Thursday, July 31, 2014

Alpern At Large: Fixing the Civil Rights Connection

By: Ken Alpern, Chair

ALPERN AT LARGE-On vacation with my family again (this time in the Midwest), we were awestruck by the Memphis Civil Rights Museum, which is a stunning, gripping and moving learning center.  Merged into the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, the Museum documents how our nation could not truly be free unless all human beings are free ... and the freedom and liberty of all Americans faces new challenges in this new century. 

The debate over what is best for African Americans--by and for ALL Americans--is one filled with a dozen different talking points and opinions that is by far a more difficult debate to resolve than before ... but the debate MUST be pursued with the understanding that no one person or group has all the answers.  

What can be hopefully agreed--by and for ALL Americans--is that without economic opportunities for all, our nation cannot truly be free.  Whether it's for education, or transportation, or any other high priority in our society, the "separate but equal" paradigm is a failed endeavor that is, at its essence, borne of racism and the desire to be away from "those people". 

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, July 30, 2014

Let's Debate: Improving Inland Empire Intercity Bus Transit Services

An Intermodal "Union Station": The San Ysidro Transit Center connects Mexican border patrons with San Diego MTS trolley and bus services, Greyhound, cross-border shuttles, and taxis. Several other private coach providers have outlets very close to the hub. How can our Inland Empire transit hubs follow this?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Last weekend, I conducted a field study of San Diego County's rapid express services for the I-15 corridor between Escondido and downtown San Diego and submitted that the Inland Empire should have similar services. Our long range future vision calls for such service between downtown Riverside and Orange County. We believe the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center with a terminal stop at the Disneyland Resort is a prime candidate for the western station given the numerous transfer opportunities there. Other strong terminal stop candidates are the Fullerton Transportation Center and the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center.

Many of you would like to see expanded express services for our corridors. On Monday, I've talked about the rapid express option for speedy cross-regional trips for areas not served by rail. But what about those longer-haul intercity trips? Let's say: Riverside to San Diego? Indio to Los Angeles? Oceanside to Perris? Temecula to Fullerton? Murrieta to Las Vegas? Yes, there's Greyhound and there are a number of Amtrak motorcoach buses that provide intercity feeder service to/from train routes. In addition, the Megabus to Las Vegas stops at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station. Nothing wrong with that; those are all desirable and productive services. But how can more of these direct services be improved with across-the-platform access to/from public transit centers? Let's debate a solution.

San Ysidro Transit Center

During my field study of the rapid bus in San Diego, I transferred to the MTS Blue Line trolley and wanted to see what was going on in the San Ysidro Transit Center area. As many of you are well aware, this area is home to the San Ysidro Port of Entry, gateway into Tijuana, Mexico. This transit center certainly is a busy hub with many different options to get around. Mobility is written all over it. The transit center demonstrates exactly what happens when several transportation providers set up shop at or near a single hub. I've noted that on top of the San Diego MTS trolley and bus services, Greyhound also stops their buses at the facility. The ticket office is literally located at the end of the blue line trolley tracks. I also noted numerous private sector shuttles utilizing the hub as well as several taxi cabs. I found intercity bus competition to be pretty good in this area. A number of the neighboring retail outlets were used as bus stations. Here are some names of bus providers that few of us may know: El Corre Caminos, Transportes Intercalifornias, and the Mexicoach. The former two serve destinations in the Inland Empire. The latter ferries travelers between the Border Station parking lot--located on the opposite side of the port's pedestrian bridge--and Avenida RevoluciĆ³n. I am almost positive that there are other bus and shuttle providers that I missed. Post any you may know to the comments, especially carriers that connect to the Inland Empire.

Improving Intercity Bus Competition and Stopping Buses at Public Transit Centers

How can we expand intercity services in our area with streamlined and seamless transfers, great services and low fares? A desirable outcome we would like to see is combined headways of about an hour in between buses between Los Angeles and San Ysidro via the Inland Empire. Because the bookends of this corridor are densely populated urban centers, the service would be profitable. Robust competition would lead to enhanced services and deals on fares. Greyhound, El Corre Caminos, Transportes Intercalifornias each have stops in the Inland Empire. Other than Greyhound, very few of us know where to catch these buses. I will compile a list of where to catch some these buses on Monday; however, why are some of these terminals far from public transit connections?

The providers should be inclined to stop their buses at or near existing public transit centers and transfer points which would maximize mobility options. This blog has advocated for our governments to provide incentives to such bus companies to expand intercity transit mobility in the Inland Empire in the form of tax or fee breaks. The perk can be as something simple as a nice break to incline the provider to stop their buses and conduct ticket transactions inside or very close to the city's primary transit center; let's say a 1/4 mile walk maximum between boarding platforms. The shorter the walk, the higher the incentive.

Here at home, I've seen some examples where carrier terminals and stops are located far away from the region's designated transit center. How on earth would Perris Station Transit Center patrons know of El Corre Caminos bus services when the bus company's ticket office is located about 3/4 mile away at 4th Street and Wilkerson? The Perris Greyhound station located at 4th and G Street is also a good 1/2 mile walk away from the transit hub. To be fair, the old Riverside Transit Agency hub in Perris was at 4th at Wilkerson before the Perris Station Transit Center was built, but why haven't the bus companies been inclined to relocate and set up shop at the transit center which would allow for better connections? Another incentive would be local permit fee breaks to move an existing outlet closer to the hub.

Los Angeles Union Station has been a prime example of a unified transit hub for 75 years. The San Ysidro hub is also a good example; the only request I have for the latter is to have a map of all of the nearby bus providers with a boarding diagram posted at the station and in public transit literature. Openstreetmap has a good example of this. But how can we better improve intercity bus transit for San Bernardino and Riverside Counties to quickly get around Southern California? Let's debate.

Monday, July 28, 2014

San Diego MTS I-15 Rapid Express is "One Sweet Ride" - Can the Inland Empire have this too?

How can we get a similar BRT express system into under-served Inland Empire transit corridors?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

San Diego's transit agency, MTS, last June significantly upgraded the Escondido-Downtown San Diego transportation corridor with "One Sweet Ride," a rapid express service with buses running every 30 minutes from early morning until late night up and down the corridor with expanded peak hour frequencies and additional premium limited stop commuter express runs. Until the BRT express upgrades took place, transit services were primarily rush-hour oriented with a number of limited stop commuter express routes and a local-plus express regional connector dubbed MTS Route 20 between Del Lago and Downtown; getting in between Escondido, downtown and major points in between during off-peak hours had required many stops with transfers. Not anymore.

