March Inland Empire Transit Briefing

Proposed: UC Riverside Mobility Hub Transit Center
Graphic: UCR Draft Mobility Hub Conceptual Study Report

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Here's a rundown of transit happenings as we head into spring.

CA Summer Blend, Oil and Gas Prices

So the fuel price hikes associated with the transition to California's summer blend was not as bad as I anticipated. Looking at the GasBuddy charts, Californians are currently paying about 70 cents more per gallon than the national average. With all the outages and reported maintenance issues, I thought we would be paying at least a buck more this time of the year. But unlike last year, the price difference remains at an acceptable level. However, if I hear another excuse or incident that sends this variance past the $1 mark, count on me to bring it up.

What is very interesting though is that oil prices are on the rise even though U.S. crude inventories continue to grow. Gas pump prices have reflected that. Hopefully, greed won't create another artificial oil price bubble which more often than not, leads to a crash. I'll keep a close watch on this.

Proposed: UC Riverside Mobility Hub Transit Center

Graphic: UCR Draft Mobility Hub Conceptual Study Report
A new transit center is in the works at the Fiat Lux four year university we call UC Riverside. Dubbed the UCR Mobility Hub, the transfer point will link Routes 1, 16, 51, 204, 216, the future Metrolink rail feeder Route 52 from Hunter Park, and the soon-to-be RapidLink Gold and Blue Lines. It will branch east from University Avenue.

The proposal is in the draft stage for now and needs to be approved by the UCR governing body. However, this plan looks promising considering the fact that more than a whopping 20% of UCR's population ride RTA buses to and from school and remains one of the agency's busiest destinations with a reported average weekday boarding and alighting count of almost 1,800.

A footnote from this idea is that the City of Riverside's Riverside Reconnects streetcar line is not mentioned in this memo. I wonder how that will play out.

Other than that, I say: Let's develop the UCR Mobility Hub Transit Center.

Perris Valley Line: Still Waiting...

We're all still waiting patiently for opening day the 91 Line extension of Metrolink to South Perris. Early 2016 remains the posted start date as we're headed into the spring. According to a report by Inland News Today, the Perris Valley Line will have Positive Train Control, a safety technology that The Transit Coalition supports. It would automatically stop trains in the event an engineer runs a red light thus preventing disastrous collisions. Hopefully the PTC installation and testing will be streamlined with passengers on board the trains very soon.

Tic toc...

Metrolink Mobile Ticketing on IEOC Line

The smartphone has just become a remote TVM. Metrolink has launched a paperless ticketing option which will allow riders the choice to purchase fares and passes on their Android or Apple devices and use the device as proof of payment.

During the month of March, Inland Empire-Orange County Line riders will be able to use the app through its pilot run to purchase tickets and connect to local bus operators at no additional cost.

A paperless and mobile fare option would be a great asset to not only Metrolink, but to other transit networks too. In the past, I've purchased and printed Greyhound tickets online in order to skip the lines. It greatly sped up the process.

More Home Affordability and Transit Problems in OC

Despite being one of the most expensive regions to live in the country, the Orange County real estate market experienced a buyer's spree according to the OC Register. Because of that, the median selling price for an OC home has ballooned to a whopping $618,500 – the highest January price on record according to CoreLogic.

The report also mentions that the local job market remains solid, with slower but above-average hiring expected. Working salaries are also up as managers continue to look for talent and retain workers. I would love to see something similar in the Inland Empire. But part of productive employee retention has to involve ensuring that workers have a decent place to live near their jobs without any sort of subsidy from the government. Currently, many OC workers have to endure the infamous super commute from far-off affordable regions like Lake Elsinore, Southwest Riverside County, and Eastvale which has clogged the 91, I-15 and 57 freeways.

But here's the headline: In the past three years, Orange County employers added a promising 119,000 jobs to the marketplace. However, only 16,000 new homes were sold during that same period. That's a reason why OC prices remain out of control. Both the state government and the local jurisdictions within Orange County have better wake up fast. OC workers need to be able to live somewhere decent near their jobs or both they and the employer may make the big decision to move out of state to friendlier turf; then everything will change.

On the positive note, I've conducted an extensive field study of South Orange County and parts of Anaheim where most of the residential development is occurring. Residential units are sprouting quickly there. Good. That has to continue given the soaring demands and supply shortages. But living in one of these units still comes with an expensive price tag and it will remain that way until the inventory finally meets demands.

I've also checked out other major commercial corridors in west OC from South Coast Plaza up toward Fullerton where I've noticed that infrastructure there generally remains aged and insufficient for the current population growth. There is plenty of areas that can be built up and expanded. South OC is proof that infill smart growth works. But the entire county is flush with opportunities for better infill development and transit expansion.

It's a shame that despite the population and job growth, county bus boardings fell by substantial margins. OCTA's bus ridership has dropped to its lowest levels since the late '90s.

The bus agency's 2016 Service Change campaign to resolve this issue was very transparent, well done, and the agency has been working with the cities closely for replacement services and commuter vanpool options for discontinued county-operated lines and circulators that will impact 2% of OCTA's bus riders. That has to happen as there are some lifeline bus routes that are scheduled to be cancelled though east San Clemente, Las Flores and Ladera Ranch. With no nearby alternative county route, muni-operated transit services need to be offered for these areas.

Former RTA Route 36
Note: Reference only. Do not use for trip planning.
You may remember back in 2009 that the current Pass Transit CommuterLink Route 120 used to be RTA Route 36. The lifeline transit route was found unproductive at the county level and was slated to be cancelled. While it served a very minor fraction of RTA's total bus boardings, it was saved, turned over to the City of Beaumont under Pass Transit, and restructured numerous times simply due to the lack of alternative routes. With the connecting transit and Metrolink expansions taking place in San Bernardino, expect this once-poor performing Route 36 to flourish into a robust Route 120.

Back to OC. There have been many positive changes too. The higher-demand routes and corridors will be expanded. The 17th Street/Westminister Route 60 corridor will have Bravo! Rapid service. The commuter lines Route 211 that serves the I-405 corridor and Route 206 that serves I-5 will have additional departures. And after years of planning, OC has Metrolink Max between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel with combined Metrolink and Amtrak trains departing about every hour on top of the peak hour runs. But now, there's still much work to be done to ensure Orange County has a first-rate transit system. Part of that is to ensure workers can live, work, and play in OC with robust choices to get around quickly.

Robust free market competition between infill developers can finally get some real building into Orange County with transit corridors funded and developed, more buying and rental choices for workers and their families, and such a workable system could finally make this job-rich Southern California region affordable once again.