Friday, August 29, 2014

Transportation Tip: Explore proven solutions to better move seniors and the disabled

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director
riversidetransit@gmail.com


This week's tip will show how you can make public transportation access better for seniors who live far from a fixed bus route by exploring fiscally sound solutions and encouraging your elected representative to act. Last week, The Riverside Transit Agency got some hard press --some of which was unfair--after Congressman Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside) released the report "Public Transportation in Riverside County: How to Break Down Barriers to Access for the Disabled and Elderly." The problems Takano raises is very true and I'll provide some fair solutions on how we really can "break down" these barriers without breaking the taxpayer's wallet.

But first, here are your views on various transportation stories from the week:

In reference to your Aug 25 on the "talking points" blog, a regional connection that is not being adequately served is the transit gap between San Bernardino & Riverside Counties. The only adequate service seen is RTA's rout 204 which only operates peak hours, leaving riders to rely on local routes, which in turn can make a trip to opposite ends of the IE a multiple hour ordeal. If this could be address I'd greatly appreciate it. -Horacio Hernandez/Facebook

Circuitous: Try to explain how one can get to Ontario from Eastvale or Norco quickly by bus.
Map: Riverside Transit Agency
Besides the Omnitrans Route 215 connection to San Bernardino and the local RTA connection to Loma Linda, that's very true and The Transit Coalition is watching over the connections west of Riverside downtown. Both RTA and Omnitrans are aware of this issue and it's the matter of elected officials taking the lead and getting the route streamlining funded and fulfilled.

Many transit upgrades will be necessary to improve inter-county connections, especially at the west side. For example, bus transit routes on each end of the county line in the Eastvale and Ontario areas currently follow a design pattern that does not consider direct connections between two major activity nodes: The Eastvale Gateway and Ontario Mills Mall bus transfer hubs. The only inter-agency transit connection in this area involves a circuitous ride to the Country Village transfer point north of Mira Loma with many transfers. Check out our recent post for more details.

A connector running on I-15 is probably the most crucial and both RCTC and SanBAG need to make sure that their HOT/(HOV) proposals include either direct stations for a freeway-running BRT (probably realistically just at Foothill Blvd.) or dedicated access ramps to the lanes at key transit/park & ride points. marven/Transit Talking Points Blog


Coalition Concept: I-15 HOT lanes between the I-10 and SR-60.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by SANBAG or any public entity.
I've conducted a number of field studies for this corridor and yes the HOT lane proposals for the I-15 need bus transit infrastructure even if the facilities are primarily at first used by private HOV's and marketplace bus carriers. I'm exploring potential spots for such ramps and productive routing for potential rapid express BRT.

Getting Southern California  seniors moving

Getting back to the subject of the tip, Takano is correct in his finding that there is a mobility issue with the growing number of seniors living in areas far from public transportation. Just go to places like Temecula Valley Wine Country, La Cresta Heights, De Luz, or Anza. These areas which are far from public transit all have seniors and disabled people living there. However, much of the local press coverage of the report was one-sided which gave RTA a bad image unfairly with the reader implication that Riverside County seniors have poor access to the bus transit system. In fact, The Press Enterprise was the only major media source that I found that actually took the time to network with the transit agency, gets its response, and provided a balanced report even though the headline still makes a bold claim that "seniors have poor access to public transportation".

The truth is many Riverside County seniors live near RTA's service area and have good access to public transit with RTA's paratransit and Travel Training programs. But we cannot leave the people who live far from an RTA bus stop in the dark. The fact is RTA simply cannot solve the mobility issues of these people raised by Takano on its own. The county itself, the cities and the federal government need to get involved and provide real solutions.

Also we must be careful about the notion of simply throwing more money and federal rules at this problem. For starters, running additional RTA-operated fixed route services through low density areas certainly would have to be part of a larger through-route that connects in between two or more higher density activity centers in order to be productive with a strong ridership base.

Photo: Riverside Transit Agency
Likewise, Dial-A-Ride paratransit subsidies are very high and consume huge portions of a transit agency's operating budget. Although it sounds very noble on the surface, simply expanding such door-to-door services beyond the maximum 3/4 mile limit from a fixed RTA bus route would jeopardize the operating budget unless massive amounts of public money are thrown into it by the feds.

