Monday, June 20, 2011


As you read this, my wife and I are on our way to Los Angeles Union Station for the start of what we're calling Epic Train Trip. We're touring the United States and Canada for the next month via Amtrak, with a smattering of Greyhounds and ferries in between. Accordingly, this blog will be a bit quieter. I do plan on posting interesting observations about transit in the cities we travel to, but I won't commit to a regular posting schedule.

Don't despair, however! Although I'll cut back on the blogging here, the wife and I will be chronicling our adventures on our travel blog, Backpack Amtrak. If you're interested, you can enjoy our adventures around the country on a train (and a shoestring budget) over there.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

This Week in Transit

As usual, local events in red, HSRA events in orange.

If you find this feature useful, please don't hesitate to subscribe to either of these calendars. Also, don't forget to follow my IE transportation Twitter list, @plattypus1/ie-transportation.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

New Metrolink Fares

As I covered earlier, new Metrolink fares are coming. The new 7-day and weekend passes will become available on July 1st. The Family & Friends 4-Pack will be discontinued on the same day, while the 10 Trip tickets will be phased out by this fall.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

You want to put my train station... where?

Mead Valley, that's where. Don't know where Mead Valley is? That's okay, you're not alone. Happily, I've provided a map:

View HSR in Riverside in a larger map

When we last left the HSR saga, the Riverside station was proposed for the Orangecrest neighbourhood of Riverside, at Alessandro and the I-215. The site was, shall we say, sub-optimal-- surrounded in every direction by single-family housing, much of it literally walled-off from the nearby streets. Also nearby is a large, typically suburban shopping centre, anchored by a K-Mart, and a trailhead for the Sycamore Canyon Wilderness Park. Not exactly a thriving, mixed-use urban paradise well-suited for an HSR station, which is why I opposed the site.

Bad enough, but it gets worse. You see, I went out to an open house put on by the Authority a few weeks ago, at the Orange Terrace Community Centre. The engineers have refined their station locations a bit more, and the old location was unsuitable for the station. Turns out that you can't built a station- or even track- off the end of a runway, so the train has to go below grade at Alessandro. So the engineers decided to move it down the track a bit... to here:

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that is the proposed site of the new "Riverside" high-speed rail station. As you can see on the map above, it's not in Riverside, nor even Moreno Valley. It's in the unincorporated community of Mead Valley, just across the freeway from Perris. There is no transit nearby, no houses nearby, no meaningful commerce nearby- unless, of course, you'd like to buy surplus building materials or ship a few tons of air freight. Here's another view:


I even caught a few panoramic shots of the location, so you could see the abject nothingness of it all:

2011-06-04 16.40.07

And, by the way, the site eschews the most populous and vibrant city in the Inland Empire for a community that looks like this:



Now, I mean no disrespect to those who live in rural communities, but this is not a place for a high-speed rail station. If you want to bring infrastructure here, try bringing sewers and gas lines- most residents are on septic tanks and have to purchase propane from the local general store. Oh, yeah, there's a local general store:


This is not the sort of downtown-to-downtown service that the Authority promised us.

There is an alternative. While the authority never considered a downtown Riverside station (and for good engineering reasons- turns out they need to build the system so that trains can pass through all but the termini at speed), they did consider two others in Riverside proper: one at Watkins and Blaine St. and one at I-215 and MLK. The one at Watkins and Blaine was removed from consideration due to expected community opposition- the University Neighbourhood Association killed a rather-minimal Metrolink station at the site, so an HSR station would probably be unthinkable- but the I-215/MLK station was removed for much shoddier reasons.

You see, both the Mayor and UCR's Executive Vice-Chancellor wrote letters to the Authority specifically requesting that the station be put at March Field. I don't know about the Mayor's reasoning, but UCR asked that the station be put at March Field instead because the UCR 20-year plan calls for PARKING STRUCTURES, not a high-speed rail station, around the overpass where the station would be.

Now, if I'm a student at UCR in 2031, when gas prices are so high that only the well-off can afford to drive, I wonder what would be more useful to me: a bunch of parking structures, or a high-speed rail link to the rest of the state? Also, while UCR has literally acres of land on which to build more parking, the HSR station can only go in a few places. If it's a choice between right on campus (full disclosure: literally steps from my office) and Mead Valley, I say we convince the campus to move their parking structures.

UPDATE: I should probably mention that the photos that weren't taken at the station site were taken on the bike ride to the site, as it is 1.5 miles from the nearest transit line (the 22).

