Thursday, April 29, 2010

Airport Transit Post Update

It seems that I'm not as knowledgeable as I'd like to think myself. On my recent HOWTO on getting to the airport, I sent my readers on a rather winding route on Orange County's local buses to get to John Wayne Airport. In my defence, SNA is the only airport in southern California I haven't ever flown out of.

A reader in Irvine's transportation department sent me an e-mail about the iShuttle system- it's a commute-hour-only shuttle designed to take workers to and from the Metrolink station, and it provides direct service to John Wayne. If you're travelling on a weekday during commute hours, it should suit your needs perfectly. I've updated the HOWTO accordingly.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Service Cuts- Corona Edition

I noticed in the Press-Enterprise (twice) that the Corona Cruiser was looking to raise fares and cut services, but I never saw in the paper just when public hearings on the changes would be held. (Both articles mentioned hearings, but not times and dates.) Nor were any explicit proposals discussed, so I e-mailed Corona's transportation department about the cuts, and I got a response back yesterday.

For fare hikes, there's nothing terribly unreasonable. They generally bring their fares (currently $1.25 for general cash) in line with RTA's, which is probably only a sensible response to inflation. However, the service cuts are something else entirely. On weekdays, the Cruiser currently runs from 5am to 8pm. The current proposal slashes three hours a day of service on the system, on both the Red and Blue lines- buses would run from 6am to 6pm, a total loss of 7 Red line and 6 Blue line trips on weekdays. On Saturdays (the Cruiser doesn't provide Sunday service) it gets even worse- the bus currently runs from 8am to 6pm, and it would be pared back to run from 9am to 3:30 in the afternoon. This would make it the only transit system I know that would be incapable of handling a 9-to-5 job, on any day of the week. The Red line would lose 8 trips, and the Blue line 7 on Saturdays. Now, RTA provides service along 6th Street in Corona, on the workhorse Route 1 seven days a week, but the southern portions of Corona are 5 miles or more away from 6th Street. Route 3 also serves Corona, but once again, only the northern portion- it turns around just south of Corona Regional Medical Centre at 10th Street, still inside the circle of Grand Blvd. This move would leave substantial swaths of the city of Corona without access to public transportation past 3 in the afternoon on Saturday.

The public hearings on this issue will be held on May 13th at the Corona City Library, once at 10am and again at 6:30pm. I'll post the official details of the service cuts as soon as I find some file space to host them- they're large PDF files.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Metrolink Board Saves IE-OC Off-Peak Trains

Due to budgetary constraints, a total of 12 trains were slated for elimination at a recent Metrolink board meeting, including two mid-day trains on the IE-OC line. The Board, however, voted to eliminate only 4- San Bernardino Line trains 306 and 323 and Ventura County trains 105 and 114. They also voted to impose a 6% fare increase, starting in July. Final approval of the next fiscal year budget is slated for the June board meeting.

In a surprise move, considering what happened last time the IE-OC line was on the chopping block, both RCTC and OCTA, as well as LA Metro, stepped up with additional funding commitments to save the trains. That said, these commitments are subject to the approval of the RCTC and the OCTA Board at their next board meetings, and if they are not approved, we'll be looking at more service cuts again.

RCTC and OCTA, kudos for stepping up and keeping the trains rolling. Please lend final approval to these measures so that our transit system doesn't suffer yet more devastating cuts.

By the way, if you want to put some pressure on RCTC to do the right thing, you can find your Commissioner here, and you can visit the next Commission meeting on Wednesday, May 12th at 9:30am at the County building downtown. Remember that, if you live in a city, you've possibly got two representatives on the Commission- your City's representative, and your County Supervisor. Use this to your advantage and nag them both.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Quote for the Day

CJ Maloney, Daily Kos:

I’m in the burbs, though not by choice, sitting in a backyard surrounded by grass and bugs and sunshine. My son wings by in his electronic car with the neighbor’s kid riding shotgun; they’re screaming happily and trying to run over the dog. A bee roughly the size of a small airplane buzzes close – reminding me of my plans to pave over every square inch of the yard and build a subway station under it. God, to show His mercy, has kept me within radio range of the city so at least I can listen to the Mets.

If only every suburbanite wanted to pave their yard and build a subway station under it... must be a New York thing.

