Friday, September 26, 2014

Transportation Tip: Check the bag twice in the drive thru

"Tacobellrestaurant" by Original uploader was Coolcaesar at en.wikipedia - Originally from en.wikipedia; description page is/was here.. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

This week's tip is for anybody who patronizes fast food restaurants. I'll get to that in a moment, but first your views...

Carpool lanes really need to start from Temecula, not at Murrieta. The traffic is horrible starting at Pechanga Parkway.
-Paula Ibarra de Vargas/TTC Website

Coalition Concept: Dual 2+ HOT Lanes in Temecula with free carpooling.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by RCTC.
Agreed. In fact, with major development proposed through Temecula along Jefferson Avenue, the highway should have two 2+ HOV lanes each way through this area with an option for solos to buy their way in. The infrastructure should be paid for or built by the developers. RCTC had previously proposed a single 2+ carpool lane each way from Murrieta to SR-74 with a dual HOT lane system in both directions between SR-74 and SR-60. The official proposal has been scaled down. It is now a proposed dual 3+ HOT lane network eacy way between South Corona and SR-60 with all vehicles required to have FasTrak transponders.

While CVC 21760 is nice, let's remember that it basically invalidates itself. But the real issue is that it creates a catch-22 on the streets: don't hit the bikes (21760), but they're going to be in the way (21202). That can be a real problem when volume of bikes goes up from just one per hour, highlighting the importance of just-signed AB 1193 in allowing agencies to better configure the street network for optimal use.
-Marven/TTC ABE Talking Points Blog

Photo: © Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
That can be true for single lane shared roads due to a "substandard width lane". Therefore cyclists have an obligation to share the road with motorists so that traffic is not blocked. Cyclists need to allow faster traffic on such narrow roads to pass through when it's safe, and that's a tip from the CHP. For wider roads and ways with bicycle lanes, CVC 21202 addresses the blockage issue because bicycle riders are required to ride as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway except when passing another vehicle or bicycle, preparing for a left turn, approaching a place for a right turn, or one way roads with two or more lanes. Of course, we have the gap issue for bike lanes that have a concrete gutter which could force cyclists to ride closer to the left of the bike lane. Officer discretion will be necessary to ensure CV 21760 is enforced in a fair matter.

Burger King Italy 2.jpg
"Burger King Italy 2" by Vincenzo Iaconianni
Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Back to the tip.

The Inland Empire economy is showing some signs of improvement although I will admit that we still have ways to go before it becomes a robust state. That will be judged as salaries rise with the growing number of jobs. But I have seen some positive changes take place at entry level worksites including the fast food industry. I see more and more adolescents taking the entry posts as more people from the previous crews either move up or move on to better paying jobs as such opportunities continue to grow in Riverside and San Bernardino Counties.

With that, there is a little annoying side effect which I very well remember was frequent back in the late 90's and early 2000's--Errors in the order which can include a missing Happy Meal toy, a burger that was supposed have no onions that had onions, a slow drive thru, and--everybody's least favorite--cold fries. Back then, many fast food outlets were turning employees so quickly that some restaurants had "Now Hiring" signs posted on their windows for years at a time. I understand that it is very easy for an entry level employee to make such mistakes while packaging orders in a fast-paced environment. I'm pretty sure most of us have had that frustrating experience at one time or another when driving through to get that Big Mac, Famous Star, or Whopper.

Lately, I've begun to notice a slight increase of errors and service issues in some of my orders. Namely, I was shorted one Big Carl from one order and a few McDoubles from another. But that's simply a reality of an improving economy. Because fast food outlets generally pay low starting wages and more jobs are materializing in the marketplace, most fast food restaurants have to constantly hire and train new staff as experienced workers move on or get promoted. The reality is an increase in errors in customer orders. Now that many fast food outlets may be experiencing higher employee turnovers with the economic growth, we need to be prepared for the possibility that our fast food could be packaged by an inexperienced, entry level workforce which can include the possibility of mistakes and substandard service.

I'm aware I'm generalizing, and to be fair, there are companies, franchises and employers that use this reality as an opportunity to retain their employees though promotions, good treatment, higher pay with higher job responsibilities and granting opportunities for hard working individuals to move up in the company. That has been proven to reduce high employee turnovers during an improving economy and thus, these employers face fewer customer service problems because they are willing to pay more to keep their experienced staff. Look no further than In 'n Out Burger, Starbucks Coffee and Costco. But as customers, we need to be prepared for errors whether they materialize or not so that we are not caught by surprise.  Transportation Tip: Give yourself plenty of extra time for lunch and before you pull out of the drive through or walk out of the fast food joint, check your bag twice.