But spending more tax money is not the answer. Let me restate: RTA cannot solve this issue alone and the federal government simply cannot afford to be spending massive amounts of money toward paratransit travel given the fact that the national debt is already approaching $18 trillion. To be fair, Takano does has some workable solutions written out such as ensuring adequate transit funding and expanding Travel Training programs, although I certainly would suggest that such transit ambassador programs include volunteers. The North County Transit District's Transit Budy program is an example.

Takano and other members in Congress should continue to address, debate, and solve this problem and propose real solutions that would not require any major federal spending. A workable and debatable idea would be to allow private citizens and non-profit service organizations to get more directly involved in transporting seniors who live more than 3/4 mile of fixed route transit services. The service would be powered by using private vehicles with volunteer man power and efficient federal safety oversight. Administrative expenses for the program would be privately funded. Aside from implementation and training expenses, the only major ongoing taxpayer cost for operations would be reimbursements for fuel milleage at the AAA rate, a minor transit cost that won't bankrupt the nation and would stimulate the private non-profit sector. In fact, the rider fare might be able to cover that expense fully for short-range trips

This solution could be part of the Recruiting Individuals to Drive Our Elders Act. Such services would be fiscally friendly and could be integrated into existing transit agency paratransit programs. If planned right, the end-result would be improved door-to-door public transit mobility at a fraction of existing paratransit costs. Such reform could allow agencies like RTA to not only save big on paratransit expenses, but also expand Dial-A-Ride services further into the distant suburbs and rural areas without bankrupting its operating budget. The service would be so fiscally conservative to the taxpayer that such an option could even be open to the general public as well, allowing for an efficient way to link rural and tract neighborhoods with the bus system.

Transportation Tip: Search for "senior volunteer transportation services" on the internet and check out the existing services offered both by cities and the private non-profit sector. Explore the examples out there and encourage your representative in Congress to consider adopting some of those ideas into future transportation bills so that seniors and the disabled who live far from the fixed bus routes have more options to get around.

2 comments:

  1. Bicycles are a big part of the solution to the access problem. There's a pretty compelling case for a comprehensive network of high quality bicycle infrastructure, especially in places like Temecula. Study results continue to pile up showing that most people will ride on protected infrastructure, older people are picking up riding more than younger, cycling is a good way for elders to remain mobile after they can no longer safely drive, the exercise provides the usual physical benefits and also helps them delay the onset of degenerative diseases. Additionally, good cycling infrastructure saves agencies money in numerous arenas, with transit being one of them. Good cycling infrastructure (including ample bike parking at all stops) can go far toward streamlining the operations of the transit operator. This is especially crucial for the sprawl that typifies much of the region since having the bus meander through subdivisions is time-intensive.

    As it is, most of the cities in the region include grand visions of developing a bikeway (and in some cases, combined NEV) network that would get people to not drive for short trips in their General Plans and other such documents. This extends upward to bigger fish such as WRCOG, where their Executive Director has recently called for greater attention be paid to active transportation. However, what continues to be built is more of what previously earned the region the distinction of most sprawled in the country and continues to push it into the upper echelons of the list of regions with the worst bike/ped environment nationwide. As we have already looked at before, 'BIK LAN's are unacceptable and 'sharrows' are even more pointless. The contemporary application of both is overwhelmingly not in a manner anywhere near adequate, yet I've only seen one project in the entire Inland Empire region that proposes anything close to decent from conception.

    It's high time that all the agencies quit resting on their laurels and started going above the bare minimum to cater to those not driving. The money is there, there's no need to wait for special grants to come around to do something. Hopefully, the replacement of LoS with VMT in EIRs under CEQA will help in that regard too. But since this is specifically about seniors and transit, connecting high-quality infrastructure to transit routes and especially nodes should be a central and integrated theme. It would afford the seniors and disabled (actually the entire community) a greatly enhanced portfolio of mobility options, especially if coordinated with transit operators. It's beyond time for the IE to start putting their money where their mouth is.

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    1. Marven: Generally speaking, you are correct. Bicycle riders need better infrastructure. I've been doing more field studies on this issue and the key issue is safety when it comes to bike lanes with a gutter. If the grout separating the road with the gutter is uneven or has a gap, it becomes difficult to balance the wheel while riding in the center of the lane. That needs to be addressed, no question.

      However, the topic of this issue is moving seniors and disabled. We cannot expect these people to peddle their way from a low density residential area to the bus stop. While better bicycle amenities certainly needs to move forward anyway for the good of the public, that cannot be a solution to the senior mobility problem. How can we better move our seniors without bankrupting the government?

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