November Inland Empire Transit Briefing

By: Nicholas Ventrone, Community Engagement Director

Transit in the Inland Empire continues to blossom. I'll touch base on a few examples in a moment.

Some projects up in LA are moving forward too. You are probably aware that the Purple Line Extension, the Downtown Regional Connector and the Crenshaw Line are pushing forward. The transit network will expand with the opening of the Foothill Gold Line on Saturday, March 5, 2016, and the Expo Line, perhaps in May as new rail cars arrive. If you commute into LA from the Inland Empire, public transportation could very well work for you with the expanded and seamless feeder connections from Union Station.

However, there are a series of other important infrastructure projects in Los Angeles that are in big trouble. The projects under threat include the Palmdale to Burbank CA High-Speed Rail Segment, the Santa Clarita to Los Angeles Bookends Projects, the Chatsworth to Van Nuys Double Track Project, the Downtown Streetcar Project and Angels Flight. One project, the San Pedro Streetcar has already been shut down due to political inaction and others can follow, due to lack of broad public and political support.

The Transit Coalition has been actively meeting with elected officials and their staff members to educate that choices and alternatives are necessary. We attend public meetings and provide a counter-balance to the opponents of transit that attempt to shut projects down. We communicate with industry and the building trades to show support.

But here in the Inland Empire, things are not too bad and I credit the growing market economy. The long-awaited Perris Valley Line which entered into the testing phase will finally open by the end of this year. Transit infrastructure continues to grow all over San Bernardnio with the city now having its own mini Grand Central Terminal and Riverside Transit Agency's long-proposed RapidLink services are set to debut late in 2016 during the rush hours.

On top of that...

Coachella Valley Amtrak Line
The Riverside County Transportation Commission approved the general routing of a long-proposed Amtrak route that will connect Los Angeles to Indio. The initial service plan calls for two daily round trips along the corridor.

From LA, the line will follow the existing Metrolink 91 Line through Fullerton to Colton via the BNSF right-of-way. It would then turn east at the Colton Crossing and follow the UP tracks that parallel the I-10 freeway into the south desert.

Currently the LA-to-Indio route is served by the long-distance Amtrak Sunset Limited that operates three trains in each direction per week.

Upgrading the train service into the Coachella Valley is long overdue considering that it is a major metropolitan area in Southern California worthy of better public transportation connections. Government officials have been talking about this service for over two decades. Yet, reports are showing that there are still massive amounts of environmental work and other regulatory issues that have to be done. We're still looking at 5-10 more years before these two extra trains are added.

This is one aspect of the project that bothers me despite the fact that this passenger rail service project proposes to add the two daily round train trips along existing rail right-of-way corridors, both of them active. That's because of the red tape politics at the state and federal level that continue to obstruct transit progress and inflate costs. Add to that the possibility of a NIMBY group that may decide to exploit state law by slapping RCTC with a trivial CEQA suit and cashing in on a settlement paid for by you and I.

I well understand that transit must have efficient regulatory oversight from the feds. For instance, I don't oppose the mandatory late night train testing of Positive Train Control along the San Bernardino Line prior to launch. But do you really think that adding two round trip passenger trains along with modest track improvements along existing right-of-way infrastructure is going to be a major Inland Empire pollutant? You make the call.

Public Hearings Don't Close Here

Now, some good news. One factor I that I do like about our Inland transit agencies is that they are willing to listen to the general public anytime and take action, not just at official public hearings.

The latest example happens to be with RTA and fixing some unproductive routing along a busy commuter express line. At its fall service change, the transit agency  reconfigured the bus routing at a commuter stop in Lake Elsinore which led to circuitous routing. Last month, here's what I had to say about that:

 The southbound (CommuterLink Express Route 206) routing has the line bypassing the park & ride stop, exiting the freeway at the busy SR-74 Central Avenue interchange and backtracking north via Collier Avenue, serving the transit hub first followed by the park & ride. That's because the transit hub point has a bus stop only on one side of the road. Because Route 206 operates through the hub, the backtracking adds about 5-7 minutes of unnecessary travel trip time. That has to be dealt with. 

I went on and suggested that the solution lies with getting bus stops on both sides of Collier and streamlining the Route 206 bus routing through this area. For the record, a regional connector to Riverside (Route 22) and a local bi-directional circulator (Route 8) connect to the 206 at the transit hub. RTA managed to address the root of the problem, but in a different way.

Beginning next Monday, southbound Route 206 runs will exit Interstate 15 at Nichols Road rather than Central Avenue, stopping only at the center's park & ride stop. Southbound trips will not stop directly at the transfer point. Northbound trips will remain unchanged, serving both the transit hub and park & ride.

At the surface, it may appear that the southbound express-to-local connections will be broken. But not so. That's because Route 22 has an outbound stop on Collier at the park & ride's entry driveway. In addition, both the clockwise and counter-clockwise outbound runs of Route 8 also stop at the park & ride's bus stop.

I believe the local complaints from Route 206 riders out of Lake Elsinore led to the change and RTA was completely correct in addressing the routing problem quickly. Regular transit riders know that 5-7 minutes of unproductive backtracking will seam like an eternity aboard the bus. I think that my idea of placing stops on both sides of the Collier and restoring the transit hub stop for southbound runs should be adopted in the near future as RTA plans to phase in all-day service for Route 206 by 2023. However, I find that RTA's short-range solution will work considering that the vast majority of express bus commuters from Lake Elsinore drive and park their cars at the park & ride while ensuring across-the-platform transfers to/from other bus routes are maintained with through-connections.

More evidence that "public hearings" never close here.