Friday, March 27, 2015

Fixing the Broken Transit Connections in South Corona and Dos Lagos

Connecting Communities: Another example of how connections can make or break a bus transit trip.
Map: © OpenStreetMap Contributors

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I have been conducting a number of peak-hour field studies aboard CommuterLink Route 206 and have been observing and examining this signature CommuterLink route. That's so the express line can operate at its best as the Riverside Transit Agency continues its master plan of expanding the line's service span so that one doesn't need a car to get up or down the I-15 freeway corridor quickly. When 2023 rolls around, RTA plans on phasing in all-day services with an express bus departure every hour, seven days per week. I want to make sure that this line is productive during the weekends and middle of the day.

CommuterLink-to-OC Express Connection Opportunity: RTA CommuterLink Route 206 has just arrived at the Corona Transit Center during the morning rush hour. A simple timed-transfer to OC Express Route 794 at this hub could generate additional choice-riders for both routes.
In 2008, RTA introduced Saturday service on Route 206, but that turned out to be a flop and the service was eventually cancelled simply due to lack of connections combined with the economic recession which contributed to very low ridership. That should not repeat.

One of the pillars to strengthen bus route productivity is to ensure that there are seamless connections between the express and local feeding routes and that the station stops are near major activity centers which help generate trips.

Enter in the South Corona and Dos Lagos areas, home of the Dos Lagos master-planned community, the Crossings at Corona regional shopping center, the town of El Cerrito, and a local business district.

More OC Jobs Connections: A small OCTA commuter bus when the expanded OC Express services first debuted. Connecting these buses with RTA CommuterLink and local bus routes can conservatively expand station stop pairs and stimulate ridership productivity.
Photo: OCTA
At present, there are three existing bus routes that serve this area: Route 206, the Corona Cruiser Red Line, and OCTA OC Express Route 794A. However, public transit in this area suffers one fundamental flaw. The lines don't directly connect with each other.

Route 206 has an express stop in Dos Lagos. The weekday runs of the Corona Cruiser Red Line terminates about a mile north at The Crossings at Corona. A couple miles northwest of that, the "A" branch of Route 794 headed to major job hubs in south Santa Ana and north Costa Mesa picks up passengers at a local church Park & Ride lot. But these lines don't interconnect. And that could mean the difference for one looking into riding the bus versus driving alone to work.

Cruisin' to Work: The first eastbound Corona Cruiser Red Line bus of the day to go through the business district area in south Corona arrives at the Corona Transit Center at 7:10am. Additional earlier departures can provide transit opportunities for employees who report to work at 7am or earlier via this hub point.
These lack of connections certainly need to be dealt with. Here's a potential solution that won't cost a whole lot of pubic money:
  • Dos Lagos/Corona Crossings Stop - Route 206 and the weekday Red Line departures would share the same bus stop. Local officials should determine the location but it should be near a major activity center. The change could be done using existing resources.

  • Route 794 needs to connect with Route 206. That would provide direct 2-seat express bus connections from Route 206 pick-up points along the I-15 corridor to the Route 794 destinations in the South Coast Metro area via a timed transfer and existing fare/transfer agreement. The line should continue to serve the existing Park & Ride lots so that commuters can continue to easily leave their cars and board the bus in Corona, but the line should also connect with Route 206 which would greatly expand commuter options at minimal costs. Adding a restricted stop at the Corona Transit Center (ie. Passenger restriction is board only westbound, discharge only eastbound) could be done with minimal additional public resources. Also, since the line already originates near Dos Lagos, why not extend the line further south to a bus stop shared by Route 206 and the Corona Cruiser Red Line? Speaking of which...

  • Corona Cruiser Red Line Earlier Departures - The City of Corona and the county should consider funding and launching earlier departures for the Corona Cruiser Red Line. That's because of the presence of a large business district along the I-15 in between Ontario and Magnolia Avenue. At present, the first Red Line bus goes through the job hub area via California and Rimpau Avenues well after 7am. Workers who need to report to work at 7am or earlier can't use the bus under the current service span. By having earlier Red Line departures timed with inbound express buses, more workers would have the option to take a local or CommuterLink Express route into the Corona Transit Center or Dos Lagos area and transfer to the Red Line to get to their jobs on time. Plus, the earlier departures would provide inbound feeder connections with Route 794; local Corona residents working in the South Coast Metro area won't even need to drive a car to enjoy a two-seat bus ride to work and back.

These small fixes can certainly help bridge these transit gaps, better attract choice-riders into taking the bus to work, stimulate ridership growth, and allow these lines to be more productive.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Is LA's Metro ExpressLanes really a victim of its own success?

A victim of its own success? No. Because HOT lanes are generally managed lanes, solutions like barring non-carpools access for a short period can keep them moving whenever demands go up.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Short answer to the question stated in the headline is no.

The truth is Los Angeles Metro has a solution already in place whenever its HOT lane facilities become too popular. Thus, the Metro ExpressLanes is no victim.