Footnote: I will be away from this blog through the first half of October as I prepare to write up The Transit Coalition's suggestions that will be submitted to the Riverside Transit Agency. If anything breaking comes up, I'll keep you posted. Otherwise, we appreciate you following us and I'll talk to you again soon.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Let's wrap up the debate on RTA's Proposed 10 Year Transit Plan

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I do appreciate all of the constructive input regarding the Riverside Transit Agency's proposed 10 Year Transit Plan. Your comments and views will make a difference. I understand that I've been covering RTA's proposal in detail for the last several weeks. That is important because both this plan and its upcoming comprehensive operational analysis report are vital tools for The Transit Coalition long range Future Vision of Mass Transit which serves as a foundation for our campaigns. The COA will provide the Coalition with hard facts that will back our positions. We are a fact-based transit advocacy group.

I'll be spending the next few weeks compiling all of the valid points that were brought up during this lively debate and will submit them on behalf of The Transit Coalition to RTA during the first week in October before the public comment period "closes" on October 7. I'll be working with our Executive Director Bart Reed on this.

In case you're wondering, I put "closes" in quotes simply because improving mass transit in Riverside County will be an ongoing project even though having a robust 10 year transit master plan at the ready is a good example of efficient transportation planning. Don't forget that constructive comments are welcome anytime both here in this forum and at RTA's Transportation Now meetings. Public comment periods never close here.

I'll be writing up this week's transportation tip this Friday. Afterwards I'll be stepping away from the blog for a the next couple of weeks in order to compile The Transit Coalition's report that will be given to RTA and posted here. If any major transit stories break or if I run across anything important, I'll keep you all posted as I write up the report. We do appreciate you following us.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Alpern at Large: Keeping Government Waste out of local Transportation Sales Tax Revenues

By: Ken Alpern, Chair

GETTING THERE FROM HERE-A Few Reminders for the Politicians, Developers and Advocates...

Keeping my ears close to the ground, and trying hard to stay close to the grassroots, I'm guessing that I'm not the only one who sees BOTH progress and betrayal by the civic leaders who are using the former and ongoing grassroots efforts of Friends4Expo Transit, The Transit Coalition, SoCATA and other non-profit entities to further causes and ends that had NOTHING to do with the goal of increased mobility created by transportation spending. 

So a few reminders are in order to the politicians, developers, advocates (of which I am one) and other folks who truly believe that our latest half-cent sales tax (Los Angeles Measure R) needs to be extended, expanded or elaborated to finish our cause of transportation, transit and mobility for 21st Century LA County.

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.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Three Feet for Safety Act: A Transportation Tip for Cyclists and Drivers

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I'm echoing a very handy tip released by the California Highway Patrol regarding the state's Three Feet for Safety Act that went into affect last Tuesday. This is a handy tip for bicyclists and drivers.

Before we go over those and head into the weekend, here is a rundown of your views from this week.

Your Comments and Views

I believe the proposed bus routing through downtown Riverside is good because it takes soooo looonnnggg for it to get to the train station.

That's exactly why officials need to clear that bottleneck on both sides of the Metrolink station. But that's no excuse to run a grid-based bus system through downtown given the current/proposed service frequency of the connecting routes.

Well to be fair to them, it appears to be a grid-and-spoke system at this point.
-Nevram Norman/Facebook

Yes, the street design in the surrounding areas does make it clearly difficult to engineer a total grid system outside of the downtown core. Hence, the majority of through routes still need to enter the downtown Riverside area--Grid-and-spoke. But the fact is the proposed Riverside routing is moving away from a centralized system (ie. hub-and-spoke) to decentralized (ie. grid). Only two local and the express routes are proposed to stop at the station.

I have to drive down the 15 to San Diego frequently and there are times like this where you can't even used the toll lanes with a transponder as they convert them to HOV lanes to ease the congestion.
They even move lane barriers at times so there are three toll lanes on one side and one on the other and then move them back later in the morning which is kinda' cool considering how heavy they are. They have special machinery that moves them.
Now San Diego isn't really known as a forward-looking place but if they can run their toll lanes right then why can't we up here (in Los Angeles)?
-affableman/LA Times

It's all about leadership and following HOT Lane examples and usage policies that actually work to move the most amount of people in a fair and just manner. Free non-transponder carpooling with robust law enforcement to counter carpool cheats is a proven solution.