There is no ideological spin to the "One Sweet Ride" slogan. I traveled down to Escondido last weekend and gave MTS Rapid Express Route 235 a go, end-to-end. It is one sweet ride.

San Diego's BRT express provided for a quick and speedy alternative to get up and down the I-15 corridor. According to MTS and my field study, the rapid express line has many features one can expect from BRT service. That includes traffic signal priority, use of the I-15 Express Lanes, direct access ramps, and limited stops. Unlike some BRT services where tickets are purchased at the station, Route 235 fares are paid on board, similar to local bus fare collection. In addition, the bus features comfortable, cushioned seats.

This bus pretty much mimics the Foothill Transit Silver Streak and Metro Silver Line rapid express lines in Los Angeles. It's pretty much San Diego's version of LA's robust El Monte Busway services. Both corridors currently use high occupancy toll lanes as infrastructure with the El Monte system starting as a dedicated busway in 1973 and going through a number of usage changes over its successful 41 year history.

Photo: San Diego MTS
One interesting fact about the I-15 Express Lanes and the El Monte Busway, their direct access ramps, and adjacent transit centers is that even though the transit stops are along a major freeway corridor, such amenities are actually located away from the freeway itself. Unlike some express systems where the stations are placed in the freeway median, riders waiting for the express bus do not have to put up with the loud noise, high traffic volumes, or poor pedestrian connections between local and express routes that is typically found in transit stations located in the freeway medians; the Los Angeles Metro Green Line and Harbor Transitway are examples of those. I witnessed the better waiting conditions first hand since the bus had a small layover period at one of these stations and I had an opportunity to examine the environment.

This interesting rapid transit station is part of a general purpose freeway interchange overpass with the Rapid Express Route 235 stops situated in between the right and left turn lanes at each offramp.
The second observation was a pair of transit stops just south of the San Diego River in the Mid City area. The stops were each in a dedicated bus island located in the middle of the 15 freeway offramps. Traffic turning left were to the left of the stop; cars going right to the right. The bus goes straight through into the onramp. Another interesting observation was the freeway overpass that connects the two sides; the sidewalk on each side of the bridge are big landscaped waiting areas for passengers connecting to/from local buses. Hedges and sound barriers block the freeway noise. I'll have to take a closer look at this solution before forming a position. I will say the noise pollution levels are good, but the high traffic volumes at the interchange still make getting around by foot a bit of challenge.

Coalition Concept: 91 Express Lanes direct access ramp linking buses and carpools to the Corona Transit Center. This infrastructure could allow for productive all day rapid express services for the 91 freeway.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by RCTC, RTA, City of Corona, OCTA or any public entity.
Now, the question is how can we get the "One Sweet Ride" into the Inland Empire? We have under-served transportation corridors here at home including the congested Riverside-Orange County corridor known as the 91. There are a number of high occupancy toll lane proposals in store for our area on top the 91 Express Lane extension into Corona.

Like the El Monte Busway and I-15 Express Lanes, have Riverside and San Bernardino County officials thought of including direct access ramps and transit infrastructure into Inland Empire toll lane projects? Have the elected officials explored these proven solutions for quick and easy BRT access between the planned express lanes and nearby transit stations so that we too can have efficient rapid express bus service on top of the expanded commuter services?

For starters, we need to figure out how to better link both the Corona Transit Center and the Village at Orange transfer hub with the HOT lane infrastructure so that the buses don't have to do extensive backtracking. We invite elected Inland officials to check out San Diego's rapid transit system. 

For the record: The writer has defined the regular runs of the freeway-oriented BRT services as "Rapid Express" and the limited stop commuter runs as "premium limited stop commuter express runs". San Diego MTS defines the regular all-day runs of the I-15 Express Lanes BRT services as "Rapid" Route 235 and the peak-hour limited stop commuter express runs as "Rapid Express".

Friday, July 25, 2014

Transportation Tips: Fighting for the dignity of our cities

Along Old Rt. 66, San Bernardino, Rendezvous 2005.jpg
"Along Old Rt. 66, San Bernardino, Rendezvous 2005" by Don - Flickr: Along Old Rt. 66, San Bernardino, Rendezvous 2005. © CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

This week's tip is how you and I can fight against the surge of violent crime that has been reported all over the local media. But first, I want to encourage you to get involved with The Transit Coalition. The organization is all-volunteer and we can use some extra helping hands. Consider donating to our cause. We also want to hear your transit stories and your experience living in the Inland Empire and getting around. I hope you check these outlets and our current campaigns out at our website because we long for A Better Inland Empire.

Your Views

Before I get into the tip, I've got some very constructive comments over the course of the week. Here are some of your views:

Although we want Metrolink to fill seats perhaps shorter four-car consists could help O&M bottomline before service cuts.  -Twitter/Metrolink Diary

It's certainly true that locomotive gas consumption is consistent regardless if the Metrolink cars are full or empty and shortening the train set could save on fuel. But the fact is the train set operates multiple lines and needs to be at its prime length to accommodate peak passenger loads.

The trolley system in San Diego is GREAT for sporting events. -Twitter/Tank D. Sanchez

I know of people from the Inland Empire who travel into San Diego County for the ballgames, park their cars at a trolley station and ride into downtown stadium. The mode is very efficient and reliable.

Regional Transportation Authority is needed to take funding out of the hands of county governments. Benefits buses and rail. -Twitter/Phantom Commuter

Regional Rail: If the local funds and tax receipts do not go through the county governments or cities, it would all have to go through the state government and then passed back down to the regional rail agency. With the way transportation policies are governed at the state, I believe Metrolink's funding system is more fair and the better buy for us. Yes, that will result in disagreements and debates like the current dispute. Nothing wrong with robust debate. But I don't welcome the inflated costs and the service cuts proposed as the solution and we need to demand better local leadership than that.

While we're on the topic of regional services, transportation corridors vary all over SoCal which is why local agencies and jurisdictions need some decision making power. Yes, there needs to be more regional coordination to streamline issues like inter-agency transfers and schedules. Also, I don't oppose inter-agency partnerships which allow for the overlapping of cross-regional connectors and express routes into neighboring counties so that such lines terminate at major hubs, not at the county line. Same holds true for local routes with closed-door service (board only outbound/discharge only inbound) between the terminal and county line. But decisions like specific routing, fares, and planning needs to be local. Back in the days when Southern California Rapid Transit District dominated transit operations, there were local mobility threats where service improvements were focused mostly in Los Angeles with less attention to lower-activity corridors.