I've recently conducted a field study of the I-10 Metro ExpressLanes and have a late evening video clip of a trip leaving downtown Los Angeles to the I-605 via the HOT lanes and El Monte Busway infrastructure. HOT lane motorists at that time were able to bypass some post rush hour slowing in between the US-101 and USC Medical Center. East of the hospital, all lanes along the I-10 were at full speed. Certainly, the trip along the ExpressLanes was not a failure; so, enjoy the virtual ride:

The reason why I put this topic up for discussion is that the Los Angeles Times today ran a report implying that the I-110 Metro Express Lanes could be "on the cusp of becoming a victim of its own success." That is because the dual high occupancy toll lane infrastructure along the I-110 Harbor Transitway is nearing capacity during the morning rush hour according to the Times.

But LA Metro already has a very wise policy plan in place to address this. When the HOT lanes become congested and slow, then it's carpools only--with a small catch.

A Metro fact-sheet states:

If the average travel speed in the ExpressLanes falls below 45mph because of increased demand, the message displayed on the overhead sign at entry points will change to “HOV only.” This message tells toll-paying drivers that they cannot enter the ExpressLanes – only carpools with FasTrak can enter the ExpressLanes until speeds climb above 45 mph.

The catch of course is the toll-free HOV's must have a switchable FasTrak ETC.

But because high occupancy toll lanes are supposed to be "high occupancy" managed lanes, The Transit Coalition has also maintained that if HOT lanes are nearing capacity, then dynamic signs would designate such lanes as dedicated carpool lanes until space frees up. Only HOV's meeting the posted minimum occupancy requirement for carpool would be granted access to the lanes. No toll-paying solo drivers; the toll lanes are sold out!

Graphic: LA Metro
That would allow the lanes to continue to operate at full speeds, allow HOV's continued full and free access, keep any BRT and commuter express transit services moving, and transport the maximum number of people per vehicle, per hour. Here's how:

Typical maximum freeway-speed lane capacity:
1,500 to 2,000 vehicles per hour

2-Lane (each way) HOT Express Lane vehicle capacity based on the 1,500-2,000 lane capacity figure:
3,000 to 4,000 vehicles per hour

Maximum persons passing through per hour w/ two HOV 2+ lanes if each vehicle had at least 2-persons:
At least 6,000 to 8,000 people per hour

Maximum persons passing through per hour w/ two HOV 3+ lanes if each vehicle had at least 3-persons:
At least 9,000 to 12,000 people per hour

Coalition Concept: 3+ Carpool restriction for the 91 Express Lanes.
Note: Concept Only. Not endorsed by OCTA or any public entity.
According to the Times report, Metro is now experimenting with the "carpools-only" rule restriction. That is the fair position and I have no objection to that. However, some say that peak-hour tolls should be raised too as a long term solution. That could help offset non-HOV demands during the peak periods with the higher rates. But under no circumstances should the toll-free HOV's be charged a toll. Slapping mandatory tolls on them would further de-incentivize and displace private carpooling as the left over space could then be sold to more toll-paying SOV's.

Except for motorcycles and registered buses, all HOV's already must have a switchable FasTrak to use the LA MetroExpress Lanes for free. Motorists with a standard transponder can only use the ExpressLanes as a toll-paying patron. The Transit Coalition is not a fan of this HOV usage policy especially because both the I-110 and I-10 Metro ExpressLanes were once dedicated carpool lanes.

Enforcement: A motorcycle officer patrols the I-15 Express Lanes.
Imposing mandatory transponders on HOV's displaces non-registered private carpools from the high occupancy lanes and opens up vehicle space that can be sold to toll-paying solo drivers. That is a fact. To be fair, the growing Metro Silver Line ridership and vanpool options have helped offset this after-effect, but far too many non-registered HOV's remain displaced. Even with the automated photo enforcement technology, the CHP is still needed to catch carpool lane cheaters, toll-dodgers who deliberately mask or remove their vehicle's license plate to avoid paying the tolls, and motorists who use the restricted HOV infrastructure as an illegal passing lane by crossing over the double white lines.

By the way, I managed to catch such a passing violation on camera during the field study in the video mentioned earlier (video time 11:50-12:00). That's why law enforcement is needed to stop these violations. Heavy fines and points need to be imposed to deter such bad behavior that unfairly clogs the system, not restricting toll-free HOV's.

Moving forward, Los Angeles Metro should continue to examine the "carpools-only" rule and certainly enforce it whenever the high occupancy toll lanes approach full capacity. Once the corridor starts seeing at least 3,000 to 4,000 2-person HOV's moving through per hour without any toll-paying solo drivers, other measures such as increasing the peak-hour carpool occupancy requirement to 3+ can be explored. That can be supported with expanded transit options, better and more secure park & ride infrastructure adjacent to Metro Rail and express bus services, corridor-based Metrolink service through LA Union Station, and more vanpool options for the corridor. A dual 3+ HOV/HOT lane system certainly will last for decades to come as that would carry at least 9,000 to 12,000 people per hour each way at maximum capacity.

Again, if too many non-HOV's buy their way into the ExpressLanes, then it should be sold out and carpools only until space opens up.

Those sound HOT Lane management measures will certainly prevent the HOT lane infrastructure from becoming a "victim of its own success".

Saturday, March 21, 2015

San Bernardino to Montclair express bus service proposed for return

Omnitrans' east-west segment of the former under-performing Inland Empire Connection Express Route will return for the rush hour. It can and should be productive this time around...

I-10 Commuter Express Bus Transit: Peak-hour runs of the former east-west segment of Omnitrans' express services are proposed to be reinstated. Graphic: Omnitrans.
Note: Map does not reflect current transit services. Do not use for trip planning.