Two other points: During ordinary traffic conditions which includes normal rush hours, the I-15 Express Lanes operates with 2 HOT Lanes each way. The barrier is moved during extraordinary circumstances which would provide for 3 HOT lanes in one direction and one in the other.

Also the commentator posted this reply in response to an automated toll violation glitch in Los Angeles that occurred back in August when all traffic along the I-110 was diverted to the Metro ExpressLanes by law enforcement and thousands of non-FasTrak vehicles got violation notices. LA officials were absolutely correct to open the HOT lanes to all during the extraordinary circumstance but the toll payment violation glitch should have never happened. The Los Angeles Times reported this story earlier this week and LA Metro and its contractor Xerox Service are working on resolving that colossal mistake.

Okay, that will happen, they learned and returning fines is how to fix it or, if they are aware of it, suspending fines during incidents. What they need to FIX though on the 110 is signage, "HOV free" type signs (nothing about needing a transponder) lured me into driving it on the way to LAX and back, and then I got tickets! Please fix this Cal Trans!
-George S1/LA Times

The Metro ExpressLanes toll rate signs actually read "HOV 2+$0 w/FASTRAK" or "HOV 3+$0 w/FASTRAK". That's still misleading because a motorist needs a switchable transponder with the car linked to a valid FasTrak account to ride for free in an HOV. HOV's with a standard transponder still pay the toll.

As matter of fact, the toll rate signs for any HOT lane system that requires all vehicles including carpools to have an ETC transponder such as a FasTrak should read "[ETC Toll Pass] ONLY" followed by the posted toll. The sign should omit any HOV discounts offered according the U.S. Department of Transportation signage guidelines. That is the case for the 91 Express Lanes and should be the case for the Metro ExpressLanes as all vehicles including HOV's must have FasTrak with the car registered with a FasTrak tolling agency.

Only HOT lanes that support free non-transponder carpooling where only solo drivers must register should have the statement that reads "HOV 2+ NO TOLL" according to the feds. That would be the case for the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County and the HOT lane network in the Bay Area.

Metrolink also needs to move beyond the outdated 9-5 Monday-Friday Downtown employee market. The only trains growing ridership are Inland Empire-Orange County and weekend trains. Metrolink needs to be an all-day, evening and weekend Regional Rail system, like Chicago's Metra, to grow ridfership. Perhaps a regional rail and suburban bus tax is the answer?
-Phantom Commuter/TTC Transit Talking Points

With the economy and working salaries the way they are combined with record fuel tax receipts at the federal level, I cannot support endorsing a new tax, but I certainly support better fiscal efficiency of the system and more involvement from the private sector. In fairness, I wouldn't oppose maintaining the existing local transit funding tax programs such as RCTC's Measure A and LA's Measure R.

The Transit Coalition does envision to increase Metrolink train frequencies in the Southland to 30 minutes between trains, including late at night and weekends, through our Metrolink MAX campaign with through service at L.A. Union Station.

Transportation Tip with the Three Feet for Safety Act:

Effective last Tuesday, California drivers must stay at least 3 feet away from bicyclists when passing them. Several states have similar laws on their books for good reason, safety. The CHP has released these tips for both bicycle riders and drivers:
  • Expect People Bicycling on the Roadway. Bicyclists have the right to use all roads except those from which they are officially excluded.
  • Reduce Your Speed. When passing bicyclists - slow down. Air pressure from vehicles passing bicyclists, especially trucks and buses, can “push” a bicyclist over just by the wind created by passing at high speed.
  • Look for People Bicycling. When preparing to enter the roadway or make a turn, look carefully for oncoming bicyclists. Many bicyclists are capable of speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour.
  • Give at Least Three Feet. Do not overtake or pass a person bicycling too closely. California law requires a standard minimum distance of three feet between any part of the motor vehicle and any part of the bicycle or its operator.
  • Have Patience. Be aware that when a lane is too narrow for vehicles and bikes to be safely side by side, bicyclist should ride in or near the center of that lane to discourage motorists from unsafe passing.

