Friday, May 30, 2014

Transportation Tips: Vote Tuesday, June 3

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Voting and serving on a jury are two civic duties given to United States citizens as means to participate in our democracy. We all have an opportunity to vote on Tuesday for the June 3, 2014 Consolidated Primary Election. All kinds of campaign literature and signs are out there all over the Inland Empire in an attempt to get your vote. Don't let the political ads taint your vote. Take the time to evaluate each candidate running for an office and each proposition impartially. Pick the ones that you believe will solve our problems in a fair and just way. 

Being a non-profit charity, The Transit Coalition cannot endorse or recommend any specific candidate for you. We collect donations and receive support from many individuals and groups with all kinds of differing views and solutions on matters outside of transit-related policies and we must respect those viewpoints. That means it will be up to each and every one of us to take an in-depth look at the present-day issues and the hard facts and make the selections accordingly. Consider basing your vote on the issues and facts, not ideology.

Cast a ballot this Election Day.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Alpern At Large: We Are United!

By: Ken Alpern, Chair

This Memorial Day Weekend was one with both public and personal significance--the country was focused NOT on celebrity trivia but on its veterans, its role in the greater world community, and on a host of healthcare and mental health issues.  My own weekend began with a bang, with my son's Boy Scout troop (Troop 110 of Beverly Hills and West LA) joining thousands of Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Sea Scouts, Cub Scouts, Brownies, Daisies and others to pay homage to our veterans with a massive flag-planting in the West LA VA Cemetery.

Read more and comment at CityWatch.

Ken Alpern chairs The Transit Coalition and is a LA Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Let's Debate: A Severe Dishonor in Mexico and the Future of Metrolink

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

There is a disgraceful story unfolding in Mexico which involves a veteran. Before I share it to you, here is this week's Let's Debate: How do you see the future of Metrolink?

Metrolink is looking to get some rider feedback in an effort to put together a 10 Year Strategic Plan and future vision. The Transit Coalition already has a number of campaigns set for our regional rail system which includes 30 minute service frequency for the San Bernardino Line and long-range extensions into the Southwest region. Be sure to check out our Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit.

I'll be in contact with the agency this week to get some more information on its Our Future is On Track strategic vision and will feature what is officially planned on Monday. Also, I've been networking with citizens along the I-15 freeway corridor and gathering suggestions of how transit infrastructure projects can be brought about at a faster pace. Many are suggesting that the private sector should be involved in the development process. More on that on Monday. Continue to post your ideas to us of how we can improve and pay for a robust regional transit system for the Inland Empire.

Dishonor toward U.S. Military Veterans and Citizens in Mexico

Less than 36 hours after Memorial Day, I ran across a horrible international story that took place at the Mexican border at San Ysidro which recently broke and needs to be brought to attention.

Back on March 31, U.S. Marine Andrew Tahmooressi who served two tours in Afghanistan fighting for our freedom from terrorism went to Mexico and parked his car in the San Ysidro area.

According to Tahmooressi’s mother, Jill, he walked back to the U.S. at about 10:30 p.m. He got into his car and entered the ramp he believed would take him onto the I-5 freeway leading north back to San Diego.

He had all of his personal belongings in his car including three legal U.S.-registered firearms. According to reports, he actually went the wrong way. The Marine accidentally entered into a poorly marked one-way transition road from Camino de la Plaza which actually leads back to the Mexican border. The warning sign that reads "NO USA RETURN" was vandalized, not lit, and was therefore too easy to miss after dark. I can tell you the layout is confusing because my family visited Mexico during the early 90's and there was one case where the family car drove into the very same transition road, but traffic was light enough for us to weave across the freeway to the final "U-Turn to USA" lane.

According to reports, the iconic "U-Turn to USA" sign, which for decades informed non-Mexico bound motorists of whom accidentally drove too far south to turn around, was torn down because of construction and replaced with a single poorly marked white "U-Turn" sign. This small replacement sign was leaned up against a portable jersey barrier which could not be seen through multiple lanes of traffic at night. In addition, numerous physical barriers now prevent motorists from changing lanes and the U-Turn to USA lane now has a lift-gate barrier which could lead motorists into thinking the lane is restricted.

Tahmooressi therefore missed the U-Turn to USA lane and drove into the Mexican port of entry with the firearms in his vehicle. Because the weapons are federally illegal in Mexico and the fact that Mexican military officials failed to work with local customs officers and the U.S. on the matter, Tahmooressi was arrested at the port, even after he called 911 to report the incident to U.S. officials. Federal officials have reported that Tahmooressi did not intend to smuggle the weapons given the significant reasonable doubts; therefore he is innocent of a crime. The U-Turn sign has since been replaced with a brighter digital sign by officials. But Tahmooressi still remains jailed in Mexico for no wrongdoing.

According to the U.S. Department of State, the justice system in Mexico has the highest worldwide number of arrests of U.S. citizens abroad and the largest U.S. prisoner population outside the United States. To be fair, many of the crimes committed are legit and there are many who are incarcerated justly, but there have also clearly been cases where innocent U.S. citizens with no intention of committing a crime in Mexico are arrested and incarcerated for no wrongdoing. The truth is many of the legal rights and protections that you and I enjoy here at home do not apply south of the border. Punishments for breaking many laws are more severe, even if no criminal act was intended. In the U.S., we enjoy the right to be judged by an impartial jury and are innocent until proven guilty beyond reasonable doubt. Under Mexican criminal law, the accused is essentially considered guilty until proven innocent and the judge decides cases. U.S. prisons and jails are difficult environments to serve out sentences, but Mexican incarceration is a traumatic experience. Mexican jails usually do not provide the amenities that U.S. jails do. They lack prison ministries, outreach and rehabilitation programs. Many prisons supply only the very minimum of basic necessities. In others, prisoners may have to purchase their own food, clothing, bedding and even pay rent on their cell. Most Mexican jails are corrupt, operating under organized cartel gang criminals. The U.S. State Department does work with U.S. citizens incarcerated in Mexico, especially those who are in jail unjustly. That includes Tahmooressi.

For nearly two months through Easter, the Marine was shackled in a disgusting cell in a disgraceful Mexican jail called La Mesa Prison, located in Tijuana's La Mesa district, next door to a Mexican courthouse. He has since been transferred to a maximum security prison, El Hongo, where he spent his Memorial Day. Tahmooressi is currently being housed in a private and empty cellblock away from the region's most dangerous criminals, but both the La Mesa and El Hongo jails are corrupt, operated by the country's notorious drug cartels. Worse yet, the Mexican prison system is simply another outlet for criminals to conduct destructive behavior. Sad to say, the illegal drug sales which occur in many parts of the Inland Empire flood these drug lords with our dollars.

The U.S. State Department is working on this matter, but the federal government and President Obama need to take the lead and get Tahmooressi as well as any other citizen locked up for no wrongdoing out of Mexico and back home to the United States immediately. There is absolutely no reason for the Mexican government to continue to hold Andrew Tahmooressi. No crime was committed, and similar abusive cases occur with U.S. citizens on a regular basis including a disgraceful example back in December 2012 involving U.S. Marine Corporal Jon Hammar, the 2012 wrong turn incident involving truck driver Jabin Bogan, and the 1997 prescription drug case involving David Busch. The U.S.A. sends hundreds of millions of dollars to Mexico each year in aid, we provide tourism dollars, numerous U.S.-based charities generously assist impoverished Mexican communities, and their government has the cowardice to incarcerate innocent U.S. citizens including two of our combat veterans for absolutely nothing? That's not only grossly disgraceful, but a severe dishonor to those who serve our country.

