrastructure costs beyond the market rates. By the way, rail transportation infrastructure, in of itself, is not government waste as the BRU falsely claims.

Also what the BRU did not tell its supporters is that Metro has proposed reinstating free transfers as part of the restructuring process, which would actually reduce the bus price for cash-paying riders needing to transfer. To be fair, the price of the monthly pass is one of the sharpest proposed hikes we've seen ($135 or $180 by 2020) and therefore questionable. However, Metro does have plans to work with the private sector, other public agencies, cities, and colleges to provide fare assistance and expand transit pass programs. RTA has similar programs in place. To name one, students enrolled Mount San Jacinto College can ride RTA for free with their current student ID card.

Stopping the "Toxic" Greenhouse Gas Situation

Every U.S. citizen should support a cleaner environment. Civic-minded people should want the Earth to be cleaner. That can be accomplished by supporting policies that would lead to the innovation, research and development of cleaner alternative fuels, renewable energy, and more fuel-efficient cars. In addition, both land use zoning policies and transportation infrastructure should support multiple ways to get around other than driving solo in a car.

There is evidence that such policies are maturing as our transit buses mostly now run on compressed natural gas, more hybrids and electric cars are being introduced into the marketplace, and rapid competitive growth and lower prices in the solar panel industry are allowing more Californians to be self-reliant on clean power. Still, there is work to be done in this field and a fair way to incline the private sector into developing and maturing such technology at a faster rate is tax breaks or rebates.

One project that needs to move forward is the GRID hub in Long Beach, which promises to provide a clean and fast solution to haul freight that is imported and exported at the ports, thus driving out a prime source of LA's present-day pollution which is caused by diesel-running trucks.

These solutions will certainly make the Earth cleaner at minimal taxpayer risk, expand the job market, and will provide for the much-needed, long-overdue marketplace competition against the monopoly powers of Southern California Edison for electricity outside of Los Angeles and the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and its swing-producer grip for vehicle fuels.

The need to broadcast Real Solutions to LA's Problems

If the Labor/Community Strategy Center and the BRU want something to protest about to keep LA from becoming "toxic" and if the group really wants to "fight for the soul of the cities", fact-based solutions are what the group of 50,000 supporters should be broadcasting into the pubic square of debate. Efficient transit to get around, proper land use, better planned development, fiscal responsibility, cutting down on pollution, and stopping gang crime are all important issues which require real solutions. Wishful notions like no cars in LA, free-for-all transit buses, releasing 2.5 million convicted criminals from jail, and stopping proven intelligence-driven law enforcement to combat fare evasions and street crime through "1,000 more buses/1,000 less police" are not going to transform Southern California into a better society, period.

That type of ill-advised thinking is self-serving drawn up from the far-reaches of ideological La La Land. And the sad truth is thousands of good LA citizens are fooled into buying this spun way of thinking.

That's another reason why fact-based transit advocacy groups like The Transit Coalition exist.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Expanding Omnitrans express and bus rapid transit services

Proposed West Valley sbX BRT
Source: Omnitrans

Despite battling a $12.8 million budget shortfall, Omnitrans has big mid and long-range plans to expand services for commuters and bus riders needing to transverse longer distances. Such services include freeway express, limited stop, and additional sbX bus rapid transit routes. We've mentioned that acquiring the funding to quickly pay for these services on top of balancing the budget all without waiting for years on in will require leadership beyond what the Omnitrans planning department can execute or propose.

West Valley sbX BRT Introduced

Omnitrans has big plans to upgrade the Route 61 and 66 corridors. The agency plans to bring in an sbX BRT line for the western span of the Route 61 corridor via Holt Blvd between the Pomona TransCenter and the Ontario Mills Mall transfer point, and along Foothill Blvd from the Ontario Mills Mall to Fontana which overlaps the eastern segment of Route 66. Like the E Street sbX route, the line will have improved stations with stops spaced 1/2 to 1 mile apart and will provide a speedy alternative to slower all-local service with speed improvements of up to 15%. More details to come, but the line certainly looks promising on the surface as it is now proposed to connect with the Metrolink San Bernardino Line at the Fontana and Rancho Cucamonga stations. Also at the Pomona TransCenter, the line will connect with both the Metrolink Riverside Line and the Foothill Transit Silver Streak rapid express line.