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The I-10 freeway between San Bernardino and Montclair is slated to get its express bus services back during peak commute hours.

San Bernardino County's transit agency Omnitrans currently operates one freeway express route dubbed Route 215, which connects downtown San Bernardino with downtown Riverside.

The transit agency has now proposed restoring a once-unproductive and discontinued second freeway express route segment during rush hour only. It will directly reconnect Downtown San Bernardino with Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, Ontario Mills and the Montclair Transit Center via the I-10 freeway. Route 290 is proposed to run as a peak morning and evening service and is a "Pilot Freeway Express Service" according to Omnitrans.

Compared to the local service, the commuter freeway express runs will reduce travel time by 50% when compared to local bus service.

San Bernardino Transit Center location
Graphic: Omnitrans
In addition as construction nears completion of the San Bernardino Transit Center, the transit agency has proposed how each of the downtown routes will be realigned to serve the new hub.

The opening of the hub will be one of two major upgrades that will stimulate ridership growth along both Route 290 and the sbX Green Line. The other being the Metrolink extension. By having the seamless, across-the-platform connections, transit route performance can be greatly improved. Also because of the new connectivity options, the local Route 2 is proposed to operate hourly.

Omnitrans has compiled these proposals and several local proposed changes in this brochure. Several public meetings are scheduled all around the service area during this public hearing period.

It's evident that connectivity options at major stops can make or break a transit line. So how can Route 290 be improved to operate at its best?

Can 100% of Omnitran's Inland Empire Connection Express be productive?

As mentioned, the Route 290 proposal is actually a partial reinstatement of an identical route that ran every hour, but was cancelled back in 2007 due to productivity problems.

Here's a brief recent history of the line:

Omnitrans Freeway Express Master Plan
Graphic: Omnitrans
Last decade, Omnitrans operated the interlined freeway express line dubbed the Inland Empire Connection with all-day services covering the I-215 freeway segment between San Bernardino and Riverside as well as the I-10 corridor between San Bernardino and Montclair. Service span ran from the early morning until late night.

A snapshot from Internet Archive's Wayback Machine showed that in 2001, the Route 100 segment between the two county seat cities ran every 30 minutes with hourly early morning and late evening runs on weekdays with hourly weekend frequencies. The lesser-used Route 110 segment between San Bernardino and Montclair ran hourly seven days per week.

The busier route 100 was later re-numbered to Route 90 and was split off from from Line 110. Not too long after, the two lines were married again, renumbered to Route 90 and operated approximately every 50 minutes.

Then heading into 2007, Omnitrans ran into operations productivity trouble and needed to get systemwide farebox recovery ratios back up. The agency ended up conducting a bunch of service cuts of unproductive runs that included the Route 90 branch between San Bernardino and Montclair. However the San Bernardino-to-Riverside segment had its frequency increased back to every 30 minutes.

The service cuts back then pre-dated The Transit Coalition's direct involvement with Inland Empire transit. Whenever a transit route becomes unproductive, we normally call on transit agencies to explore all productive alternatives possible before slashing the service. To be fair to Omnitrans, the under-performing cancelled segment of Route 90 was not a lifeline route simply because of the paralleling local and Metrolink train options available. However, transit connections between the train and the downtown area bus routes were very tough, and they are still tough today. Thankfully, the downtown transit center project will address that.

Proposed: I-10 Express Lanes alternative for the I-10 Corridor Project
Graphic: SANBAG
Using the proposed I-10 Express Lanes alternative to improve Route 290 productivity

San Bernardino County has a key opportunity to transform what was once a poor-performing express bus line into a potential candidate for BRT express services.

That's because of the planned I-10 Express Lane infrastructure alternative which could provide a 65 mph virtual guideway for the route, other HOV's and toll-paying solo drivers.

If the planned I-10 Express Lanes has direct access ramps or at least intermediate access points that would allow Route 290 to use the HOT Lanes instead of the general purpose lanes to get in between the express transit stops, the route would be more productive than it was in the past simply because it would not be stuck in traffic.

Coalition Concept: Montclair TransCenter Direct Access Ramp
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by any transit or public entity.

Concept: Montclair TransCenter I-10 Express Lanes Direct Access Ramp

For example, a multi-modal direct access ramp between the I-10 HOT lanes and the Montclair TransCenter would allow the freeway express buses faster connections.

A paralleling trail would also allow for local non-vehicle access between neighborhoods, public parks, and the transit center which could help muster local support for the ramp. 

The HOV busway between the freeway and the station utilizes an existing creek right-of-way and would allow for 55 mph travel and would only have two intermediate traffic signals. The existing general purpose roads connecting the I-10 with the TransCetner are Monte Vista and Central Avenues; each has at least 5 signals and a 35-40 mph speed limit. With the direct access ramp and transitway, the transition time between the bus station and HOT express lanes would be sped up considerably.

The faster speeds would then draw choice riders and commuters into taking the bus simply because the higher bus speeds would compete with driving solo to/from work or school. Plus, tolls paid for by the solo drivers can help fund and reinstate the off-peak runs too for restored hourly off-peak service.

As far as paying for the ramp and busway, the city can potentially take a lead on this simply because the transit center is surrounded by numerous surface parking lots. Why not get private developers to invest and build this infrastructure while transforming the parking lots into more dense structures and robust development? The park & ride options would all still be there under the same usage policies, but converted into parking structures with expanded capacity to permit development around the station. That would speed up the funding process.