These citizens are productive members of society, not criminals. The military men have demonstrated in their combat tours that they have what it takes to die for our country, for us, and for our freedom and rights so that grassroots transit advocacy and this blog can exist to hold our governments accountable to improve Metrolink, infrastructure and our bus systems. Tahmooressi had a closed-session hearing today in Tijuana which led to nowhere positive, but both the Mexican government and President Obama have the tools to stop this madness immediately. Free Tahmooressi and every innocent U.S. citizen.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Fighting for Freedom from Gang Crime in the Inland Empire

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Happy Memorial Day to all of you. Today is a US federal holiday where we remember the very men and women who sacrificed their lives while serving in the United States Armed Forces. I encourage all of our readers today to visit a cemetery and a Memorial Day service near you to honor those who have died for our country and the freedom of which we enjoy. We citizens enjoy the right of being able to hold our governments and elected officials accountable for their actions. The Transit Coalition and this forum cannot exist without this freedom.

Riverside Transit Agency buses will operate on the Sunday schedule today; Omnitrans buses will be out of service for the holiday. Of course, if you are working today and can't make it to the services, do take the time to remember these heroes on your next day off.

Here in the Inland Empire, we have a unique opportunity to honor these veterans in a very special way. Many good citizens have long been battling an ongoing social injustice which obstructs our mission of getting a first rate-transit system, a robust market economy, and cleaner communities into the region. This obstruction is the grave and violent conflict between law abiding citizens and the criminal gang culture which continues to plague many parts of the Inland region.

Fighting for justice and stopping gang crimes and transit vandalism

The good people have been vigilant on this matter. Our transit agencies have been very protective to deter vandalism aboard the buses and at transit centers.

The men and women in law enforcement and the citizens who assist them--especially the volunteer forces--are our present-day protectors in this battle for justice. Better patrolling troubled neighborhoods, getting criminals off of the streets, and protecting children are all absolutely vital. Politicians need to ensure that law enforcement agencies have the resources necessary to conduct sound enforcement and to ensure agencies have the flexibility to expand both citizen volunteer and Reserve Deputy Sheriff programs so that our communities are better protected against crime.

There are other groups that deserve thanks, but before those are mentioned, we must make it very clear to our readers that law enforcement is not the "bad guy" and our schools should be teaching that very lesson. High school youth should be invited from within their schools to take an active role in explorer programs.

Is there racial profiling in troubled neighborhoods?

Enter in the Labor Community Strategy Center from Los Angeles with a combined support and member base of more than 50,000--roughly the total population of Lake Elsinore. Two of its major campaigns are the Bus Riders Union and Fight For the Soul of the Cities. Last week the group demonstrated at the Patsaouras Transit Plaza area just outside of LA Metro's headquarters at LA Union Station. The protest was the objection to Metro's fare restructuring proposals. The claims were the fare changes were "racist" and "toxic". This blog has already shown those charges hold no truth. Here's why the fare changes are not racist. Here's why raising fares will not make LA's air quality worse.

But here's another serious issue: LCSC has a bold claim that the African American and Latino races are being targeted for crimes by LA law enforcement. LCSC is leading its followers into believing that minorities are being targeted through racial profiling. These are a few stats from LCSC's website: African Americans make up 12% of the US population, but 40% of the total jail/prison population. Factor in Latinos. Latinos and African Americans make up 25% of the US population, but 60% of those incarcerated. In addition, LCSC's Black, Brown, and Over-Policed in L.A. Schools report shows that minority groups have received far more police tickets than Caucasians. The problem is the LCSC and other civil rights groups are failing state why many more minorities are being incarcerated than Caucasians.

Stunning facts from the US Census Bureau show that the issue is not racial profiling, but the absence of the traditional family. According to the data, about 40% percent of all 2012 births were outside of a marriage. But non-Hispanic African Americans had a whopping 72% out of wedlock rate. Native Americans clocked in at 67%, 54% for Hispanics, and about 30% for Caucasians.

This is evidence that there needs to be better messages put out toward better family life planning and to discourage sexual intercourse and pregnancies outside of marriage. Bringing a child into this world without the resources to raise him/her properly absolutely must be discouraged. That should be taught in the school system and the message should be broadcasted in the public forums.  Overwhelming evidence shows that boys growing up without a caring father in the house or in an abusive domestic environment regardless of race generally have a much higher risk of entering into the criminal culture since they generally grow up without the discipline and education necessary to be a selfless adult. I know I'm generalizing and I know that there are certainly many good adults living today who grew up in a single parent or abusive home. But the high out-of-wedlock birth rates with the fatherhood studies certainly explain why incarceration rates are higher for minorities. Does that sound racist to you?

In addition, LCSC calls for 24/7 free public transit throughout LA County, to "Free the U.S. 2.5 Million Prisoners" and to not expand LA law enforcement through "1,000 More Buses, 1,000 Less Police!". I've submitted two questions to the organization last week: Who would exactly pay for the free public transit services and who would be in charge of driving out South LA crime with the released inmates without the expanded law enforcement? As of today, the group never responded.

Because the Coalition disagrees with several LCSC principles, we will likely be branded once again a racist simply because the facts are a threat to the organization's campaigns. The truth is that LCSC is not addressing the problems in South LA in a fair matter and the group's leaders make a lot of money by promoting such racial and class division, money that would be better spent to draw up real and fair solutions to solve South LA's problems.

Non-Profit Groups and the White House are fighting back

One of those proven solutions on top of expanding law enforcement is expanding mentor programs for youth growing up in single parent or abusive homes and allowing non-profit prison ministry and rehabilitation programs to grow. The non-profit sector has been a strong right arm in this field in deterring such youth from entering into the gangs. We owe a big thanks to the supporters and members of the several groups dedicated toward mentoring troubled children and youth of whom lack caring parents. Support groups and prison ministry members that mentor and rehabilitate incarcerated inmates of whom desire to turn away from the criminal life should be thanked as well. To be fair to LCSC, the group does support "1,000 After School Programs", and who shouldn't? Politicians should allow such outreach programs to expand and utilize public school facilities without having to go through all the red tape to do so.

There are several groups out there that are working very hard to solve this issue from its roots and if I tried to list them all, I'd guarantee that I would forget some. However, this blog would like to feature these groups because such work brings about A Better Inland Empire. If you are active in such outreach, we invite you to contact us and we'll feature you in a future blog post.

In addition, the Obama administration has recently announced My Brother's Keeper, a federal program to "Build Ladders of Opportunity For Boys and Young Men of Color." This program looks very promising on the surface for African Americans.

The fact is that there continues to be grave problems in many parts of Southern California that must be solved in order for our transit system and the communities it serves to not be mired in gang crime or vandalism. It will take honesty, courage and sacrifice to do so. That is one way we can honor and remember those who died for our freedom.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Alpern at Large: The Southland's Transient Population

Transients in LA's Central City East district
© Wikimedia/Moreau36 CC-BY-SA
By: Ken Alpern, Chair

It's not hard to conclude that--as a society--we like to talk about, and politically exploit, the homeless problem but we're not willing to actually fix it.  Perhaps it's because some of us like partisan politics (and that goes both ways, doesn't it?), and perhaps it's because we're intolerant (and tolerance also goes both ways, doesn't it?), but it's also not hard to conclude that a lot of us really, REALLY want this problem solved.

