Monday, May 31, 2010

Remember the Oily Fallen

On this Memorial Day, take some time to remember the fallen in the First and Second Oil War. Ponder the sacrifices they made to keep America's gas tanks full.

I would also suggest taking the bus to your barbecue today, but RTA cancelled all service- so bike or walk if you can, and at least carpool if you can't.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Service Cuts- Banning/Beaumont Edition

Pass Transit quietly approved service cuts to their already meagre offerings in Banning and Beaumont. Route 3 will no longer offer Saturday service, and the span of service has been reduced for routes 3 and 4 on weekdays. Route 3 will now operate between 6am and 6pm, and Route 4 will operate between 6:45am and 6:30pm.

Also, a reminder- for the first time in recent memory, RTA buses WILL NOT OPERATE on Memorial Day, Monday 31 May.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cheaper Airport Bus

A few weeks ago, I posted a how-to on getting to the various airports in the Los Angeles metro area. Surprisingly, it's been one of my more popular posts. I'd like to add a few methods for getting to LAX for the cash-conscious, after learning that the swanky FlyAway service is a spendy $7.

There are two bus lines and a network of rail that link LAX to Union Station. They're going to be less comfortable, more crowded and slower, but also significantly cheaper.

If you're a bus snob and you insist on going by train, you can ride the Red Line to 7th/Metro, the Blue Line to Imperial-Wilmington/Rosa Parks, and the Green Line to Aviation/LAX, where a free shuttle bus (the G shuttle) will take you to the airport. Total cost $3.75, due to increase to $4.50 when fares go up July 1st.

If you don't mind buses, you've got two choices. The #439 Express bus leaves from Dock 1 at the Patsouras Transit Plaza at the back of Union Station, leaving every 45 minutes on weekdays and hourly on weekends, from 4am on weekdays and 6am on weekends through 9pm. It'll take 50 minutes to an hour, depending on traffic, and cost you $1.85, due to increase to $2.20 on July 1. It'll drop you at the LAX City Bus Centre, which is connected to the airport by the free C shuttle bus. (UPDATE: Commenter cph notes that the 439 is slated for cancellation 12/2010.)

The second choice is the #42 local bus, which leaves from Chavez & Vignes (about a block north of the Patsouras Transit Plaza) at least half-hourly from 5 am through midnight. (After 8pm, riders must use route #40 at Chavez & Vignes, and transfer to 42 at Broadway/7th.) It'll take around 70-80 minutes, depending on traffic and time of day, and cost you a lovely $1.25, due to increase to $1.50 on July 1. Like it's express cousin, it'll drop you at the LAX City Bus Centre, where you can connect to the plane via the C shuttle bus.

Late at night, Metro's Owl service does provide service from Chavez & Vignes to LAX, via lines 70 and 40, with a short walk between Grand and Broadway on 7th Street. It'll cost you $3.75, due to increase to $4.50 on July 1, take approximately 90 minutes, and drop you at the LAX City Bus Centre. However, I should mention that this means walking about downtown Los Angeles in the middle of the night. Flyaway runs hourly, 24 hours a day, and this blogger recommends you spend the extra few dollars for the safe ride to the airport. Of course, Metrolink doesn't run that late, so Inland residents probably won't need to worry about it.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Write Your Senators

Tell Senator Boxer and Senator Feinstein to support the Public Transit Preservation Act, introduced several days ago by Senator Dodd of Connecticut. It would provide nearly $2bn in emergency operating assistance through September for transit agencies across the nation, distributed through "existing formulas" which tells me pretty much everyone will get a cut. Write in right away.

You can e-mail your senators at the following links:
Sen. Boxer
Sen. Feinstein

You can call your senators at the following numbers:
Senator Boxer, 951-684-4849
Senator Feinstein, 619-231-9712

You can write to your senators at the following addresses:

Sen. Barbara Boxer
3403 10th St. #704
Riverside, CA 92501

Sen. Diane Feinstein
750 B Street, Suite 1030
San Diego, CA 92101

Tell them how important public transit is in your life, and how crucial it is that we get the funding we need to keep the buses rolling.