Quick HOWTO: Airport Transit

In the comments on this post, commenter Matthew mused about the lack of inter-modal airport connections at LA/Ontario International Airport. I'll also mention that the connections that they do have, they advertise very poorly- I've written them an e-mail on the topic. No reply yet. Anyway, he specifically focused on the East Ontario Metrolink station- the station serves the Riverside line, and is literally right next to the airport. However, it's on the opposite side of the airport from the passenger terminals, and there's really no way to get between the two, save a two-mile walk. He lamented the lack of airport shuttle service, which I suspect is due to the limited, directional and commute-centred service that is provided on the Riverside line. There are, however, better ways to get to LA/Ontario Airport, and to many of the airports in Southern California, than Google Transit will tell you. In that spirit, here's a short HOWTO for taking transit from Riverside (downtown) to the region's five commercial airports.

LA/Ontario International Airport
On weekdays:
Ride the Metrolink Riverside line to Pomona-Downtown or the Metrolink IE-OC and San Bernardino lines to Fontana. At either station, board the Omnitrans 61 (any 61- these are the termini of the line) and get off at the airport. Flag down a Long Term Parking shuttle at the Omnitrans stop, and you'll be taken directly to the terminal. One ride on the 61 is included in your Metrolink fare.
You can also ride Route 204 to the Ontario Mills mall, and board the 61 bound for Pomona there.

On weekends:
Take the San Bernardino line directly from downtown, or use the Omnitrans 215 to catch it in San Bernardino. For a cheaper (but slower) option from downtown San Bernardino, ride the Omnitrans 15 to Fontana Metrolink instead. This will also save you the roughly 1 mile walk between the bus terminal and Metrolink station in San Bernardino. Alight at Fontana and ride the 61.

Los Angeles International Airport
All days:
Ride Metrolink to Los Angeles Union Station, alight and board the LAX FlyAway bus service, which will take you directly to the airport via the freeway, non-stop. FlyAway stops at the Patsouras Plaza bus station at the east end of Union Station, and it costs $3 $7 each way, cash only. Fare is always collected on the Union Station end, so don't panic at LAX trying to buy a ticket. (I did.) Just tell the driver what airline you're flying, and they'll get you where you need to go.

Note when trip planning: Check the FlyAway web site and do your trip planning manually. FlyAway is not in Google Transit. You can take a myriad of Metro bus and rail services between downtown and LAX, but FlyAway is universally faster, and almost universally cheaper. It's also a 24-hour service- every 30 minutes during the daytime, and hourly at night.

Update: Commenters have noted that FlyAway is no longer the cheap way to travel, at $7. For a really, really cheap ride to LAX, check out my new post.

Burbank-Bob Hope Airport
All days:
Ride Metrolink to Burbank Airport station. You'll have to change trains at Los Angeles Union Station. On weekends, you will have to use the Amtrak Pacific Surfliner from Los Angeles. Do NOT buy an Amtrak ticket- your Metrolink ticket is good for passage to the airport on Metrolink or Amtrak trains. (On weekdays, you can also use the Surfliner if it's convenient.)

Santa Ana-John Wayne Airport
Weekdays, commute hours only:
Gary Hewitt at the City of Irvine graciously contacted me with information about his city's iShuttle system. iShuttle Route A provides direct service from the Tustin Metrolink to John Wayne Airport. The route is timed to meet each train, and will wait for late trains up to 15 minutes. You can catch it from morning IE-OC line trains 803, 805, 807 and 809, which leave Riverside-downtown at 5:11a, 5:41a, 6:16a, and 7:26a respectively. You can also catch it on evening IE-OC line train 813, leaving Riverside-downtown at 3:27p. The iShuttle is in Google Transit, for your trip planning convenience, and transfers from Metrolink are free. Normal cash fare is $1.00.

All other days & times:
Either ride Metrolink to Anaheim Canyon or the 149 to the Village at Orange. Pick up the #71 on Tustin Ave. and enjoy the hour-long ride. The 71 will get you as far as Main & Red Hill- you can either walk the 1.4 miles to the terminal, or pick up a #76 here that will take you to the airport. Either way, the 30-minute walk or the 20-minute wait and 10-minute ride will take about as long. If you use Metrolink, your ticket will cover any Orange County buses you ride.