These tips are for the cyclists:
  • Go With the Traffic Flow. Ride on the right in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic. Go with the flow – not against it.
  • Obey All Traffic Laws. Stop at red lights and stop signs and yield to pedestrians.
  • Be Predictable. Ride in a straight line, not swerving in and out between parked cars. Signal your moves to motorists, other bicyclists, and pedestrians to let them know what to expect.
  • Increase Your Visibility. Wear fluorescent or brightly colored clothing during the day, dawn, and dusk. When you ride at night, you must have a white headlight and red lights or reflectors on the back of your bike, white or yellow reflector on each pedal or a bicyclist’s shoe or ankles, and side reflectors (unless the bicycle is equipped with reflectorized tires.). (CVC 21201)
  • Stay Alert at All Times. Use your eyes and ears. Watch out for potholes, cracks, wet leaves, storm grates, railroad tracks, or anything that could make you lose control and fall. To be able to listen for dangerous situations, do not use headphones or earplugs in both ears while riding. (CVC 27400)
  • Look Before Turning. When turning or changing lanes, always look behind you for a break in traffic, signal, and then check again before making the turn. As you approach intersections, be aware of the people behind, beside, and in front of you who may try to cross your path. Watch out for left or right-turning traffic; these are the most frequent motorist-caused bicycle crashes.
  • Watch for Parked Cars. Ride far enough out from the curb to avoid the unexpected from parked cars (drivers may pull out in front of you or open a door in your path.)
  • Give and Get Respect. Allow faster traffic to pass when it’s safe; avoid needlessly blocking the road.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Debating the Proposed RTA Bus Routing through Downtown Riverside and Corona

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

As this blog has mentioned previously, the Riverside Transit Agency has proposed a number of major bus route changes for Riverside, especially through the downtown area. In addition there are proposed changes to RTA Route 1 through Corona. I continue to receive constructive feedback and valid points on this debate.

Regarding the future of proposed bus service in Downtown Riverside, officials have big plans to upgrade the the downtown area's bus stop amenities and build a new transit station on Vine Street next to the Metrolink station in lieu of expanding the existing downtown terminal bus station.


We need the infrastructure that would support better connectivity between the transit buses and our regional rail system as well as efficient bus stops in the downtown core. But the current plans call for routing only local lines Route 15 and 22 together with most of the express lines to the new station. This would mean that other downtown routes that travel through would not stop there.

Because only Routes 1 and 16 are proposed to have very frequent service that would guarantee short waits at street-side bus stops (15 minutes or less), the Downtown Riverside bus transit network could be severely broken by a lack of timed connection points; that's because engineering 10-15 minute street-side timed transfers at intersections in a grid-based bus system is very difficult to attain since the other bus routes would have a frequency of less than one bus every 15 minutes. Unless planners can engineer timed transfers which would guarantee short layover periods between Metrolink and every bus route passing through downtown, we should advocate that each route connect at the station under the hub-and-spoke routing model even if that meant establishing a separate remote layover zone for lines that terminate at the station. That would make engineering timed transfers in downtown more efficient.

Yes, the street design is difficult for RTA to route buses in and out of the Vine Street corridor and station area quickly. The circuitous street design of getting between University Avenue and Vine Street can make the deviation last in excess of 10 minutes or more. That's where the City of Riverside needs to take a leadership role in getting this bottleneck fixed. A sound starting point could be to establish a four-way signalized intersection at Vine Street and 14th and synchronize the traffic signal with the signals at the 14th Street interchange at the 91 Freeway. Bus-only lanes could help. Also, buses serving University Avenue or coming in from the north could be routed to Mission Inn Avenue between Park Avenue and Lime Street which would allow seamless access to Vine Street. Yes, this is all debatable. But one way or another, this problem needs to be fixed.

In addition, there is another potential connectivity threat that could occur in Corona. There is an ill-conceived proposal to have Route 1 once again bypass the Corona Transit Center. To be fair, bus routes in general need to be straight and direct as possible. But the Corona Transit Center is the main transfer hub in the local area and the transfer point for the North Main Corona Metrolink station which is about a 1/4 mile north of the Route 1 corridor. The lighter population density and less frequent connecting bus routes in Corona simply dictates that the region's bus routing design needs to be hub-and-spoke, not decentralized grid. It's also far too premature to cite a ridership productivity issue at the station itself; the Route 1 connection was established only four months ago and should be given at least a full fiscal year to mature.

Moving forward, there are a number of restructuring proposals planned throughout the greater Riverside area between Corona and Downtown. I'll analyze those next. Get those comments posted here or on the social networking sites and we'll talk again on Friday.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Let's Debate: What do you think of the proposed RTA bus routing in Lake Elsinore?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Riverside Transit Agency has proposed to combine two very productive bus lines in Lake Elsinore into one: They are Routes 7 and 8, two of the agency's busiest contract-operated bus routes that serve many transit-dependent citizens living in the vast region.