As I stated in my last CityWatch article on the thorny issue of transportation, money is an issue...but the real issue here is of political will to fix this thorny problem.  And our homeless problem IS one that's going to derive some rather unsavory answers if it's not confronted in a realistic manner.

Read more and comment at CityWatch.

Ken Alpern chairs The Transit Coalition and is a LA Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.

Transportation Tips: Remember our Veterans this Memorial Day

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Earlier this week, I've learned that one of our sources of local funding for transportation infrastructure, the Transportation Uniform Mitigation Fee (TUMF) is in for a minor and very justifiable change. TUMF is a local program that ensures that new development pays for better infrastructure to offset increased traffic that it creates. In general, developers need to be held accountable for not overwhelming the system caused by such growth of which TUMF addresses.

However, there is a very sound exception in which local officials are backing.

Non-profit organizations which build homes in Western Riverside County for severely disabled veterans will no longer have to pay into the kitty, which adds up to about $9,000 in fee breaks per house. I will argue that this tax break is absolutely the right thing to do; in fact, the federal government should make sure that any disabled veteran who was injured or became disabled while on active duty is taken care of through the US Department of Veterans Affairs. That includes ensuring that they have freedom of mobility and a means to get around. Non-profits dedicated in supporting disabled veterans of whom served our country need our support too; they should not be taxed out.  If our troops are willing to sacrifice their lives on the front lines to defend the very liberty which allows us to debate freely, we need to take care of them, period.

Anyway, we're heading into a weekend dedicated to those who have or are willing to sacrifice their lives for our country. This week I've been seeing all kinds of ads on Memorial Day sales both in the mail and on TV. Sales varied from hot dogs to new electronics to summer clothing. Consumption is dominating the message of the day which waters down the base theme of the holiday.

In the mix of all this, we must not forget the true reason of the day. We live in a free country and we owe a sincere thanks to the men and women who died to give us the freedom in which we enjoy every day. Freedoms include the right of you readers and followers to participate in a robust debate that challenges our elected officials to pass fair laws which give us a robust transportation system, clean environment, and robust marketplace job opportunities. These include policies that allow disabled veterans to move about freely too.

Memorial Day is Monday, May 26. Take an hour and attend a Memorial Day service near you with your family, or if you are unable to attend one, watch one on TV or on the Internet. Afterwards, take in the fun and enjoy the summer barbeque. Talk to you then.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Let's Debate: How can we get to the very bottom of Inland Empire crime and vandalism?

Organized crime arrest. Photo: Federal Bureau of Investigation
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Let's debate: Do you have any solutions that you think might address violent crime, gangs, and vandalism in the Inland Empire from their very sources? What are your ideas to keep our buses, trains, and public bathrooms free from graffiti? How can places like San Bernardino, Moreno Valley, Hemet, and central Perris become more safe and desirable places to live and work? What can the governments do to solve this problem?

Last week, I was conducting a field study of the Historic 395 transportation corridor which connects Lake Elsinore to Temecula via the I-15 freeway frontage roads. What officials have envisioned for this corridor is smart growth and transit-oriented development; that will be covered at another time. Anyway, portions of the corridor are certainly suffering in urban neglect. I went into one of the gas stations. The bathroom, as I expected, had visible signs of graffiti, scratch marks on the stalls, and vandalism on the mirror. Outside, there were illicit markings scratched into the gas pumps and payment terminals.

These are clearly things that pretty much all of us do not want our precious transit systems to be mired in. So, a question came to mind: Why do people do these sorts of things? The short answer on the surface may be greed for power, desperation, or mental health issues. But why? Why turn toward destructive crime and not seek help given the abundance of programs that are out there? Another proven source to this grave problem is the destruction of the family unit where youth grow up with an ill-advised mentality that they can do whatever they want and when they want with no discipline and no respect to honor righteous authority. I will argue that such a serious issue contributes heavily to Inland Empire gang crime.

I'll be taking in some direct facts this week in order to build up our campaign to keep our transit fleets and the cities they serve free from gang crime and vandalism, but I submit the same question to you readers: Why do you think there are groups of people that behave badly? Why do they join the gangs and not the local youth group? Why do they scratch and vandalize our transit infrastructure and public bathrooms with illicit garbage messages? Why do they destroy rather than build? What solutions do you propose that will get to the source of this problem beyond the warnings, cameras and enforcement?

Post your opinions in the comments and I'll share what I found on Monday.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Steinberg: Cap-and-Trade needs to go toward affordable Transit-Oriented Development, not HSR

Photo: TransForm
 By: Melanie Curry at Streetsblog LA
Negotiations over the California state budget are producing dueling proposals on how best to spend revenue from the state’s cap-and-trade program.

While Governor Jerry Brown continues to call for a third of the cap-and-trade funds to go to CA high-speed rail, Senate President ProTem Darrell Steinberg last week expanded upon his alternative proposal to spend a larger share of the revenue on affordable housing and transit at the local and regional level.

State cap-and-trade funds are collected under the California Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, A.B. 32. The law provides a way for companies to meet a state-mandated cap on greenhouse gas emissions by buying “pollution credits” produced when others exceed emissions reductions. Estimates vary on how much revenue the program will generate, but it could produce billions each year between now and 2020.

Standing in front of an active construction site for new housing units near Oakland’s MacArthur BART station last Thursday, Steinberg called for permanent sources of funding for affordable housing, mass transit, and sustainable communities development. The Senator argued that California is facing a “catastrophic funding crisis” as affordable housing bonds run out, and noted that the transportation sector is the state’s biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Californians are logging more vehicle miles annually than ever before,” Steinberg said.

Behind him, a forklift raised a load of lumber high up in the air, with an attached sign reading, “At least 972 lbs of CO2 emissions reduced every day.” That’s the amount by which  the housing project, which will provide 624 housing units next to the BART station, is estimated to reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to other housing developments. Of those apartments, 108 will be leased at below-market rates.

Stuart Cohen of TransForm emphasized the link between affordable housing at transit-oriented developments and transportation, citing a new report from the Center for Neighborhood Technology that studied greenhouse gas reductions from building affordable homes near transit.

The report found that low-income people living within ¼-mile of frequent transit drive half as much as those living where transit service is not as good. It also found that low-income households living near transit drive less and ride transit significantly more often than higher income people living the same distance from transit.

“If we could build 15,000 affordable homes near transit,” said Cohen, “there would be 105 million fewer miles per year traveled on our roads. With three years of funding for affordable housing, we could produce 1.58 million metric tonnes of carbon reduction.”

Steinberg’s cap-and-trade spending plan includes a smaller percentage of revenue — 20 percent — for high-speed rail than the governor’s proposal. Governor Brown’s plan would allocate 30 percent to transit, including capital and operations, and another 10 percent on street and highway repairs, deferred maintenance, and complete streets. “Active transportation,” or walking and biking projects, don’t have dedicated funding in either proposal.

The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author. 
© 2014 Streetsblog LA CC-BY-NC-ND

Monday, May 19, 2014

The sbX Bus Rapid Transit: A success in waiting

It may appear to be lightly used but upcoming transit infrastructure improvements are underway which should significantly boost the sbX ridership.