Here are you views from Facebook on Wednesday's Let's Debate post of addressing "low-ridership" Metrolink lines:

Those trains are packed. The cancellation has much more to do with the backwardness of SanBAG. -Matt Korner

I'm not giving either the SANBAG or Metrolink elected Board Members a pass on this funding dispute. Both sides have valid arguments, but we need leadership so that this issue can be solved without cutting the trains.

Stop widening freeways. Invest in transit. Lower impact! -Mark Friis

We should be converting existing lanes to "Truck/Bus Only" with tolls. -
Matt Korner

Many transit advocates believe a reason why our transit systems are underfunded is simply because too much transportation money is being allocated toward expensive highway infrastructure and freeway projects. Generally speaking, that is certainly a correct argument and perhaps one of the top frustrations for those who do transit advocacy. If a tiny fraction of massive highway-dedicated funds were re-purposed to our transit agencies, RTA's operating budget would be more than doubled, both the long-range sbX and RapidLink BRT proposals would be fully built out, LA Metro and Omnitrans would not be forced to raise fares, RTA would not be dependent on JARC funds to upgrade years-overdue service span upgrades, and every proposed transit center in Riverside County would be built and paid for including a multi-modal transit hub at the Riverside Downtown Metrolink station. In addition, major highway capacity improvement projects especially freeway widening projects should generally include transit infrastructure and better land use policies, not just more general purpose lanes.

However, we must remember that public works capital projects all over the state cost way more than the current private sector market rates even during a soft economy here in the Inland Empire. It's clear that government waste and inflated costs are certainly out of control at the state level and political ideology and foolish spending are the prime culprits. That's what must stop.

Since all of Metrolink corridors will be PTC by the end of next year, it is time for them to petition the FRA to allow exemptions so that they can run DMUs on their lines. Smaller trainsets could easily be replaced by a DMU (especially that late-night run) that are cheaper to operate. Double bonus, it could help the robbing Peter to pay Paul that SanBAG is being forced to do with the Gold Line Extension. -Nevram Norman

Mitch Alderman, SanBAG's head rail guy, has personal experience with D.M.U.'s through his work on S.D. County's Sprinter. -Matt Korner

It's very true DMU's can make the rail system more efficient. They would need to be compatible with the station platform design which includes the wheelchair ramps. More on that at a later time. The Transit Coalition also supports electrification of the regional rail system to cut down on operations costs with the help from the private sector.

Transportation Tip: Fighting for the dignity of our cities

The San Bernardino region has been seeing sudden rise in violent crime and receiving hard press lately. Just last night, an armed robbery took place in San Bernardino, the suspect drove off, police found the car later that night, and a chase occured that ended in a rollover crash in Highland, resulting in another crime-related death.

There are a number of transit projects happening in this region and I don't want this infrastructure--let alone the city it serves--mired in gang violence or vandalism.

Besides the hard news, we need to make clear that the good people of crime-plagued Inland Empire regions like San Bernardino are fighting back. And we encourage you to take an active part. Despite going through a round of budget cuts, the city's police department is adding officers according to the San Bernardino Sun and the department has a multitude of volunteer positions. The city should ensure that these programs are funded so that every qualified volunteer applicant has something to do to fight against crime. Every street corner in troubled neighborhoods should have an active volunteer or Reserve patrolling the area.

Yesterday, concerned citizens staged a march for peace down Base Line Avenue. It's clear that a number of faith-based organizations and church groups want their city back. To name a few, Victory Outreach and The Way World Outreach. If you know or participate in any of these organizations, please post them to the comments and I'll feature them in a future post.

Similar campaigns have formed in places like South LA which aims to stop gang violence at its source. Here is a 2012 video of a full meeting of Project Fatherhood in Watts. This campaign deals with the fathers of families in troubled areas including some who have turned away from the criminal life and want to reintegrate back into the community. Pay attention to the passion of these people and the courage they have to fight back.

In addition, a White House campaign called My Brother's Keeper underwent an expansion. Despite all the problems going on within the federal government, My Brother's Keeper is a tremendous program and we all should be backing it. The federal campaign connects corporations and wealthy businesses with entities to improve the lives of youth who grow up in chaotic environments. It links troubled kids and teenagers with caring mentors and legit job opportunities. This deters and discourages such youth from getting involved in the deadly criminal gang culture. If a gang is unable to recruit new members combined with robust law enforcement to get criminals off of the streets, street gang power will die off. I believe this is one federal program that will leave a positive mark on President Obama's legacy.

Can you imagine having the option to come back to the urban areas to live, work, and play safely at places like San Bernardino, Riverside or Los Angeles since such crimes will be ridden? That will certainly get our transportation infrastructure moving again. Many workers in the urban centers live far away from their jobs and commute in daily simply due to all the crime, blight and riff-raff that goes on everyday. Let's give them back the option to live and invest back in the city centers.

Transportation tip: Get on board with one these organizations.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Let's Debate: What is the best way to address the "Low Ridership" Metrolink SB Line runs?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Whenever a transit line is proposed to be cancelled due to low ridership, The Transit Coalition aims to have productive replacement service at the ready so that such proposals do not strand affected riders. This is especially true for lifeline transit routes.

Now we have a situation where four trains along the Metrolink San Bernardino Line are up for cancellation simply because elected officials are not able to fairly solve a funding dispute without resorting to service reductions. The parties involved are Metrolink and SANBAG. Both sides have valid arguments, but tearing apart the system is not the answer. The Board members of both agencies need to negotiate and solve this issue. I've also raised a point that I would support debating alternatives should the affected lines actually have stagnant low ridership counts. The last two late night trips appear to fit into that category. So let's debate.

Metrolink spokesman Jeff Lustgarten told the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin on July 15 the average daily ridership counts for the four affected trains:
  • Midday Train 310 from LAUS: 128 Passengers
  • Midday Train 327 from San Bernardino: 110
  • Late Evening Train 339 from San Bernardino: 32
  • Late Night Train 338 from LAUS: 38
One very valid argument I've heard was running buses for these "low ridership" lines. Some facts: A typical motorcoach bus can seat just over 50
passengers. According to a 2012-2017 Metrolink Fleet Plan report, the railroad's Sentinel rail cars long used by Metrolink have 140-149 seats per car, depending on the generation. The new Guardian fleet cars seat anywhere from 120-142 riders depending on the design and designated usage. It's quite clear that Metrolink regional rail can move far more people than buses which is why both forms of transit are vital for a productive system. So, what should be done with the affected train routes?