Foothill Blvd Limited Stop Service
Proposed "Express" or more accurately, limited stop services for Foothill Blvd

Omnitrans also proposes to speed up travel trip times for the entire Foothill Blvd corridor between San Bernardino and Montclair with limited stop runs of Routes 14 and 66. In addition the eastern branch of Route 1 between San Bernardino and Highland is proposed also to have limited stop runs. The official proposal labels the proposals as "express", but "limited stop" is a more accurate term to avoid confusion with longer distance express bus routes that transverse freeways. The expanded service will serve Foothill Blvd with stops spaced about one mile apart from each other. Omnitrans will propose to fund the Route 14 segment first between San Bernardino and Fontana.

The agency had longer-range plans to bring in two sbX BRT routes for Foothill Blvd with Fontana serving as the transfer hub. Under the current economic climate, limited stop runs of the existing routes will have to do. Local officials should designate portions of the Foothill Blvd corridor as specific plans to entice marketplace smart growth and job investments so that Omnitrans has the funds and ridership base to phase in sbX BRT for the corridor later down the road.

Freeway Commuter Express

Proposed: More freeway express routes
Source: Omnitrans
The Riverside Transit Agency brought in peak-hour CommuterLink express routes several years ago. It looks likes it's now Omnitrans' turn. Omnitrans has included in its transit master plan a network of commuter express buses which will utilize the I-10 and I-210 freeway corridors built "upon the strength of existing Route 215." The I-210 freeway currently has a 2+ carpool lane as infrastructure. The I-10 has a 2+ carpool lane west of the I-15.

San Bernardino County officials have a key transit opportunity. SANBAG currently is proposing high occupancy toll lane infrastructure for the I-10 corridor between the Los Angeles County line and Redlands which could provide the high occupancy vehicle transit infrastructure for the expanded bus services. If planned right, the proposed I-10 commuter express services could grow and mature into rapid express routes with an early morning to late night service span with potential overnight night owl departures. Imagine having both rapid express BRT and Metrolink rail service as options to get around quickly in between Redlands and Los Angeles.

Omintrans should work with SANBAG so that direct access ramps and/or intermediate access points between the HOT lanes and adjacent transit stops can be integrated into the proposals.

The transit agency has not yet identified how it will pay for the expanded freeway express services. Under the current economic situation, it may take years to acquire the funding on top of allocating funds for continued operation. That's where the members of Omnitrans' governing board and elected officials need to go back to their jurisdictions and take leadership role in solving this problem by enticing the private sector to improve the Inland Empire job market which would increase tax revenue at the local level, standing up and holding the state accountable with its spending spree of our tax dollars--that includes combating artificially inflated infrastructure costs and excessive spending, and driving out crime at the local level.

Let's get San Bernardino moving. Let's get its people back to work. Let's get the region back to prosperity. The time to act is now.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Some Proposed Improvements in store for Omnitrans Bus Riders

While some of Omnitrans' proposals to restructure its bus routes are questionable and the reality remains that the agency is going to be flooded in dissenting comments towards its proposed fare increases, there are some good proposals planned. Here's a rundown of some of them:

East Valley

SbX BRT & Route 2 (San Bernardino to Loma Linda via E Street): sbX to start April 28. With the added BRT runs, the local Route 2 will operate every 30 minutes. Both routes will also replace the Route 7 segment between the CSU San Benardino hub and the University Heights area. Route 7 will begin at the transit hub at the university.

Route 5 (Northeast San Bernardino Local): Increase frequency to 30 minutes and reroute to Redlands Blvd via Waterman Ave. While the proposal to bypass Downtown San Bernardino is very questionable, the increased frequency is desirable. Elected officials should lead the way to reduce crime and expand marketplace smart growth along the Highland, Baseline, and downtown areas to ensure Omnitrans has continued funding while maintaining service to the downtown hub.

Route 22 (Colton to North Rialto): Minor streamlining of the southern turnaround loop at the Arrowhead Regional Medical Center transfer hub.