All Aboard! Special needs youth take a field trip aboard the sbX Green Line
Photo: Omnitrans
Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Omnitrans' new bus rapid transit line dubbed the sbX Green Line which has recently opened is a long-desired upgrade for San Bernardino's E Street transportation corridor. However it has been getting some hard press and continued dissent among some members of the public. The reportage is showing slow-start ridership counts which has rallied the opposition. So what's going on? It's time for some straight talk.

sbX Green Line Ridership

Photo: Omnitrans
Ever since the sbX project was approved and planned, we predicted it would mimic the LA Metro Orange Line along E Street's dedicated transit lanes and Metro Rapid along the bookends. In addition, we predicted that a significant portion of Omnitrans' existing Route 2 ridership base of 3,841 daily riders for this fiscal year would shift to the sbX. The transit agency thought likewise which is the reason why Route 2's midday and rush hour service frequency during the week was reduced to 30 minutes between buses, down from 15. The sbX runs every 10 minutes during rush hours and 15 minutes at other times.

Press Enterprise Columnist Cassie MacDuff rode the bus on May 12 and published a report of her observation. The column reported that 15,000 people rode it during the first week either to get their destinations or to simply try it out. During the first week, rides aboard the Green Line were free. Once fares were implemented after week one, the paper reported that ridership fell to 1,280 for the second week.

That ridership stat was not correct. According to Omnitrans Marketing Director Wendy Williams, the 1,280 figure was not the total week two ridership, but rather the average daily ridership of the line. In fact, at the time of this post, sbX was averaging 1,327 riders per day.

More Facts -- Comparing the Ridership between sbX and Route 2:

During the opening week when sbX rides were free, an average of 3,032 daily passengers came aboard the bus. Route 2 had an average of 2,901 weekday daily passengers. The E Street corridor thus saw a net gain average of 2,092 daily riders between the sbX and Route 2. Of course, people simply wanting to try out the sbX boosted those numbers.

During the second week, Route 2 had a daily average of 2,943 riders; sbX had a 1,327 per day average. That meant Route 2 carried over 69% of the E Street transit ridership, sbX carried 31%. That also meant that just under 900 daily Route 2 riders have switched to sbX. Net gain for the whole corridor was 429.

We understand that the numbers are still very preliminary but there is big legit reason of why so many transit riders are electing to ride Route 2 instead of the sbX: The sbX currently bypasses the Fourth Street transfer hub.

The nearest sbX station is located at Court Street. The existing transfer hub is located at 4th and F Streets. That generally entices riders using the hub to transfer to/from Route 2 instead of the sbX.

No Connection...How did that happen?

According to Williams, an sbX station in operations located E Street and Rialto is also part of the proposed San Bernardino Transit Center which has already broken ground. The transit center was originally planned to open either before or during the launch of sbX. However, it was delayed and the BRT line started without it. To be fair, the transit center delays are justifiable. Coordination with SANBAG's plans to extend Metrolink to the transit center area were the reasons. Such integration and pre-planning are generally sound policies and it is very typical for such projects to take a little bit longer. July of 2015 is the predicted opening day for the transit hub. July of 2016 is the predicted start date for the Metrolink First Mile extension to San Bernardino.

sbX Safety Outreach Example
Graphic: Omnitrans
Clearly, the sbX has a lot to gain from the inbound transfers at this multi-modal hub.

In addition Omnitrans will be working to entice Route 2 riders to switch to the sbX. Some riders don't realize that the sbX has the same Omnitrans fare policy as the local buses; some users don't even know that Omnitrans operates the sbX.  The agency had deployed sbX transit ambassadors to the Route 2 bus stops to educate the riders and plans to place additional communications aboard the local line and other area buses. In addition, Omnitrans published a story of a longtime Route 2 passenger who made the switch. All of these should entice some additional riders to use the sbX instead of Route 2 while we wait for the transit center to open.

We also received this fact sheet from Omnitrans explaining how the agency will educate private motorists to stay out of the bus lanes. Law enforcement will be issuing citations to violators.

Addressing the sbX Dissenters on costs

A few days after the PE article was published, there were 8 dissenting comments posted plus a very fine rebuttal which took 4 comment slots to fill. We took some brief notes of the 12 but before we address them, we do apologize for not referencing to them directly. As of last Friday, we found that the newspaper renovated its website design which included a different engine for reader comments. Because the comments engine was changed, all of the comments we noted are no longer live for you to reference, but we'll do what we can to give you a straight report. To be clear, we're not out here to personally attack sbX opponents, but we're here to put in some straight facts for a good and productive debate.

To summarize, most of the dissenters took note of the light ridership figures and light usage of the sbX. We've already addressed how Omnitrans and SANBAG are solving this problem. In addition, some opponents had a big problem with the $192 million project price tag. There were charges from others that the sbX was government waste. That was the view of one follower of the Redlands Tea Party Patriots who invited the PE readers to attend last Saturday's May 17 Unite IE Conference. We were looking to get some constructive criticism in from this group, but the organization could not be reached for comment.

We would like this group to talk with us because we have to give the dissenters credit on one valid point: The sbX per-mile cost.

The Sahara Express BRT in Las Vegas
The line's per-mile cost was $3.7 million per mile.
To compare, the sbX was $12.2 million per mile.
Photo: Federal Transit Administration
The 15.7 mile sbX was $192 million; adding up to $12.2 million per mile. That included all design, engineering, project management, land acquisition, corridor construction, vehicle purchase, improvements to the maintenance and operations facility and other items. About half of the costs were for construction.

We compared this stat with similar BRT systems in Las Vegas. We received the total costs from three separate BRT corridors in the Las Vegas region, courtesy of several published reports and from Kelley Mulroy, Marketing & Media Administrator of the Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada. We can say up front that Las Vegas' BRT system had far less per-mile costs than the sbX.

The 7.5 mile MAX BRT which goes through North Las Vegas cost $20 million total including the bus fleet, adding up to $2.7 million per mile. The 9 mile SDX rapid system which is similar to the sbX which connects the Strip and Downtown was $52 million or $5.8 million per mile. The 12 mile Sahara Express at $45.2 million clocked in at $3.7 million per mile. The Sahara Express also mimics the sbX except that the bus lanes and stations are on the right side of the road instead of the left. In addition, Las Vegas' market economy as a whole is sharply better than San Bernardino's which meant that the sbX should have cost less per mile than the Vegas system. This is more evidence that costs for public works projects in California are artificially high. This is why our infrastructure and economy are generally lagging behind. By the way, the $324 million LA Metro Orange Line spanning 18 miles cost $18 million per mile.

Inflated public works costs certainly is a valid argument and a contributing factor to the sbX dissent that must be dealt with at the state level by the legislature. We hope this was addressed boldly at the Unite IE Conference. The PE had coverage of the event. However, Omnitrans cannot be faulted nor take the blame for the high costs and rules that contribute to them. Again, that has to be dealt with at the state level. We clearly should not classify mass transit as government waste in general. The Las Vegas system clearly proves this. Mass transit infrastructure to move high volumes of people along economically and populated dense corridors without the cars is imperative. Even the Reason Foundation which promotes libertarian principles sees BRT, managed arterial roads and managed lanes as "low-lost, high quality transportation solutions for the 21st Century."

