Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Let's Debate: Paying for the Coalition's Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit

The Transit Coalition's long term Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit is based on data from numerous feasibility studies, agency proposals, the media, growth patterns, and public feedback. How can we pay for it?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition's long term Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit is based on both short and long-range recommendations and data from numerous feasibility studies, agency proposals, the media, growth patterns, and public feedback. One of the jobs I do is take findings from such reports as whole, analyse the facts, and compile solutions into the future vision.

I interact with people and some are saying, how is that vision going to get paid for? That's the question I want to submit to you.

There's three corridors specifically I want to draw attention to: the SR-91/I-215 between San Bernardino and Orange County via Riverside, I-10 between Indio and Los Angeles, and I-15 between San Diego County and the high desert area. Those corridors are the backbones of getting in, out, and around the Inland Empire region. Both policies and the infrastructure need to support the expansion of Metrolink and Amtrak rail service, inclining the private sector to invest in additional rail services including potentially reinstating Class One services, expand public express bus services, get better competition with intercity bus providers to improve services and lower fares, developing landmark transit stations, and providing the highway infrastructure for people riding in high occupancy vehicles of any kind. Again, the question is, how can we pay for it when the economy is still generally soft here at home?

The Coalition has already submitted potential solutions to these problems. We want to get to the bottom of the problem of why such infrastructure projects take nearly decades to materialize and we need your voices, ideas and opinions. If we continue to lag in improving transportation options and fail to expedite master plans whenever economic growth occurs, serious issues like traffic gridlock and bare-bones transit services will come back to surprise us. I mean, both the 91 Express Lanes extension through Corona now under construction and planned Metrolink and commuter bus expansions should have been done during the housing boom years and the I-15 project should have followed a few years later. Why is it taking so long to do it? Yes, there was the non-compete clause while the 91 Express Lanes was in private ownership before OCTA took ownership of the robust facility last decade which blocked the improvements, but why? It's very easy to point fingers at our local agencies, but addressing these problems go beyond local control and that's why the Coalition is here to bring you the larger picture. What laws or policies which stand in the way need to be streamlined or reformed to get Southern California moving?

Coalition Concept: A conceptual high speed train station in Murrieta.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by any public entity or Amtrak.
So anyway, that is the topic of discussion.  I'll be on the run for the next few weeks starting on Friday. I'll be headed up to Washington State. On the way up, I'll take a fresh look at California's San Joaquin Valley transportation corridor linking Southern California to the Bay Area. I know the statewide high speed rail project is mired in all kinds of problems but the proven transit technology is very feasible. We need better leadership to get its per-mile costs down, private investments up, and policies streamlined.

Also, later this summer, I'll be heading down to San Diego County, checking out the recently opened Rapid express bus services that utilize the I-15 Express Lanes between Escondido and downtown San Diego. San Diego County's I-15 corridor generally has what I envision here. I might include a trolley trip to San Ysidro to see if anything was done to the border signage so we don't have repeats of the horrible story involving U.S. Marine Andrew Tahmooressi. Tahmooressi has been held in Mexican incarceration since March 31 on so-called weapons charges, but really committed no wrongdoing. He still remains jailed in a Mexican maximum security prison in solitary confinement. According to reports, he had all of his personal belongings stuffed in his car as part of a move which included 3 legally registered firearms, walked into Mexico, came back later in the dark night to his car, wanted to head back to San Diego, but accidentally took a wrong turn back into Mexico due to unlit vandalized signage, told authorities he needed to get back to the U.S. and the Mexican military arrested the Marine. The U.S. federal government needs to get on this issue. He and all other unreported innocent U.S. citizens who are incarcerated need to be sent back to the U.S. immediately.

Anyway, thank you for following this blog. Check out the Streetblog CA and Alpern At Large for the latest news on transit while I'm gone. I'll talk to you again after the Fourth of July weekend.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Bus Network Structure: Maintaining short wait times for RTA bus transfers

RTA operates as Hub-and-Spoke which is "the most efficient configuration" according to an official report.

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Riverside Transit Agency has some more service changes planned for the future. Many are very promising. The bus agency had some big reports published within the Board of Directors and Committee agenda packets a few weeks ago. One of my jobs is to go through these reports and share what I believe is important to you. One such report is the Draft Service Standards Report, published on June 4, 2014. Scroll down to page 17 of the committee agenda packet to view it.

