Folks living in Southwest Riverside County have long been wondering how much longer they must wait to get faster connections to other portions of Southern California through public transportation outside of peak commute hours. We can say for certain that both The Transit Coalition and the Riverside Transit Agency are hearing ongoing requests for better bus service and seamless timed connections to the Perris Valley Line Metrolink extension. Both the recommended routes from RTA’s Comprehensive Operational Analysis of 2007 and the Western Riverside Council of Governments’ Bus Rapid Transit Route Planning Project study of 2010 find faster streamlined connections between the Temecula and Murrieta regions and the rest of RTA’s transit network up north feasible and desirable. Our blog goes into detail what needs to happen in order to speed up bus travel times for southwest Riverside County.
In the Inland Empire, proposals to expand bus rapid transit continue to grow which will provide a fast alternative to slower all-local bus travel for area bus riders and choice riders using the connecting express bus and Metrolink routes. While San Bernardino has big plans for the sbX BRT system, officials in Riverside County continue to work on establishing the RapidLink BRT system… except it’s not quite BRT just yet. RapidLink’s first phase will actually be additional frequent peak-hour limited stop runs along the busy Magnolia Avenue corridor in Riverside, very similar to Metro Rapid except the runs will be peak only. $9.2 million was awarded toward RTA’s $12.3 million project which will pay for 40 buses and 3 years of operation. Our blog goes into further detail of what needs to happen to the area’s market economy in order to pay for and speed up the slow process of getting true BRT onto Riverside streets with all day service from early morning to late night, frequent service, and dedicated lanes through the high density areas.
In addition, the City of Riverside’s streetcar proposal, which overlaps the RapidLink route, continues to move forward. There still appears to be no coordination of the city’s project with RTA which has led the local press into holding the government entities accountable. Both agencies need to work together to actually get first-rate rapid transit lines built for Riverside and both need to agree on which technology would work best in regards to moving people and keeping costs in check, whether it be rail or BRT. We can’t afford to have uncoordinated transit projects becoming costly boondoggles.
Our Inland Empire transit blog took a detailed look at how the sbX bus rapid transit system would benefit San Bernardino. Government officials hope choice riders will be enticed to leave their cars at home and take the bus. Long story short: Bus riders utilizing the existing local Omnitrans Route 2 for longer-haul trips to/from the high activity destinations certainly will patronize sbX as a speedy alternative to slower all-local bus trips. That has long been demonstrated when Metro Rapid was first rolled out.
As officials seek choice riders to use the new BRT line, a future transit project already in the works certainly will entice more commuters to leave their cars at a park & ride and take transit. That project is the extension of Metrolink into downtown San Bernardino where out-of-area train riders can seamlessly transfer to sbX at the E Street & Rialto Station to get to destinations like CSU San Bernardino and the Loma Linda University Medical Center area quickly. The same formula would work for outbound commuters too. It’s therefore safe to predict that sbX will be a successful bus route.
The Transit Coalition has long explored ways to improve longer distance inter-regional mobility transit options throughout the Inland Empire. The expansion of private sector coaches and intercity bus competition can certainly address this. One sector that is performing well in terms of ridership are casino buses which ferry patrons from pick up points all over Southern California to the gaming resorts.
However, with the ridership growth came the unexpected uprising in bus collisions. During the 2013 Christmas holiday season alone, four separate reported casino bus wrecks occurred on Inland Empire highways which included fatalities. In addition, a Riverside Transit Agency bus crashed in December along State Highway Route 74 near Hemet.
Because of this serious situation, regulators and lawmakers at the state and federal level are being pressured to act. Existing law on inspection of fleets needs to be better enforced. Accountability of the proper training of casino bus drivers needs better oversight. Officials also need to be careful not to drive out the industry by over-regulating the market. Drawing a sound solution will require productive debate between the affected parties.
The 91 Express Lane extension project entered into its construction phase with a groundbreaking ceremony. Riverside County officials have long proposed extending the HOT lanes from the Orange County line east into Corona with a direct access ramp at the I-15 freeway to/from the south. The groundbreaking was more ceremonial than literal as the event took place on the top deck of the Corona Transit Center parking structure, away from the actual freeway. Transit center and Metrolink station patrons were a bit upset that their parking structure was unavailable during a regular business day even as officials previously notified them to park at the neighboring train stations as an alternative.
