Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Better Public Transit Alternative for Corona Dial-A-Ride

Ridesharing incentives and subsidies are being experimented through various entities to encourage more public transit use. This can be a productive means to replace and improve general public Dial-A-Ride paratransit bus services.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

The City of Corona of which operates the Corona Cruiser bus transit system and respective paratransit services has proposed to phase out its Dial-A-Ride services to the general public effective January 2, 2018. The plan is to have the curb-to-curb services be specialized and available only to seniors (age 60 and older), persons with disabilities and/or to persons who are certified under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA).

The city has opened up a public hearing period and has set up meetings to collect comments related to the proposal starting July 31. The city has posted a flyer detailing the meeting dates on their website, aboard paratransit buses, and how comments can be submitted. The comment deadline is August 14 and City Council hearing/meeting on August 16 at 6:30pm.

Some other facts: According the Corona Transit Short Range Transit Plan FY 2018-2020, Dial-A-Ride had just over 63,000 trips in FY 2015-2016, about 10% of which were either general public or Metrolink transfers. Doing the math, the proposal will impact about 6,300 annual trips; so alternatives on top of improving the Corona Cruiser system should be explored. In addition, about 9% of paratransit appointments are no-shows and the city is planning on developing a no-show policy to address this issue.

My Two Cents

As written, the benefits of this proposal is clearly cost savings and improved productivity. Circle City can utilize the saved operating resources to other areas of transportation operations such as improving the Corona Cruiser bus system routing, scheduling, peak-hour frequency and service span. While the city will work on transitioning these riders from Dial-a-Ride to the Cruiser, the obvious drawback is transit mobility displacement for the 6,300 non-specialized annual trips--mainly those who are too far distant from the Corona Cruiser fixed route system. Because Corona has several low density areas not served by the Cruiser, another option needs to be explored to prevent displacement. So how do we resolve this in the most productive means?

Just this last April, researchers have provided the Riverside Transit Agency with the answer through the First and Last Mile Mobility Plan study, a solution the City of Corona should seriously consider.

Adopting the First & Last Mile Strategy

Corona should offer replacement service to general public Dial-a-Ride so that those impacted by this change will continue to have a means travel door-to-door via public transit. This is on top of the city's plan to improve the Corona Cruiser services.

While cost and budgeting is very important, Corona needs to be careful not to create a mobility barrier for riders who are too far away from the fixed route services. The goal of the plan should be to increase transit ridership through developing strategies that address such first-and-last mile barriers to transit use while keeping costs in check. To be clear, first-and-last mile is the experience that links people to and from the higher density areas, the Corona Cruiser and connecting RTA bus routes and better links their origins and destinations. Riders often rely on other ways to get to and from the bus stop or transit station.

In place of city-operated general public Dial-A-Ride service, Corona can and should partner with private ridehailing companies such as Uber and Lyft and the taxi industry to bridge this gap. Those needing a ride within the existing Dial-A-Ride service area and hours of service would continue to dial in through the city, pay the existing fares ($4 general public, $1 w/ valid Metrolink ticket to/from the station) and the city would subsidize the balance. The only difference is instead of boarding a paratransit bus, the rider's trip would be through a partnered taxi company or Uber or Lyft driver. The cost for such trips are far less than aboard paratransit. To be clear and by law, seniors and disabled would continue to be served directly through the city via the bus simply due to the required ADA accommodations such as the wheelchair ramp. However, general public would be served via the taxi or ridehailing providers.

Other transit agencies have found ways to help curb costs, including partnering with the private sector and subsidizing such trips. Such partnerships would allow Corona to not only save money by taking general-public riders off their own paratransit fleets but it would also grow--not shrink--transit mobility options for these 6,300 annual trips with better, more customer-focused services. Thus, it will prevent Corona from having to make the ever unpopular decision to make door-to-door transit cuts to the general public despite population and economic growth.

These innovative ridehailing companies have been at the forefront of ridesharing throughout the country and have begun working with transit agencies, cities and private companies to provide first and last mile connectivity.

In addition to maintaining the current fare policy, here are a few other features Corona may want to consider adopting:
  • Riders would receive discounts for travel to and from a bus stop/hub/Corona Transit Center within the existing Dial-A-Ride service area
  • Expansion of transit pass and ticket options
  • Discounts for travel to/from special public events within the city
  • Discounts during rush hours
  • Employee credits to and from a bus stop/transit center
  • Monthly Pass partnerships with businesses and employers
  • Mobile application integration - integrate with transit ticketing apps to offer passengers a seamless multi-modal experience
  • Co-Marketing - work with RTA and the private sector to market rideshare and transit use
The City Corona could have a first-rate, cost-efficient public transit system that connects every area of the city together. Now they have the opportunity to put these options into action. Let's get Circle City moving!

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Carpool Lane Crackdowns: Can better enforcement get them moving?

by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Carpool lane cheating has become a serious problem up in the Bay Area and such an epidemic is likely in other areas of the state. That's despite the fact that a carpool violation ticket is about $500 plus court fees.