This report will guide RTA in ensuring that its service meets the expectations of passengers and taxpayers. There's quite a bit of good and productive data in this packet including recommendations to expand later evening services, route classifications, and recommended procedures of addressing low-ridership lines of which I will break down in future Let's Debates and Transit Talking Points. For now, the topic of discussion is RTA's network structure and a potential consideration to restructure the bus routes in the downtown Riverside area from hub-and-spoke to grid. This issue is important because the bus network design affects bus transfer wait times.

Here's what the report had to say about the bus route network design structure in its full context:

The design of a route network defines the overall success of the system. How routes interact with one another greatly impacts the ease with which passengers can travel around the network.

Network Structure: The RTA service area is comprised of varying levels of population and employment densities and urban centers separated by geographic gaps of little to no density. RTA serves areas with a variety of mobility needs and service warrants: some areas are supportive of transit lifestyle service while others warrant lifeline service. Working within a constraint of limited resources, RTA must strive to match resource investment to mobility needs to ensure maximized gains from ridership. Its challenge is creating a cohesive network that combines areas that warrant different levels of service investment and transit supply.
The RTA bus system network operates as hub-and-spoke where routes connect with each other at one or more centralized transfer hubs or transit centers. Preliminary recommendations may call for a decentralized grid-based system for some routes. For up-to-date scheduling and maps for trip planning, visit the RTA website.

Due to its incredibly large service area, RTA operates as a hub-and-spoke network. This is the most efficient configuration for connecting such a large area, but it means that many trips involve at least one transfer. To reduce total travel time and encourage passengers to use the system, RTA should aim to schedule no transfer wait to be more than 20 minutes.

The report went on and recommended that RTA work with connecting transit providers to coordinate transit service terminals, schedules, and transfer mechanisms. The Riding in Riverside transit blog also has an accurate description about RTA's network design when a reader posted a question in a blog post. Here is the full context of the conversation:

Anonymous 14 November, 2012 17:35 - To be honest, the 2 million will barely cover the expense to add bus bays, and improved amenities. I don't expect things to improve much at this point in time. Also, don't the current RTA routes, at least in Riverside try to emulate a grid, such as routes 1, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15. Or is this due to the city's design. Likewise, Moreno Valley routes emulate a grid, though less so than the Riverside routes.

JN - 19 November, 2012 18:17: No, RTA runs a hub-and-spoke system. A grid system would see routes along most major streets, and transfers would happen at each corner where you wanted to turn, eg. if you wanted to go from Downtown to the airport you'd take a route down Magnolia to Arlington, then transfer to a route running on Arlington. The current system (in both Riverside and MoVal) is oriented towards major transfer points-- the Downtown Terminal and Tyler Mall in Riverside, the Moreno Valley Mall in Moreno Valley. Notice that there aren't many east-west elements in either city, and that all the routes radiate out from central points.

The hub-and-spoke design is vital to ensure timed transfers in Riverside are maintained. RTA was recommended to keep transfer layover times to less than 20 minutes. By the way, the $2 million that the anonymous poster was referring to was previous funding for the Riverside Transit Center. Since then, the $7 million that was secured for the downtown transit project was re-purposed to the Twin Cities Transit Center in November, 2012 due to trivial regulatory rules with awarded funds.

Another report that I ran across was RTA's Fiscal Year 2015-2017 proposed Short Range Transit Plan. The report had an update of what officials have planned for the Riverside Transit Center:

The current transit center is located between Fairmont Boulevard and Market Street off of University Avenue and Mission Inn Avenue. The COA includes a separate task that evaluates the relocation of the transit center and has a proposed option that includes a decentralized grid network with the use of Metrolink station site and the Vine Street site as layover areas for a few routes. The implementation date of this change is yet to be determined.

A similar recommendation for a decentralized grid network was mentioned for the Moreno Valley/Perris Region. Here is the full context of the preliminary FY16 and FY17 recommendations:

  • Invest in productive service along Magnolia Avenue, University Avenue, and Arlington Avenue to foster “lifestyle” transit that is faster and provides more frequency;
  • Consolidate services connecting downtown Riverside and the Tyler Galleria into fewer, more productive routes;
  • Divert less productive service away from key corridors; and
  • Enhance the customer experience by integrating both local and regional network.
Moreno Valley/Perris:
  • Move from a hub-based network to a grid system by increasing frequency on key linear corridors such as Alessandro Boulevard and Perris Boulevard;
  • Realign service on the eastern end of Moreno Valley and Perris near Moreno Beach Drive to create a more efficient and effective network; and
  • Improve regional mobility at major hubs such as the Moreno Valley Mall and Perris-Station Transit Center.
Hemet/San Jacinto/Pass:
  • Focus service where transit is most productive by making Florida Avenue and State Street more frequent network spines;
  • Streamline service into a more efficient and effective network;
  • Enhance both regional and community connections by facilitating transfers at Hemet Valley Mall and Beaumont/Banning Wal-Mart.
  • Reorient transit from an all-day fixed route network to one tailored to specific mobility needs; and
  • Improve community and regional connections to attract new riders.