First, the midday trains: There's no question that the midday runs should be maintained. Cancelling the midday roundtrip would displace these riders. Some may elect to use the trains that depart before or afterwards, but that is still over 200 daily passengers affected. I believe Trains 310 and 327 need to stay.

Now, the late night train runs: Offering bus service for the late night runs appear to be more debatable since ridership counts each way are in the 30's. For example, for the LOSSAN Rail Corridor, the last northbound Pacific Surfliner train departs San Diego at 9:05pm with a late night Amtrak bus departure at 10:15pm to LAUS with limited stops along the way. Travel on the Amtrak buses also require RSVP's and that part of the trip involve a train trip simply to prevent intercity service duplication with profitable bus services offered from the private sector. That's the law and the policy is justified. In fairness, I don't believe Greyhound should be in position to monopolize the intercity bus market and I do support better intercity competition in the Inland Empire which enhances services and lowers fares.

Replacing the last lifeline Metrolink SB Line trip with motorcoach service could work, but we must first find out how many of the 70 affected late night train riders are returning from a round trip, are passholders, or are one way riders. Since a replacement Metrolink-operated bus route would have to be part of a train itinerary, one way riders would be negated and would have to use an alternative intercity service offered by the private sector. Thus, the bus option is a very debatable solution and I'm not at a point to jump aboard this solution just yet.

However, when one looks at the big picture, getting low-ridership Metrolink routes to perform better means making the system more useful which goes beyond the boundaries of the San Bernardino Line. Rather than cut service and erase all the gains Metrolink has made over the years, the elected representatives from both Boards should direct their staff to fix this funding dispute and find ways to make the service more useful and cost efficient without cuts or additional fare hikes. The Transit Coalition has two suggestions:

The first is the Metrolink Simplified Service Plan which is part of our Metrolink Max campaign. The plan would preserve the usefulness of the Metrolink system by running trains through Union Station. For example, someone who lives along the San Bernardino Line would be able arrive at their job in the Burbank Media District without changing trains. The plan would effectively combine the Ventura County and Orange County Lines, and the Antelope Valley and San Bernardino Lines. We are confident that this would produce major increases in ridership and revenue because the majority of travel in the SCRRA region does not have downtown Los Angeles as its destination. That would solve the legit low ridership issue with the late night SB Line trains and boost the midday numbers. Here's proof: The removal of similar transfers and delays in New York, Toronto, and Philadelphia produced major ridership growth. For example, when the Washington to New York and New York to Boston segments were combined into the Northeast Corridor (NEC), ridership on the weaker Boston leg doubled. If a late evening Antelope Valley Line train ran through LAUS at 11PM, Train 338 to San Bernardino would see its numbers go up and become productive.

The second is to step up efforts to market Metrolink service to employers. This will further help with the midday runs. In Los Angeles County, "Go Metro" advertisements are common around the county. However, some big name employers that could be served by Metrolink, such as the Warner Brothers Studios in Burbank, should be targeted with nearly the same energy. There are hospitals, industrial centers, and other major employers near Metrolink lines that could and should be targets of marketing campaigns. Many employees at these dense hubs don't work the typical 9-5 shift. While the affected SB Line trains could be thought of as being in a ridership crisis, the solution is to improve the underperforming runs, not cut them. If Metrolink staff could sell five hundred more monthly passes in each segment, to major employers to hand out to their employees, that would make a huge difference.

Ultimately, the financial dispute between Metrolink and SANBAG must be solved. The Transit Coalition does not support tearing apart the service and sending ridership counts much lower. While we certainly understand that the local fiscal dispute and continued government misspending at the state level continues to plague Southern California’s effort to build a regional mass transit network, cutting service only hampers that effort even more. Riders have proved over the years that they want good transit service and are willing to pay for it with the recent fare increases. It's time to take what resources our region has left and consider turning Metrolink into a corridor-based system that has the ability to serve more people in many more ways.

What are your thoughts?

Monday, July 21, 2014

Save the Metrolink San Bernardino Line from cuts! Demand Action!

© Justin Nelson CC-BY-SA

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Action Alert: Contact your local elected official sitting on the Metrolink and SANBAG Boards and demand real solutions to this financial mess. Identify your representative on either Board and contact him/her through your local city or county jurisdiction.

The Metrolink San Bernardino Line is in fiscal trouble. It is serious enough where Metrolink has declared a state of fiscal emergency which is leading to the undesirable cuts of a midday and late night roundtrip effective in October should this not be resolved. So, what exactly happened and how did it unexpectedly materialize?

Short answer is a funding dispute between the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (a.k.a. Metrolink) and the San Bernardino Associated Governments, a dispute that will demand local elected representatives sitting on both governing Boards to take action and solve in a fair and just matter.

Facts about the Fiscal Dispute

Here's a recap of the drama unfolding in San Bernardino County which threatens service for San Bernardino Line's midday trains 310 and 327, and late evening/night trains 338 and 339. The proposed preliminary Metrolink budget is $273 million ($222.9 million for operations, $50.1 million for infrastructure). Through SANBAG, San Bernardino County citizens pay a portion into this budget each year to subsidize operations. This year, Metrolink has requested $12,467,000 for operations and $7,624,182 for infrastructure from SANBAG which is an 8.8% increase from last year.

According to this chart put out by SANBAG, here are the operating budget items with the largest cost increases over last year:
  • Train Operations, up $1,479,000, a 3.6% increase;
  • Equipment Maintenance, up $4,483,000, a sharp 17.9% increase;
  • Security - Sheriff, an increase of $838,000; a whopping 18.8% hike;
  • Ticket Vending Machine Maintenance, up $697,000; another high increase of 14.1%;
  • Maintenance of Way, $3,719,000 more from last year, up 10.5%;
  • Staff Salaries, a total raise of $815,000, up 7.6%;
  • Indirect Admin. Expenses, another $833,000 hike, up 6.7%;
  • Liability Insurance, up $807,000, an increase of 5.5%
If those increases sound overwhelming, you're not alone. Besides logistics and medical, I don't think the economy as a whole or working private sector salaries has grown in San Bernardino County at those rates. According to SANBAG, money for local operations comes from a kitty called Local Transportation Funds (LTF) combined with the state funding from State Transit Assistance Fund. Based on recommendations from a local comprehensive operational analysis study, SANBAG determined that LTF should be reserved for funding operations and that a sustainable rate of allocation should be adhered to in an effort to maintain efficient transit services: 80% of LTF funds goes to Omnitrans, 20% to Metrolink. SANBAG determined the annual growth rate to be 3%. Sounds reasonable. It's worth mentioning that San Bernardino's Measure I money is for rail infrastructure projects, not operations.