West Valley
 
Route 65, 68: Route 68 will be reduced to operate hourly but Route 65 will operate every 30 minutes. This will establish direct and productive 30 minute service frequency between these hubs:
  • Chino Transit Center
  • Montclair TransCenter
  • Chaffey College Transit Center.
The Route 65 southern branch south of the Chino Transit Center will also be reassigned to Route 68. However, the transfer connection at the central city area at Rancho Cucamonga is proposed to be bypassed. That should be considered to be maintained with the government office destinations there.

Route 81, 82: Reroute the eastern branch of Route 81 to Haven Avenue and the western branch of Route 82 to Milliken which would streamline the routes. Both routes will continue to connect at the Ontario Mills transfer hub and the direct routing will speed up trip times. In addition, the Route 81 realignment will bridge two hubs directly every hour on weekdays: Chino Transit Center with the Ontario Mills Mall transfer hub.

However, like the Route 65 proposal, the transfer hub at the central city area at Rancho Cucamonga will be gone and Route 82 falls short of connecting to the Chaffey College Transit Center hub. Once Omnitrans acquires the funding to do so, Route 82 should be extended north to connect at the college and the hub at the government offices in Rancho Cucamonga should be restored for both lines and Routes 65 and 66. Weekend service should also be planned later down the road for Route 81 as the economy grows in the area.

Route 83 (Upland to Chino): Streamline the southern section of the route through the College Park area. 

Proposed Route 63 Restructure
Route 63, 67, 80, 84: Sorry to put some more troubling news into the list...Omnitrans proposes to restructure Route 63 to serve Mountain Avenue directly with no direct connections to the Montclair TransCenter or the downtown Ontario Civic Center Transfer Station. Also, Routes 67 and 80 are proposed to no longer connect to the Montclair TransCenter. That breaks the following direct connections:
  • Euclid & Baseline transfer hub to Montclair TransCenter
  • Ontario Civic Center Transit Station to Montclair TransCenter
Conceptual Streamlined Hub-And-Spoke Routing

While the Route 63 streamlining is well-intentioned, the hub-and-spoke design should not be broken and service to the transit centers need to be maintained. A better idea would be to operate the direct service as proposed with branches connecting to the transit centers. Further down the road, Route 63 could be extended from the Euclid & Baseline transfer hub east to the Chaffey College Transit Center via the Alta Loma area.

Route 67: As mentioned, Route 67 will be rerouted to no longer serve Montclair, but it will connect to the Chaffey College Transit Center. A timed connection with Route 65 will ensure continued seamless connections to the Montclair TransCenter.

Last but not least, Route 215 (Riverside Downtown Terminal to Downtown San Bernardino Express): Increase weekend frequency to 30 minutes. This is certainly desirable.

Tomorrow, we will cover the long-range proposals. When one connects the dots, this will bring a new pool of riders to the sbX BRT. For those still wondering whether or not the E-Street BRT line will have riders, there's good news to predict.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

OmniConnects: Improving Omnitrans' West Valley Bus Service or not?

Current hub-and-spoke Omnitrans Routing System as of March, 2013. Visit Omnitrans.org for updated schedules.
Graphic: Omnitrans

Omnitrans' proposed short-range service changes fall under a project known as OmniConnects. According to the plan, here are its goals:
  • Addressing a $12.8 million shortfall through 2020 with a balanced budget through a fare increase. We have offered some solutions here which requires true leadership from elected officials which goes beyond the authority of Omnitrans' panning department.
  • Streamlining circuitous and overlapping bus routes: Such route restructuring is good to make routes faster and easier to understand but the designs must maintain the hub-and-spoke model where the lines connect at centralized transit centers. We've mentioned some examples for the East Valley area. Given the Inland Empire's spread-out development and demographics, our bus system should operate in a way where routes generally join together at a transfer hub with timed connections, offer direct service along major corridors, and then rejoin again at the next hub. That minimizes transfer wait times for routes that operate less than one bus every 15 minutes.
  • Cancel the OmniLink Dial-A-Ride-like service for the general public in Chino Hills and Yucaipa while maintaining the Access Dial-A-Ride service for seniors/disabled and the OmniGo fixed-route circulators: Omnitrans cites a service duplication with the circulator service, but the issue is not really about overlapping service, but high costs associated with on-demand paratransit services.