Regarding the hub-and-spoke to grid proposal for the downtown area, I will be reviewing the COA-recommended route design and recommended service frequencies when they are completed later this fall. Generally speaking, engineering timed transfer points between each bus route that run fewer than one bus every 15 minutes under a decentralized grid network is very difficult to attain. RTA needs to ensure the timed transfer layover does not exceed 20 minutes. In addition, each route going into downtown should eventually connect to the downtown train station whenever a train is due to pass through.

One of the best solutions to solve the problems associated with the Riverside Transit Center, of which we've advocated, is for the City of Riverside to designate the Metrolink station site as an enterprise marketplace job zone where a private developer can build up a multistory job site, replace the surface parking lot with structured parking over retail, expand the bus bay capacity to maintain hub-and-spoke bus routing, streamline the traffic flow in and out of the station area, and build a pedestrian bridge over the 91 freeway in return for an inclining tax break. This solution means not having to wait for years on in to get a robust multi-modal transit hub for the people of Riverside.

We're looking for a problem solver to take the lead on moving this project forward.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Transportation Tips: Dump the Pump and Check out Metrolink Weekends!

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

It's very easy and tempting to incorrectly think that Riverside's major newspaper, The Press Enterprise, is anti-transit simply because it is against both the California High Speed Rail project and the Riverside Reconnects streetcar proposal. The Transit Coalition well knows that there are problems for both the streetcar and statewide high speed rail project master plans that have to be solved. The paper certainly does not want our public money to be squandered and I certainly understand its points even though we may disagree with its position. We all pay a lot of money to the taxman during a soft Inland market economy; we should all not want that revenue wasted. But it would be wrong to label the newspaper as anti-transit. In fact, on Wednesday, it ran a very pro-Metrolink article on page 1 of the PE Local with a preview on the front page of the printed paper.

I've looked around for an online reference to the article and found it in the P-Edition area which is accessible to subscribers, but I'll analyze what was reported.

PE Staff Writer Kyle Lundberg has invited the general public to "leave the car at home" as Metrolink provides for "cheaper, less hectic travel alternative to long, stop-and-go drives through heavy traffic." The article featured reportage on the Angels Express, Dodger Stadium Express, the Beach Train, getting to Hollywood and using the San Diego Coaster. I praise the reportage as we need to continue to educate the public of the transit options that are available for both commuters and leisure travelers headed to the ballgame, LA, or the beach.

This week's tip calls for all us to take advantage of our regional rail system for leisure and family travel and dump the pump.

Here are some of the larger leisure destinations along Metrolink:
  • Friday Night Angels Express - Take the special baseball game runs of the 91 Line from Riverside into Anaheim via a transfer in Orange to the Angels game! The Anaheim train station is at the edge of the stadium parking lot.
  • Southern California Beaches - Check out the beach trains, the destination and service that first brought leisure travelers aboard Metrolink!
  • Dodgers Express - Take the Metrolink San Bernardino Line into Los Angeles Union Station and board the Dodger Stadium Express at Bus Bay 3 of the Patsaouras Transit Plaza free with your valid Dodgers admission ticket.
  • Other Weekend Destinations - More Trains. More Destinations. More Fun. Ride anywhere, Saturday or Sunday for only $10.
  • RTA Route 202 Beach Bus Runs - From the Southwest area, be sure to check out the special Beach Bus runs of Route 202 between June 16 and September 1, 2014.
For the record, a few points of correction from the PE article: The newspaper reported that Metrolink is a light rail system. It is actually heavy suburban regional rail and officially labeled commuter rail. Also, the paper reported that it costs $5 for a Metro Day Pass from LA Union Station. You can actually transfer and board any LA Metro train or bus at any station or stop with your valid Metrolink ticket for free and not have to buy a separate LA Metro ticket or pass.