Think about it: If SANBAG has the I-10 Express Lanes designed in a way that would allow Route 290 to operate at its best and San Bernardino can expel its social issues from its streets and draw business investments and in-fill development into its downtown core, all of that would certainly transform this once poor-performing express route into a robust, funded, and well-performing "I-10 sbX Rapid Express" with 15 minute peak hour frequencies and 30 minutes off-peak.

That would ensure that Route 290 will be productive and assured of staying in Omnitrans' Bus Book whenever the agency needs to examine its farebox recovery numbers in the future.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Transforming the I-15 Freeway Corridor with better bus transit options

I-15 Express Lanes Galore: Imagine having this robust HOV infrastructure and more BRT Express options like San Diego MTS Rapid 235 One Sweet Ride-like services via the I-15 through the Inland Empire all the way to the High Desert and west to Los Angeles via the I-10...

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

It's time to debate the future of the I-15 transportation corridor through the Inland Empire.

One of the signature campaigns of The Transit Coalition is to improve travel options along the I-15 freeway between the high desert and San Diego. The reasons should be obvious.

Outside of rush hour, if you need to get up or down this transportation corridor quickly other than driving, riding in a private carpool, hopping on a charter bus or casino coach...Well, good luck. Try a bus trip between Lake Elsinore and Corona during the middle of the day. How about getting between Dos Lagos and Ontario? Elsinore to the Pechanga Resort? Get ready for a slow ride which can span several hours.

Unlike many corridors in Southern California, the I-15 freeway remains very car-centric north of San Diego county other than the parade of private sector buses and charters headed to casinos and other tourist destinations. There's no direct passenger rail service. Express transit services are currently rush-hour oriented. The freeway itself has no high occupancy vehicle infrastructure other than some transit hubs, park & ride lots and a few interchanges with metered onramps with carpool lanes. To be fair, floods of private charter and casino buses utilize the corridors. However, those options are generally not public transit vehicles. Greyhound's out of the question. Between Temecula and the Cajon Pass, it utilizes the I-215 corridor so that it connects with Riverside and San Bernardino. Simply put: A worker whose working a peak hour swing shift at an Inland casino simply cannot rely or wait around for hours for the casino coach as transportation, let alone those buses are typically reserved for registered players only.

The fact remains that outside of rush hour, the I-15 is car-centric.

The good news is that there are some desirable changes in the works. Transportation planners from three counties are planning to add high occupancy toll lanes to the corridor. That would provide for robust HOV infrastructure for 2+ or 3+ carpools. I'll mention why this giant I-15 Express Lanes corridor needs to be able to support seamless connections between the lanes and nearby transit stations in a moment.

Also, the Riverside Transit Agency 10-Year Transit Network Plan calls for all-day transit services along express bus routes between Corona and Escondido via Southwest Riverside County by 2023. In addition, Route 204 that links Riverside to Montclair and Route 216 that connects Riverside with the Village at Orange are both slated to have express buses running every 60 minutes by then during the middle of the day. With the existing frequent all day Rapid services south of Escondido to Downtown San Diego and the San Diego Trolley system, one could go all the way to the Mexican border without a car via public transit.

Here's how the all-day segments will play out from Corona all the way to the border by 2023:

Route 206 – Corona to Temecula
In the immediate-term (FY 2015), a stop will be added off I-15 at Tom’s Farms to provide transit access to residents of Temescal Valley, as well as selected trips serving new stops at the Dos Lagos community in southeast Corona. Two trips (one morning, one evening) will be added to Route 206 in both the short-term (FY 2017) and the mid-term (FY 2020) to increase travel options for passengers. In the long-term (FY 2023), service will operate every 60 minutes all-day, on weekdays and weekends.

New Regional Connector – Corona Crossings to Lake Elsinore
This new route will serve as a local complement to the CommuterLink 206 which operates express service between Lake Elsinore and Corona. It will operate every 60 minutes on weekdays.

Route 217 – Hemet to Escondido via Temecula
Two trips will be added in both the short-term and the mid-term to increase travel options for passengers. In the long-term (FY 2023), service will operate every 60 minutes all-day, on weekdays and weekends.

I-15 Express Lanes Rapid Route 235:
Escondido to San Diego Downtown Segment
Graphic: San Diego MTS

San Diego MTS Rapid 235 - Escondido to San Diego Downtown via I-15 Express Lanes
Dubbed the One Sweet Ride, Route 235 is an all-day BRT express service between Escondido and Downtown via the I-15 Express Lanes. Transit stations and Park & Ride lots at Escondido, Del Lago, Rancho Bernardo, Sabre Springs, and Miramar College. It currently operates every 15 minutes during rush hour and 30 minutes at other times.

San Diego MTS Blue Line Trolley - San Diego Downtown to San Ysidro/Mexico Border:
The San Diego Trolley light rail transit system is well known for its reliability, safety, and convenience. Trains between these two major destinations depart very frequently.

Transit Infrastructure & Inland HOT Tolled Express Lanes: Let's Debate what needs to happen

I've already mentioned that three county agencies are planning to add high occupancy toll lanes along several segments of the I-15 Freeway corridor. If they are all built, Southern California will have a gigantic I-15 Express Lanes facility stretching from the high desert in the north to San Diego's Kearny Mesa in the south.