New Agency on Google Transit

In a move that I never thought I'd see, the one bus stop in my old home town is now on Google Transit. Victor Valley Transit Authority is now available on Google Transit, including all county routes! Also, Mountain Area Regional Transit Authority, which provides service in Crestline, Arrowhead and Big Bear, and both Barstow and Needles Transit are available as well. The only San Bernardino County agency remaining unavailable on Google Transit is the Morongo Basin Transit Authority, which provides service in Twentynine Palms and surrounding areas.

One of the chronic problems with rural transit is its infrequent nature, and the rather poor availability of information on routes and schedules. With any luck, this sort of schedule accessibility will help customers in transit-poor regions accomplish their daily travels car-free.

There's an important caveat to the VVTA data on Google Transit: VVTA runs a significant number of deviated routes, which operate by reservation. Information on other possible destinations off of deviated routes is not available on Google Transit. For example, there is only one scheduled run to Wrightwood daily. However, every single trip on the 21 will call there by advanced reservation, and Google Transit is unable to plan these trips. (If you're a Tri-Community resident and you need to utilize this service, call 877-545-8000 for reservations.) All in all, though, this is a significant improvement to informing riders about a system that, even today, has no system map or transfer information in their brochures.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

By the way...

If you like what I do and want me to stick around, please consider clicking on the ads here around the web site. I do run ads for a reason, and the difference between what I get paid for an ad impression and what I get paid for an ad click is four orders of magnitude. That's 10^4 or 1,000 times greater. If something looks interesting, please click. I dream of moving this blog on to its own dedicated server, with its own domain- I'm thinking, but we'll see- and I won't do that until the thing pays for itself.

Also, if you plan on signing up for ZipCar, which you really should if you live anywhere near UCR (it's awesome not only to keep you from owning a car, but to keep you from owning a second car, or to just have in case your car breaks down), please consider clicking the little ZipCar graphic in the right-hand sidebar. If you sign up through me, you get $25 of free driving, and so do I.

I should mention that, at this point, RiR has been around for 18 months and slightly over 300 posts.

Transit's Still Greener Than Driving

The sentiment that transit, especially bus transit, isn't really all that green seems to be popping up quite a bit in the livable streets blogosphere lately. The argument goes something like this: On a passenger-mile-per-gallon basis, buses are really only more efficient than cars when they're well-loaded, and since transit systems (especially bus systems) often run rather empty outside of rush hours, they should be dismantled and the energy put into them re-directed into making more environmentally friendly cars.

Now, I haven't done the fuel efficiency calculations on my own. The promulgators of this myth may indeed be right- I'm not certain, and I wouldn't bet on it (especially considering that there are so many inefficient SUV's and pickups being driven around alone), but I can't speak from a place of expertise here. However, they're wrong in a larger sense, and this is because of three different points.

First, as I've mentioned before, cars aren't only an environmental disaster because of their tailpipe emissions and energy consumption. They enable a pattern of development and a lifestyle with disastrous social and environmental implications, and they will continue doing so even if they were to all be solar-powered tomorrow. Not to mention the waste of space in manufacturing and parking. Every bus in Riverside parks in one small building on 3rd Street. Think how big a building you'd need to park every car in Riverside.

Second, one of the most frequent reasons I hear for people not using transit for their work trip is schedule flexibility. Sure, 95% of the time they only need to travel just before 9 and just after 5, but that 5% of the time they absolutely NEED to be able to get home- it's a sick family member, or a very important meeting, or simply a half-day furlough where they'd rather not stick around at the office all evening. Those mostly-empty buses running around the city all day are a key component in filling the mostly-full buses during commuter hours, in the same way that the last bus of the night may be empty, but it's critical in putting passengers on the next-to-last bus. Distributing the environmental benefits of a system across all of its bus trips, rather than on a per-trip basis, would provide a more realistic picture of the environmental benefits of transit. If you accept that trains are more efficient, you have to think about the cost of the feeder buses that got the passengers there as well.