    Opening up door-to-door paratransit services to the general public is a noble proposal, was demonstrated by OmniLink, and solutions to cut down costs should be debated. Under the current rules, the service is set up in a way where the subsidy per rider goes through the roof and farebox recovery tanks, something that Omnitrans cannot afford or control on its own. We'll take a look at the affected areas next week and will offer some alternative solutions as transit mobility must not be negated.
Let's enter in the West Valley area proposals. The region currently operates under a hub-and-spoke model with few of the more popular routes emulating the grid system, namely Route 61 (Fontana-Pomona) and Route 66 (Fontana-Montclair).

Omnitrans would like to improve connections to these trunk routes, a sound proposal on the surface but keeping the hub-and-spoke routing model will be essential as the vast majority of connecting routes operate hourly and timed transfers are made more possible at the major hubs. Riders having to transfer buses should have the option to ride into the transit center with a short layover period before transferring to/from the trunk lines or other services offered. Again, there are some sound proposals out there and we'll continue to analyze those and the long-range service improvements tomorrow and Friday.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Is Omnitrans moving away from Hub-and-Spoke in Downtown San Bernardino?

Current hub-and-spoke Omnitrans Routing System as of March, 2013. Visit Omnitrans.org for updated schedules.
Graphic: Omnitrans

The proposed Omnitrans route changes generally look promising to bus riders but there are a few exceptions. Before we look at the good proposals which we will cover later this week, we need to get the questionable ones into the public square of debate.

The Omnitrans bus transit system in the East Valley area which includes downtown San Bernardino generally operates under the hub-and-spoke model, meaning the routes connect with each other at a transit hub with timed transfers and serve major corridors before rejoining again at the next hub. RTA also operates under hub-and-spoke. This design mode works well for bus routes that operate fewer than one departure every 15 minutes or if the roadway infrastructure design dictates so.

In contrast, the grid model has routes serving the major streets directly without going to one or more centralized transfer points. Los Angeles Metro and OCTA for example generally operates under the grid system. Buses should generally have a service frequency of 15 minutes or better to operate an efficient grid-based bus system with the roads themselves designed as a grid on flat land; otherwise the hub-and-spoke design would fare better. That is to maintain timed transfers between lower frequency lines which reduces connection wait times at intersections. That is exactly why getting around some parts of LA's San Fernando Valley and South Orange County seems to be difficult by bus given the reduced headways.

To be clear, we are generalizing and there could be exceptions to this notion.

Omnitrans' Questionable East Valley Proposed Changes

Graphic: Omnitrans
In the case of Omnitrans, two bus routes in the East Valley are proposed to be moving away from the hub-and-spoke design to grid. Omnitrans proposes to extend Route 5 south via Waterman Avenue, but the new alignment would bypass the downtown transit hub. Also, Routes 9 and 19 are proposed to be combined into one east/west line with 30 minute headways between Yucaipa and Fontana with the Route 9 branch via Waterman Avenue to be served by Route 5.

Omnitrans will continue to have Route 8 serve the Yucaipa-San Bernardino corridor with 30 minute headways between San Bernardino and Redlands and hourly service east to Yucaipa. Unfortunately, Route 8 will no longer connect to the Yucaipa Transit Center and instead terminate at Crafton Hills College.

Debate: Are these proposals good?

We're not downright opposing these proposals, but they are very questionable and need to bring them up for debate.

Route 5: If the ridership facts back up an unlikely argument that an insufficient number of riders aboard Route 5 board or alight at downtown and productivity would be better by having the route bypass the hub with a timed connection to Route 3/4 at Baseline Road as an alternative, then the re-routing proposal would be fine. Since there is much activity in the central city area, that notion is highly unlikely, but it is possible.

To be fair the Route 3/4 circulator is proposed for 15 minute headways. Line 5 is also proposed to operate more frequently with 30 minute headways but that is still far short of an interval to have it bypass the transit hub. 

Routes 8, 9, 19: The same holds true for the proposed service changes for the Yucaipa-downtown corridor. Citizens living in Yucaipa should have a single-seat ride from its transit hub to the downtown San Bernardino transit center. That would mean maintaining Route 8 service to the Yucaipa Transit Center. If Route 19 operated once every 15 minutes, the grid-like route design from the Yucaipa Transit Center would function fine given the sbX transfer in Loma Linda, but Route 19 is proposed to operate every 30 minutes. Let's consider keeping the affected routes as hub-and-spoke. 