The new route would form a complete bidirectional loop around the the lake with a proposed frequency of 45 minutes each way. The combined Route 7 and 8 loop would eliminate the need to transfer between the two lines. The circulator route would operate direct service in both directions using Grand Avenue, Riverside and Lakeshore drives, Heald Avenue and Mission Trail. It would be streamlined which calls for some segments to be no longer served. They are the Wildomar Assisted Living Facility, Canyon Estates, and the Casino and Boulder Vista Drive segments.

Regarding the proposed discontinued segments, the route would still travel in close proximity of the majority of the affected areas. For the most part, I don't see any serious mobility threats. However, I do agree that the connecting streets do need to be more pedestrian and bicycle friendly. I've noticed that newer developments are including such amenities, but the infrastructure needs to be more complete throughout the entire region. Since the area includes Lake Elsinore, portions of Wildomar, and unincorporated county land, RTA should work with the three governing bodies with its Design Guidelines to ensure continued seamless access to the bus stops.

I'm also taking a critical look at the connectivity between the central Wildomar area and the Inland Valley Medical Center. As you may have noticed, the direct connection is gone. Riders would have to backtrack to the Lake Elsinore Wal-Mart and transfer to the 23. Taking a look at RTA's previous study of the bus routes in 2007, I'm leaning toward advocating for the proposed extended routing of Route 23 to serve Palomar Street and Mission Trail instead of the I-15 freeway between the Wal-Mart hub and the hospital so that the direct connection can be maintained in a productive manner. Otherwise, extensive backtracking would be required to get from the southern portions of Route 7/8 to activity centers a short distance away along Clinton Keith Road.

Anyhow, let me know what you think. Talk to you again on Wednesday.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let's Debate the Proposed Streamlined RTA bus services in Temecula/Murrieta

This is The Transit Coalition's concept of streamlining the bus routes in Southwest Riverside County that was put together a few years ago. Now, we have an official proposed solution by RTA.
Note: Coalition Concept only. This map is not endorsed or proposed by RTA.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Transit Coalition has long addressed a serious transit mobility issue in Southwest Riverside County that involved slow circuitous routing, and now the public has an official RTA-proposed solution. One of Coalition's campaigns has been to have the bus routes serving the Temecula and Murrieta areas streamlined, specifically Routes 23 and 24. Currently, getting around the western portion of Murrieta and the central and southern areas of Temecula by bus involves a long circuitous journey aboard these two routes. Getting between one end of the region to the other can span several hours as Routes 23 and 24 circulate their way through town with many turns and loops.

The Coalition submitted a routing design idea into the debate years back which would follow the hub-and-spoke routing model with more direct service along commercial corridors.

Proposed Route 23 routing.
The Riverside Transit Agency has now made the streamlining an official proposal even though the routing differs from the Coalition's concept. Route 23 is proposed to be a local-plus-express route, serving the southwestern portion of Murrieta via Jefferson Avenue, the central area of the city via California Oaks Road corridor, and the northwest portion at the Inland Valley Medical Center area before transitioning to the I-15 freeway to the Lake Elsinore Wal-Mart transfer point. Route 24 is proposed to be a more direct bi-directional north/south circulator loop route serving the Jefferson and Margarita Road corridors. Bus riders will be able to get up and down these busy roads quickly for the first time.  Both lines will operate every hour each way.

In addition, the County Center transfer hub is proposed to be merged with the transfer point at the Promenade Mall area, which would allow for better transfers between CommuterLink and local routes. The mall will be used as the designated transfer point until the coming of the Twin Cities Transit Center which is proposed to be developed somewhere near Jefferson Avenue and French Valley Parkway.

Proposed Route 24 routing.
The question is: What do you think of the routing proposals?

My first opinions: Overall, they will be good for faster cross-regional trips up and down the valley. Off hand, I can say the streamlined routing of Route 24 will allow riders traveling from the Temecula Wal-Mart area to the transfer hub to have a much shorter bus trip; I predict a 20-25 minute trip versus over an hour. Likewise, getting in between Temecula and central Lake Elsinore will be cut down to about an hour via Route 23. It wouldn't hurt for RTA to go a bit further and establish a direct connection between Routes 23 and Route 22. That could be done by establishing a primary designated transfer hub in Lake Elsinore and routing all of the routes there. That would help greatly with connectivity.

On the other front, there are some valid concerns to the streamlined routing. For example, bus service to the County Center government offices and the busy and active Rancho California Road/Ynez Road intersection is proposed to be cancelled with no alternatives proposed. I am aware of that problem and will urge RTA to have those areas be maintained with another through-route, likely by maintaining the southern segment of Route 79 to Old Town via Ynez Road and routing Route 61 via Ynez and Date through northern Temecula instead of Margarita Road.

