sbX Ridership, Toll Lanes: Your Views on Inland Empire Transit

Original Comments Written by: You, Readers
Compilation and Responses by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Time for a run-down of comments posted by people like you on recent transit related matters. Of course, I appreciate the lively discussion and good debate:

San Bernardino BRT ridership lags as fewer riders than foreseen switch from local bus
 -Twitter/Benjamin Ross ‏@BenRossTransit

sbX BRT with 10/15 min headway has ~same ridership as #2 running local on same route with 30-min wkday headway. Can anyone in SoCal explain?
- Twitter/Benjamin Ross ‏@BenRossTransit

@BenRossTransit @capntransit actually @TTCInlandEmpire says it's because it bypasses transfer center, goes to new one in 2016
- Twitter/Benjamin Ross ‏@BenRossTransit

Last year's detailed analysis of San Bernardino's sbX initial ridership is posted to this blog if you missed it. Lack of present-day connectivity at the current downtown transit hub partially explains the sbX and local Route 2 ridership patterns. When the new downtown transit center opens later this year followed by the Metrolink extension, both of which offer across-the-platform connections to the sbX Green Line, expect some positive changes to the BRT route.

I think we need to reflect a bit on the value of HOT. My personal experience, and data too, only shows that Vehicle Miles Travelled increase when road capacity is increased, in this case solo drivers having access to more lanes. If the goal is to get more riders on transit, we must stop increasing road capacity.

I understand that this is in many ways a mechanism to fund transit, but if we are serious on this subject then shouldn't we simply congestion price all lanes?

-Facebook/Bradley Tollison

Bradley, in order for this to work, transit options, carpool, and park & ride infrastructure would have to be significantly upgraded and massive non-divisive public support would have to be mustered at the federal level. That is, the bus routes serving each corridor would have to run frequently with owl service. Paying a toll would allow some motorists to make the rational choice to use transit or join a commuter carpool, therefore I can see how charging all motorists a toll pegged to highway demand would result in many commuters opting for transit instead of driving solo in their cars.

However, many traditional and conservative Americans would likely object to such a proposal. Until the state gets its spending patterns under better control and stops displacing or overspending precious transportation funds to interests outside of transportation, don't count on mustering unified support for such a proposal anytime soon. The opposition will have a solid case with these valid points that absolutely has to be dealt with first.

Photo: OCTA
I am strongly opposed to roadway widenings, mainly because of their decentralizing effect on development patterns, so new lanes of any sort are problematic. But, improving the reliability and predictability of automobile-dependent infrastructure and reducing traffic congestion is still an important goal.

Tolls have the unfortunate effect of creating a two-tiered system whereby mass transit remains mostly the province of the poor. Variable speed limits, however, can improve reliability and prevent instituting user fees by, instead, adjusting travel times during peak periods. And, in so doing, high-quality transit systems would be made more competitive and more appealing, particularly to passengers with higher incomes.

The three variables are: reliability; travel time; and, price. Reliability and price should be relatively the same for automobile-dependent infrastructure and mass transit. But, travel time is the area where public transport should have the advantage.

I am in favor of converting existing freeway lanes to those dedicated to buses and trucks and to high-occupancy vehicles. Freeways should be optimized for goods movement and for express buses, and lanes that run along electrical-transmission corridors should allow for trolleytrucks and trolleybuses to operate with zero emissions.

-Facebook/Matt Korner

A part of what keeps me from purchasing a FasTrak transponder myself is the added maintenance costs for the account. Right now I know the 91 Express Lanes will provide a transponder for occasional users for a $75 fee with no maintenance fee. However, being that I only go into Orange County for leisure, it will take a long time before I ever get back that $75 in fuel savings when I still have to pay the toll.

If transponder-free carpooling isn't something toll agencies will consider, at the very least they should look at switching to a system where consumers pay a deposit that is refundable to them when they decide they no longer want a transponder. The deposit should be reasonable, like $20-25 versus $75 for the 91 Express Lanes. Or, offer the transponder for free if the consumer has a valid credit card on file, and just charge the credit card if the transponder is lost or damaged.