Long Beach Airport
All days:
This is one of the more difficult airports to get to- not because the route is complicated, but because it is long. If you're flying back into LGB, be sure to be able to leave the airport before 16:00 on a weekday, and slightly earlier on a weekend. Otherwise, you may find yourself stranded. If a friend can pick you up in San Bernardino, you can be slightly more flexible with your return trip.

Ride Metrolink to Los Angeles Union Station. Take the Red Line to 7th/Metro Centre, then catch the Blue Line to Transit Mall station. Walk across the street to the north side and catch Long Beach Transit 111 to the airport. (Do not catch #112- they may have similar routes, but 112 does not stop at the airport.) Note that your Metrolink pass will cover your transit all the way to the airport, as of writing.

On weekends: Even if Google Transit says you're stranded, keep in mind the Amtrak Southwest Chief out of Union Station at 18:45 daily. (On weekdays, you'll probably want the quicker Metrolink #412, leaving at 18:35 5 days a week. They are the same price on weekdays, though, so if you want to experience a glimpse of what a long-distance Amtrak train looks like, or want to catch a quick dinner on board, feel free to grab the Amtrak. Remember to reserve in advance, either at or by calling 1-800-USA-RAIL. They'll have your tickets waiting at the station.)

Saturday, April 24, 2010

The Riding in Riverside Manifesto

I realized today that, though I have mentioned before that I am an ideological creature, I have not posted on this blog about my ideology, about what drives my writing, my activism, my career and my life. (Yes, they're all related.) I thought it important to write this down, not only for my readership but for myself.

First, I am a humanist. I believe that this life is almost certainly all that we can expect from existence, and that it is the only thing that we can be certain of. I believe in the inherent worth of human life in particular, and in life in general, as we are all part of the same massive family. It is therefore our duty to all of our fellow living things to work together to improve our lot in life, as it is the only life we have.

Second, I am a progressive and a democratic socialist. I believe that government is simply a very formal way of people joining together to help each other. I believe that broad participation in decision-making is a noble ideal, both in civil society and in the workplace. I believe that, properly designed and with the right people, government can be a strong force for good in society. I believe that the poorly-restrained market capitalism of the last 30 years is a force for substantial evil, and that markets can be strongly regulated and still provide plentiful incentive for innovation. I believe that the wealthy owe their wealth largely to the society that nurtured their endeavours, and they have a moral duty to give back to that society through strongly progressive taxation. I believe that every human being, by virtue of their humanity, deserves decent housing, plentiful food and as much education as they have aptitude and desire for- oh, and communication and transportation, too.

Third, I am a social scientist. I believe that the scientific method provides the best, and most objective, method for finding truths about the world. I believe that the free and open sharing of information, especially research data, and the free exchange of ideas allows us to determine just exactly what is going on, not only in the natural world, but in society at large. I believe that, given time, science will continue revealing more and more about the universe and our place in it. I also believe that it will continue revealing more and more questions- and that the most exhilarating to happen to a scientist is the discovery, not of a new fact, but of a new question. I believe that universal education is paramount to allowing our society to reap the benefits of scientific inquiry, and that strong support for basic research in all fields ought to be a social priority. I also believe that there is no higher calling in life than to add to the sum of human knowledge, which leads me to my current career.

Fourth, I am an environmentalist. Since this is the only life we have, and since we are of necessity connected to the ecosystems around us, we must take what steps we can to preserve the planet that we live on, and ensure that said planet is conducive to human life. All of my research indicates that the post-war automobile-driven development of this country is among the greatest threats to the capacity of our world to support human civilization. Among said threats, it seems that it is the only one that the mainstream environmental community is largely ignoring- environmentally conscious individuals use re-usable shopping bags, buy organic foods, and conserve power at home, but think nothing of driving to the grocery store to put their organic veggies in their canvas shopping bags. I therefore consider it a moral obligation to fight sprawl and automobile use, before such things destroy the world as we know it.

Fifth, I am an urbanist. I believe that humanity is a social species, and that we function well in large communities. I believe that traits of city life, such as plentiful nightlife, abundant art and culture, walkability and density are pleasant and enjoyable, and I believe that a majority of my fellow humans feel this way. I believe that government and business policies over the last 50 years have artificially created the suburban lifestyle and culture, and that more people would live in dense, walkable neighbourhoods if there were enough supply of such neighbourhoods that they were affordable. The continued sky-high prices of urban housing lends support to this proposition, as does the fact that suburban residents will drive substantial distances to walkable town centres, or malls designed to look like them. Since suburban sprawl is so damaging, and urban life in such scarce supply, I believe that infill and dense development is crucial to the future of our society.

