Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Claudia pens a beautiful devotional piece

CoolCleveland.com - CityScape - Reflections on the Award-Winning RTA --Here's a nice PR piece for the GCRTA, and it's erudite, and historical, and makes everything seem so peachy-keen. We need a little more of a dose of reality, though, in that the free trolley car service disappears on the weekends and at night (where it goes and what it does with its weekends, we just don't know), and the in-town buses run so infrequently after normal business hours as to be practically unuseable.

Gloria and I have given an honest try to bus- and rapid-riding these past two years, and it's well nigh impossible to use the system efficiently unless you have a set routine during the normal business day. It's not geared to 24-hour usage, it's not geared to using for going clubbing at night or exploring on the weekends, it's not constructed so anybody can use it intuitively or on the fly, hopping from one route to another with the expectation of not being stranded for an hour or two.

As long as there's this uncertainty that flows from service where the time intervals are just way too huge, ridership demographics will not improve, ridership numbers will not increase.

I'd be interested to find out who on the RTA board or among the executives actually uses the system successfully at night and on the weekends.

40 comments:

  1. We are happy that you tried RTA -- more people should. Our employees certainly do. Some of them do not own a car -- their choice -- and they have no plans to. In an average year, RTA employees log more than 1.3 million trips to work, recreation and other destinations. Yes, RTA has reduced service on evenings and weekends, because history has shown that ridership is down during those times. If we operated frequent service evenings and weekends, and few people used it, then we could be accused -- rightly so -- of wasting taxpayers money. We have limited resources and we must use them to carry the maximum number of people. The award noted that we are great job with the limited resources we have. We are seeking additional state funding, and if that materializes, service levels will be maintained and improved. Again, thanks for trying RTA. -- Jerry Masek, RTA public information

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  2. Mr. Masek
    GCRTA public information,

    I just rode Amtrak back from Chicago and took the RTA waterfront line to Terminal Tower where I got on another RTA train. It was very cool and convenient to leave Chicago and get to my house in Cleveland without ever getting in a car.

    I have a question for you: I noticed on both RTA trains I rode that there was a 10 inch by 10 inch “Parental Involvement Program” notice adhesively stuck to the inside of the LH front window just behind where the operator sits.

    I am curious whether these Tower City Mall “parental involvement” notices are put in the cars with the RTA’s approval and if so, what the RTA charged for this advertising.

    Did the advertising go through CBS which I understand has the master license for all RTA advertising?

    Please bring me up to speed…

    Thanks,

    Jeff Buster

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  3. Jeff
    Thanks for your comments. We are happy to know that transit is working well for you. I have a call in now to CBS to check on the advertisement you mentioned. I have not seen the ad on the Red Line, and I ride it every day, so I am thinking this might be a "rogue ad" that people post because they have no respect of RTA property. Each week, I remove illegal postings from buses and shelters. Thanks for the question...I will check it out. -- Jerry Masek, RTA public information, jmasek@gcrta.org

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  4. Hi Tim,

    Isn't ridership going up? I thought that was the basis for their big award....

    Anyway, I like to hear about other people's experience using RTA, because I'm pretty determined not to get a car (I despise car ownership THAT much....)

    Just to give you some background: I used RTA nearly every day for about 4 years. Then I had a car, then I moved away, where I used the NYC subway every day for 2 years. Now I live in CLE again, in Ohio City, where you can walk to a lot of useful things like the store and the library, and which is (IMO) the best-connected neighborhood, RTA-wise.

    Here is what I think:

    1. The RTA system is NOT intuitive, at all. Plus, I never, ever see any paper bus schedules anywhere anymore (they were ubiquitous back in my Cleveland State days). And, why are there no system maps posted anywhere? Am I just not seeing them? In New York, MTA system maps are posted everywhere so when you find yourself lost, you can look at a map and figure out where you're going.

    2. If you want to do RTA 100%, you have to fit *your life* around *it*. This was something I learned during the time before I *chose* not to have a car - i.e., when I didn't know how to drive and couldn't have afforded one anyway.