For the record, one of the PE commenters who dissented the sbX had the user name of "CALICOLAKE HOA" which may have led some readers to assume that the Calico Lakes Homeowner's Association based out of Yermo in the Barstow area was speaking out against the transit line and therefore opposed the sbX. That never happened. The tone of the poster's comments should automatically suggest so and according to Community Management Director Lyndsey Dyer of Professional Community Management, the Calico Lakes Homeowners Association took no position on the matter.

The sbX is a successful BRT in waiting
Photo: Omnitrans

In conclusion, the robust sbX bus rapid system is a success in waiting. It is clearly not a government boondoggle. With better infrastructure, Metrolink, future express buses, and a multi-modal transit hub all on their way, the sbX will attain a strong ridership pool which will allow it to be very productive. At the same point, state lawmakers need to stop ignoring the issue of inflated statewide infrastructure costs during a soft market economy. If such costs and trivial red tape come under control at the state level and San Bernardino's market economy improves and crime decreases, the upgrades that we're waiting for will come at a faster rate. Smart growth developers will come in to develop the E Street corridor which will certainly make the sbX Green Line and its future routes a very productive means get around San Bernardino County.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Transportation Tips: Check out the U.S. Civics Test as a citizen

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

You may have felt a surprise when you read the Alpern at Large piece about distraction from our own Chair Ken Alpern. We are certainly living in a time where many people are simply distracted from real issues that affect all of us. I'm pretty positive that you readers are not in that category since you are taking the time to read this blog to be better informed about transit policy and to engage in constructive debate. Perhaps a solution for all of us here is to strengthen our own knowledge.

You people who are engaged in transportation and growth policy seriously are the Coalition's strong support arm because you want to improve mass transportation and quality of life in Southern California, even if you may disagree personally on the Coalition's written solution of which we try to ensure that such answers are fair and fact-based. In fact, disagreement is good; that gets the debate more robust and productive which better exposes the very obstructions toward our universal goal. Simply put: We all come from different backgrounds, have different talents, and learn different skills. The fact is there will be multiple solutions drawn from different people to solve our transit problems and there will be conflict and disagreement with the conclusions drawn. With that, regardless of what your personal or political views are, you are always welcome to participate in the debate and contribute toward making A Better Inland Empire. The rule for all participants is simply to respect the viewpoints of other posters and to refrain from trolling and personal attacks toward anybody who has opposing views or a different solution.

The more we all become informed, the stronger the debate will be to bring about a first-rate transportation system, a clean environment and robust marketplace job opportunities to the Inland Empire that everybody can enjoy.

Here is a simple way we can exercise and build up our knowledge: Knowing the content of the U.S. Civics Test as United States citizens.

It should be the norm for all of us as concerned patriotic citizens and transit advocates to be able to pass this test given to adult immigrants desiring to be citizens. Passing this test, having a basic understanding of U.S. history and government, being a person of good moral character, and demonstrating an attachment to the principles and ideals of the U.S. Constitution are just a few of the requirements necessary for an immigrant to be naturalized as a citizen. During the naturalization interview, applicants are asked up to 10 questions from the list of 100 questions. Passing score is six or better according to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

I've went through the test and pulled out some of the more difficult ones in my opinion. See if you know the answers:
  • What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?
  • What are the five freedoms of the First Amendment? The test asks for one, but can you name them all?
  • What did the Declaration of Independence do?
  • What is the economic system in the United States?
  • What is the "rule of law"?
  • What stops one branch of government from becoming too powerful?
  • What are two responsibilities that are only for United States citizens?
  • There are 10 ways that Americans can participate in their democracy. Try to identify them all.
  • What is one reason colonists came to America?
  • Why did the colonists fight the British?
  • What three countries did the United States fight in World War II?
  • During the Cold War, what was the main concern of the United States?
Challenge: Go through the set of questions multiple times until you are able to answer them all correctly without looking at the answers. Visit USCIS to see all of questions plus the answers. By the way, please refrain from posting the answers in the comments. :)

If we all build up our knowledge and understanding, our universal campaign to make the Inland Empire a better place where all have an equal opportunity to embrace our unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness more fully will become a reality.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Alpern at Large: Where is the public interest to improve Southern California transit?

By: Ken Alpern, Chair

Ours is a society that is collectively plagued with "attention-deficit syndrome".  We are so easily distracted, and so easily gulled and lulled into doing anything but keeping our eye on the ball, and so easily put on the defensive in our politically-correct culture, that getting anything done is well-nigh impossible at times.

We're more interested in Donald Sterling's stupid, racist comments than the issue of how a federal redevelopment grant did NOT go to South LA but to Hollywood. 

We're more interested in the latest celebrity gossip than how and why our education funding doesn't go to schools in East and South LA (and when it is spent, it is spent poorly).

We're more interested in the latest fun You Tube videos about cuddly cats, celebrity wardrobe malfunctions or red carpet sightings than children and families dying horrible deaths in Libya, Ukraine or Syria.

We're more interested in smacking around Christians than we are asking ourselves whether Islam is as tolerant towards us as we strive to be more tolerant of Islam, unless "spokesman" Bill Maher has the courage to raise up the issue.

We're more interested in defending or attacking one political side or another, and not so interested in why the heck we took so long to care about the Boko Haram issue, and why we ignored the kidnapping of hundreds of Nigerian Christian schoolgirls for so long.

We're more interested in labeling Israel as an apartheid state than we are asking why its neighbors, such as Hamas, still want Israel completely wiped off the map as well as its residents dead ... yet how many of us are prepared to vacation and travel to Israel, but not with its neighbors?

In Sacramento, those raising the point about pension and budget reform are shouted down as anti-teacher, anti-police officer, anti-firefighter, etc.  Those raising the point about having and enforcing a federal immigration system are shouted down as anti-Latino or anti-immigrant when no such sentiments exist among the overwhelming majority of those raising the point...and who are trying to come up with a fair compromise solution.

Read more and comment at CityWatch.

Ken Alpern chairs The Transit Coalition and is a LA Westside Village Zone Director and Boardmember of the Mar Vista Community Council. The views expressed in this article are solely those of Mr. Alpern.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Let's Debate: How can Omnitrans build up sbX Ridership?

Photo: Omnitrans
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

To our readers and commentors: We've heard you! We've heard your suggestions. This blog is in for some good changes! The Transit Coalition has seen a growing interest with our Inland Empire Transit Talking Points blog. Our analysis of transit-related matters may at first appear as if they are being preached to the choir. In fact, our very messages have been read by some of the very top officials and elected representatives who are the very decision makers of your transit system. I want to ensure that our future posts and analysis are as accurate and fact-based as possible. Before I dive into the topic of the sbX initial ridership numbers, here are some of the changes in store for the blog:

Weekly Let's Debate and Talking Points:

Every Wednesday, starting today, I as The Transit Coalition Community Engagement Director overseeing transit matters in the Inland Empire will put up a Let's Debate post which will cover a topic I and the Coalition believe is important to you. The post will be a first look at transit news data extracted from reports, rider stories, and field studies. I'll compile any relevant commentary and findings into the post. Afterwards, I'll invite you to add your input while I'll engage directly with the parties involved in the story through Friday of the week. The following Monday, I'll put up a Talking Points post covering all of the facts received and with a straight-talk analysis. Those of course will serve as the support arms toward future Coalition campaigns and hopefully will spark some strong robust debate in the court of public opinion on such topics.