Sixth, I am a cyclist and a transit rider. Since cars are so damaging, and yet so plentiful, I feel hypocritical every time I get behind the wheel of one. I live my life without reliance on the private automobile, in an area where such a life is unimaginable to most of my neighbours. In doing so, I hope to set a positive example for my fellow Riversiders, and encourage them to join me. (I know of at least three people who have begun riding transit more often, thanks to my example and encouragement.)

Seventh and lastly, I am an activist. There are many things about our society that I believe need to be changed, and I consider it my moral duty to affect that change. While, as an urbanist, I would admittedly prefer to live elsewhere, Riverside is my home for the time being, and I therefore have a duty to improve it. Through this blog, and through my personal activities on a local level, I hope to help make at least a portion of Riverside into a place that people can live car-free and happily.

I hope that reading this document gives you a sense of who I am, why I do what I do, and what Riding in Riverside is all about.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Me on KCET

Well, not on the TV machine, but I was interviewed and quoted in this article, part of their "Dreams Interrupted" online series.

I especially enjoyed the second commenter on the story:

..This four county area LA, OC, SBD & RIV, need to understand that the future of our economy and our very existence relies on public transportation. Why, because without people moving from point A to point B, no money moves from point A to point B! The southland needs to dream big and make tough choices now. We need to only keep our trains, but add more! I'm realizing that the dreams of many southern californians are being ruined by politicians who can't see beyond the ever-present haze in the air called re-election. Well, let me tell you something politicians, we are in the midst of an economic/bankruptcy cancer, and as everyone knows about cancer, IT SPREADS!!! No one, will be spared, including you, who will remain to govern a failed state... Dream big or step down!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Earth Day, and Perris Valley Line Update

Today is April 22, and that means it's the 40th celebration of Earth Day. Today, when you're out travelling, make the environmentally responsible choice- go by train, bus, bike or foot.

Also, in response to a reader e-mail, I wanted to update you all on the Perris Valley Line. The RCTC released a new Draft Environmental Impact Report, detailing the project and its various impacts to the surrounding community in an attempt to assuage the concerns of local residents (read NIMBY's). While the project is far from derailed, the most significant change is the elimination of a UC Riverside station on the line, due to opposition about noise concerns from residents in the neighbourhood. The Commission had previously conceded every parking space at the station (something I supported) to alleviate traffic noise, but apparently that wasn't enough. A key thing to keep in mind is that the California HSR Authority plans to put the Riverside HSR station approximately where that Metrolink station was going to be. If the residents couldn't put up with the likely 4-5 trains per day, they won't be happy about HSR either.

If you'd like to comment on the proposed EIR, there is a public hearing tonight at 6pm at the Perris City Council Chambers, at the corner of Perris & San Jacinto in Perris and a few blocks' walk from the Perris Transit Centre, which is served by routes 19, 22, 27, 30, 74, 208, and 212 (though carefully check the schedule if you plan on using the 208 or 212). You can also mail comments to RCTC at:

Attn: Eliza Echevarria
P.O. Box 12008
Riverside, CA 92502

until May 24th.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


Any bloggers out there who use Blogger and have an effective technique for making the poorly-spelled and Chinese spammers get out of my comment section, let me know.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Drunk Driving and Creative Transit Funding

So my wife and I were talking about drunk driving and alternative transportation while waiting for the 16 today (to go pick up a ZipCar- we're just an alt-transport couple like that), and I was telling her that, while drunk drivers are certainly irresponsible and should be punished, they're just a symptom of a larger problem with our society. I don't have the statistics to back this up, but I suspect that drunk driving fatalities are probably significantly lower, per capita, in large cities with extensive 'round-the-clock transit networks like New York or San Francisco. (If anyone has city or county-level data on the subject, let me know- Google keeps giving me links to attorneys.) The fact is that, after going out for a night on the town, in most cities there are few options for getting home afterwards. Designating a driver is, of course, the responsible choice, but being the designated driver sucks so very, very much. Calling a taxi is always an option, but taxis are not cheap. (UCR students- if you are out drinking and need to call a cab, you can do so free of charge anywhere in the City of Riverside, by calling 951-UCR-TAXI [951-827-8294].) Cycling is subject to the same DUI penalties (CVC 21200.5) as driving. (Commenter Peter notes that penalties for cycling under the influence may be significantly less than driving under the influence. It's still at least a $250 fine, so still not a recommended option.) That leaves walking, and that's a great option if you live within walking distance of your local watering hole, but that's rare in Riverside. (Also, if you're near UCR, you can take the late-night #53 shuttle, but only Monday-Thursday. I will confess to having used said route to bar-hop.) So, while it remains reprehensible behaviour, it is understandable why some people feel the urge to drink and drive.