    3. I'm freelancing from home at the moment, but I'm VERY wary of what my eventual commute is going to be like. I've had to turn down job opportunities b/c they aren't feasible (or, in some cases, possible) using RTA. I had no idea how hard it was going to be to get a job in a centrally located place of business. Most of the jobs I'm seeing are in outlying areas like Independence. My husband works in Valley View, and he takes the #35 bus a couple times a week. But, you know, if he misses it, he has to wait an hour for another one. (Even though the bus is always standing room only!) How many people are willing to do that?

    4. I do appreciate Mr. Masek's position of "do we run more buses and risk wasting taxpayers money or do we just cut service." I want to think he's wrong - you know, "build it and they will come" - but when I've ridden the Red Line on the weekends, the West 25th station is so deserted I almost wonder if I should be standing there waiting with a can of mace at the ready.

    5. Speaking of which, I suspect that would-be "leisure riders" don't want to ride RTA late at night or on the weekends because they are afraid. Do the rapid stations even have security cameras? How about security cameras and extra lighting near the bus shelters in "destination" spots like Tremont?

    6. That said, I do think RTA needs to consider that more people are riding by choice, and that more people will be riding by choice in the future. Maybe RTA could think about extending evening/weekend service to the "fun spots" during the summer, as a sort of trial? I mean, if people don't use it then, they're not going to.

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  5. Good points, all. Perhaps we should do a MeetTheBloggers on public transit, state the issues, and raise awareness. GCRTA has a long way to go before I will consider it "cosmopolitan." We need to get functional around here 24 hours a day if we are to be part of the new work paradigm. We're not in the days of factories and shifts any more. This is a global economy with varied time zones, and public transit needs to serve all, at all times. One of the first things we should do with our public money is to make it easy for the public to be mobile and to have every opportunity to be productive.

    Another thing we need to look into is the money paid, for instance, in Steelyard Commons to enhance service, but only getting the job half done.

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  6. I would personally love to see a Meet the Bloggers on public transit.

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  7. Jeff Buster wrote: "I noticed on RTA trains that there was a 10 inch by 10 inch “Parental Involvement Program” notice adhesively stuck to the inside of the LH front window just behind where the operator sits. Are these notices put in the cars with the RTA’s approval and if so, what the RTA charged for this advertising."

    JMasek's response: I checked with CBS Outdoor Advertising. These ads were placed without RTA approval, and they did not go through CBS.

    Many people illegally put up ads for small businesses, bingo nights, casino trips and other events. We remove them as we see them.

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  8. This is a response from JMasek, RTA, to Christine's Dec. 6 post. I took the liberty of shortening the questions.

    Where are bus schedules?

    All bus and rail schedules are on-line at rideRTA.com, at the RTA Main Office Building and at the Tower City rail station. Each transit centers offers the bus schedules for routes that use the facility. You can also use the trip planner on rideRTA.com, or call 216-621-9500. If you let RTA know which schedules you use on a regular basis, you will be added to a mail list, and whenever the timetable changes, you will be sent one.

    Where are the system maps?

    RTA routes can change up to four times a year If we posted a system map at 1,500 bus shelters, updating them in a timely fashion would be impossible. Rail maps are posted at most rail stations, If you would like a system map, go to rideRTA.com, or call the number above, and one will be mailed to you.

    Why does the #35 bus only run once an hour, but has standing room only?

    It is a better use of resources to have one bus each hour that is packed, than to have two buses each hour that are half full. That may not be the answer you want to hear, but in a system where financial resources are stretched to the max, that is reality. Let's say we added that second bus. Revenue stays the same. Let's say the cost of operating a bus is $100 a hour. Adding a second bus costs us $800 a day, or more than $150,000 a year, minimally.

    How is the safety and security on RTA's rail system.