One last fact and question: Since officials propose to extend Metrolink to the downtown transit hub that would drive up connecting bus ridership, and the facility has a massive 20+ bus capacity, why is Omnitrans pulling the feeding local routes away from it?

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Reality of Omnitrans' Proposed Fare Hikes

Proposed Omnitrans Fares
Source: Omnitrans

Omnitrans has proposed a fare increase and major route changes effective September 2, 2014 as part of a 6 year short range transit plan. The agency is now receiving public comments through April 7. The good news is Omnitrans has proposed no wholesale service cuts with the exception of cancelling the OmniLink general public Dial-A-Ride service in Chino Hills and Yucaipa. In fact, there are some good service improvements being proposed. We'll analyse those next week but first, let's cover the proposed fare hikes. 

A Government Budget Shortfall...Yet Again.

Omnitrans has projected a $12.8 million funding shortfall. We know what you're thinking: Here we go again...

With this troubling news said, here is the outlet to submit comments related to the fare increases and service changes now through April 7:
Mail:  Omnitrans Planning Dept., 1700 W. Fifth St., San Bernardino, CA 92411
Email:  Tembi.Morales@omnitrans.org
Phone:  909-379-7250

Now before anybody begins ranting anger or dissent toward Omnitrans' Planning Department, here are some facts that concerned bus riders should note:

Generally speaking, situations where a local transit agency is faced with budget problems are likely due to a cause that is no fault of its own. Omnitrans has limited power of what goes on outside of transit-related matters in San Bernardino County. This includes policies and regulations on economic growth; land use decisions; crime, street gangs, and vandalism; and state law that polices how funds are to be spent and how workers and crews are to be hired and paid. That means the agency's financial staff is often forced into a corner in deciding what needs to happen in order to get them out of the red.

Omnitrans Monthly Passes
Source: Omnitrans
The top solution a local entity can do of course is to curb unnecessary internal waste from the top down within the Agency. It has been proven to work. In 2010, then-CEO of Metrolink John Fenton instituted a simple shutdown policy that eliminated a whopping $3-4 million per year of government waste caused by idling locomotives. Omnitrans should review how it spends its money, line by line and cut out any waste it finds.

We are aware that $12.8 million is a lot of money and internal cost control will only be a fraction of the solution. Once the internal work to curb costs is done, the two options left at the local level are to cut service or hike fares. Omnitrans was correct in proposing the latter, striving to "balance the budget without cutting service."

Bus riders will dissent the proposed fare hikes without question, but if the same riders were told that their preferred bus is going to be cut, paying more to ride the bus wouldn't sound so bad. 

Photo: © George Lumbreras 2012 CC-BY-SA
Comparing Omnitrans' Fare Hikes with Other Transit Systems

Omnitrans' proposed bus rates actually lean around the average of what other transit agencies are charging, although to be fair, RTA bus riders are paying far less. A few examples of general local fares:

Omnitrans Proposed Fares for Late 2018:
Cash Fare: $2.25
Day Pass: $6.75
Monthly Pass: $69

LA Metro Proposed Fares for 2020:
Cash Fare: $2.25 (up from $1.50, but with free transfer)
Day Pass: $9 or $13 (up from $5)
Monthly Pass: $135 or $180 (up from $75)

RTA:
Cash Fare: $1.50
Day Pass: $4
Monthly Pass: $50

OCTA, Orange County:
Cash Fare: $2
Day Pass: $5
Monthly Pass: $69

NCTD, San Diego County:
Cash Fare: $1.75
Day Pass: $5
Monthly Pass: $69

Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City UT:
Cash Fare: $2.50
Day Pass: $6.25
Monthly Pass: $83.75

Valley Metro, Phoenix AZ:
Cash Fare: $2.00
Day Pass: $6
Monthly Pass: $64

RTC, Las Vegas NV:
Cash Fare: $2.00 (Outside the LV Strip)
Day Pass: $5.00
Monthly Pass: $65.00 

Montclair TransCenter
© Wikimeida/Amerique CC-BY-SA
Getting to the bottom of Omnitrans' $12.8M deficit problem

Again, we must restate that increasing the fares is much more desirable than tearing apart productive bus transit lines. With that said, fare hikes must be the last resort. That's where elected officials can and should take a leadership role in solving this $12.8 million deficit from its roots, solutions that go way beyond what Omnitrans planning staff can do or propose. Here are three proven solutions that elected officials should debate and agree upon in order to get a first-rate, crime-free transit system in San Bernardino County that is fully paid for:
  1. Cut the Government Waste at the state level:

    Get all inflated costs down to the market rates which includes transportation infrastructure. That's going to require some hard-ball debate with labor union leaders.