Lastly, in most suburban bus systems (which are most vulnerable to this sort of critique), public transit is not usually run for environmental benefits, but as a social service. There will always be a class of people who cannot drive, either through poverty, age, disability, or judicial sanction. The buses will run anyway, regardless of their efficiency, because they serve a different social purpose. (I'm willing to bet that RTA's services in outlying areas like Hemet and Canyon Lake are probably inefficient compared to small, fuel-efficient automobiles.) Since the buses are running anyway, it's much more environmentally friendly to ride them, rather than add a new vehicle trip to the environment and traffic system. Even if the bus itself is rather inefficient on a passenger-miles-per-gallon basis, your individual share of that trip is significantly better than what your footprint would be if you drove for that trip. This critique about efficiency is only an issue when people don't use public transit- if anything, it is an argument to use transit much, much more than we do.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Cars Suck

That's the title of a diary on Daily Kos this evening. I agree with every word. Read it, and apply its lessons to your life now.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Blog Silence

Hey everyone. It's week 8 here at UCR (in a 10-week quarter system) and that means papers, papers and more papers. Between grading undergrad papers and writing my own, and oh yeah, moving, I don't exactly have a lot of spare blogging time. Oh, and then I'm helping a friend move to New York when that's all done. Expect sporadic posts, if any, until mid-June, with my apologies.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

On Social Services

Yes, I know, this is a transit blog. I'll get back to buses tomorrow.

My wife and I are going through some pretty tough financial times, primarily because the financial aid and grants that were paying for her schooling were cut, and the state agency that credentials substitute teachers (something my wife could start doing tomorrow, had she the permit) is ridiculously slow, due probably to the fact that they're understaffed and furloughed 3 days out of the month. We've used up all of my fellowship money, and she's had no luck in finding work, so we're living off of a combination of family help and social services. It is the latter that I want to talk about here.

First of all, and a lot of people who have never been on social assistance don't know this, most of the major public social service programs (Medicaid, General Relief, TANF- what most people think of as "welfare") REQUIRE that you either have children or be a pregnant woman. Childless singles and couples need not apply. There is literally no way for an able-bodied adult to get cash assistance or health care from the government in California unless you either have a baby or have a baby on the way. Even student financial aid, in many cases, can benefit from having a child- children of middle-class families are often excluded from aid, due to their parents' income. If they have a baby, that exclusion no longer applies. My wife and I have put off childbearing at least until we're done with our education, because that's the responsible thing to do- not to have children that are a burden on society. Because we were responsible, however, the government has turned away from us in a time of great need. An 18-year-old single mother with no job prospects can walk into the county welfare office today, and walk out with enough money and food stamps to support herself and her baby. Because my wife and I were responsible enough to spend the $15-$30/month on birth control, we cannot do the same.

Second, social assistance has been left behind in the wired revolution. I can pay my bills, do my schoolwork, and apply for all manner of credit on the Internet. I can shop for everything from groceries to automobiles without ever leaving my home, and have it delivered next-day. However, if I want to apply for government benefits, in most cases I have to hand in a paper application. Both Riverside Public Utilities' SHARE program and the LIHEAP utilities assistance program require a paper application, turned in by hand. Food stamps and Medi-Cal both have an on-line application, but completing this application requires an "interview" appointment. Our interview for food stamps lasted nearly 4 hours. And, of course, turning in an application or calling an office with questions is only possible during business hours, which are rapidly shrinking. 9 to 4:30 is common, and Friday closures equally so. For my wife and I, it isn't such a big deal to have to turn in a paper application- my studies are flexible enough that I can manage to go places in the morning without interfering with school, as long as I take my books with me- but for many workers, a detour to a social services office, which may last several hours, is out of the question, especially during business hours- also known as when PEOPLE SHOULD BE WORKING.

America's social service safety net is a critical part of what our government should be doing for people, and yet it sits in tatters. Were I a British citizen, or a Canadian, or a German, I would not be worrying today about how to pay my rent for next month. If I lived in any other industrialized nation, I wouldn't even be worrying about applying for social assistance- both my wife and I would be taken care of during our educational careers. That the richest nation in the world does so very, very poorly at taking care of those who have encountered even the most temporary of hardships- mine will be over by July or August at the latest- is appalling.

Politicians of both parties have demonized welfare recipients consistently over the last 20 years. How many times have you heard the line about "waste, fraud and abuse" in social service programs? Measure after measure after measure has been put in place to make even the tatters of our safety net harder and harder to fall into. Myths of welfare queens in Cadillacs abound in our political discourse. That rhetoric, and these policies, have dire consequences. Our social services are important precisely because some people, some of the time, will truly, badly need it. I am grateful that I have a family who was able to keep a roof over my head this month, but I am lucky in that regard- were I forced to rely only upon social services, my wife and I (and our cats) would be sleeping in my lab today, all of our possessions tossed to the street during the eviction. The point is that government is not some ephemeral thing that you can simply keep cutting and cutting and cutting- government performs important jobs in our society, and people rely on the government's continued performance of those jobs. Cuts have consequences, and it's time our politicians woke up and saw that.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Prospects for Rural Transit