All aboard the Metrolink this weekend!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Alpern-At-Large: Stagnant economic salaries and why CA continues to decline

By: Ken Alpern, Chair

While my home is still the "Golden State", it's indeed time to question whether our gold is real or "Fool's Gold". After all, as its leaders and allied press corps like to proclaim, our budget is balanced, families are doing better, and our economy is recovering ... which would be great if it were in any way, shape or form true.

Those of us born and bred in California like to believe we're the center of the universe, and that other states could learn a thing or three from us.  We're smart, and the others are ignorant ... especially if their accent has a twang to it.  I remember growing up with that attitude, and then during my medical training in other states I discovered to my shock that it was I and my fellow Californians who were close-minded.

But the reality is that our REAL unemployment rate is 16.7%, not 8.6%, our state's economy is really hurting, and families with children are especially hard-pressed ... and with very little support from our so-called leaders.

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, June 11, 2014

Let's Debate: Should RTA's Bus Route Network be a Hub-and-Spoke or Grid?

The RTA bus system network operates as hub-and-spoke where routes connect with each other at one or more centralized transfer hubs or transit centers. Preliminary recommendations may call for a decentralized grid-based system for some routes. For up-to-date scheduling and maps for trip planning, visit the RTA website.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

To be honest with you, I feel pretty foolish putting this question out for debate, but believe this topic should be discussed once more as there are some preliminary recommendations to restructure some of RTA's bus routes from hub-and-spoke to grid in the downtown Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris regions based on information from the transit agency's 2015-2017 proposed Short Range Transit Plan. The proposals are not yet finalized nor any specifics have been presented, but they are in consideration for these regions.

The RTA bus system currently operates as hub-and-spoke with multiple transit centers and transfer hubs in its service area, meaning bus routes connect with each other with timed transfers at a one or more of these centralized hubs. If RTA had routes which operated on a decentralized grid design, the transit path would generally be identical to a car trip along major roads, where a turn to/from a connecting street equates to a transfer. For a grid system to function properly, each of the services would need to be very frequent in order to avoid long layovers at streetside bus stops. Given the facts, I certainly feel that a hub-based network should remain but I would support more direct and streamlined service in between the central transfer points and key destinations on some routes, especially in the Southwest region conditioned that timed connections be maintained at existing transfer hub points and especially larger transit centers.

The Valley Metro System in Phoenix generally operates under a decentralized grid-based design with few routes diverting to connect with nearby transit centers.
One general major issue of moving from a hub-and-spoke system to a decentralized grid network is simply the difficulty of engineering timed transfer points given the wide presence of RTA bus routes that operate fewer than one bus every 15 minutes; many operate hourly. Both I and the Riding in Riverside Transit Blog will argue that a decentralized grid system is the best of all possible designs for public transit, but such a design depends on very frequent service on each route in the system, not just the trunk lines. Therefore, I believe RTA should keep its routing structure as hub-and-spoke but with more direct service in between the transfer points in the areas mentioned.

I'll be in touch with RTA this week to get some more specifics on the SRTP proposals and will analyze them Monday, but what do you think? Which type of bus network do you think would fare best for bus service in downtown Riverside, Moreno Valley and Perris: Hub-and-Spoke, Decentralized Grid, or a little bit of both?

Monday, June 9, 2014

CA Vehicle Mileage-Based Tax: Cut the Waste and Red Tape first

Before the state even thinks about implementing a mileage-based tax to all motorists, it must control the spending of our money and streamline the regulatory process of expanding transit infrastructure.

Coalition Concept: High Occupancy Toll Lanes along the I-15 Freeway near Ontario which supports free non-transponder carpooling. In lieu of a mileage-based tax, HOT lanes can provide extra funding for basic maintenance and expanded express transit service along busy freeway corridors.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by SANBAG, Caltrans or any public agency.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord introduced a statewide bill which would initiate a pilot program which would study a mileage based fee as a means to fund statewide transportation infrastructure.

According to the Legislative Counsel's Digest, SB 1077 would require the California State Transportation Agency by January 1, 2016 to develop this pilot program designed to assess specified issues related to implementing a mileage-based fee within the state which would replace the state's fuel excise tax.