Of course, our transit system is in dire funding straits, and late-night service is simply not an option for RTA at the moment, and general taxation is a hard sell in this area under even good economic times. So what's to be done?

I propose that the City impose an excise tax on drinks served in restaurants and bars- nothing excessively large, but $0.05 per serving of alcohol should do. (A serving is a pint of beer, a glass of wine, or an ounce of hard liquor.) This would add a nickel to the price of a pint or a glass of wine, 18 cents to a 60oz pitcher, and 13 cents to each martini- probably not enough of a difference that anyone would cut back on their alcohol consumption, but enough to scare up a bit of funding. This funding would be reserved for public transit service, and transit agencies could only tap into the funding if they run service past last call (2am here). The public has consistently shown support for "sin taxes"- look at the continually rising excise taxes on cigarettes, and yet another initiative raising them looks poised to pass this fall. Restaurateurs and barkeeps would be permitted to simply add the extra nickel to each drink (as if they wouldn't anyway) and send in the proceeds with their ordinary sales tax receipts. Those who pay the tax would receive direct benefits in the form of safe, reliable transportation home after a night out. Implemented properly, this policy might even increase sales at bars and restaurants- no more need for one member of the party to remain stubbornly sober, and a flood of car-free collegiate beer drinkers headed downtown to party.

Now, I'm not certain of all of the legal issues surrounding the implementation of this sort of plan, or even if such a tax would raise enough money to pay for late-night transit service. (I can't imagine a skeletal late-night network would cost that much, all things considered, but I have been wrong before.) However, in these budgetary times it's important to be creative while looking for ways to improve our transportation system and urban environment, and it's at least worth a shot.

What do you all think?

Cycling in San Francisco

A few weeks ago I was up in San Francisco for a conference. My travels were entirely car-free, and I brought my bike along. (You can bring your bike on board the San Joaquins, and store it under all connecting Thruway bus services, such as the buses that serve Riverside.) I wanted to quickly share my observations from that trip with you.

Obviously, San Francisco has an incredible and well-developed transit system. Muni runs 24/7 every day of the year, and BART regional rail runs 4am-midnight weekdays, 6am-midnight weekends and holidays. Muni doesn't even switch to their restricted "OWL" late-night service pattern until 1am, and they return to normal service at 3am, and there are regional bus services that parallel the BART lines overnight. (Service on the Pittsburg-Bay Point line and on the Dublin-Pleasanton line past Castro Valley was part of the original network in 2006, but has since been cancelled. Still, 32 of 41 BART stations have 24-hour transit.) I've used this network many times in the past, and while griping about Muni and BART is a perennial San Francisco past-time, the sheer connectivity of the region continues to amaze me. After missing a train in suburban Oakland at 10pm (literally watching it leave the station), we had to wait all of 12 minutes for another one into the City. It's basically transit geek heaven.

The fact that San Francisco has a well-developed, extensive, frequent and all-day transit system was not a surprise to me at all. What was a surprise, however, was the ease of cycling around the City. Granted, I only stayed downtown on this trip, so that may have biased my experience, but I would think that cycling in a busy urban downtown would be unpleasant. I know that cycling around downtown Los Angeles, even mid-day, is quite uncomfortable. Riding around San Francisco in the middle of the morning rush hour, however, was a breeze. Market St. has been effectively closed to through traffic through much of the financial district- bicycles were the most plentiful species of vehicle on offer, with Muni buses and streetcars second and taxi cabs third. Even on busy streets, though, cycling was extremely pleasant- drivers in downtown SF respected the presence and right-of-way of cyclists, and never tried to run me off the road or shout obscenities at me even when I took the lane. Central to this deference, I believe, was the extensive use of sharrows and signs stating "Bicycles Allowed Full Use of Lane". This just shows that bicycles and cars CAN co-exist peacefully, even in heavy traffic- but the key is the education of drivers.