Because express transit upgrades are in the works, there needs to be a common ground between the expanded bus services and the HOT lane infrastructure. Here's what should happen:

I. Integrate the HOT Lanes with Express Transit

Coalition Concept: I-15 Express Lanes direct access ramp map to/from the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station with transit oriented development via the SCRRA rail right-of-way. Ramp paid for in part by TOD developer.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by SANBAG or Caltrans.
If designed right with transit infrastructure and access points that seamlessly connect to/from transit stations, the I-15 Express Lane corridor master plan can provide express buses with a "virtually exclusive guideway" along the entire route according to the Reason Foundation. Existing HOT lane systems have already demonstrated this. With the dual HOV express lane infrastructure each way, variable pricing for non-HOV's and the ability to manage the carpool occupancy requirements would allow the buses and other cars to travel at full speed, even during rush hours.

Direct access ramps would allow the transit vehicles and HOV's to seamlessly access stations and park & ride lots without needing to weave across congested general purpose lanes.

Coalition Concept: I-15 Express Lanes direct access ramp map to/from a conceptual I-15 rail transit station in Dos Lagos with transit oriented development. Ramp and station paid for in part by TOD developer.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by RCTC or Caltrans.
II. Transit Station Placement

Officials need to put HOT lane transit stations outside of the freeway right-of-way, just like how San Diego built its system and how Los Angeles built the I-10 El Monte Busway.

The Transit Coalition believes putting an I-15 Express Lanes transit station directly within the freeway right-of-way such as the center median, right shoulder, or general purpose interchange is an unacceptable option from a transportation planning perspective.

Stations within the freeway would have to be where it intersects with major streets. On freeways, the stations tend to be under or over the highway, areas that make waiting for transit a cold and uninviting experience. Worse yet, the stations are usually not near any transit destinations such as shopping centers and office buildings; and even when they are fairly close by, access to them are neither pedestrian- nor bike-friendly.

Stations should be accessible to connecting local buses, park & ride lots, pedestrians and cyclists and should also be built in a way where they complement the land-uses adjacent to the corridor - where they are built near transit-generators such as shopping/entertainment and employment destinations.

Both the Los Angeles I-10 El Monte Busway and the I-15 Express Lanes in San Diego County fulfills this because the station stops are away from the main freeway itself, but are seamlessly accessible to the Express Lanes via direct access ramp connectors.

Coalition Concept: I-15 Express Lanes rendering through Ontario.
Note: Concept only. Not endorsed by SANBAG or Caltrans.
III. Filling in the Transit Doughnut Holes: Corona - Ontario - High Desert Segments

Even with these planned upgrades, we still have gaps north of Corona. Transportation officials should close these transit gaps which would allow for public transit connections for the entire corridor.

RTA should work with Omnitrans to establish a local line plus a potential express route operating hourly to service the Corona-to-Ontario Segment. The primary station stops would be the Corona Transit Center in the south and the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station to the north via the Ontario Mills Mall bus transfer hub. The express route could potentially have a direct connection to the Montclair TransCenter.

In addition, officials should plan to close the gap between Ontario and the high desert region with hourly service whether it be via a public transit express route or public-private partnership with an intercity carrier. The express services should connect seamlessly with the local transit centers near the I-15 in the high desert region.

If that can happen, then we'll have transit station pairs for the entire Los Angeles - San Diego Inland corridor:
Southernmost Transit Hub: San Ysidro Transit Center
  • LA - Montclair via Foothill Transit Silver Streak or Metrolink San Bernardino Line
  • Montclair to Riverside via Ontario - RTA Route 204
  • High Desert to Ontario - Public Express or PPP w/ Private Carrier
  • Ontario to Corona - Streamlined local + Express services
  • Corona to Temecula - RTA Route 206
  • Temecula to Escondido - RTA Route 217
  • Escondido to San Diego - MTS Rapid 235
  • San Diego to San Ysidro - MTS Trolley Blue Line

I should point out and make clear that private intercity carriers need to be inclined to invest into the entire corridor too for the longer-haul trips and stop their buses at or near public transit stations. Obviously a trip from Montclair all the way down to the border would be excessively long via public transit given all of the transfers, layovers and stops; but would be completely acceptable and attractive via an intercity carrier and across-the-platform connections. If a private carrier headed to San Ysidro picked up passengers at the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink Station for example, one could bus or train to this point from the Montclair hub and transfer seamlessly to the carrier.

By increasing the station pairs with the expanded public express services combined with improved intercity bus options, we really can transform the I-15 freeway corridor from a car-centric highway to a multi-modal transportation system with the HOT lane infrastructure.

What do you think?

Saturday, March 14, 2015

One Big I-15 Express Lanes Corridor

I-15 Express Lanes: 3 county transportation entities are planning HOT lanes for this major freeway corridor. Several segments still remain unfunded.
Map: © OpenStreetMap contributors

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The Riverside County Transportation Commission, San Bernardino Associated Governments, and the San Diego Association of Governments all have major plans to bring high occupancy toll lanes along Southern California's primary north/south Inland freeway corridor known as the I-15 freeway.

Combined, they would create one gigantic I-15 Express Lanes.

Each project segment would involve constructing new lanes which would not involve the conversion of any existing general purpose lane.