SANBAG concluded that giving Metrolink an 8.8% hike in funds instead of 3% would jeopardize resources for Omnitrans. Back in February, the San Bernardino County bus agency had some fiscal issues of its own and was put into the position to increase fares. However by streamlining operations as SANBAG reported and as The Transit Coalition recommended in this blog, the agency was able to prevent undesirable service cuts. Cost savings were found by finding efficiencies within the agency, reducing Omnitrans core staff by 8, combining 4 departments into two, and reclassifying 4 other core staff positions. SANBAG would like Metrolink to follow this lead. In addition, one of the conditions in the SANBAG subsidy was to "provide direction" to Metrolink staff that the budget cuts "shall not come at the expense of reduced service."

However, SANBAG alone has no unilateral power to direct Metrolink staff nor can it decide on the consequences of not paying the full 8.8% subsidy; that has to be directed by the entire railroad Board. Instead, the cuts were proposed and approved. Not only that, Metrolink plans to take 8 ticket vending machines in San Bernardino County out of service and postpone work on the Rialto Subdivision project. To be fair, Metrolink's Technical Advisory Committee members explored various options to balance the railroad's budget which complies to SANBAG's 3% increase and concluded the proposals would have the minimum impact on riders. Also, if there is a legit low ridership issue, I'd support debating productive alternatives so that affected train riders can continue to get across the San Gabriel Valley efficiently. But low demands to take the train is not the root of the main issue.

It is the failure to control the sharp cost increase rates during a soft market economy and the neglect to schedule train departures which better connect to other transit services like the Antelope Valley Line. Also, it was clearly wrong for San Bernardino County to simply refuse to pay its bill and put the Metrolink San Bernardino Line in its fiscal jam. SCRRA member agencies have a responsibility to their taxpaying constituents to ensure that train service is available to keep their transportation
networks flowing. If there's a disagreement or dispute, elected board members need to debate it and agree to form fact-based solutions that won't unfairly tear apart the system. Elected officials should also not accept any excuses.

Think about it: The citizens of Los Angeles County who paid their bill in full and commute into San Bernardino aboard the affected routes will be unfairly negated by this madness. That's where we need to demand leadership from elected officials.

It's very easy to point fingers and lay the blame on one agency or the other. But now we need solutions. Here are two executable ones that board members need to discuss and adopt:

Cost Control

One solution that has worked is in-house streamlining which can keep cost increases in check. Four years ago, then Metrolink CEO John Fenton instituted a simple locomotive shut down policy that saved the agency a whopping $3-4 million per year back then in waste. Fenton reported that just two weeks after the policy was executed--ready for this?--93,000 gallons of gas were saved. At the 2014 summer $4-per-gallon rate, that adds up to $372,000 saved over a two week period or over $9 million annually. Thank you, Mr. Fenton. However, on top of regional streamlining, reforms need to take place at the state level to ensure government labor costs are not increasing at rates higher than the economic growth rates and private sector salaries, especially within San Bernardino County where take-home pay generally remain stagnant. Government salaries and labor costs need to be in line with the private sector, not higher.

That's where those elected in the power structure need to step up, pass resolutions demanding the state to confront the powerful public labor union lobby and propose real solutions to fiscal problems. The City of Murrieta for example has encouraged its citizens to petition the federal government to reform our awful immigration laws over the Central American migration controversy. The City was honest and nothing was spun or ommitted; it acknowledged the problem, did not resort to any excuse making, and encouraged its citizens to take action. Yes, many citizens were angry during the public meetings, but the City provided an outlet for them to contact the federal government and petition for change. So, why aren't we seeing the same plea for statewide government cost reforms which continue to obstruct our services and infrastructure whenever a transit agency runs into sharp cost increases during a soft market economy? Why wasn't Metrolink staff directed to put together such a campaign during the public hearing period?

Better Productivity: MetrolinkMax / Simplified Network

In addition, train schedule adjustments to generate timed transfers at hubs or establishing through-service combined with a powerful marketing campaigns will strengthen productivity of the railroad. The plan is simple; Metrolink can increase revenue by changing from a "segment" system to a "corridor" system. The Metrolink Antelope Valley and San Bernardino Line should be interlined with through-service at Los Angeles Union Station, or at minimum, a timed transfer between the lines by adjusting train schedules to better match each other. The increased station pairs would boost productivity and revenue. Other rail systems have demonstrated that this formula would be good for Metrolink.

Demand Board Officials to Take Action and Leadership

It's long past time for the special interests to stop obstructing our public services with inflated costs. You want higher salaries for public workers and more working hours? Pass fair and just laws that promote a robust market economy which ensures that these raises, additional work, good retirement packages, and efficient public services are fully paid for with the increased tax revenue without the need to increase tax rates, impose new fees, hike fares, or cut services. A strong free market with efficient and streamlined oversight ensures that these are all paid for since companies will actually need workers and will thus have to pay more to hire them in the job market. Have the state and the labor union lobby proposed fair solutions like that? Tearing apart of the Metrolink San Bernardino Line is not the answer.

We need leadership and fair solutions on this fiscal dispute so that the Metrolink San Bernardino Line can be saved from these cuts. Identify your representative on either Board (Metrolink Board; SANBAG Board) and contact him/her through your local city or county jurisdiction. It is time for us to hold our elected representatives accountable to get these cost increases in check.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Metrolink Funding Dispute and SB Line Service Cuts: Hold your elected representative accountable

"Public hearings" don't end here. We have elected officials to solve problems like this in a fair and just manner; we can and should petition them anytime something serious comes up.