Late public dissent over the high occupancy toll lane proposal has begun to surface, potentially caused in part by the negative public reaction of Orange County’s now-shelved I-405 HOT lane proposal. Project 91 is nearly identical to the I-405 Improvement Project. Proposals include doubling the capacity and converting the existing 2+ carpool lane into a 3+ HOT lane, add a general purpose lane, and add additional auxiliary lanes. Numerous bridges will be upgraded as well.
Ordinarily, the Transit Coalition would oppose the conversion of an existing carpool lane into a transponder-mandated HOT lane. Look at what resulted in LA last year. However unlike the I-10, I-110, and the I-405 corridors, when the 91 becomes congested–which it does during commute hours, many holidays, weekends, and hot summer days–the carpool lane is just as slow as the general purpose lanes. 2+ carpool demands are so high that they exceed capacity for the corridor. With the addition of a general purpose lane, the traffic chaos caused by the displacement of 2-person and non-registered 3+ carpoolers from the high occupancy lanes will be minimal for the short term. Meanwhile, Riverside officials should plan between now and opening day a strong marketing campaign to convert the 2-person carpools into 3+. At a later time, public officials from all levels can pay off the bond debt so that the 91 can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling with robust transit infrastructure.
The Metrolink Perris Valley Line project received a $75 million federal grant which clears the project for construction within the next two to three weeks. The new Metrolink branch will extend the 91 Line from Riverside to Perris with stops at the Hunter Business Park in Riverside, March AFB in Moreno Valley, the downtown Perris Station Transit Center and southern Perris. The $248 million project would serve a fast-growing region and has the blessing of USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx.
How can intercity bus competition strengthen Southern California transit without tapping into precious public transit funds? One traveler recently took a bus trip along a California intercity corridor served by two competing private bus carriers: Greyhound and Megabus. When the blue Megabus coaches came into California, Greyhound knew that it no longer had monopoly power of intercity services and therefore needed to upgrade its services and lower fares in order to compete. Of course when that happens, riders benefit with better bus service.
Last year in the Inland Empire, Stagecoach Group PLC brought Megabus into the state. In the Inland Empire, double-deck Megabus coaches operate non-stop express service between the Riverside Downtown Metrolink Station and Las Vegas. Also inland, Transportes Intercalifornias provides intercity service to/from Mexico with intermediate stops. To this day, numerous casino buses ferry passengers from all over Southern California to the Inland Empire’s gaming resorts. If this pattern continues, and carriers are inclined to connect with buses at existing transit centers, we may be able to travel through Southern California one day by bus during any time of the day at reasonable fares.
Inland public transit bus riders, especially those who are far from Metrolink, have demanded that public bus agencies like RTA and Omnitrans expand existing commuter express service to an all day service span so that riders can quickly connect to other portions of Southern California anytime of the day, but the agencies lack the public resources to do so. Greyhound still holds some monopoly power on many corridors which obstructs improvements. However when additional private carriers compete for high markets along the SR-91, I-15, I-215, and I-10 freeway corridors with competitive fares, riders benefit with the additional express bus service at times when public peak hour express services are not available. What can be done to entice an existing or start-up carrier to offer intercity express services with stops at existing Southern California transit hubs? Here are some conceptual routes through the Inland Empire with high market demands that could certainly use better competition.
Both the Riverside Transit Agency and the City of Riverside have big plans to bring rapid transit along the city’s dense corridors. A light rail car to be delivered to San Diego made a stop in downtown Riverside. The Siemens S70 train was parked on University Avenue offering a real-time preview of what rapid rail transit might look like along the streets of Riverside. Based on a Riding in Riverside blog post, city officials hope that one day, Riverside will mimic Portland complete with multi-modal transit mobility and transit oriented development. The project at hand is Riverside Reconnects, a streetcar proposal advocated by the City of Riverside.
Public debate on this project has been robust. For Riverside Reconnects to work, it will need to be done right and coordinated with the Riverside Transit Agency. The finished product must not duplicate existing RTA bus service, proposed bus rapid transit, nor obstruct existing traffic flow. The technology used to move the citizens of Riverside must also be fact-based and cost-efficient. The local press has opposed the streetcar for those very reasons. RTA has recently proposed to phase in peak-hour limited stop runs of Route 1 within the next few years with long term plans for all day RapidLink BRT service with station stop amenities. The Transit Coalition originally envisioned dedicated transit lanes for the higher density areas for the RapidLink service so that the rapid buses neither obstruct existing traffic nor get stuck in congestion, much like how sbX system is being developed in San Bernardino. Also envisioned are RTA ticket vending machines at each of the RapidLink stations that will help accelerate the boarding process. We also have a blog post on how officials can speed up the BRT project. RTA and the City need to network and coordinate these two projects. We don’t want RTA to spend precious resources on RapidLink only to find out that a separate trolley line will scrape and replace BRT only a few years later.