First of all, let me say that I am a city person. I love being in big cities, and I venture to them nearly every chance I can get. I enjoy the lively atmosphere that cities can provide, the high-quality public space, the cultural attractions, and the fact that both businesses and buses stay up past 10pm. However, I'm currently the resident of a suburb (though a very urban-ish suburb), and I spent most of my childhood in a rural town in the San Gabriel mountains. On this thread, Chewie and I got into a discussion about whether or not rural areas are permanently shackled to the automobile. I say no, and for a few reasons.

First of all, I think there is a misconception about what rural areas look like. In most cases, rural people cluster in towns. Sure, there are some people who live completely isolated, miles from the nearest human being, but they are few and far between. Even in farm communities, where it was once common for farmers to live on their farms, several miles outside of the nearest village, large agri-business firms are increasingly taking over farming duties, and workers at these sites arrive in the morning and leave in the evening. Most of the support personnel- schoolteachers, sales clerks and shop owners, government officials, and other people who serve the local community live in town- and rural towns are often very walkable places. (Even this score is brought down significantly because pharmacies and movie theatres are two of WalkScore's categories- neither of which exist in the town. Check out Delano, CA- a rural farm community big enough to have those amenities.)

Since rural areas are, by definition, lacking in population, rural transit networks serve a different market than urban ones. In cities, transit often takes you to a different part of the city. In a small town that you can walk across in an hour, transit's function changes- certainly, there is some in-town service (like in Delano, or Hanford or Wasco), but the primary goal of rural transit should be to link neighbouring towns, and especially smaller towns to larger ones. In most cases, rural transit that serves both of these roles exists, and it could be improved to the point that it would be a desirable way to get around. In many of these towns in the central valley, the heavily-used Amtrak San Joaquins provides 12 daily trains to points north and south, with connections to Los Angeles and San Francisco.

I also think that car-sharing services will play a key role in small towns in the coming years. Car-sharing is an easy way to get people to transition away from the personal automobile- it allows people to think about a transit-centric life, while keeping access to a vehicle in case they need one.

Anyway, I should return to why I think transit and car-freedom can work in rural areas. Short answer? They will have to. Like our entire civilization, rural areas will have to transition to a post-oil existence over the course of the next century. We must wake up and see what a scarce and precious resource oil actually is, and save what little is left in the ground for those purposes that require it- plastics and modern agriculture- and stop using it to frivolously flit about in single-person cages. Transit in rural towns is never going to be as developed as in cities- Wasco will never need a subway, and Wrightwood will not see trolleybuses any time soon- and some people will remain too far off the grid to ever serve practically. We need, however, to start moving every town of any size off of its auto addiction, rather than keeping this harmful mentality that transit is only a big-city sort of thing. The future of our civilization depends on it.

Monday, May 10, 2010

More on the Service Changes

A minor issue, but for those of you who use the Downtown Terminal, the terminal staging diagram has changed. See the diagram in the new Ride Guide. (5.8MB PDF)

Friday, May 7, 2010

New Ride Guide

Service changes (cuts) take effect this Sunday, May 9th (which is also Mothers Day- so send your mom a card or something), and I got my hands on a copy of the new Ride Guide, just so I could tell all you readers about it. The following routes are affected: 1, 7, 8, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 25, 27, 32, 42, 57, 79, 149, 202, 206, 208. If you ride any of those routes, read on.

Minor Schedule Adjustments: 1, 7, 8, 22, 79, 206, 208
All of these routes had schedules adjusted for connectivity- 1, 206 and 208 with Metrolink, 7 and 8 with each other and 22, 22 with 27, and 79 with school bell schedules.

Weekend Trip Reductions: 10, 11, 12, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21, 27
All of these routes have lost trips on the weekends only, on either end of the schedule or both.

Weekday Trip Reductions: 32, 42
These two routes have lost trips on weekdays, 32 in the morning and 42 in both the morning and mid-afternoon.

Weekday and Weekend Trip Reductions: 13
13 lost a weekday school tripper and a weekend morning trip.