© Justin Nelson CC-BY-SA

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

A funding dispute between Metrolink and the San Bernardino Associated Governments has placed the Metrolink San Bernardino Line into fiscal trouble. The disagreement has led to the proposal and Metrolink Board approval of the cancellation of one midday and one late evening/night trip in each direction--4 trains cut from the San Bernardino Line effective October 1st should this dispute not be resolved beforehand. The affected lines are 310, 327, 338, and 339.

What on Earth caused this to happen? I'll do what I can to give you a straight analysis with more details to come next week.

The Funding Dispute

When the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (a.k.a. Metrolink) requested SANBAG for its contribution toward the railroad's FY 2014/2015 budget, the SANBAG Board of Directors voted to adopt the following on June 4th, 2014:

Financial Commitment to the Southern California Regional Rail (6/4 SANBAG Board Agenda Pg. 189)
Authority for Fiscal Year 2014/2015 That the Board of Directors:
  1. Approve Fiscal Year 2014/2015 operating assistance allocation of $11,804,830 in Valley Local Transportation Funds to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority. This is an increase of 3% from the Fiscal Year 2013/2014 operating allocation.
  2. Provide direction to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority staff that budget cuts required as a result of Recommendation #1 above, shall not come at the expense of reduced service.
  3. Approve Fiscal Year 201412015 capital assistance allocation of $5,232,400 in Federal Transit Administration 5337 funds with local match to be funded from Toll Credits.
  4. Approve Fiscal Year 2014/2015 Rotem car reimbursement of $1,000,000 in Federal Transportation Administration 5337 funds and $1,391,782 in Federal Transportation Administration 5309 fixed guide-ways to the Southern California Regional Rail Authority for costs associated with the purchase of Rotem cars originally funded by Orange County Transportation Authority, per the reimbursement plan approved by the Board of Directors on July 10, 2013.
This item was reviewed and recommended for approval with a quorum of the Board present at the Board of Directors Metro Valley Study Session on May 15,2014. Recommendations #1 and #2 were reviewed and recommended for approval (12-4-1; Opposed: McCallon, Rigsby, Eaton and Aguilar; Abstained: Rutherford). Recommendations #3 and #4 were reviewed and unanimously recommended for approval.

The issue at stake is the FY 2014/2015 Metrolink budget totals $273 million, consisting of $222.9 million for operations and $50.1 million for infrastructure projects. SANBAG's subsidy was billed at $12,467,000 for operations and $7,624,182 for capital/rehabilitation. SANBAG staff recommended with the Board's blessing that it pay $11,805,000 for operations and $7,624,182 for infrastructure which adds up to a 3% increase over last year's budget as opposed to an 8.8% increase requested by SCRRA.

What I find interesting was Recommendation 2 which provided direction to SCRRA staff not to cut service. But that's not what's happening. Here's Metrolink's response according its 7/11/14 Board Agenda:

As a result of the San Bernardino Associated Govern ments (SANBAG) Board decision to limit the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Authority) FY2014-15 operating subsidy budget to a 3% increase, the Board needs to consider service reduction on the San Bernardino Line in order to comply with this limitation. Staff recommends the Board:
1) Conduct a public hearing on the service reduction on the San Bernardino Line.
2) Find and declare that a fiscal emergency exists under the California Public Resources Code (PRC) 21080.32.
3) Upon conclusion of the public hearing, make a finding that the service reduction as included in the FY2014-15 Budget is exempt from the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) because there exists a fiscal emergency caused by the failure of anticipated Authority budgeted operating revenue to adequately fund the budgeted operating expenses.
4) Approve the following service reduction to be effective on or about October 1, 2014, representing four trains on the San Bernardino Line:
(1) Train 310 with a scheduled weekday departure from Los Angeles Union Station at 12:20 pm
(2) Train 327 with a scheduled weekday departure from San Bernardino Station at 2:00pm
(3) Train 339 with a scheduled weekday departure from San Bernardino Station at 9:05pm
(4) Train 338 with a scheduled weekday departure from Los Angeles Union Station at 11:00pm

Those proposals passed and there was no dissent from the Metrolink Board on this. There's some more important data that I need to weed out of both agenda packets of which I'll go through next week. There's a bunch of hard facts that must be included in this intense debate but I will say that tearing apart the Metrolink San Bernardino Line and cutting into the gains it has accumulated ever since its dawning back in the 90's is not an answer. As the economy and development ticks back up, that line should be operating every hour midday with 30 minute headways later down the road with an early morning to late night service span. Getting to the bottom of government waste needs to be included in the discussion which will require local leaders to lobby for spending reforms at the state level.

Transportation Tip: Write to your elected official who sits on the Board of Directors of both agencies and is supposed to represent you. Hold him/her accountable of leading the way out of this mess in a fair and just manner. Demand better leadership and real solutions that won't tear apart our regional rail system. Yes, Metrolink's public comment period of the cuts was short, has legally closed and was approved. But remember that "public hearings" never close here. Nor do they when it comes to petitioning your representative to solve ongoing problems like this one. If leaders are pressured to draw up a better solution to this fiscal dispute, we can save these four trains from the chopping block. Always remember that if your elected officials do not solve problems in a fair and just way that is best for the Inland Empire, exercise your right to vote.

As we head into the weekend, let's end on a bright side. In contrast to the San Bernardino Line drama, the Metrolink 91 Line which runs in between Riverside Downtown and Los Angeles via Fullerton has some very desirable service increases which took place on July 5. More specifically, two weekend roundtrips! Two trains will depart the Inland Empire in the morning from Riverside to LAUS through north Orange County. One train will return mid afternoon, and one in the evening. The 91 Line is also the route that will be used for the Perris Valley Line extension through Perris, which is now under construction. Metrolink offers a Weekend Day Pass for $10 allowing a passenger to ride anytime, anywhere systemwide on Saturday or Sunday.

Enjoy the weekend and we'll return to this intense debate next week.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Let's Debate: Bus Rapid Transit and Toll Lanes

Coalition Concept: High Occupancy Toll Lanes with bus transit infrastructure, direct access ramps to/from transit centers and free non-transponder carpooling along the I-15 freeway in north Lake Elsinore. Freeway capacity is doubled with two additional HOT Express Laness and one general purpose lane in each direction with a total of four regular and two HOT lanes each way to address predicted growth for the corridor.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by RCTC, Greyhound or any public entity.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

One of the misguided notions I see in debates of improving mass transit and roadways is the myth that we can have either better mass transit or better highway infrastructure. The misguided word here is "or". Sadly, this myth has made its way into laws regulating the funding of projects.