    We should not be paying $131 million for a mile of high speed rail infrastructure when it cost Japan $63 million per mile for a similar HSR system. Likewise, taxpayers should not have to pay $3-4 million for a railroad grade crossing upgrade in Box Springs that would have cost $250,000 to build in other states. Nor should a 157-space proposed Park & Ride in Temecula be allowed to balloon to $2.36 million or $15,000 per space when the market rate to construct a parking lot is about $2,000-6,000 per space. Where is all that excessive money going? Who is going to be courageous enough to solve this problem by defending the truth and stopping this out-of-control money fountain paid for by us?

  2. Rid the crime and rebuild the family:

    Crime and gangs obstruct the transit system simply due to vandalism and lack of economic growth.

    Stop kids from joining gangs by spreading a firm message of rebuilding the family unit and impose better discipline at schools. Get troubled or undisciplined youth without caring parents to a positive mentor. Network with the law-abiding citizens, flood the streets of troubled neighborhoods with law enforcement to stop the violence, and lock up the criminals and vandals. Work with those incarcerated who desire to turn away from the criminal culture and offer rehabilitation programs so they can reintegrate back into the community and find good work in the marketplace once their sentences are served.
  3. Support policies that would improve the market economy without harming the environment.

    A significant reason why Omnitrans is broke is because the cities in the transit agency's service area are generally not enticing the private sector to invest in good jobs in order to generate the necessary tax revenue to pay for the majority of its bus operations--at most 80% comes from taxes; at least 20% comes from fares.

    We know we're generalizing and there are some exceptions: Loma Linda is a powerful medical employment hub and logistics is growing in the Ontario and southeast San Bernardino areas. However, where are the smart growth marketplace investments in places like downtown Fontana, Colton, Grand Terrance and Rialto that would put residents to work? Those regions can be robust job hubs which generates the tax revenue. Productive employees electing to ride the bus also help pay for the system through their fares.

If you want to take an active role in Omnitrans' public hearing on the fare hikes, get your comments to Omnitrans. However, the transit agency alone cannot adopt these three solutions on its own. Elected officials from all levels must take a leadership role to cut the waste, rid the crime, and get San Bernardino County's economy back into a robust state. If government officials from all levels work on these three areas, Omnitrans will be robust once again with a healthy budget out of the red.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Better Bus Service between west Riverside and San Bernardino Counties

Circuitous: Try to explain how one can get to Ontario from Eastvale or Norco quickly by bus.
Map: Riverside Transit Agency

Bus transit service between the two Inland Empire counties along the western side is long overdue for better connectivity. There is some slight good news to report and analyse regarding this matter. Bus riders living the Eastvale, Norco and north Corona areas may see Saturday bus service should the Riverside Transit Agency approve a proposal to add such service to Route 3 which connects Corona to Eastvale via Hamner Road. In addition, RTA proposed some evening service on weekdays with a 6:53pm and 7:38pm northbound departure from Corona and a 5:48pm and 6:33pm southbound departure from Eastvale.

Proposed: RTA Route 3 Saturday Service
These upgrades are possible thanks to the federal government's Job Access Reverse Commute program. Several other of RTA's proposed upgrades fall under JARC funds. Because the routes upgrades are specially funded, economic and job growth along or near the Hamner Road corridor between Corona and Eastvale will be necessary to fund the service permanently through tax revenue and passenger fares. We are hopeful that this will happen as the logistics sector continues to grow in the area.