This bill would require the state agency at a minimum, to assess certain issues related to implementing this fee, including, among others, different methods for calculating mileage and collecting road use information, processes for managing, storing, transmitting, and destroying data to protect the integrity of the data and ensure drivers' privacy, and costs associated with the implementation and operation of the MBF system, as specified. The bill would also require the agency to prepare and submit a specified report of its findings to the policy and fiscal committees of the Legislature no later than June 30, 2017. The bill would require the report to include, among other things, recommendations on how best to implement an MBF, as specified, and recommendations regarding public and private agency access to MBF data that ensures privacy rights as protected by the California Constitution. The bill would also repeal these provisions on January 1, 2018.

It's quite clear that following this pilot program, should the mileage-based "fee" be imposed to all drivers in the future, what we will really see is a transportation infrastructure tax hike. Namely, if you drive a car anywhere in the state, the taxman will come.

There are some people who would support such a policy since the argument for it is certainly valid. If more and more gas-electric hybrids and all-electric cars do become the norm, fuel tax funds at both the state and federal level will be threatened as demands for fuel will decrease. On the other side, there are many who are flat out against it simply because the governments have squandered existing fuel tax revenues. The feds took in record fuel tax receipts in 2012 even with inflation. State fuel tax receipts were also at record levels, but our infrastructure still generally remains sub-par in areas all over the country which includes Inland Empire highways. Where has all that money gone? One individual who I spoke to plans to relocate to Arizona should this pilot program materialize into a permanent tax.

The fact remains that government overspending and waste occurs over and over again. We all remember the costly red tape from the state level which delayed the opening of Phase I of the French Valley Parkway project. How about the $8 million that was handed out to California High Speed Rail contractors to simply submit losing bids? What about the $10 Million Bay Oakland Bay Bridge PR scandal? Let's not forget the state rules and regulations that are forcing local agencies to spend an outrageous $15,000 per-space cost for a proposed $2.36 million 157-space Park & Ride lot in Temecula.

The truth also is the federal Highway Trust Fund is in dire fiscal trouble. I want our infrastructure projects, maintenance and transit operations to be paid for, but I'm not going to back a tax increase of this magnitude to anybody until such wasteful government spending stops. We're finally seeing some honest reportage of this situation. The Washington Times published this editorial last Friday echoing what we've been mentioning for some time.

How can we stop this runaway money fountain? Here are some fair alternatives that I submit into the debate to maintain a robust  network which won't require a tax increase nor depend on fuel taxes:

  1. Streamlining and reforming California's complex regulatory code. Make public works transportation projects more cost efficient which do not pander to the special interests. Get costs in line with the market rates. The system needs to allow the marketplace to get more involved in improving the infrastructure with efficient state and federal oversight. A place to start is expanding California's Adopt-A-Highway system beyond litter removal, graffiti clean-up, and landscaping. The program should allow the private sector to help maintain the highways in return for a tax rebate.

    Coalition Concept: Officials envision the possibility of extending the award-winning I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County north into Temecula where big development plans are in store for Jefferson Avenue; however, no public funding sources have been identified. Why can't the developers offset the traffic impacts by paying for, designing and constructing both the HOT lane master plan and high speed rail in return for a tax break?
    Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by any public entity.
    Why can't the private sector take charge of building up and maintaining the infrastructure? What exactly is stopping commercial property owners who rely on working surface transportation from paying for and patching up the potholes themselves, repaving and restriping the boulevards, and making them complete streets in return for a nice tax break? Why can't an entrepreneur who may want to invest in a tourist destination on affordable land in Victorville hire its own construction crew to design and build out SANBAG's master plan of high occupancy toll lanes through the Cajon Pass as well as expand intercity passenger rail services to offset traffic impacts? Why can't a developer build an enterprise zone and job hub over the parking lot of the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station so that both the Riverside Transit Center and a pedestrian bridge across the 91 freeway can be built quickly without us having to wait for years? The federal rules also need to be streamlined so that the Highway Trust Fund money returned to us actually goes toward robust transportation infrastructure, not to other programs.

  2. If all-electric cars do become the norm, have economists figure out exactly how much more money that would otherwise be going into the gas tank is being spent in other areas of the market economy. Find out how much more sales and income taxes the government is taking in thanks to the economic growth stimulated by not having to pay outrageous prices at the gas pump.  Use that difference to allocate funds from the general fund to surface transportation.

  3. High Occupancy Toll Lanes: Solo drivers have demonstrated repeatedly that they are willing to tax themselves into a faster moving carpool lane. Such tolls can help pay for basic maintenance of the freeway corridor and expanded express transit services. Ensure HOT lanes support free non-transponder carpooling to maximize the number of people per vehicle which can help reduce wear on the highway. HOT lanes have already proven to be reliable.