Both solutions need to be integrated and made ready for future improvements for our transportation corridors: Better transit and better highways. Several months ago, the Riverside Transit Agency published this report which shows that continued highway development without transit infrastructure poses a transit mobility threat. On the other front, failing to improve highway surface transportation roads and bridges during times of economic development growth clogs our resources and the transportation system. Between the 90's and last decade, the Inland Empire saw rapid growth. But with our infrastructure not keeping up with the unchecked growth, Southern California still remains home to bad traffic congestion with the urban sprawl. We're still trying to get our way out of this mess with projects that should have been done decades ago.

Transportation policymakers at the state and local level need to have policies in place so that both solutions are integrated in future infrastructure projects. A great example of this is the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County between Escondido and Kearny Mesa, a system The Transit Coalition would like to see expanded into future Inland Empire toll lane projects. San Diego's system is a managed high occupancy toll lane system with bus transit infrastructure. The HOT lanes have direct access ramps to/from nearby transit stations and park & ride lots. During normal and peak traffic conditions the lanes are set up to be two lanes in each direction. Its usage policy allows for free non-transponder carpooling which allows loaded private-sector buses, vans, and high occupancy vehicles with two or more persons full and free access to every lane in the corridor without the need to pre-register ahead of time which maximizes the number of people per vehicle traveling in the Express Lanes. The California Highway Patrol enforces the policy.

I have conducted numerous field studies of the I-15 Express Lanes including some during the evening rush hour in the peak direction in a private HOV. I've seen it in action during extraordinary circumstances like sigalerts during rush hours. The system has proven to work. I will be down south taking a look at the new rapid express bus services that was recently launched for the Express Lanes which links central Escondido to downtown San Diego. Rapid express buses have already demonstrated to be a quick and speedy alternative to get around.

Yes, better Metrolink and better intercity rail options needs to be implemented too into project master plans for the longer-haul trips with the help and investments from the private sector. But when it comes to expanding the region's carpool and toll lane network, what are your thoughts of integrating bus transit infrastructure, rapid express buses, and improved transit stations into the projects? Let's debate!

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Streetsblog CA: California Legislation Watch: Weekly Update

Here is Streetsblog’s weekly highlight of California legislation related to sustainable transportation.
The legislature is in recess until August.

Light-rail no longer illegal in LA’s San Fernando Valley: A.B. 577 from Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks) was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown last week. The bill repealed a 1990 law that prohibited construction of light rail along a section of the Orange Line, and thus opens up the possibility of replacing the Orange Line BRT with rail. Whether that’s good or bad is up for debate, and Streetsblog has presented arguments both for and against the line’s conversion.

Replacing the car-centric LOS planning metric: Those who’ve been waiting with bated breath to find out what will replace Level of Service (LOS) as a transportation planning metric in California Environmental Quality Act requirements were disappointed when the July 1 deadline came and went without any pronouncements from the Office of Planning and Research (OPR). However, it looks likely that some version of Vehicle Miles Traveled will replace LOS, which has given rise to sprawling development patterns and wide streets unsuitable for walking and bicycling. When OPR does publish its recommendations, there will be a 45-day public comment period, and Streetsblog will provide the details.

Funds for bike and pedestrian projects: The Active Transportation Program, which provides funding for pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects, has logged all the proposals received as of its May 21 deadline. A total of 770 projects applied for the $124.2 million that is available for fiscal year 2014-15. The projects include bicycle and pedestrian plans, bridges, sidewalk and signal improvements, Safe Routes to Schools programs, traffic calming and speed reduction efforts, and a host of large and small infrastructure improvements throughout the state.

Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.Photo: California Bicycle Coalition
Active Transportation Project applications pile up at Caltrans headquarters on May 21.
Photo: California Bicycle Coalition

Email tips, alerts, press releases, ideas, etc. to
For social media coverage focused on statewide issues, follow Melanie @currymel on Twitter or like our Facebook page here.

© 2014 Streetsblog LA CC-BY-NC-ND

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Central American Immigration Crisis and Transit

Transit Talking Points By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

This week's Transit Talking Points is going to be brief on opinion and more on facts simply because the national controversy over the massive volume of Central American migrant children and families coming into the USA is very complex and I have to be careful not to take anything out of context which is very easy to do. Last Wednesday's Let's Debate of this issue illustrates some points relative to the protests in Murrieta and states that The Transit Coalition takes a neutral stance on ideological positions on the heated immigration debate even though the current law has already proven to be at an awful state given this mass migration of innocent Central Americans and children which threatens our nation's resources and security. To be fair, the social conditions in these Central American countries is absolutely chaotic and these people are not wrong in pursuing this opportunity to come into the USA which is why the federal law must be reformed. Being a transit advocacy group, we are in no position to write up a solution, but acknowledge that the current system is a mess and must be fixed. That's why we elect representatives to debate and solve this serious problem.

Our local entities, especially The City of Murrieta have done a great job on addressing this issue and it is without question that the White House should secure the border immediately to stop the corrupt Mexican smugglers and human traffickers who are making a lot of money bringing the Central Americans into the USA with the Mexican government aiding and abetting. Such corruption must not be allowed to flood into the USA to protect us from such evil crime. Congress should pass comprehensive immigration reform so that innocent Central Americans desiring to escape the awful social conditions in their hometowns have a fair process and means available to migrate into the USA without overwhelming the nation's resources or putting safety and security at risk. The City of Murrieta has been very transparent on this issue and has published videos, points of contact and answers to common question on its Immigration Update website which includes a petition drive to pass fair and just immigration laws.

One point to make clear is what happens after the Central Americans are processed at the Murrieta US Border Patrol Station as there was a concern about the potential impacts of our local transit system that I raised on Wednesday. The transit demand surge is actually the intercity trip between the Inland Empire and the migrant's final destination which generally affects longer distance intercity providers. According to this fact sheet published by the City of Temecula, the federal plan is this:

Once the detainees have been processed by USBP at the Murrieta facility, they will be transported by ICE to their final destination if within the ICE Los Angeles District Field Office jurisdiction which includes the Counties of Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. If the family unit’s final destination is outside of this area, ICE has partnered with a local non-profit to assist with arranging transportation via bus, train or plane. This includes regional Greyhound bus depots. The intent of ICE is to send illegal immigrants to their intended family/friend support destination in the United States. Our understanding is that 95% of those that are transported to Murrieta from Texas have a friend or relative somewhere else in the United States to receive them after processing at the Murrieta Border Patrol Station.