Route Discontinued: 57
The Temecula Trolley Red Line was discontinued due to low ridership, and to divert funding to the successful Green Line. RTA has really bad luck with these trolley services- is it perhaps the funky scheduling, rather than running them as all-day frequent routes? The 50 and 51, all-day frequent service, seem successful.

Service Expanded: 202
The annual Beach Bus service to Oceanside will begin June 21, and run through September 5. During this time, Route 202 will run during off-peak times and on weekends.

Converted to CommuterLink: 149 (216)
Route 149 will be converted to a CommuterLink route. This amounts to a $0.10 hike in cash fare, but frequent riders can now buy CommuterLink passes which will cover their full fare. Before this change, all riders had to pay an extra $1.40 for journeys into the OC (except CityPass and UPass riders). I'm also told that this change should bring more comfortable, recognizable Commuterlink coaches to the route. This change occurs on July 1.

As always with a service change, starting Sunday, be sure to check Google Transit (preferably via the new trip planner- show 'em some 951 love) or the new Ride Guide for your route and schedule. Ride Guides are available on board, at City Hall, at your local library, or at UCR's Transportation and Parking Services office.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

What Nobody Else Will Say

I was watching Rachel Maddow's coverage of the current environmental clusterfsck that is the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, and while I enjoyed the good Dr.'s usual coverage, I did note that there is one connection that few people are willing to make.

Rachel won't say it. None of her guests will say it. Not even the hard-hitting Vote Vets clean energy ad will say it.

Our oil addiction springs not from just general societal energy needs. The oil that Deepwater Horizon was harvesting isn't lucrative because we burn it for electricity, nor because it produces plastics, nor because we use it to lube bike chains and other various and sundry items.

Our oil addiction, the one that is driving conflict in the Persian Gulf, the one that is currently destroying the environment of the Gulf of Mexico, the one that is only now releasing its grasp on the Prince William Sound in Alaska... it is fed by another addiction: Our addiction to driving. Between 60 and 70 percent of the oil that we use in this nation is used for transportation fuel, much of that for single-passenger automobiles.

The Vote Vets ad urges us to move to clean energy sources- electric energy sources- to cut our dependence on foreign oil, but only 1-2% of our oil is used in power generation. Dr. Maddow's disdain for our environmental short-sightedness is refreshing, but the fact that her show is sponsored by a plethora of automobile manufacturers keeps her commentary firmly in the "outrage" column, not quite reaching solutions. The automobile has a stranglehold on this nation, and because nearly everyone in it is utterly car-dependent, nearly everyone will conveniently fail to connect the oil now gushing into our oceans and washing up on our shores with the oil that they pump into their vehicles every day. Clean energy is doubtless an admirable goal, but unless we start powering our transportation sector with it (and I don't mean electric cars), it will make very little difference in our oil consumption- and we need that difference badly.

The lesson from this massive oil spill is a clear one, and urbanists, livable streets advocates, and alternative transport activists need to shout it loudly and as often as possible- we need to end our dependence on oil, which means ending our dependence on the car.

(Figures are from the conservative Institute for Energy Research. They cite DoE.)

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Alliance with Auto Addicts?

Wired ran a great post entitled "Why Progressive Transportation Policies are Good for Gearheads" back on Earth Day. I think they make a fantastic point, and wanted to share the article with you.

I see no problem with driving for recreation. Hell, I enjoy a good drive up a windy, deserted mountain road as much as the next guy- especially if I can wheedle my mum's car keys away from her. (Subaru Impreza STI...) Nobody in the transit advocacy world is trying to take away the thrill of a good drive on the weekend.

What we do want to do away with is the dull, traffic-choked commute the other 5 days a week, and really, who's going to argue with that? I'm all for a world in which automobiles are unashamedly souped-up toys, built for the express purpose of having fun tearing around remote roadways in the drivers' free time. Good transit networks actually promote that- by reducing traffic congestion, and reducing the amount that drivers have to pay for gasoline and maintenance just to get through the daily grind. Most people would find that they can afford to buy a much nicer, much more impractical automobile if they only drive it when they want to drive it. (Also, Zipcars are pretty awesome for such impromptu trips, though Riverside doesn't have any sporty Zipcars yet.) A transit-rich world will be a better one for the driver and non-driver alike because, let's be honest, who actually *enjoys* driving around town and on traffic-clogged freeways?

UPDATE: Hey there Streetsblog network! Thanks for stopping by!