The routing of bus Route 3 is fairly direct and the added Saturday service is certainly desirable, but many more additional upgrades will be necessary to improve inter-county connections. Bus transit routes on each end of the county line in the Eastvale area and Ontario areas currently follow a design pattern that does not consider direct connections between two major activity nodes: The Eastvale Gateway and Ontario Mills Mall bus transfer hubs. Both RTA and Omnitrans should consider in their short range plans to close this gap as the only inter-agency transit connection in this area involves a circuitous ride to the Country Village transfer point north of Mira Loma with many transfers.

Regional officials from both counties should ensure their transit agencies have the funds necessary to close this transit gap. The following upgrades should be debated and considered for funding:
  • RTA Route 3: Extend north to the Country Village transfer point via Bellegrave Avenue. Maintain hourly headways.
  • Omnitrans Route 82: Reroute the western branch of the route to connect and terminate at the Eastvale Gateway. Replace the Route 82 service via Milliken Avenue with a new local route running at least hourly between the Eastvale Gateway and Chaffey College serving as part of the long-range sbX bus rapid transit master plan. The two lines could be also be inter-lined for a guaranteed timed transfer connection. Maintain hourly headways.
  • New East/West Omnitrans Route: Establish a new east/west local route connecting the Eastvale transit hub to Diamond Bar via Chino and Chino Hills with a timed connection to Foothill Transit Route 482. Route would run hourly.

Long-Range Proposed sbX System Corridors
Map: Omnitrans
Omnitrans has big plans to explore additional sbX routes in the region which includes direct inter-county connectors into Riverside County.

While it may be way too premature right now to bring bus rapid transit through Eastvale, running direct local service with hourly headways under the hub-and-spoke model with timed transfers at the transit hubs would be a sound short-range plan. The direct local routes would lay the foundation for longer-range sbX service as the region's economy grows.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Streamlining the Circuitous RTA Bus Routes in Temecula and Murrieta



We are going to state this issue once again. Local bus service in northwest Murrieta and south Temecula is very circuitous which makes connections and integration to the rest of the RTA bus system a process that can last in excess of several hours or more for a one way trip. Study after study backs up the fact that the routing in this region is overdue for streamlining and more direct routing.

For instance, a short ride aboard Route 24 from the Temecula Valley Hospital to the County Center transfer hub takes well over an hour. Add in another 15 minutes if the route goes to the Temecula Library. If the bus route was more direct and served the Margarita Road corridor starting from Pechanga at the south and running through the transit hub, the short ride would take no more than 25-30 minutes, or about 35-40 with runs stopping at the library.

The same holds true for Route 23. A trip from the County Center hub to the Inland Valley Medical Center currently takes over an hour. The same trip would take about 30-35 minutes with direct hub-and-spoke routing via Jefferson Avenue.

Regional Connector: RTA Route 61
Former Sun City Scooter Route 61
Streamlining such bus routes has already proven to be beneficial. Several years ago, RTA Route 61 was once dubbed the Sun City Scooter, a shuttle that circulated all around the Sun City region. The route had stagnant low ridership of 3 riders per hour and it was proposed to be canceled at one point.

However officials did the wise thing of streamlining and converting the route into a regional connector that it is today's Route 61. It took some time, but ridership shot up with the improved direct connections to/from the Southwest region. The route segment through north Murrieta near Scott Road should be further streamlined with the line extended north to connect with the Perris Valley Line at the Perris Station Transit Center; that will likely happen further down the road when a second bus line is routed through the corridor.

One can argue that Temecula and Murrieta are distant, car-centric suburbs. While that is true for many parts of both cities, the commercial corridors and destinations in each show otherwise. Go to Old Town Temecula, pass through the Pechanga Resort, and head up and down each of the major commercial roads like Temecula Parkway and California Oaks Road on any given day. These busy commercial and retail corridors supported by neighboring 20+ units-per-acre apartment and condo neighborhoods clearly show and warrant that the Southwest region needs to have the buses running at least hourly from early morning through the late evening under a more direct, hub-and-spoke routing model with additional late night service through Old Town Temecula on Friday and Saturday nights.