Friday Transportation Tips:

Every Friday, I'll put a Transportation Tips post, inviting you to do your part into improving our transit systems and Inland Empire quality of life. While we ask the government to improve our transit options, there are many other ways for all of us to do our parts. Should I receive a relevant story to post, it will go up along side the Let's Debate, Transportation Tips, and Talking Points. Again, I invite you to take an active role and contribute your stories to us.

Don't forget that you commenters are also a strong support arm for this blog. Keep up the productive debate and suggestions!

Photo: Omnitrans
Let's Debate: The Initial sbX Ridership Numbers

This week's Let's Debate will focus on Omnitrans' initial sbX E Street Bus Rapid Transit ridership numbers. Press Enterprise blogger and Columnist Cassie Macduff took a ride on the sbX Green Line and posted the experience. After the first week of free rides, the sbX assumed its normal fare policy. The Coalition already knows that sbX fares are identical to the local bus fare which means existing Route 2 riders can opt to ride the sbX with their existing passes.

When the sbX launched, we predicted it would be an initial success given the simple fact that the overlapping local Route 2 is one of the busiest local Omnitrans lines in the system and that a significant pool of riders would switch to sbX for a faster ride up and down E Street for longer trips. Initial observations per the report however are suggesting otherwise. Omnitrans Director of Marketing Wendy Williams told the PE reporter that ridership was only 1,280 for the second week. I'll confirm that figure later this week.

According to Macduff's field report, several Route 2 riders were still riding the local bus since many were reported to be waiting at the local stops, not at the sbX stations; thus the sbX appears to be underperforming. In addition, motorists have been reported of encroaching into the bus lanes. An illegal left turn led to a bus collision on opening day. LA Metro's Orange Line had similar right-of-way troubles during its opening months of operations with drivers running red lights and causing collisions. Unlike the sbX, the Orange Line had overwhelming ridership figures.

I'll follow up to see what specific marketing plans Omnitrans has planned to better educate the Route 2 ridership base. Direct marketing targeted to Route 2 riders could very well be a key to solving this issue. Because of the low initial numbers, anti-sbX individuals think they have a case of government waste. As of late last night, 8 very anti-sbX remarks were left in the PE article including one about an upcoming conference. Another negative commenter also bore the name of a Yermo homeowner's association. As of early this morning, there was one strong positive reply to all of the madness left in the PE article.

I'll see what's going on with all of that. Dissenters must not forget that the Metrolink San Bernardino Line will eventually connect to the sbX which should flood the bus route with additional choice-riders headed to/from the bookend hubs in Loma Linda and CSU San Bernardino.

Let me know in the comments what you think of all this, what ideas you have for Omnitrans to improve the ridership base and we'll tell you what we found out from the parties on Monday. Again as gentle reminder, please refrain from posting any worthless personal attacks against the sbX dissenters. Let's keep the debate productive and robust.

Monday, May 12, 2014

More Good News for the Inland Empire's Market Economy and Transit

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

One of the main roadblocks that contributes toward the obstruction of growing the Inland Empire's mass transit system has long been a stubbornly soft market economy ever since the 2008 crash. In it's 2007 comprehensive operational analysis report, the Riverside Transit Agency had several short-range service improvements planned, but the recession prevented many of them from materializing.

Since then, we have seen some economic growth in logistics in Moreno Valley, San Bernardino, and the Jurupa Valley. With the exception of the proposed World Logistic Center hub which we are currently questioning given its massive scale and far-off distance from the March ARB area, the economic job growth will be very good for the region. The opportunities are needed. Also growing is medical. That is evident in the Southwest region.

Construction Jobs are up

We now have reports that construction jobs have taken a boost within the state. According to a Press Enterprise report, California has gained 37,000 such jobs since the start of the quarter. Here at home, the growth was a bit thin, but still up. We have 69,300 total construction jobs, which is a 3.3% increase from last year. The pre-recession peak was 127,000; so it is still an employer's market. The Inland Empire still has many workers looking for the few open jobs. According to the report, other top gains were in Florida, Oregon and Minnesota.

Tax Incentives to Grow the Inland Market Economy

Also, up in Sacramento, the Brown Administration has announced a hiring tax incentive to grow the economy and is using the Inland Empire for the pilot program simply because the number of unemployed workers and poverty rates remain high. While some of the program's specific policies may be debatable, the tax break is well-intentioned and should be good for the region. It should be able to incline the private sector to grow the economy and the jobs that come with them.

In addition, Inland Empire economist John Husing told the Press Enterprise that the Inland Empire is predicted to gain more than 40,000 jobs this year. Several months ago, we conversed with Mr. Husing regarding logistics growth. He is very passionate about providing job opportunities as a means to combat poverty and believes logistics is part of the solution. Obviously, the growth of truck traffic must not go unchecked and the growth of additional high-salary jobs needs to continue.

Should this growth occur, we will certainly hold local officials accountable for ensuring that both the Riverside Transit Agency and Omnitrans are adequately funded by the increased tax revenue collected. In addition, we'll keep an eye out for any unchecked growth that may surface. While the jobs and local funding are certainly needed, we cannot afford to overwhelm the transportation infrastructure or create pollution caused by careless planning and urban sprawl.

More Good News...Your Constructive Comments!

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
That's right, you are part of the good news too. That's because whenever you engage in our discussion and take the time to participate in our transit debates by posting productive questions and comments, you help build our transit system.

Over the weekend, we've received many great responses to some of our blog, Twitter, and Facebook posts from last week as well as questions related to some of our campaigns. Every comment and message we received had constructive remarks. We did not get a single worthless personal attack or troll that is normally found in user-submitted comments. You commenters are helping us improve the transit system. You are taking the time to read our posts and campaign pages to get information and analysis, and you are courageous to engage in a tough and challenging robust debate with us while refraining from personal attacks.

Better yet, it is very productive and good for us to disagree with each other on specific issues. Yes, we all have a general agreement that we want our transportation and transit systems to be in a robust state, our Earth clean, and all have the equal opportunity to prosper in the Inland Empire. But, even high school students well know that there is more than one solution to many given problems. We've seen that happen with RTA Route 217. A few years ago, it had stagnant low ridership. We suggested re-routing the line further south to the San Diego County employment hubs as a solution. RTA instead conducted a strong marketing campaign. Guess what? RTA's solution worked. Route 217 is now productive.

Robust debate and disagreement can lead to better learning and understanding of how we can attain A Better Inland Empire together. We rely on facts to draw solutions that we believe are fair that won't create new problems, but we realize that people from different backgrounds and cultures often have very different answers and solutions with solving transit and quality-of-life problems here at home. By having a constructive conversation and robust debate on transit-related matters, we can better attain what we universally agree upon.

Please continue to post constructive remarks in the comments. We'll respond to the comments we received from the weekend during the next couple of days as we want to ensure that every question, disagreement and concern we received are answered. Once we reply to your post, feel free to reply and we'll respond once more, giving you the last word before closing the debate. Also, don't forget: If you have a story that you would like to share that would benefit Inland Empire mass transit, you can submit your informative article piece for possible inclusion into our Transit Talking Points blog and/or our weekly e-Newsletter.