One last thing- I nearly missed my train home in Richmond because of a misunderstanding about the bicycle racks on the San Joaquins. They're normally folded down into luggage racks- simply flip the luggage rack up, and you have space for three bicycles. Don't try to move to another car, thinking yours doesn't have bike space- they WILL leave without you. (My wife enterprisingly shoved her foot in the train door, giving me enough time to return to the train before it departed... but it was an unpleasant moment.)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Jekyll & Hyde

Streetsblog's Sarah Goodyear and Car-less Valley Girl had some great posts yesterday about cars and what they do to our psychology.

I will freely state that one of the biggest reasons I don't like driving is the stress it puts me under. The unique combination of uninteresting stimuli and the need for constant vigilance that driving presents one with is unpleasant, to say the least. On the rare occasions that I do drive, I find it's nearly impossible to travel a few blocks down the road without somebody performing a manoeuvre that is dangerously illegal, and usually threatening to me and my passengers. Driving on a congested roadway is even worse, of course, but just driving around town is nerve-wracking and infuriating.

A second reason that I don't drive, however, and one that I think yesterday's posts highlight well, is what kind of person I am behind the wheel. If you met me on the street, you'd find me a rather easy-going guy. I'm generally talkative and pleasant, though I admit my sense of humour is an acquired taste. While driving a car, however, I am prone to anger, and can often be found shouting profanity at other drivers, leaning on my horn and making rude hand gestures. I don't like who I am while I'm driving, and that's one of the many reasons why I try not to do it.

The sad part is, as many in the livable streets community have previously noted, the highway is one of the few places that people of different ethnicities and social strata interact in modern America- and that nearly everyone is a rather unpleasant person when behind the wheel. The social interaction that does take place on our highways is almost entirely negative, and it's some of the only non-self-segregated social interaction that happens in most communities. Comparing the shouting-honking-flipping off paradigm of inter-driver communication with the numerous pleasant conversations I've had with fellow transit riders, or even the friendly waves of passing cyclists, and I know which one I'd choose every time.


In an earlier post on the prospects for BRT in Riverside, I erroneously stated that the recently-passed transportation funding bill, ABX8 6, allowed local jurisdictions to submit local gas taxes to the voters, the revenues of which could be used to fund transit, cycling and pedestrian programs. In making this claim, I was relying on the Senate's analysis of 2/22/2010, which was the most recent analysis available from the State. As a result of discussions with RTA and Councilman Melendrez, I have been informed that this provision was stricken from the bill by the Senate, and therefore is not part of the law that the Governor signed last month.

Of course, this means that we are no better off in terms of operations funding than we were before this bill passed, and there are no new local funding opportunities for transit operations. Please send a thank-you note to your state Senators for this wonderful gift.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Breaking News: Cars Still Suck

I'm temporarily car-less once more. (I say "car-less" here rather than my preferred "car-free" because I'm not free of the beast- I still have to pay for it in insurance & registration, I just can't drive it.) Apparently my car's "master cylinder" cracked, leaving me with a $300 repair bill that I simply can't pay, half of which is labour.

If even some of the most expensive bits of my bike were to fail, few would break $100 in parts, and the labour I can accomplish myself with simple hand tools. And it goes without saying that I never have to worry about repairing a transit vehicle.

So yeah. Cars still suck.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

BRT, LRT, and the Impossible Dream

This post also comes out of my discussions with RTA CEO Larry Rubio yesterday. The facts about the state of the project are his, the opinions are my own.

Last June, I talked about bringing light rail to Magnolia Avenue. I took the opportunity to ask RTA CEO Larry Rubio about this proposition yesterday, and it turns out that I wasn't the first to propose such an idea. Riverside's City Council apparently mentioned to RTA that they'd like to see light rail down Magnolia several years ago. Unfortunately, RTA has done the ridership studies and concluded that we simply don't have the numbers to support LRT right now. What we could support is a true, dedicated BRT project, like the Orange Line or the proposed sbX. However, City leaders wouldn't assent to the reconstruction of Magnolia for a busway. This leads us to where we are today- the "BRT" project that RTA is proposing is more properly called a rapid bus- limited stops, signal priority, and queue-jumper lanes, but no dedicated facilities. (Incidentally, he also mentioned that signal priority equipment is under testing as we speak, thanks to a federal grant.)