Anyhow, the route streamlining is long past due and will certainly help with transit mobility in the area. What do you think?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Let's Debate: The Truth of the Metrolink Ridership Decreases and Improving Connectivity

© Justin Nelson CC-BY-SA

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Over the weekend, Metrolink got some hard press by the Los Angeles Times over its Fiscal Year 2013-2014 ridership counts with the newspaper headline reading "Metrolink's annual ridership continues to drop." Not long after, other news outlets including the Associated Press parroted the report citing the railroad lost nearly 600,000 annual riders since 2008. Floods of other reports said likewise. There's quite a bit of important information that was not reported in the media which gave the railroad some unfair coverage. Such straight facts cannot be omitted and must be presented so that we have a fair analysis and can draw up solid fact-based solutions of this ridership situation. To be fair, the LA Times article was perhaps the most complete and fair of the bunch even though its headline was spun.

Although there are some legit issues that need to be addressed to strengthen ridership along the rails, a reader could mistakenly imply that statements like "ridership continues to drop" means that the railroad's annual passenger boarding counts have been dropping for consecutive years since the height of the recession in 2008. At least that was my initial impression when I saw the headlines. Therefore, it is time for some straight talk and I hope our transportation officials are reading this in and taking note because we need them to take action on this issue.

The Truth: Ridership Facts according to Metrolink's 20th Anniversary Report

According to Metrolink's 20th Anniversary Report, here are the year-to-year annual ridership counts starting from year one:

According to the LA Times article, Fiscal Year 2013-2014 clocked in at 11.74 million boardings. To compare, the FY08-09 peak before the recession was 12.3 million boardings; that's where the 600,000 "ridership drop" figure came in which was parroted all over the news.

But here are some more facts that many news stories didn't mention: Coming out of FY09 and going into the economic crisis of FY10, Metrolink had 11.3 million passenger boardings, a drop of a whopping 1 million riders from the previous year. Things got worse during FY11, where the total boarding count dropped to 11.1 million, down an additional 200,000 adding up to a decline of 1.2 million passengers since FY09. FY11 was Metrolink's low point during the recession.

In FY12, Metrolink saw a recovery. It reported 11.9 million boardings, up 800,000 from the previous year, but still 400,000 lower than the FY09 peak. According to the FY14-15 Budget report, the previous FY12-13 showed 12,075,385 boardings, up about 175,000 from the previous year, but still about 224,600 shy of the FY09 peak.

Enter in FY14. Yes, ridership went down again but it's not as bad as the press made it look. At 11.74 million boardings, that's a ridership drop of about 335,400 or 2.8% from the previous year. That's just under 600,000 from its FY09 peak. However, that is still about 640,000 more from the recession's low point in FY11. Also, it's worth mentioning that Metrolink recently underwent a fare hike. The fact is transit agencies typically experience short-range ridership drops as a result. The 2.8% drop in riders could be blamed in part of the fare increases but there are other areas that must be solved in order for Metrolink to recover its ridership base.

Reversing the 2.8% ridership decline

Given the recent fare hikes, I don't believe Metrolink is at a ridership crisis point, but this year's 2.8% decline of riders should serve as a notice to officials at all government levels that both service and fiscal efficiency needs to take place in order to keep the ridership from stagnating. The regional rail system must be attractive, affordable, and free from needless government waste. Metrolink has certainly improved in making the regional rail system safer, improving in marketing and expanding weekend ridership with promotions. Those are all good. But more must be done to retain the riders, especially regular commuters. Hiking fares or cutting service will only worsen the problem. Both of those notions should be out of the question.

On top of implementing Metrolink Max which advocates for corridor-based, frequent Metrolink train service from early morning until late night, I submit three additional solutions.

Solution #1: Improve Rail/Bus Connectivity

Under Construction: SANBAG and Omnitrans are working together on the San Bernardino Transit Center which promises better connectivity between Metrolink trains and Omnitrans buses including the sbX Green Line.
Connectivity between the trains and local buses must be improved. One complaint I hear all the time is that people don't ride Metrolink simply because there are generally no efficient connections between the station and final destination. I know I'm generalizing. There are some train stations like LA Union Station, Fullerton, Montclair, and several others that have good connections, but such connectivity needs to be system-wide. Officials in the City of Riverside need to take this under consideration as they work with the Riverside Transit Agency on the bus restructure proposal in downtown Riverside. Officials only need to look a few miles to the north.