If the state government is looking to replace the fuel excise tax for transportation revenue, this is a potential solution that should be debated. The point state lawmakers should consider is this: Get the red-tape bureaucracy, pandering, and government waste out of the way so that we can have a first-rate transportation system.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Transportation Tips: Learn the Basic Structure of your Transit Agency's Board Meetings

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition's "secret formula" to our campaigns and mission is pretty simple: Take the facts and calculate a fair and just solution to solve our transit mobility problems. Our mission is for you and I to mobilize and passionately demonstrate community support for the economic development and continuing operation of improved transportation.

A significant portion of the very facts and information we get originate from the very public records and documents themselves with the help of agency staff, Coalition Field Studies, your input and the media. One example I found this week is that the Riverside Transit Agency has more plans ahead as far as service changes based on data from its Board and Committee agenda packets--more specifically, RTA's updated Short Range Transit Plan proposed. I'll go through and present what I believe will be important to you next week.

The press has been pretty quiet on this matter, which means you and I need to get the information from their sources and use whatever forums we have to keep the public informed of what is happening. I want to emphasize that we don't just preach to the choir; several of the very decision makers and their staff follow us through the social media sites. That's why I welcome productive debate and disagreement here.

We should all have a general understanding of how our transit agencies operate starting from the top. Such public entities are governed by a group of elected officials which is known as the Board of Directors. Select members of the Board serve on different standing committees overseeing specific areas such as finances and administration. Agency staff works under the governing Board and presents recommendations to it for approval. Under the Brown Act, each meeting involving the deciding Board members are to be open to the public with the exception of a segment known as closed session. Confidential matters involving agency personnel, labor negotiations, pending litigation, and property negotiations are closed to the public.

Prior to each public meeting, agencies must notify the public at least three days in advance by posting a notice and an agenda of the meeting under the Brown Act. With the advent of high speed internet, accessing this information remotely is easier than ever. Such documents and full agenda packets can be downloaded and read with a click of the mouse. As transit advocates, we should take a moment to see what goes on behind the scenes of our public agencies. Obviously, I'll present some of the more important facts found to this blog as I know most of us simply don't have the time to go through the numerous pages in a typical agenda packet, but do take a moment and skim through these public documents yourself and use whatever forums you have to keep the rest of the public informed of important transit-related news. Here are some links you should consider adding to your bookmarks:

RTA Board & Committee Agendas -
RTA News & Publications -

Omnitrans Meetings & Agendas -
Omnitrans News & Events -

Meetings and Agendas -
Metrolink News -

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Let's Debate: Is imposing a Vehicle Mile Tax the right thing to do for California?

Coalition Concept: High Occupancy Toll Lanes along the I-15 Freeway near Corona Lake which supports free non-transponder carpooling and transit infrastructure. Should all motorists now be taxed per-mile to pay for infrastructure? Let's debate!
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by RCTC, Caltrans or any public agency.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I'm following the progress of State Senate bill, SB 1077, which is sponsored by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord. Should the bill become law, it would launch a pilot program that would study implementing a per-mileage fee for all California motorists. The state bill would grant state agencies the power to track vehicle miles travelled by drivers who volunteer for the pilot program which would commence in 2016.

It has sparked some intense debate in the public court of opinion.

Here's the reason why this bill is being introduced: Politicians need to find a way to replace the fuel tax fund both at the state and federal level. For decades, motor vehicles are more fuel efficient. And they are becoming more fuel efficient. In fact, if all-electric cars like Tesla combined with solar energy production become the norm, the fuel tax fund will certainly be threatened. The funding source will eventually have to be replaced without question.

Currently, the Highway Trust Fund is going broke. However, even with the transportation spending combined with inflation and more fuel-efficient cars, federal fuel tax receipts are still at record high levels. With the federal kitty broke and our infrastructure still at a sub-par state, the question is where has all that money that you and I paid into gone? The current issue is not whether the federal government is getting enough revenue, but how the money is being spent during a soft market economy. However, to be fair, the revenue source eventually must be replaced.