The regional transportation agency up north, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, wants stepped-up statewide law enforcement in the diamond lane. Not only that, it has requested that the legislature make such crackdowns state law by including language in another existing bill.

MTC Senior Public Information Officer and spokesman John Goodwin reported the stunning carpool lane violations to the local news Chanel KPIX 5: "It’s one in five [vehicles] in the morning, one in four in the afternoon are really vehicles that aren’t eligible to be in the carpool lane." Add that up, Bay Area carpool lane traffic consists of 20% violator cars in the morning and 25% during the p.m. rush hour. The same stats could be true for SoCal and that could be a reason why carpool lanes don't move...

I have to agree with MTC's proposed solution: Enforce the law until the violations stop. Write up those tickets...$500 per pop. If we get those violating vehicles out of the HOV lane, I wouldn't be surprised to see speed improvements to the point where they could comply with federal standards. If we are to guarantee speeds of 45 MPH or more in the carpool lane, let's get the cheaters out before we look into raising the occupancy requirement to 3.

One exception though in relation to the fine...If a driver is caught cheating beyond a reasonable doubt by putting a doll, mannequins or any other prop in a passenger seat in attempt to fool law enforcement, the mandatory fine should be $1,000. There's been some very clever tricks out there including one involving a cut-out of President Donald Trump's head and these tactics work until the driver is pulled over for an unrelated moving violation. There needs to be a means to stop this. I don't like advocating for punitive penalties like these, but it seems to be the only way to deter such bad behavior.

To be clear, there will be times where non-carpool drivers absolutely need an option to get somewhere quickly and many are willing to pay their way into a faster moving lane. To restate, The Transit Coalition generally supports congestion pricing within high occupancy vehicle infrastructure; thus if a carpool lane is moving along and has room for additional cars, let the solo drivers legally buy their way in at the market toll rate so as long the lane keeps moving. Carpools would continue to have priority and travel toll free without a transponder requirement.

But let's get the cheaters out of there once and for all.

Monday, July 10, 2017

California Must Pass the Smarter Smart Growth Law

It's a stone cold fact. And stacks and stacks of research back it up. California is in a housing affordability crisis.

Transit Talking Points by: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

We have a grave social and economic problem: The homeownership rate is at its lowest since the the second World War. Renters spend way more than 30% of their incomes on housing-related costs. 25% of the entire nation's transient population live in the Golden State; that's despite the fact that we house 12% of the total U.S. population. People cannot afford to live here and the situation has become very serious given these stats.

The state legislature is finally doing something about this as scores of bills have been introduced and debated this season. There are way too many to do a fair analysis of them and chances are there will be 11th hour changes. But I will say we need serious reform.

The Transit Coalition has called for California lawmakers to pass a variation of the Smarter Smart Growth Law which is legislation that removes all unnecessary red tape and hurdles for developers to improve in-fill, transit-oriented housing infrastructure. That is to tackle a fundamental Economics 101 issue which is balancing the supply-demand ratio. As it stands right now, there is more demand and strain on the market than supply. That drives these outrageous purchase prices and rentals and crams more people into tight quarters.

Densely populated regions like Riverside, South LA, and several corridors in central Orange County are currently urban areas filled with people but built with suburban style development: Multiple families dwell in homes designed for single families; roadways and streets are jammed with vehicles given limited public transportation alternatives. You would think that such areas would be project gold mines for the development industry with all the market demands for expanded housing and other transit-oriented development. But all kinds of government rules, regulations, fees and other obstacles prevent the builders from making any money on the project; thus, nobody is willing to build.

The primary cause of this situation is excessive bureaucracy at both the state and local level. Vital rules like fire codes, earthquake-resistant material, and emergency access must remain, but trivial matters like a mandatory CEQA report for an infill redevelopment project or having to do a conditional use permit in areas already zoned need to be revisited. Last year's passage of the Granny Flats Law is a good start, but more must be done.

In addition, government-funded safety-net programs, shelters, and drug rehabilitation homes operated through the private sector need to be expanded to address the transient problem and the resulting blight. The only real "shelter" out there for many people living on the streets is incarceration. There needs to be places where these people can go to receive the help they need so they can be healed, turned away from destructive addictions and become productive members of society. Feeding people on the streets and providing them with clothing is good, but sheltering them with caring mentors and spiritual advisors will be game-changers for the homeless problem.

This is what the Smarter Smart Growth Law is all about: Legislation that will solve the housing issue. Imposing rent control regulation or throwing more tax money at the problem does little. The government cannot directly control supply-demand pricing in a market economy. But it can fight against the problem with a firm message and solutions to make it less costly for developers to improve options for all Californians regardless of class, race or ethnicity.

It's now time for the California legislature to stop the nonsense, pass the Smarter Smart Growth Law and lead the way out of this crisis.