We'll talk to you again Wednesday.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Debating a future train depot in central Highgrove

Difficult, but not impossible: It won't be part of the Perris Valley Line, but a robust market economy, destinations, and private sector smart growth developer investments may be what it takes to get R.A. Barnett's dream of a central Highgrove train station a reality in the future.
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Four years ago, The Transit Coalition took note that a local group in the Highgrove area situated in between Grand Terrace and Riverside has been advocating for a Metrolink train station to call its own. Transit advocate R.A. "Barney" Barnett has been the voice of such work by networking with almost every Inland Empire politician in the book. The truth is the Riverside County Transportation Commission concluded numerous times that a proposed station in Highgrove along the main BNSF rail corridor near the Perris Valley Line branch is not feasible to build now with public taxpayer money. The Press Enterprise ran an in-depth special report on this campaign which was featured on the front page of the Local news section of the paper on Thursday. With the press coverage, many citizens in the Inland Empire are now aware this debate.

In September of 2009, we contacted Mr. Barnett to explore a station concept for the region, given combined support from the neighboring cities of Grand Terrace and Loma Linda back then. We have found that it was within our interest and mission to do so simply because Highgrove is part of the Inland Empire. At present, Mr. Barnet has a specific location in mind which is undeveloped property located off of Villa Street, a few blocks east of Iowa Avenue. Mr. Barnet's spot is also the very location where the Perris Valley Line splits off from the BNSF rail line. In contrast, RCTC has approved and broken ground on a Metrolink station in the Hunter Business Park area, located along the Perris Valley Line branch a few blocks south of Highgrove itself and just east of the Iowa Avenue commercial corridor.

We networked with Mr. Barnet in 2009 and he is very passionate of getting an intermediate train station built along the BNSF rail corridor in between Riverside and San Bernardino simply because more trains operate along this route instead of the Perris Valley Line branch. He is a nice community-oriented individual who has massive experience in the freight railroad industry and knows well about Highgrove's local history. Shortly after we spoke with Mr. Barnet, we conducted a field study of the area and met with RCTC Executive Anne Mayer to discuss getting Metrolink into Highgrove. We and RCTC found that Mr. Barnet's specific location idea of a Metrolink train station simply would not work as one of the platforms would need to be placed along a very sharp curve which is out of the question simply due to safety. RCTC also concluded that Mr. Barnet's location would be lightly used given Highgrove's small population and current soft economic state. It was therefore decided to develop the region's station south of Highgrove at Hunter Park.

It's all about getting trains to stop in central Highgrove

RCTC's final Perris Valley Line plans are not stopping Barnet. He is fixed into to getting the trains to stop in Highgrove along the BNSF main line even if that means obstructing Perris Valley Line construction. It would be foolish and wrong to further obstruct this Metrolink extension, but Barnet's mission to improve Highgrove's mobility also cannot be ignored.

The solution is a bit confusing, but here it is: Give the people of Highgrove what they need wrapped up in what Barnet wants. Some facts:
  • Highgrove's population is about 4,000 according to the 2010 Census Bureau. Grand Terrace's population is just more than 12,000.
  • Highgrove is an intermediate population center situated between Riverside and San Bernardino, just south of Grand Terrace.
  • The commercial corridor linking Riverside to Grand Terrace via Highgrove use these roads: University Avenue, Iowa Avenue, La Cadena Drive, and Barton Road.
  • The Hunter Park Station is less than a few blocks east of Iowa Avenue.
  • Based on our field study, the state of the economy through this region is very soft and thus it would be better at present to space Metrolink stations further apart.
  • Regional rail stations spaced closer together can function efficiently through dense and economically robust areas. The Metrolink San Bernardino Line is an example.

The reality is that under the current economic climate, population demographics, and constrained public transit resources, neither a Metrolink train station at Villa Street and Iowa Avenue nor a station along the BNSF rail line can be a part of the Metrolink Perris Valley Line project. Highgrove's station for the Metrolink extension will have to be the Hunter Park Station for now. Again, it is clearly wrong for anybody to obstruct the construction process.

To be fair to Barnet, the central area of Highgrove still needs its share of productive transit alternatives and the opportunity to be a better affluent area. It cannot be excluded from transit improvements.

For now, there are legit improvements that can and should happen. The Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station is less than five miles to the southwest. It is about a 15-20 minute bus ride away via RTA Route 14. Better timing this line with downtown Metrolink trains is a sound executable short-to-mid term alternative combined with ensuring Route 14's streetside bus stops are equipped with benches and shelters. That will link Highgrove with every Metrolink train that passes through Riverside downtown.

Central Highgrove Train Station clearly out of Perris Valley Line project, but not forever.

Smart Growth: Economic job development like this can transform Highgrove's sleepy Iowa Avenue into a real destination and robust commercial street. Developers and investors would be given tax incentives to construct and pay for a future Highgrove Train Station as part of the three-to-five story street-side transit-oriented development.
© Wikimedia/FacelessB CC-BY-SA
The Coalition will continue to explore solutions into establishing direct rail service for the people of this area. In the long term, establishing one or more intermediate train stations along the BNSF rail corridor should be explored and be integrated into future growth. Highgrove's local economy certainly needs to be in a much better shape to sustain this.

If the private sector is inclined through tax incentives and/or proper land use zoning to invest in smart growth development and marketplace jobs into the commercial corridor linking Riverside, Highgrove, Grand Terrace, and Loma Linda with such developer funds paying for future transit infrastructure, the idea of getting intermediate train stations, transit centers, better bus stops, and complete streets built along the BNSF mainline between Riverside and San Bernardino will be possible. Better yet, it would be completely paid for and built by private sector developers. Hence, the public funding issue raised by RCTC would be out of the question. One such station stop could very well be in central Highgrove. Thus, Highgrove would attain what it needed wrapped in something that Mr. Barnet wanted for the past decade.

Mr. Barnet has a strong knowledge of Highgrove's history and has a powerful voice of what gets decided there locally. If this population center can become a true destination, Metrolink and future private sector trains may very well stop there.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Correcting the Record and how you can avoid a 91 Express Lanes Toll Violation

Avoid this violation notice! Don't forget to mount a valid FasTrak to your car and pre-register your license plate to your California toll agency; otherwise you may see a toll evasion notice like this one in the mail.
By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
Those of you who have been following our campaigns know that we have been putting together a long-range solution to improve traffic flow along the 91 Freeway corridor and improving transit options. That includes high occupancy toll lane infrastructure that includes free non-transponder 3+ carpooling for the 91 Express Lanes. In order for our local agencies to afford such a policy change, the bond debt for the entire corridor must be paid off and the CHP would need to be tasked to conduct the carpool and toll payment enforcement. In addition, state law would need to support the changes as well. Because state and federal gas tax receipts are at records levels and the fact that the 91 is one of the most used transportation systems in the country, state and federal officials should have what it takes to pay off the entire debt immediately. But where has all those tax receipts gone?

In the mean time, we have the 91 Express Lanes. It currently requires all users including 3+ HOV's to have a FasTrak transponder. 50% off tolls are charged during the afternoon rush hour from 4-6pm. The HOT lanes are free to 3+ HOV's at all other times. According to OCTA, Express Lanes motorists save at least 20 minutes each way during rush hour. The 91 Express Lanes serves as robust facility for 3+ HOV's and those willing to toll their way out of traffic congestion. We often use it for field studies which help form our campaigns to improve the HOT lane corridor in the long range.