I-15 Express Lanes:
High Desert to SR-60 Segment
Graphic: SANBAG
SANBAG I-15 Express Lanes

From the north, SANBAG plans a giant 35-mile stretch of new HOT lanes from US 395 in the high desert all the way through the Cajon Pass to Cantu Galleano Ranch Road at the Riverside County Line.

Two Express Lanes would be built in each direction from Cantu Galleano Ranch Road to Duncan Canyon Road and from I-215 to Oak Hill Road. One Express Lane would be built in each direction from Duncan Canyon Road to I-215 and from Oak Hill Road to US-395. Also, an auxiliary lane in each direction will be added between SR-60 and I-10.

The I-15 Express Lanes through this segment would allow access to carpools and single occupant vehicles under certain conditions. Typically, designated carpools use Express Lanes at a reduced or no toll. Single occupant vehicles also have access to Express Lanes, by paying a toll according to SANBAG.

RCTC I-15 Express Lanes

I-15 Express Lanes:
SR-60 to South Corona Segment
Graphic: RCTC
Across the county border, RCTC is planning a 14.6 mile segment of the I-15 Express Lanes between SR-60 and Cajalco Road. That is proposed to open by 2020.

Like the 91 Express Lanes, 3 persons or more is slated to be the carpool occupancy requirement for toll-free or discounted travel and all motorists will need a FasTrak transponder. The HOT lanes were formally proposed to go all the way south to SR-74 in Lake Elsinore; however this segment as well as the segment south to the San Diego County Line remains unfunded for now.

RCTC reports that while the original Measure A commits to construct improvements along the entire stretch of the I-15 in Riverside County, these improvements will still be constructed at a later point in the 30-year timeframe of the Measure. These future improvements will include additional travel lanes and the details of this future project will be determined when the project undergoes

I-15 Tolled Express Lanes:
Riverside County Line to Escondido Segment
Graphic: SANDAG
SANDAG Long-Range I-15 Tolled Express Lanes

In San Diego County, SANDAG has in its 2050 Long Range Transportation Plan to add tolled express lanes between Escondido and Southwest Riverside County; however, this segment too has no funding source and is not proposed to be built until 2050. Many of us will be long retired by the time that happens.

Regarding the unfunded HOT lane segments, transportation planners should get these sections designed and made shovel-ready. The state government also really needs to stop displacing transportation funds to other interests. These segments need to be developed way sooner than 2050 as economic growth and development continues in both these areas. Try making your way through these sections quickly during the Friday afternoon rush hour. The miserable 91 Corona Crawl with extensive traffic back-ups has already begun to materialize in this area.

I-15 Express Lanes Rapid Route 235:
Escondido to San Diego Downtown Segment
Graphic: San Diego MTS
San Diego I-15 Express Lanes

Finally, in between Escondido and Kearny Mesa, is the existing award-winning I-15 Express Lanes with many multi-modal features and bus transit infrastructure that The Transit Coalition would like to see along the planned Inland Empire HOT Tolled Express Lanes.

The I-15 Express Lanes down south is a four lane, 20 mile express lane facility in the median of I-15 stretching from SR-78 in Escondido to SR-163 in Kearny Mesa.

It is an award-winning, high-tech HOV transportation facility which provides multiple ways to get up and down the corridor quickly. The new express lanes are free for all 2+ HOV's--transit buses, carpools, vanpools, motorcycles, and permitted clean air vehicles. They don't need to pre-register ahead of time. They can get on for free and go.

For a toll, single occupant vehicles can travel on the Express Lanes by using their FasTrak transponder and valid toll account.

In addition, the lanes offer robust public transit options. Dubbed the One Sweet Ride, Route 235 is an all-day BRT express service between Escondido and Downtown via the I-15 Express Lanes. Transit stations and Park & Ride lots are located at Escondido, Del Lago, Rancho Bernardo, Sabre Springs, and Miramar College. It currently operates every 15 minutes during rush hour and 30 minutes at other times.

The Express Lanes stops are located away from the freeway right-of-way itself and serve multi-modal transit centers and other destinations, which offsets The Transit Coalition's concern of the cold and uninviting waiting experience typically found for transit corridors with stations planted within freeway medians.

How can we get One Sweet Ride-like BRT express services for the Inland Empire HOT lane system too? I have some good news...

More Transit Upgrades Coming for the I-15...

Regarding public transit options, various transit segments from Corona all the way toward the Mexican border are slated to have all day services by 2023. That's about 8 years away, but at least the upgrades are now officially planned and many of us will still be working then. In its 10 Year Transit Network Plan, the Riverside Transit Agency plans on phasing in additional peak hour departures along key CommuterLink routes with all day service spans proposed for 2023. The interval between the express buses in the middle of the day would be 60 minutes.

I'll have a run-down of the details of the upgraded services and how these buses can be a first-rate means to get around if the respective HOT express lanes are designed accommodate them with seamless connections to/from adjacent transit hubs like the Corona Transit Center, the Rancho Cucamonga Metrolink station, Ontario Mills Mall transfer hub, the planned Twin Cities Transit Center in Southwest Riverside County, a future transit station in Lake Elsinore, and various major park & ride lots.

Buckle up for some good discussion. In the mean time, enjoy this video of San Diego's I-15 Express Lanes bus services and see how integrating rapid express transit into Inland HOT lanes can lead to improved multi-modal mobility:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Is Transportation Funding really going the Wrong Way?