    We have more than 100 uniformed Transit Police, and 24/7 dispatch service at 216-566-5163. Call anytime you are concerned. Using federal Homeland Security funds, RTA has cameras at most rail stations, and some buses. All new buses will be purchased with security cameras already installed. Cameras will be added soon to rail cars.

    How about extending service on evenings and weekends?

    RTA operates extra rail service for many special sports events and community events that attract large numbers of people. The extra service usually begins two hours before an event begins, and continues for several hours after an event ends.

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  9. Tim Ferris writes:

    GCRTA has a long way to go before I will consider it "cosmopolitan." We need to get functional around here 24 hours a day if we are to be part of the new work paradigm.

    We're not in the days of factories and shifts any more. This is a global economy with varied time zones, and public transit needs to serve all, at all times. One of the first things we should do with our public money is to make it easy for the public to be mobile and to have every opportunity to be productive.

    JMasek of RTA responds:

    In essence, what you are saying is: "If I were in charge of RTA, this is what I would do." Everyone at RTA agrees with you -- we would like to operate all service 24/7 so that all people could use it.

    Now, come down to earth and face budget realities and ridership numbers. If you were named GM for a day, and you faced the same realities we face today, you're hands would be tied, and you would realize that there is not a whole lot you could do.

    That being said, I never want to discourage customer feedback and open discussion, so please, keep those ideas coming.

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  10. This is a response to Mr. Masek and Anonymous (who seems to be responding for Mr. Masek also)

    First, it is great that the RTA has it together enough to not only follow posts about the RTA on the blogs, but also to respond to the posts in a conscientious and timely manner. Hat’s off to the RTA public information Department.
    However, the suggestion that the Tower City adhesive advertisements have been bootlegged into the trains doesn’t hold water. I’ll explain why in my comment here over on www.Realneo.us.

    (Tim, how do I hyperlink?)

    Best, Jeff Buster

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  11. Two things...

    One, I temporarily lost my password, and posted anonymously so as not to let things too stale. Now, I figured out what I did wrong, and I am posting with my name.

    Two, thanks for the photo. I realize now that I have seen it too. (I ride the Red Line daily).

    I sent it to CBS Outdoor, and they are checking with their staff.

    Most paid advertising fits into those metal frames, which are much larger than 10x10.

    I will pass along any replies asap.
    -- JMasek, RTA public information

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  12. Hi Mr. Masek. Since you're checking this post I thought I'd toss in my few cents as well.

    1. I ride the RTA 5 months out of the year, or whenever the weather is bad. I ride my bike to work the rest of the time It works out great. Thank you.

    2. Michael (#01413), my daily driver for the #23, is an amazing and dedicated employee. I'd appreciate it if you could let him know that he's very appreciated by all of us who ride with him in the morning.

    3. Your site could use some serious work. Especially the trip planner, which is not intuitive to use. Please take a look at this one as something much easier to navigate:

    http://exogen.case.edu/rta/

    4. Your marketing materials are great! I've designed a couple of bus ads for y'all. One thing that would be useful to me for when I design them next time are template files giving the correct dimensions for the ads. Our clients don't always have the right numbers.

    If you'd like, feel free to email me at aharvey@organicmechanic.org to talk a bit more.

    Thanks for listening!

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  13. Tim Ferris, you definitely have a point, but until the state of Ohio and this nation get serious about supporting mass transit with real dollars and intelligent land use, there will never be adequate service after normal business hours.

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  14. gildone, you make it seem as though the state of Ohio and the nation are entities separate from we who need the services. Perhaps we can rectify that quickly over the next few years.

    Jerry, if I ran the RTA I'd start at the level of the commissioners and the governor. Transit can make the whole world go around, 24 hours a day if need be. I'd take from programs that do not generate jobs and money and activity--the leech programs, that take and never give--and reallocate to things that are productive first and foremost. I might even make transit free for everybody to use, all the time, and let the economy self-organize.