Example 91 Express Lanes toll evasion violation notice
For now, all motorists must have a FasTrak toll transponder including carpools. Otherwise, unless your vehicle's plate is pre-registered with either the 91 Express Lanes or another participating California FasTrak tolling agency. you'll get one of these little notices in the mail.

In addition, do make sure that your vehicle's license plate number is registered with the 91 Express Lanes or the toll agency that issued your transponder.

Here's some tips of how you can avoid being a toll violator as a FasTrak motorist:
  1. If you plan on using the 91 Express Lanes, mount the FasTrak as instructed by the agency. All vehicles must have one. The same rule applies for I-110 and I-10 Metro ExpressLanes. For the HOT Lanes in the Bay Area (excluding the toll bridges) and the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County, only solo drivers need the toll transponder; HOV's from there don't as they can get on for free and go.
  2. Make sure to register your vehicle's license plate number. There will be unlikely events that the overhead toll antennas won't read it. The license plate will help OCTA identify the proper account to deduct the tolls or identify the registered 3+ HOV. That is known as Pay-by-Plate. The rule is in place to avoid the issuance of toll violation notices to holders of valid accounts.

Believe us, the overhead toll antennas on some cases have not picked up the transponder. There have been select times when our TCA-issued FasTrak transponder in our vehicle does not beep when passing under the toll antennas. In addition, the Coalition was tipped off from a Temecula-area motorist who organized a 3-person varpool to a one-time business function in Orange County outside of rush hour. He received a violation notice even after mounting a properly functioning and valid FasTrak transponder to the windshield of his van that was used to travel for free in the 3+ HOV Lane within the Express Lanes. The motorist never registered the van with his FasTrak toll agency. That was clearly wrong, and he was faced with a toll violation notice.

That lead us to conclude that OCTA was up to something suspicious which includes deliberately shutting off the toll antennas in a way to drive up toll violation notice but the thesis turned out to be faux. So, we must correct the record, so here it is:

Media Relations staff from OCTA inquired, told us, and confirmed with us that the agency does not deliberately shut off its toll antennas to enforce plate pre-registration.

Whenever we get factual data, we will confirm the full context of it. We want to make it very clear that is never our intention to mislead our readers. When such a rare occurrence does like this story about the 91 Express Lanes, we will correct the record and make it clear on this blog and will make sure the correction is broadcasted clearly. That's why we need you to participate in the debate and engage in the conversation!

We'll talk to you again tomorrow.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Toyota's move to Texas and how we can fight back

The media as well as several economic and political analysts have been all over Toyota's decision to move its U.S. headquarters from Torrance to the Texas City of Plano as part of a consolidation effort. There's been a bunch of debate and speculation as to why the automaker decided to do this. Several groups and politicians are blaming California's regulatory policies placed on the private sector. Others are pointing fingers to Toyota itself for "laying off" its California workers of whom do not desire to move to the Lone Star State.

Whether Toyota elected to move out of Torrance because of ill-advised business policies at the state level is still speculation. But what is clearly not speculation is that the economy in the Inland Empire and many parts of the Los Angeles area are still generally soft and our limited public transportation options here at home clearly reflect this even with record-high gas taxation. We're not here to spread speculation, but to present some general facts relative to Toyota's consolidation move and how Californians can fight back for a first-rate economy, clean air, and fully funded public transit system operating on robust and paid-for transportation infrastructure.

Texas and California: General Business Policies

It is a clear fact that Texas has laws on its books and a tax code that are both much more friendlier to businesses than the Golden State. The reality is whenever taxes or fees in one area become too high, many elect to relocate to dodge such high costs. Toyota's supporting manufacturing plants are also based mostly on the east coast. The state government in Texas also offered Toyota a $40 million incentive. Incentives and tax breaks, of course, drive up private investments. Because the United States has a capitalistic economic system, businesses are free to make as much profit as they can. They are free to decide where they want to do business. They are free to consolidate or grow.

To be fair, we're not giving Texas a pass on all of this. This is simply due to reports that pollution levels have gone up with the Lone Star State's economic growth according to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. While they need to be business-friendly, state regulations and rules cannot be so lax or underfunded where growth and development in the economy goes unchecked. That leads to pollution, corporate corruption, urban sprawl, and traffic congestion. No American should want that.

So, what can Californians do to fight back?

First, local officials need to rally their people and better demand the state to pass laws that make California a better place to do business so that both the economy and marketplace job opportunities soar without the dirty air, white collar greed, sprawl or jammed transportation infrastructure. A clean and healthy market economy is a prime source of how our public transit systems get paid for. Because the Inland Empire economy has generally been stagnant with the exception of a few areas of logistics and medical sector growth, many regions are still at the mercy of a bare-bones bus transit system. Good luck trying to get between Lake Elsinore, Corona, and Ontario by bus.

We are seeing some local leadership. Torrance Mayor Frank Scotto went on record on CNBC to confront the complex regulatory and liability structure of California law. State rules need to be streamlined and made more business-friendly. To be clear for the reason stated earlier, there has to be some rules and regulations in place and we're not calling for such policies to be abolished altogether; that would be insane. But they need to be simplified and costs need to be made more affordable so that the private sector will be better inclined to build up the marketplace. That's how we can better fund our transit agencies like RTA and Omnitrans.

Scotto also reported the city will do whatever it can within its power to entice another business to replace the jobs left by Toyota. Torrance's Comprehensive Annual Financial Report states that the Toyota headquarters employs over 3,300 workers but the city certainly has some prime real estate. The weather is absolutely gorgeous. Being a coastal city in between West LA and Long Beach, the climate is very comfortable, even during the summer months. Crime is low and the demographics are affluent. We believe Torrance can entice business entrepreneurs to invest their money there with good jobs.

Scotto's courage stands in contrast to what we see from the state government.  Last Friday, Governor Jerry Brown went on record stating that there was very little the state could have done to prevent Toyota from moving citing the consolidation efforts as the reason. Even if Brown's statement was completely true relative to Toyota, what is also true is the Inland Empire economy is still stubbornly soft no thanks to weak leadership. Local Inland leaders need to take a leadership role too and not tolerate any excuses. Toyota is investing its money in Plano and its manufacturing plants are elsewhere in the country; they're not being invested here! Even the Los Angeles Times' editorial board acknowledged that other states are competing for business and opined that this fact confronts the ill-advised business policies that obstructs business growth, policies that our ideological state legislature proposes on a regular basis according to the newspaper.

While we're seeing a growth in logistics and medical here at home, very few solutions have been broadcasted into the public arena from state and local Inland officials over the regulations and government misspending that obstruct robust economic smart growth and transit-oriented development in places like Lake Elsinore, central Perris, the Pass Area, Cabazon, and the Hemet Valley. These places and several others within the Inland Empire have unique features which can make them desirable places to invest in business and marketplace job growth. They should be affluent regions too.

The state and local governments have to deal with this reality. Local officials need to stop omitting this issue and pressure the state to fix its complex regulatory code which would better improve California's business climate which would make it more competitive, especially within the Inland Empire. Because the San Bernardino and Riverside counties are home to great weather, beautiful landscapes and mountains, and several tourist destinations, our Inland Empire region should be affluent with abundant economic job opportunities with a robust public transit system and transportation infrastructure. Both state and local officials  need to aggressively entice more businesses to invest back into the region. Between this and controlling government waste and misspending, that's how we can get a robust transit system that is paid for. That's how we can fight back.