Perhaps City leaders should re-think their positions. (With the Rapid project sitting in mothballs, it might be just the right time for it.) A report from the National BRT Institute and the University of South Florida's Centre for Urban Transportation Research shows that true rail-like BRT systems across the country are generating the kinds of property value increases and dense development that people once thought only rail could produce. While the effects seem to be more distance-dependent than the effects for rail transit, they are of a similar magnitude and in a similar direction. Combine this tidbit with the facts that construction costs are as low as they've been in a decade, and that Riverside construction workers are practically begging for jobs (and their union officials are begging- in front of City Council), and it may be time to build something to ensure our City's transportation future.

UPDATE: The taxation authority referred to in the next paragraph does not actually exist, having been amended out of the bill by the state Senate. See here for more.

May I make a suggestion, City of Riverside? Under ABX8 6, the bill that restored STA funds, you have the power to pass (after voter referendum) a local excise tax on gasoline that can be used for transit, pedestrian and bicycle projects. Voters around the state, in Los Angeles, Santa Clara and Sonoma and Marin Counties all voted to tax themselves for better transit during the 2008 elections. Mayor Villaraigosa, with his 30/10 proposal, is demonstrating a compelling model for leveraging future sales tax revenues to take advantage of the current economic downturn and stimulate his city's job market at the same time. All of these factors combine to make this the perfect time to invest in something that would literally revolutionize transit in Riverside. Think about it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Capital Project Bonanza

(Fair warning: This post is going to be very nuts-and-bolts, in the most literal sense. People who don't feel like a very personal jaunt through RTA's operations should click away now.)

Yesterday, RTA's CEO Larry Rubio invited me to a meeting at RTA headquarters to discuss many things, but primarily this post, where I called him out for not recommending that the Board should use STA funds to forestall the recent service cuts. Mr. Rubio, I don't do this often, but in case you didn't get it from our meeting I'd like to publicly apologize.

You see, I was unaware of the vast mountain of capital projects that RTA has been putting off since STA disappeared. It turns out that the agency has been sitting on a lot of much-needed maintenance to both their facility and their fleet that, if not accomplished soon, will start essentially (and in some cases, literally) exploding, taking buses off the road and requiring the cannibalization of local (operations) funds to repair and replace them. Topping the list: the NABI 40-LFW buses (97 in the fleet) are reaching the point in their design life where they require engine overhauls- otherwise, they not only burn more fuel and are more difficult to manoeuvre into traffic after a stop, but they risk the failure of certain critical parts. If those parts fail, it triples the already-steep ($18k/bus) cost of the overhaul. Next, the buses have a 12-year design life, which they are rapidly approaching (the fleet was purchased in 2001/2002). While this can be extended through certain kinds of maintenance, there's another ticking time bomb in the equation- the CNG fuel tanks are only certified for 15 years, and that's a hard limit imposed by the DOT. (Which one wasn't made clear, but I'm guessing federal.) At that point, it's just cheaper to buy a new bus... which doesn't mean to say it's cheap. At the last Board meeting, RTA staff were already preparing the grant applications for the funding it'll take to replace the ~100 bus fixed-route fleet. This is apparently a 5-year process... look for new buses on the road in 2015-2016. Add to all of this the fact that the facility that RTA runs on is literally cracking under the load- cracked concrete pervades the yard, and the facility was designed for a 30 year life around, well, 30 years ago. The reason the Agency has decided to dump this windfall into capital projects now is so that they don't have something break in half and then have to divert operating funds to fix it later.

I'm still unconvinced that the $100k that would provide holiday service is an absolute necessity for capital projects, but I AM convinced that RTA thinks it's an absolute necessity. Furthermore, my visit confirmed much of what I already thought about the staff at RTA: they're a bunch of very hardworking people, doing the best they possibly can to put buses on the road in the context of a political environment that is, at best, apathetic. (I also found that at least Mr. Rubio and CFO Mr. Fajnor were completely cognisant of the political arena in which their agency operates, and largely share my frustrations.)

So, RTA, thanks for opening your doors to me yesterday morning, and thanks for being engaged enough in the public discourse to respond to what I write over here. Let's hope we can all look forward to better funding days ahead.