Our local officials have done a great job in addressing this issue. But it is the feds that need to solve this problem. The Executive Branch must secure the border in Texas immediately and Congress needs to stop the political ideology on this grave issue and come up with a fair and just comprehensive solution to promote "liberty and justice for all."

Friday, July 11, 2014

Transportation Tips: Support the needy through a non-profit

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
This non-profit sector shuttle bus actually used to be part of the RTA bus network which the agency donated to Health to Hope Clinics in Riverside.
Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

A charity organization based in Riverside took ownership of a small retired Riverside Transit Agency bus as part of of RTA's vehicle donation program. The program networks non-profit groups with the agency where buses that have exceed their recommended service life but remain in good condition are donated to the non-profit sector.

Health to Hope Clinics is a federally funded primary care medical outreach organization dedicated to serving homeless individuals and families in Riverside County regardless if the patient can afford to pay the bill. It is powered by volunteer professionals in the medical field and donations.

Health to Hope and the non-profit sector do a tremendous job in ensuring that the poor and needy of our region are taken care of. I belong to a number of non-profits and their programs for people in need are absolutely amazing, ranging from local programs to international outreach. Through its vehicle donation program, RTA has provided a huge contribution to the homeless through the non-profit sector. A robust market economy will give non-profits the resources to expand as donations will go up. By the way, I've noticed some more uptick in the local economy as I'm seeing more adolescents taking the entry-level positions at places like McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and Target than I saw last year as older adults are either moving up or moving on to better paying jobs. More on that a later time. If you feel inclined to help the region's homeless population yourself, consider donating to organizations like Health to Hope or other non-profits to ensure that your kindness to these needy people does not get squandered or misspent on substance abuse, the drug trade or gambling.

By the way, don't forget to include The Transit Coalition on your charity list. We rely on donations too to pay for our campaigns and their continued operations. As you may know, The Transit Coalition is a dedicated, grassroots, all-volunteer organization that advocates a balance between many transportation modes. Our interest is fact-based and focuses on improving regional rail, urban rapid transit, bus, bike, airport access, goods movement, physically challenged access, and private automobile transportation in Southern California. Our A Better Inland Empire project focuses on local matters here at home and you readers and the transit riders are the backbone of it. Please continue to support and follow us.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Let's Debate: The Murrieta Migrant Protest and Inland Empire Mass Transit

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

If you follow the national news, you're likely well informed of the serious issue and controversy of the massive volume of Central American migrant children and families coming into the USA without registering with the federal government or going through the legal entry or naturalization process. Floods of people who once lived in social chaos and dire poverty are seeking an opportunity to come into the United States and thrive. Once in the country, they are turning themselves into authorities knowing that they will not be deported under current law. It's evident according to reports that the Mexican government aided and abetted in this migration effort. Reports also show that Mexican drug cartels and organized criminal human traffickers are involved putting these innocent Central American people and the freedom they seek at grave risk which is why the federal government needs to better secure the Mexican border and put an end to this criminal human slavery movement.

On the other front, we clearly have a grave humanitarian issue at stake given the massive displacements of people including innocent children, many of whom were exposed to the vile criminal trafficking market.

During the last few weeks while I was away from this blog, the issue hit home when bus loads of young migrants detained in Texas arrived in Murrieta sparking an angry protest at the U.S. Border Patrol station. After processing, these people were reportedly being released at bus stations in Riverside, San Bernardino, and Perris. I'll be in touch with our local transit agencies later this week to get some more information as bus transit ridership demands and transit center usage will increase if this pattern continues.

Murrieta01 I want to make clear that the Transit Coalition generally takes a neutral stand on political ideology outside of transportation, environmental, and economic growth issues. This includes ideological positions on the immigration debate. Both sides have strong and valid fact-based points that must be considered for justified and fair immigration policy.

Congress must stop pandering to the divisive political opinions and dispositions and pass comprehensive immigration reform which would render this gross displacement of human beings unnecessary and protect the border from criminal human trafficking into the country. Human trafficking is an evil, disgusting crime against the basic liberty, justice, and rights of a human being which must be put to an end. Just like organized street gangs in the Inland Empire, it must not be allowed to grow. The root causes of trafficking must be identified and eliminated. Trafficking and slavery of humans must be ridden worldwide, period.

Strong and productive robust debate is essential to generate immigration laws that promote justice, liberty, and security for we the people all without bankrupting the nation's resources. The U.S.A. is a country of immigrants and opportunity. For hundreds of years, history documents that such immigrants have had different reasons to come to this country. Some came to escape war, others to leave religious oppression for the religious freedom. Others came for the opportunity to work under our capitalistic system to escape physical poverty and become self-reliant. At the same point, we cannot allow organized crime, smuggling and trafficking to plague the country with lax border rules.

A group of people in Murrieta have issues of the migrants being processed there. We all get that. The protest broadcasted that message. I can understand the frustration of a grave national controversy arriving in Southwest Riverside County with little notice from the federal government. But the hatred and personal attacks that took place during the demonstration from both sides gets us nowhere. It certainly does not reflect the viewpoint of fair-minded Americans. To be fair, Murrieta officials have done a good job addressing and confronting this issue locally, acknowledged the hate attacks is unproductive, wants to make sure the city will remain safe, hosted a public press conference on Monday to educate the public of the incoming migrant buses and safety of the city, and the Mayor of Murrieta seeks to have one protester who spat in the face of another of whom had an opposing opinion prosecuted. But it is the federal government that must step up and finally solve this problem that has been plaguing our nation for decades on in.

So with this big mess on our hands and in the Inland Empire, how can we fix it?

The fact is the Inland Empire has new and undocumented people coming into the region and it's likely many of them are not going to leave the country anytime soon. This is a serious national problem that requires leadership with straight and fair solutions. Clinging to political ideology will not address this. So, here are the questions for discussion: How do you think we can take care of these migrants without draining precious public resources or spending billions in tax dollars? How can we help them get around the region despite the fact our transportation infrastructure generally cannot handle the current demands? How can they become more self-reliant so that they can improve--not obstruct--the welfare of this country? What can we do to finally stop the disgusting and criminal modern-day form of slavery called human trafficking that continues to occur in our region? How can we promote "liberty and justice for all."?

Let the debate begin.