Community shuttles and circulators can be good modes of transit for the short-range trips that span a few blocks to a few miles. The Harveston Trolley Shuttle and Temecula's Old Town Farmer's Market shuttle are good examples. But for longer-haul trips that involve transfers, the local bus routes in the Southwest region need to be integrated better with the rest of RTA's bus system with more direct routing and timed transfers at the hubs. With the region's medical sector on the rise, county officials should plan to make sure RTA has the funds to move forward on this issue.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Southwest Riverside County: Getting out on a Saturday by bus

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

The Riverside Transit Agency finally may have some good news for bus riders needing to get in or out of the Southwest region a bit more quickly on Saturdays. RTA currently has three local bus routes on top of the peak hour CommuterLink express lines that branch out of the Southwest Riverside County area which includes Murrieta and Temecula. They are:
  • Route 7 to Lake Elsinore via transfer from Route 23
  • Route 61 to Sun City via Menifee
  • Route 79 to Hemet via Winchester
Of these local lines, only Routes 7 and 23 currently operates on weekends. Lines 61 and 79 operate weekdays only. That means a transit-dependent rider needing to transverse either the I-215 or Highway 79 North corridors north of the Murrieta area has a long, circuitous journey ahead. During weekends, the rider would need to take the circuitous Route 23 to Wildomar, Route 7 to the Lake Elsinore Outlet Center, Route 22 to Perris (sorry, Route 40 is weekday only too), and Route 27 to backtrack toward Menifee and the Hemet Valley area. Talk about a complicated bus trip.

Getting between Murrieta and points north like Perris, Hemet, and Menifee by bus on weekends can last nearly all day. Mobile riders have sometimes elected that it would be easier to simply hike, bike or even hitch a ride along the route, and we've seen cases of this during field studies. This could be a thing of the past on Saturdays if RTA adopts a proposal to add Saturday runs along Route 61 and 79; the former very desirable, the latter nearly a decade overdue.

Yes, RTA will need to eventually streamline the bus routes through both Murrieta and Temecula to make them more direct to speed up local bus trips. Several studies back this notion up. The lines should connect at major transfer points and serve the major commercial and higher density corridors under the hub-and-spoke model. We know that this is a hot and desired topic and we'll restate our suggestions on Monday.

Anyway here are the non-finalized proposed schedules for each line:

Route 61 Proposed Saturday Schedule:

Route 79 Proposed Saturday Schedule:

Beyond JARC: Funding the Upgrades Permanently

It's worth noting that these upgrades along with the proposed Route 216 improvements mentioned yesterday were made possible thanks to federal funding through the Job Access Reverse Commute program. Because the route upgrades are specially funded, RTA will be watching the productivity of them between now and June of 2015. If productivity is low, the agency will propose to curtail or cancel the service.

Because the Route 79 upgrade is long past due, RTA should monitor the new service additions for a year and only propose cuts if ridership productivity remains stagnantly low and productive alternative service can be offered. Routes 61, 212, and 217 between the time they were launched to now, have all demonstrated that time and good marketing can allow new service to productively grow. Ridership was very light on these routes at first, but grew. Elected local and regional officials should work to ensure that these upgrades are budgeted and fully paid for in the coming years as these are lifeline connections. A robust market economy will be a key.

The economy looks promising for the Route 61 corridor. Strong growth in the medical sector in the Southwest region and northern Murrieta area along the I-215 corridor south of Menifee will contribute toward a productive bus route. Both the state and the Riverside County Transportation Commission should make sure RTA has the funds to continuously operate 7-day-per-week service on Route 61 as the medical sector grows. The future growth may even warrant a second bus route between Temecula and the Perris Station Transit Center which would allow for Route 61 to be more direct and streamlined.

Downtown Hemet
Photo: © Wikimedia/John Stroud CC-BY-SA
For Route 79, the Hemet Valley area really needs to see some marketplace job growth so that RCTC and RTA have the local resources to pay for daily hourly service to/from the Southwest Region.

With the mountain destinations on Mount San Jacinto, a Canadian snowbird market, several recreational lakes in the area, and gorgeous mountains and hillsides, both Hemet and San Jacinto should be affluent cities with plenty of marketplace job opportunities and vibrant downtowns. However, serious gang crime in the central city areas has obstructed the economy.

Hemet Valley region officials need to get to the bottom of solving this problem. That includes educating the youth that the police is not the enemy. We've mentioned some ideas of how San Bernardino can clean up its troubled areas and grow the economy and job market. Perhaps officials may want to debate and adopt the same for Hemet Valley. That would help ensure that ongoing daily service on Route 79 is fully paid for.