So, this is where we are. I'm not a real fan of SB 1077 and I'll explain why on Monday. But this blog has already submitted a possible fair alternative to replace the fuel tax fund which is certainly subject to debate as it has yet to be proven. Also, we generally support high occupancy toll lanes that allow for free non-transponder carpooling as a means to help pay for rapid express bus transit and general maintenance of specific highway corridors. Just like many other complex problems, there will be multiple solutions that may work. But the fix must be fair and just and that's what this blog has submitted.

The Transit Coalition's Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit is far from being funded. Budgets from our transit agencies are at slim levels. Our existing infrastructure generally remains sub-par. Too much government red tape has inflated public works costs. The Inland Empire market economy is still at a soft state. What's your solution? Let the debate commence.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Streetsblog CA: California Legislation Watch

By: Melanie Curry at Streetsblog LA

The California Legislature saw a lot of action in the last two weeks on bills related to sustainable transportation. The deadline to pass bills out of committee was on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend, and May 30 was the deadline for all bills to be voted on by their houses of origin. If they couldn’t pass by today from the Senate to the Assembly, or vice versa, then they died for this session.

Below are the fates of some of the bills Streetsblog has been following. There are a few other relevant bills that don’t appear here because they have already passed from their house of origin, including S.B. 1151, which would raise fines for traffic violations in school zones, and A.B. 1193, which would require Caltrans to institute standards for protected bike lanes.

Harder pentalties for at-fault drivers colliding with bicycle riders and pedestrians: A.B. 2398, Marc Levine’s (D-San Rafael) Vulnerable User Law, passed out of the Assembly Appropriations Committee last week, but not before it was amended to delete the automatic driver’s license suspension it originally called for. As it’s written now, the bill would raise fines and add a point against a driver’s record if the driver is convicted of causing bodily injury to a vulnerable road user, including bicyclists and pedestrians. The bill passed the Assembly 72-2.

More penalties for hit-and-runs: A.B. 1532 from Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles) also passed the Assembly, on a 74-4 vote. This bill would suspend the license of a driver convicted of leaving the scene of a crash where any person is struck, whether that person is injured or not. “Victims and families deserve to know that cowards who drive recklessly, and purposefully avoid responsibility, can no longer drive the streets,” said Gatto in a press release. “AB 1532 is a sensible fix to the law that will lead people to think twice before leaving the scene of an accident.”

Developing a mileage-based user fee to pay for roads: S.B. 1077 from Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) would require CalSTA, the California State Transportation Agency, to develop a replacement for the gas tax by finding a way to charge road users based on how many miles a vehicle is driven. The aim is for a “price signal” to encourage people to drive less, thus reducing emissions and traffic congestion. Plus, a mileage-based fee would be a more stable source of funds than the gas tax, which is dwindling due to increasingly fuel-efficient cars, electric vehicles, and politicians’ unwillingness to use the word “tax.” The bill passed the Senate on a mostly party line vote (23-11) and now goes to the Assembly.

Funding bike paths with a vehicle registration fee: S.B. 1183, also from Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord), passed the Senate 26 to 9. This bill started out as a sales tax on bicycles to fund bike path maintenance, but opposition to a new tax, and the complexities of managing it, caused the authors to re-think their approach. As it’s written now, the bill would allow local jurisdictions — cities, counties, and park districts — to put a vehicle registration fee increase  of $5 or less to pay for bike path maintenance on the ballot. Local voters would have to approve the fee by a two-thirds vote.

Replacing old polluting vehicles with a range of options: S.B. 1275, from Kevin De Leon (D-Los Angeles), would expand options under the state’s compensation program intended to create an incentive for owners to ditch heavily-polluting vehicles. The bill would increase compensation for low-income program participants, and provide the option to use the incentive for a transit pass or car-share membership rather than spending it to buy another vehicle. The bill passed the Senate on a 27-to-9 vote.

Fracking ban fails to pass: S.B. 1132 from Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) failed to pass the Senate despite strong support and a long list of sponsors. The vote was 16 to 16. This bill, Mitchell’s second attempt, would have banned “well stimulation” activities until studies on the public health and environmental impacts of the oil extraction techniques are completed. “When the impacts on the public of a for-profit endeavor are unknown, we try it out first in minority neighborhoods – assuming low vigilance and the need to bring in jobs makes safety irrelevant,” Mitchell wrote on her website. “But we’ve put big industry on notice: That ploy won’t fly forever. People’s neighborhoods aren’t fodder for fracking, environmental justice must come, and one day soon the vote to refrain from polluting for profit will prevail!”