As long as carpooling remains free on the 10 Freeway, and it's reasonable to get a transponder, there shouldn't be a problem if solo drivers get access to the lane by paying a toll, as (TTC) suggested in  response to the YouTube video. Again, just have users keep a valid credit card on file if they misuse or lose their transponder, rather than making carpools and solo drivers have to make an upfront investment if they are not regular users and don't want to pay monthly fees.

For the 15 freeway, I also hold the position that toll lanes should not be converted from existing general purpose lanes, which I think is what drives the fear for a lot of commuters when you talk about toll lanes. The median of Interstate 15 is wide enough to accommodate at least one toll lane in each direction while keeping the existing 3-4 general purpose lanes along the freeway. As long as carpooling and general lanes are left alone, I personally don't see any problem at all with adding toll lanes or highways in our region. Adding more general lanes as transportation funding dwindles isn't a long-term solution, and taxpayers aren't on the hook if toll revenues can't cover debt obligations on toll facilities.

-Facebook/Marcus Garcia

Marcus, I'll add one extra point. The existing I-15 public right-of-way is basically wide enough to accommodate two additional HOT lanes with direct access connectors plus a rail transit line, auxiliary lanes, and possibly another general purpose lane. Yes, many bridges would have to be reconstructed and the rail stations would have to be at existing transit hubs or trip generating points away from the highway, but property acquisition between the stations would be minimal.

Regarding the conversion of general purpose lanes, I must reiterate that mustering local public, Congressional and voter support to convert existing federally-funded and paid-for freeway general purpose lanes into a high occupancy toll, truck or transit lanes is not going to happen until other changes happen first to cut down on the high demands on long distance commuting in order to live in a desirable home with a high-paying job. Add to that the need for the state to gets its spending under control and stopping the displacement or overspending of transportation funds to the special interests.

However, I'm not going to dismiss this view 100% simply because federal law does generally mandate that existing carpool lanes need to sustain an average speed of at least 45 mph during rush hours and raising the occupancy requirement to 3+ combined with improving transit options could get them moving again and thus provide the virtual guideway for transit fleets. Trucks would continue to use the right two general purpose lanes.

Non-HOV's can buy their way into the carpool lanes for a toll (ie. high occupancy toll lane) if capacity allows. Of course, all existing, paid-for carpool lanes would need to continue to support toll-free, non-transponder HOV usage and the lanes would become dedicated carpool lanes if no space can be sold to non-carpools.

The state and local agencies should use the local or regional rush hour carpool demands as a measuring tool to determine whether to set the carpool occupancy requirement to 2+, 3+ or bus/registered vanpools only in order to keep them moving at least 45 mph during the majority of the rush hour.

More on this at a later time.

The toll lanes are a horrific idea to allow those of means to pay their way to a better experience on our public infrastructure.

Why not "fast lanes" at the DMV so you can buy your way to the front of the line?

-Facebook/Jason Herring

Jason, those "fast lanes" is the appointment line. To get into the appointment line there's a small "cost." The "cost" is having to book the time slot weeks or even months in advance, which can be very troubling if you forget to book it whenever an in-person renewal notice shows up in the mail two months beforehand.

At the time of this post on April 27, here are the earliest DMV appointment dates to renew a driver license, identification card or permit:
  • Banning - May 14, 2015
  • Fontana - May 18, 2015
  • Hemet - June 3, 2015
  • Indio - May 15, 2015
  • Pomona - June 9, 2015
  • Rancho Cucamonga - June 4, 2015
  • Redlands - June 1, 2015
  • Riverside Brockton - June 2, 2015
  • East Riverside - May 14, 2015
  • San Bernardino - May 20, 2015
  • San Marcos - June 26, 2015
  • Temecula - June 16, 2015
  • Victorville - May 28, 2015

Excessively long wait times at the DMV for a short appointment will be a subject of a future post following a field study.

Thanks for all your constructive comments. Talk to you again later this week.