The Transit Coalition has long been advocating for better Metrolink and bus service in Riverside through A Better Inland Empire. There is no question that both the Magnolia and University Avenue corridors are in need of better rapid transit options and a quick and speedy alternative to slower local bus service for longer trips. Both agencies need to work to get first-rate transit lines built for Riverside and both need to agree on which technology would work best in regards to transporting passengers and keeping costs in check, whether it be rail or BRT. The city also needs to ensure Riverside Reconnects doesn’t ignore the need to connect with Metrolink. In terms of connecting local transit to Southern California’s regional rail system, the sound idea of establishing the downtown transit hub at the Metrolink station with a pedestrian overpass across the 91 Freeway into the core has been on the drawing board for almost a decade.
As pictured here, developer incentives can transform the train station into a robust transit and marketplace employment hub with the transit center, a Riverside Reconnects station stop, and the bridge integrated into the development. The infrastructure would be fully paid for. Getting private capital and marketplace jobs into Downtown Riverside will be key to getting a funded, robust transit system for Riverside’s streets.
The Orange County Transportation Authority reported that the I-405 freeway corridor between Irvine and Long Beach is one of the most congested freeways in Orange County, carrying more than 300,000 vehicle trips in some sections each day. Based on the stats, most vehicles move between the bedroom suburbs, just to the southwest of Santa Ana, and the robust employment hubs near the Irvine Business Complex and South Coast Plaza. The freeway is generally stable at other times. Caltrans and OCTA have proposed to widen the freeway.
OCTA is looking at converting the existing pair of 2+ carpool lanes into dual 3+ high occupancy tolled express lanes each way. Federal law requires that carpool lanes operate at least 45 mph during 90% of the peak hour. The toll lane would require FasTrak toll transponders for all vehicles and possible mandatory tolls for 3+ carpoolers, much like the 91 Express Lanes. The proposal also includes adding one general purpose lane. The HOV-to-HOT conversion has caused a major public backlash at the local level with city governing bodies getting involved. Some opponents feel like they were victims of a bait-and-switch scheme with OC’s Measure M. The City of Costa Mesa has even threatened legal action. According to OCTA, the I-405 carpool lane fills to capacity and becomes congested, mainly during peak rush hours in the peak direction.
The OCTA Regional Planning and Highways Committee voted yesterday to recommend that the OCTA Board postpone a vote on the lanes until further public outreach is conducted. The Transit Coalition’s A Better Inland Empire weighs in on the debate.
Meanwhile, our blog provided some ideas on how to bring better bus transit infrastructure to the 91 Express Lanes through Corona. Even though the 91 Express Lane extension project is nearly identical to the I-405 project–convert the congested 2+ carpool lane into dual transponder-only 3+ HOT lane and add one general purpose lane–local opposition has been fairly quiet. The Coalition has long advocated that 3+ carpools travel toll free without the need for a FasTrak transponder. However, because infrastructure upgrades are long past due, many commuters are likely to welcome any sort of capacity expansion unlike the I-405 improvement project. The Coalition’s long term focus is improving the corridor’s transit infrastructure to support frequent rapid express bus lines, paying the project’s debt so that the 91 Express Lanes can financially support free non-transponder 3+ carpooling, and improving rail transit options through Metrolink MAX.
The Transit Coalition’s A Better Inland Empire project has a new website. We invite you to visit the site and check out some of our Inland Empire campaign work. The website address and links to individual campaign pages and media files remain the same as the previous site, but the new site has an upgraded interface, is easier to navigate, is less cluttered, interacts with social media sites and readers can post comments and questions directly to campaign pages.
The site includes:
- Direct links to Inland Empire campaigns complete with more user features.
- Easier methods to post questions and comments.
- Direct links to government fact sheets and studies which provide the data for our campaigns.
- Links to Transit Coalition blogs, discussion board, our weekly e-Newsletter, and the option for readers to share their stories.
- A link to ABIE’s Facebook page and ways for readers to “Like” or subscribe to Inland Empire happenings.
Again, your donations and volunteer service help us build up these campaigns to get Southern California moving. Please make a contribution so that our work continues undisturbed.