RCTC says so. They're correct, but there's a catch.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

I was hoping to finally take a break from blogging about the state's fuel tax crisis and how continued diversions have obstructed infrastructure development, but fresh reports keep flowing in. So, I've got to keep the discussion going.

Yesterday, the Riverside County Transportation Commission released this flyer:

RCTC Fact Sheet: Transportation Funding going the Wrong Way

RCTC's fact sheet points out that "California's transportation funding is deteriorating, which means so will Riverside County’s roads and bridges."

A pothole infested road printed on the middle of the flyer shows the consequence of failing to allocate transportation funds from the state treasury to Riverside County's transportation infrastructure. The flyer went on and mentioned this:

California’s reliance on taxing fuel to fund transportation is sending the state—and Riverside County—down the wrong side of the road. Volatile oil prices and growth in efficient vehicles means steep drops in transportation revenue are the new “normal.”

The State Board of Equalization has reduced the state fuel excise tax by 6 cents. The Fuel Tax Swap eliminated the state sales tax on fuel and replaced it with an excise tax that fluctuates annually to collect the same amount of revenue that the sales tax would have collected. Unstable gas prices means unstable transportation funding.

RCTC went on and mentioned that the 6 cent reduction of the fuel excise tax would wipe out $26 million in revenue from the transportation budgets of Riverside County local governments and various projects would be at risk. That would include infrastructure upgrades for the SR-91/SR-71 Interchange, SR-60 Truck Climbing Lanes through the Badlands, Phase II of the French Valley Parkway Interchange in Temecula, and local interchange projects near Indio.

To be fair to RCTC, securing state funds is vital to pay for its projects. If I were handling transportation finances and learned that state revenues via the excise tax were going down, I too would let the public know about it and raise awareness.

But like most of the media reportage I've seen over this topic lately, current statewide gross transportation tax receipts which are clearly on the rise were not mentioned.

So I'm stuck having to deal with talking about the statewide gas tax situation yet again. I apologize if I'm beginning to sound like a broken record.

Gotta Say it again...State Transportation Tax Revenues are Up.

If you read my last few posts on this subject, you know that the state has been collecting at least $6 billion per year in such funding since 2006 with 2014 surpassing $7 billion. Other than a dip in FY2009 because of the recession, revenues are up and have roughly doubled over the past 15 years. Both the state's Legislative Analyst's Office and the Board of Equalization have published charts showing this pattern.

That money is supposed to be going for the repair, maintenance, and upgrades of our highways, bridges, and major transit corridors. RCTC should be able to rely on this as means to pay for the 91 Project without the massive debt and close the I-15 HOT Express Lane gap between Corona and San Diego County. Without the debt, the HOT lanes could financially support free non-transponder carpooling. Likewise, RTA should be able to use state funds and work with RCTC to build out its multi-modal transit center master plans with such funds and link them seamlessly with the planned HOT express lane infrastructure and park & ride lots. That would greatly expand HOV, CommuterLink Express, and future rapid express BRT transit options conservatively.

Numerous ballot measures and court cases show that the public desires such tax revenue to be purposed to the infrastructure, not diverted elsewhere.

RCTC is correct that "transportation funding is going the wrong way." As the state continues to allow the fuel and excise transportation tax accounts to be tapped into and displaced to other areas or overspent, funding resources for RCTC goes down. Thus, funds are "going the wrong way." The county agency has a valid argument against the 6 cent reduction of the statewide fuel excise tax.

But the excise tax reduction is not the root source of the problem. It's funding displacement.

The media in general has not been reporting this situation in its full context with a few exceptions. On February 21, the Sacramento Bee published an op-ed stating the state's fuel tax code needs to be simplified. The writer George Runner who is also a member of the Board of Equalization did not omit the increase in transportation tax revenue receipts in the opinion piece. On February 22, the San Diego Union Tribune also published an honest editorial outlining the fuel tax situation exposing potential dishonesty at the state level.

Here's the main point that the U-T Editorial Board had to say:

The peculiar fact that a state in desperate need of funds for infrastructure repairs is about to cut its gas excise tax is a hangover of a 2010 budget deal engineered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Legislature that defied the clear intent of big majorities of California voters.

The deal sharply reduced the sales and use tax the state charged on gasoline while sharply increasing the excise tax charged per gallon. This was done to get around Proposition 42 and Proposition 1A — ballot measures passed lopsidedly in 2002 and 2006, respectively, to ensure all gasoline sales tax revenue went for road improvements and transportation projects. There are far fewer restrictions on what gas excise taxes are used for, which allowed the Legislature to take $1.8 billion meant for infrastructure upgrades and use it in the 2010-11 operating budget and subsequent spending plans.

A key provision of the deal was that the rate adjustment had to be revenue-neutral, so the Board of Equalization takes a regular look at how much gas tax revenue is being generated and periodically adjusts gas excise taxes up or down. As the U-T reported, some board members think this is a scheme.

We think scam is more appropriate — and that it’s time for Gov. Jerry Brown and the Legislature to undo the 2010 gas-tax swap and to honor the intentions of state voters by devoting a much bigger chunk of gasoline taxes to their intended use of road repairs and transportation projects.