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Transit-Friendly Flying

As you all are doubtlessly aware, Burbank-Bob Hope Airport is the only airport in the region directly served by rail. Metrolink and Amtrak both stop mere steps from the terminal. According to LAist, Jet Blue has decided to take advantage of that fact.

Your same-day JetBlue boarding pass is now good for a Metrolink ride to and from the airport. From what I can tell, that means "from anywhere in the system to/from the airport," but I'll edit this post when I have better information.

Sadly, JetBlue's main hub in the region is the Long Beach Municipal Airport. If you've never used it, it's a fantastic little airport- few passengers, short security lines, little delay- but it's one of the most difficult to get to on transit from the IE. Still, this provides some options for car-free travelers looking to get away.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

It happens every time...

I write that I'll be away for a bit, and then I see something on the Internet and can't help but comment. Today, it's a piece from The New Republic on private-sector suburban jitneys. A jitney, for the unfamiliar, is something between a taxicab and a bus. They're usually privately-run, following a generally fixed route but able to deviate off that route in order to pick up or drop off passengers. The only place that I'm familiar with in the United States in which they're a common part of the transportation mix is in outer Queens, New York, but they are prevalent in many Asian cities and throughout the developing world. Peter McFerrin, at TNR, believes that they might be the solution to suburban transportation dilemmas.

I disagree, and here's why. McFerrin correctly identifies the problems facing suburban transit agencies and routes: low ridership, low farebox recovery, and high mileage. However, he doesn't get to the root of the problem- that suburban residents by and large own and use automobiles for mobility. It might matter a bit, around the margins, that a new bus on a route is able to detour into a neighbourhood in order to get passengers, but most people are going to continue to drive because that is the behaviour that is encouraged by both our society and our built infrastructure. As I've said before, it's not that the suburbs are impossible to navigate without a car (particularly if you own a bicycle and have some choice in your living situation), but driving in them is ridiculously easy. (As well, some places in the suburbs are more inconvenient than others- even crazy me probably couldn't survive in Eastvale long without access to a car.) So long as that remains the case, transit doesn't stand much of a chance. The area of innovation we need is not in transit service, but in the built environment.

Jitneys in the suburbs will also bring a whole host of new problems that conventional transit agencies don't face. First, they rarely adhere to a regular schedule- not a problem when you have enough demand for frequent headways, but a serious issue for infrequent, suburban routes.

Second, they lose the built-in advertising of the local transit agency. Most people around here know that the catchy little "Bus Stops Here" sign means that that point is connected to a broader transportation network. Many jitneys operate without signage at all, relying on the presence of vehicles to advertise service- and even if they did have signage, under the regulations proposed by the TNR article, a "University Avenue Jitney Stop" sign is much less informative about the service possibilities than an RTA bus stop sign. Further, is every jitney operator about to start up a web site, clearly listing routing, scheduling, and fare policies? I doubt it. People are wary enough about present transit.

Third, jitneys would be hard-pressed to follow an integrated fare policy. Your RTA pass is unlikely to be good on a private van, and the fare you pay on that van will probably not get you access to the RTA system. While I'm sure there are some users who would pay a higher fare to get around (myself included), most transit users in the suburbs are economically disadvantaged. Making them pay for a monthly bus pass (because they'll probably have to transfer to the regular transit system) AND round-trip jitney fare every day is probably going to be a big bite out of their budget.

Lastly, if a route is unprofitable for a suburban transit agency to run, when that agency needs only cover 20% or so of its costs at the farebox, it is unlikely to be profitable for a private operator, who must cover 100%+ of their costs at the farebox. While TNR suggests that such operations could realize significant fuel savings, it is labour, not fuel, that is the primary driver of costs in the transit sector. Most savings that would be realized would be from transforming decent-paying public-sector jobs into uncertain piece-work.

So, no, I don't think the jitney is a solution for the suburbs. I think it's a great fit for under-served parts of big cities, but the success of the model relies on the existence of a great deal of transit users trying to travel in an area. In the modern suburb, there just isn't a big enough transit user base- and it won't be the ephemeral jitney that creates that, it'll be a very conventional combination of dense land use and ordinary transit.

Ride free on Omni- Also, finals

Hello, loyal readers! Unfortunately, it's crunch time at UCR again. Finals week, and that means getting my undergrads' papers and attendance data to them, writing my own exams, and then grading their finals. Don't expect to hear too much from me until at least next weekend.

I would like to mention that, as is their custom, Omni is offering a free one-day pass on Thursday, June 16th. (That's next Thursday for those playing along at home.) Print it out at home and go ride the bus. Considering I've nothing to do next week, I might just see how far a free day pass can get me...