San Bernardino is well on its way to fixing the connectivity issue with its multi modal transit center now under construction combined with establishing seamless sbX BRT connections to major destinations in the area. Riders aboard the Metrolink San Benrardino Line will be able to get to places like the Loma Linda University Medical Center and CSUSB areas for the first time fairly quickly. San Bernardino is making that happen. The Perris Station Transit Center will be another good example when the Perris Valley Line opens there with across-the-platform connections. But the same connectivity needs to happen in the City of Riverside and elsewhere in the Metrolink system. Getting ridership to its best levels at the Riverside Downtown Station is not going to happen if riders have to transfer multiple times or walk long distances in downtown Riverside to get to UC Riverside or the Magnolia Avenue RTA Route 1 corridor. That's a reality.

Solution #2: Get rid of government waste and unnecessary red tape at the state level

Secondly, the state government needs to get public works infrastructure costs under control with more efficient oversight and a reduction in red-tape bureaucracy. I'm not calling for de-regulation, but more efficiency, fairness, and cost-effective streamlined regulatory oversight. Too many layers of rules obstructs operations and capital infrastructure both at the local government level and the private sector. That is the truth.

Also, such red tape has contributed toward the funding dispute that threatens service along the San Bernardino Line. It was wrong for the SANBAG Board to refuse to pay its share to Metrolink and put the railroad and San Bernardino Line operations into a fiscal emergency, but the San Bernardino County agency does have a point with the inflated cost increases and ensuring Omnitrans gets its fair share of its transit funds. SANBAG should continue to advocate for better efficiency. However, we need elected officials from both boards to stop the excuses and lead the way out of this mess. Cutting service on the San Bernardino Line is not the answer.

Solution #3: Improve On-Time Performance Standards

In addition, fair policies and sound contracts with the freight railroads need to be put into place to ensure better on-time performance of passenger trains. Other than legit non-preventable issues or natural causes, there really should be no excuse for late trains caused by scheduling, lack of maintenance or passenger conduct. Trains need to be maintained to prevent breakdowns. All railroad operators should have action plans at the ready whenever a crisis occurs.

Here's a debatable solution that I submit and I welcome feedback. Under this plan, Metrolink's Quality Service Pledge would reflect it. If a private vehicle breaks down at a railroad crossing, all trains in the affected area would be stopped immediately through positive train control and police and a local area tow truck would be dispatched immediately and have the vehicle towed out of the way within 10 minutes of the time it gets reported. The trains are then moving again with passenger trains given priority. There would be a similar policy for passenger issues: If a passenger is to be taken off of a train for any reason and he/she refuses to cooperate, law enforcement would be dispatched and be waiting at the next station within 10 minutes.

For more serious cases where a train or a crossing may be involved in a pedestrian or vehicle incident that would require a closure and police investigation of the area, alternative transportation would be available to pick up all affected passengers within 30 minutes. That would be possible by staging spare buses at each local public transit agency or any other government-operated bus or maintenance yard and hiring or contracting with a crew of "reserve" on-call drivers who live within 10 minutes of the yard--very similar to reserve or on-call firefighter programs. The target goal should be keeping the delay under 30 minutes. If the delay lasts over an hour, all passengers are compensated. The spare buses would be rotated regularly with transit fleets.

Having action plans like these at the ready means an efficient Metrolink train system with a strong on time performance.

Got any other ridership-boosting ideas? Let's hear them!

Friday, September 5, 2014

Transportation Tips: Let's continue the fight for peace in troubled neighborhoods

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Earlier this week, concerned citizens from the City of San Bernardino went to its streets and conducted a march for peace in order to bring public awareness to the growth of crime and homicides that continues to plague the city. Inland Congregations United for Change organized the event and according to an ABC7 Eyewitness News report, city leaders said they'll work with local community groups in hopes of reducing violent crime and sparing more families from tragedy.

That promise is a good thing. In fact, the ICUC group "brings people together to strengthen families and improve communities" according to its website by working with religious groups, schools, and neighborhood institutions. Overwhelming evidence suggests that more young people often turn to the criminal culture when they are raised in abusive or single-parent homes than traditional families. Of course, that's a general stat as there are many good people living today who were not raised with two caring parents. But the facts show that healthy families and mentors for single-parent children and youth can put a serious dent into the criminal culture. Simply put: A child raised properly with the will and discipline to be a selfless worker by the time junior high school rolls around won't be fooled into joining a street gang. They'll know that vandalizing transit buses and infrastructure is destructive and earns them no respect in society.

