I wrote a letter to the Mayor's office regarding their Green Action Plan, and how they seem to be falling quite short of anything green in terms of transportation. Commenters have mentioned how the most touted improvements in the city amount to giving students and city employees free bus passes, which is nice, but doesn't quite address the larger problems of transportation in the city.
I received a response (a couple months later, but I understand the Mayor is a busy guy), and it shows the disconnect between what actually needs to be done and what is being done.
Here's some highlights.
In accomplishing these goals, we are working with RTA. RTA serves the entire county; we are only one of the cities, but we are working on programs to improve access to bus transit in Riverside. In 2002 we formed a committee of approximately 25 residents and agencies to review bus routes. The goal of the committee was to develop a plan which could compare to a program in Boulder, Colorado.
Mr. Mayor, committees are where you send ideas to die. I'm sure you can pass this off as action to some of your constituents, but I study politics. Every day. If this committee has been around since I moved to the city, and the bus routes haven't really gotten any better, then it's clear that this is simply something you can point to when citizens (like me) ask you what you're doing.
The work of both of these committees resulted in the UCR UPASS program allowing students to ride the bus anywhere in the city at no cost. This has caused a significant increase in bus ridership by UCR students. Last year the city subsidized a pilot program for Riverside City College allowing those students to ride at no charge. The city contributed $75,000 toward the program using clean air funds which we receive as part of vehicle registration. These funds are designated for air quality improvement programs. Moreno Valley and Norco also contributed $25,000 each. The program has also been tremendously successful. We have committed to subsidize the program for a second year to give the campus the opportunity to create a student fee ($7-$8 a semester) to continue the program. There is specific data available about the ridership and the reduction in emissions from these successful programs.
I'm actually going to concede that the RCC UPass is a good, effective program, and I'm glad to see that you've coughed up some money for it. Unfortunately, while this improves access to the transit system we have, this does nothing to actually improve transit in the city. In fact, some evidence shows that it's worsened the service along route 1 in the afternoons, simply because of overcrowding. And I still can't get a bus home after 8.
We are committed to continue to work with RTA to improve the system for city residents. The city is looking at a program to subsidize reduced price bus passes for all residents beginning in July. We have City Council representation on the RTA Board of Directors where we can provide input on services. I appreciate your input and hope you will continue to support alternative transportation.
What is with this fetish you folks have with providing free bus passes to everyone?! Public transit is already very, very affordable. Perhaps some city residents could use some help with the cost (a la the Muni Lifeline pass in San Francisco, available to anyone on social assistance), but the vast majority of Riverside residents don't need a cheaper bus pass.
What they need is BETTER BUS SERVICE.
We are in the middle of a funding crisis over at RTA. Routes are being slashed. If you truly care about public transit in this city, take some of the money you're planning to spend on subsidizing bus passes and just send it to RTA. Maybe make it so they can only spend it on in-city bus routes, so your interests are protected, but what we desperately need is operating cash for the transit agency. Money to pay the drivers and gas up the buses. It does me no good to have a cheap bus pass to a system that's rapidly shrinking.
In the long term, get with your Streets department and work on RapidLink. Maybe you haven't heard of RapidLink, as the RTA folks have done a pretty damned good job of keeping it buried, but the idea is this: Big buses, in their own lane, with stoplight priority running down Magnolia. Professional-looking stations with off-bus fare vending machines. No more uncertainty about whether or not the #1 is going to show up at RCC anytime this century. Increased land value along the Magnolia corridor, opportunities for transit-oriented development, and a real, viable alternative to sitting in traffic on Magnolia or the 91 freeway, and the city is in a VERY good position to be able to seriously contribute to RapidLink's development.
So. Executive summary time: Free bus passes cool, but better bus service actually does something.