The editorial went on and reported that the $1.8 billion funding displacement from the fuel excise tax receipts was not spent on the infrastructure but re-purposed for salaries, pensions, schools and prisons. So we now have some kind of an idea of where our transportation money is going.

The point is, transportation funding is certainly going the wrong way. But both voters and the courts have made it clear time and time again that such funding shall be allocated to transportation infrastructure, period.

When will the rest of the press and We the People going to hold our elected officials accountable for reflecting our values in our democratic republic?


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Reporting the California Gas Tax Funding Chaos

The media needs to tell the truth about the Fuel Tax and Infrastructure Funding issue.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The media reportage of California's gas tax funding issue generally continues to be incomplete. While some outlets have rightly painted the entire picture, the overall thesis continues to be that the state and feds are not collecting enough revenue to pay for a backlog of infrastructure projects, therefore taxes or other fees have to be raised.

This blog has already shown that regardless how much money the state throws at the problem, that would not stop the wasteful spending or displacement of funds.

Funding: Are we really at the Crossroad?

On Monday, the Press Enterprise published this half-page diagram illustrating various facts related to fuel taxes, funding, infrastructure needs, and demands for more fuel efficient cars:

The piece raised some valid points. However, one very interesting area of the graphic was the "Declining Revenue" chart found on the lower left-hand corner, showing an overall decline of "Excise tax revenues to the State Highway Account" since 2007. The dropoff totaled $344 million between then and FY2013. Note the keyword "to" between "revenues" and "State Highway Account".

If you've been following my posts on fuel taxes, you may have noticed that an important fact was completely missing from the reportage. It is the hard fact that the state continues to receive massive sums of transportation-related cash with growing--not declining--growing fuel tax revenues. How so?

Take a look at this chart put out by the Legislative Analyst's Office:

As shown, total state transportation revenues have roughly doubled over the past 15 years—from $3.5 billion in 1999–00 to an estimated $7.2 billion in 2013–14. This revenue comes from three main sources: (1) excise taxes on gasoline, (2) vehicle weight fees, and (3) sales and excise taxes on diesel fuel.

A second chart published by the California Board of Equalization shows the same revenue streams.

The question boils down to this: Why are revenues in the State Highway Account showing a $344 million decline when total transportation tax revenues have gone up over $1 billion between FY07 and FY14? Plus, why is only a mere fraction of state revenue making its way to the State Highway Account? The state government took in over $6 billion in transportation revenue per year since FY06 and only about $1.75 billion went into the state's highway account in FY14 according to the PE...

Where has all that money gone?

It's true that some of the money may have been doled out directly to local and regional transportation agencies and never made it into the state highway kitty. However, infrastructure funding displacement still remains a serious problem. The state has got to get its act together in controlling and policing the spending of our transportation money so that 100% of it actually makes it to the infrastructure and project costs are in line with rates charged in the marketplace.

And the media needs to hold the government accountable by exposing such diversions and overspending. We the people pay into these funds and should expect them to be returned to us in the form of robust, multi-modal transportation infrastructure.

Had the reportage included the Sales and Excise Gas Tax Revenue chart in the graphic, the general public would have been made more aware of the continued chaos going on with transportation funding and not be misled into thinking the state is not collecting enough in taxes.

That was a golden opportunity to draw public attention to this growing threat.

To be fair and as I've mentioned before, both state and federal gas tax revenues are indeed threatened. The keyword here is threatened, not declining. That's because more fuel efficient cars are making their way into the marketplace and if electric cars do become the norm which I believe would be good and spell freedom from the gas pump, both the state and federal government will need to find alternative funding sources.

But regardless of how the state and feds gets transportation funds in the future, such money has to be spent on the infrastructure at the market rates and not displaced into other places.

The general public will likely not back a $52/year vehicle fee or insurance hike or a "road user charge" based on mileage unless the people are assured that such money will be spent on the infrastructure efficiently.

To add the icing on the cake, in the middle of all this madness, motorists are being caught in yet another problem.

CA Gas Prices continue to go up, and up, and up....

Sticker shock continues to plague Inland Empire gas stations as continues to show the trend of rapidly rising prices throughout the state. According to the website, some gas stations in Riverside, Hemet, Coachella Valley, and the Pass Area are all within a quarter of breaking the $4.00-per gallon mark. That includes a Chevron station in Downtown Riverside at $3.99 per gallon.

Nationwide, prices are still rising, but nowhere near the rate of California's. Despite price increases, several gas stations in both Idaho and the Salt Lake City region are still clocking in at less than $2.00 per gallon.

Last week, I posted an analysis of this troubling situation. Governor Brown and the state government certainly need to intervene before the economy takes a major hit, even if that means temporarily stopping the statewide summer blend mandate until the refinery issues are all solved. The state would give California gas stations special permission to import traditional unleaded gasoline into the state and sell it to California motorists. This is the same gasoline that the other 49 states use. The exception would be in place until the refinery issues like the explosion and labor slowdowns are fully dealt with. That would solve the statewide gas price issue in an eyeblink.

Because of these refinery issues and the fact that our state is the only one in the entire nation that has hard specific rules on motor vehicle fuel during the summer months, we're short on fuel, even though the nation as a whole has plenty of oil and the facilities necessary to convert it into gas. That just puts more money into the pocketbooks of the oil companies and the spending power of the dollar weaker.

Does that make any sense to you?