In addition, religious leaders from local churches and places of worship are working with the ICUC for spiritual growth. To be clear, The Transit Coalition does not support every position that is advocated by ICUC, but working with the city, local spiritual directors and clergymen in order to strengthen the family unit is absolutely the right thing to do.

This week's tip: Check out the organizations near you and get behind their efforts to strengthen the family unit so that children who live in places like San Bernardino, Moreno Valley, and central Perris grow up not to enter into the criminal culture, but to be selfless adults bringing about a better society for the good of the people. They need to be taught and disciplined to build up, not destroy our cities. Criminal organizations and gangs rely on new members to keep their ranks working. By cutting off the flow of recruits and stopping the grave act of allowing troubled youth to be lied to and deceived into the criminal life, such organized groups will die off with the help of robust law enforcement and caring mentors. That is the reality.

Let's make San Bernardino, a county-seat city rich in history in cultural diversity and gateway into the mountain resorts and connecting deserts, a desirable place to call home free from the gang culture.

The fight will not be easy. There will be difficult challenges. But the good people must continue the fight. They must have the will to never quit, and never give up.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Let's Debate: What is the best way to route transit buses in Downtown Riverside?

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Short answer is a streamlined hub and spoke routing design where routes terminate or run through a single multi-modal transit center in the downtown area given that the majority of the RTA bus routes operate less than one bus every 15 minutes and such a design would better allow for timed transfers. If each route operated at least once every 15 minutes, a non-centralized grid routing design would fare better as curbside wait times would be guaranteed to be 15 minutes or less.

However, a major proposal mentioned in the proposed Riverside Transit Agency's 10 Year Transit Plan is a restructure of routes that serve the Downtown Riverside area. RTA plans to direct some bus routes to a new transit hub at the downtown Metrolink station while other routes would serve enhanced stops along major downtown streets. That's because ridership demands at the existing Downtown Terminal hub has exceeded capacity. Here is how RTA describes the proposals:

The new proposed Vine Street facility would be served by RTA routes 15 and 22, as well as CommuterLink Express routes 208, 210 and 216, and Omnitrans Route 215 and SunLine Route 220. One of the greatest benefits of the move is the opportunity for seamless travel between RTA buses, Metrolink trains and other regional transit service providers.

All other RTA routes would continue to serve downtown Riverside at enhanced stops along major streets, where customers would benefit from more frequent and direct service to destinations. Of the 37 total bus stops planned in the downtown area, 20 would be new or upgraded stops, transformed into modern shelters equipped with real-time passenger information showing when the next bus will arrive, as well as solar-powered lights that will keep the stops illuminated during evening hours. Looking ahead, RTA believes that a new service strategy is necessary to meet current and future transit needs in the downtown core, while improving traffic flow, service frequency and efficiency.

The Transit Coalition would certainly like to see "the opportunity for seamless travel between RTA buses, Metrolink trains and other regional transit service providers." Proposals should be straight and fair. That is a reason why we support placing the downtown transit center at the train station itself. However, because of the fact that several bus routes are proposed bypass the hub, we are taking a critical look into this proposal.

I have been receiving constructive feedback and valid points on this debate. To name some:
  • Will there be seamless transfers between Metrolink and bus routes headed to/from UC Riverside, Moreno Valley, Highgrove, Country Village and the busy Magnolia Avenue corridor served by Route 1? 
  • How will pedestrians reach the downtown core from the hub with the 91 Freeway in the way? 
  • Will Metrolink train riders be able to transfer to a downtown RTA bus route that won't directly serve the actual station area with their valid train tickets?
  • How can Omnitrans Route 215 better connect to the Metrolink San Bernardino Line?
  • Can the Vine Street Transit Center physically accommodate more bus routes than proposed?
  • What about ensuring space for intercity providers like Greyhound, the Megabus, and Amtrak California buses?

These are all valid questions that need to be considered in this debate. On top of our original idea of a private developer fully paying for and building the transit infrastructure at the Metrolink train station that would support a true and robust multi modal transit hub with about 20 bus bays, structured parking, a pedestrian bridge across the 91, streamlined access to/from connecting roads, and a robust marketplace job hub, I'll be forming other alternative ideas that will be submitted on this blog and to RTA public record as the public comment period continues. These solutions will be straight and fair. But I need your continued help and input. Please continue to post or submit constructive comments and concerns about the proposals to us.