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

Alpern At Large: Spinning High Speed Rail and the Law for political gain

The idea of more carefully building a statewide higher/high-speed rail network between urban centers where it's cost-effective and legally viable? Where is the leadership from the state?
By: Ken Alpern, Chair

Oooh, that whole "democracy" thing is so darned hard, isn't it?  And that whole "constitutional" thing--really hard, ain't it?  But there's a way to get around all that, isn't there ... just do something, damned the illegality of it, and beg for permission, right?  Way harder than asking the citizens and legal authorities, right?

Jump into Iraq based on nebulous information?  No problem--let's fix it after we blunder in.

Tell everyone that a federally-required health plan isn't a tax, and that it's affordable and easy?  No problem--let's fix it after we blunder in.

Jump on board a High-Speed Rail plan that breaks the funding and speed laws the voters approved?  No problem--let's fix it after we blunder in.

Because you'll get re-elected...

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.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Improving Inland Empire Metrolink Service

Officials have big plans to expand Southern California's regional rail infrastructure.

© Justin Nelson CC-BY-SA

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

As many rail commuters and transit followers are well aware, Metrolink is Southern California's and the Inland Empire's regional passenger rail system. The Southern California Regional Rail Authority which governs Metrolink was formed in 1991 to improve mobility throughout Southern California and to cut down on freeway congestion by closing a void in the region's transportation infrastructure between five counties. The system has proven to be very successful. According to the Metrolink website, service has grown from three service lines, 11 stations and 2,300 daily boardings during the early 90's to seven service lines, 55 stations and 44,000 daily boardings, all over a 512 route-mile network.

More expansions are coming. Here's a run down:

Perris Valley Line: Spearheaded by the Riverside County Transportation Commission, the Metrolink 91 Line will be extended from Downtown Riverside south to Perris using the existing RCTC-owned San Jacinto Branch Line. The project is under construction. The PVL is expected to open to riders by late 2015.

A new Metrolink station is planned for Placentia, which will also connect the 91/Perris Valley Line to additional job hubs in Orange County. According to the city website, The City of Placentia has been working with OCTA to secure the funds to design and build this station in the City's downtown area.

Downtown San Bernardino and Redlands Passenger Rail Projects: The San Bernardino Associated Governments is working to expand passenger rail transit service between San Bernardino and Redlands utilizing the Redlands Subdivision rail corridor. The Downtown San Bernardino First-Mile project will extend Metrolink trains from the historic Santa Fe Depot one mile east, where it will join with the San Bernardino Transit Center project which is currently under construction. In addition, some major changes will occur at the historic Santa Fe Depot, which is the current terminal station for San Bernardino. The Transit Center is expected to be completed in during the summer of 2015, while the Metrolink extension and Santa Fe Depot modifications scheduled for completion by
the follwing summer in 2016.

I-15, I-215 Rail Corridors: Several years back, the Riverside County Transportation Commission conducted two rail feasibility studies to evaluate future passenger rail lines in Riverside County. A 2005 study supported advancing the Perris Valley Line from Perris to San Jacinto with additional Metrolink service along the I-215 to Temecula. A 2008 study looked at potential train service along the I-15 corridor, Temecula North and Temecula South. The findings found that such a public project would be expensive, but supported public-private partnerships, where private developers help fund or donate right of way and contribute to the overall capital costs.

The study also found that high speed rail would have to address the major commuter demand between Temecula and San Diego County. With the way things are going with the California High Speed Rail Authority, don't count on this project materializing anytime soon with public funds alone. The private sector must be inclined to invest in this robust infrastructure and expansion of our Inland regional rail system. 

Coachella Valley Rail Service: We cannot forget the overwhelming public support of getting additional trains in between the Coachella Valley and Los Angeles via the Inland Empire. Since the 1990's both state and local transportation officials have been pushing to get daily intercity train service into the Coachella Valley from Los Angeles. Officials have been looking into expanding Amtrak services through this region in lieu of Metrolink. However, the main problem has been the rail right-of-way which is privately owned by the Union Pacific Railroad, not public agencies. UPRR has long objected to additional passenger trains along these tracks to prevent obstruction of its logistics business. On top of expanding Amtrak services which has been widely discussed in the public forums, this blog has suggested other alternatives of getting additional intercity trains through the region.

Be sure to check out The Transit Coalition's Future Vision of Inland Empire Mass Transit to see which corridors would fare well with expanded high speed intercity and regional trains.