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  15. Jeff, on the hyperlink thing, I'd just copy the URL at the top of the screen and take it back to wherever I was going to do my main writing. You can reference this blog by the main blog itself, the post, or the particular comment.

    If you're looking to do a link-back, I haven't figured that one out yet. Ask one of the younger people, like George Nemeth or Jeff Schuler or Adam Harvey.

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  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  17. Transit funding is the key issue here -- it controls all else.

    In round numbers, RTA's operating budget sources:

    * 70 percent from a one percent countywide sales tax. As the economy shrinks, unemployment grows, and fewer items are purchased. So RTA revenue shrinks, and there is nothing we can do about it, except reduce expenses (service cuts, for example).

    * 20 percent from the farebox. Yes, we can control it, but it is such a small piece of the pie that even a huge increase in ridership does not produce great revenue.

    * 10 percent from misc other sources, including **small** amounts of state and federal funds.

    Joe Calabrese is President of the Ohio Public Transit Association (OPTA), and he oftens travels to Columbus to lobby for funds.

    If people on this blog REALLY want to help transit, do not just talk to each other, talk to YOUR state officials in Columbus. They need to hear from many, many people.

    Thanks.

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  18. Thanks for continuing to engage in the dialogue, here, Mr. Masek. To me, at least, it shows that RTA isn't clueless. To be honest, I can't imagine anyone official from NYC Transit participating in a community-oriented blog discussion.

    Here are some more thoughts....

    1. Bus maps and schedules.

    I appreciate that bus maps and schedules must be extremely costly to print and distribute. It's great that they're available online - but there are a couple of problems with this that I see based on my experience a) working with the technologically-disinclined and b) living in New York:

    a) I'm going to hazard a guess that a big part of RTA's clientele might fall on the wrong side of the digital divide. For them, just saying "go to the website" doesn't help.

    b) The lack of system maps (or even route maps) at bus and rail stops means that you can't use RTA like you can in New York and other cities where public transit is more mainstream. Meaning, if you find yourself unsure of where you are, or what direction you need to go in, you can't just look at the map hanging on the wall (or shelter) and figure it out. If people visit here with that expectation, that you can get around on public transit fairly well without looking at maps online or at paper schedules *before you leave home (or hotel)*.... you can see how they'd be up a creek.

    Maybe you could just have the system maps posted in the rapid stations and some of the bigger bus stops downtown? This would be really, really helpful. That way, when the routes change, there wouldn't be so many to replace. And why do routes change so often, anyway?


    2. The trip planner.
    I posted this on Bob Rhubart's blog, but I'll repeat it here: I used the trip planner to see how to best get from Lorain-W.25th to Cleveland State. The results, for some inexplicable reason, had me leaving from Detroit and Gladys Avenue in Lakewood.

    3. Standing-room only.
    At what point does RTA decide to add another bus? Seriously, I'm not trying to be snarky, I want to understand how that's done.

    Thanks for your continued interest in this thread!

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  19. Christine asked about standing-room only. "At what point does RTA decide to add another bus? I want to understand how that's done."

    I want to understand too, because frankly, I have never really checked before. There is an official Board policy that our Service Planning people follow. It is too complex to explain in detail here, but basically, it refers to the load of an "average" bus in rush hour and non-rush hour. If one bus has 30 passengers and one has 50, then the average load is 40. If a bus route averages more than 54 passengers in rush hour, another bus should be added. In non-rush hours, the average should be not greater than 44, which means everyone gets a seat (on a standard 40-foot bus).

    Rather than try to figure out if your route qualifies, just let us know your concern.

    Write to gbrown@gcrta.org, or go to rideRTA.com > customer service > contact us > online feedback form, or call 216-566-5112.

    On a related note, some people wrongly assume that RTA staff all drive cars to work. WRONG. In a typical year, RTA employees took 1.3 million rides on RTA vehicles.

    We may not be on every bus every day, but we are out there.

    And, another related note, the average bus carries 26 passengers per hour in revenue service...the average rail car...66.

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  20. Christine wrote to complain about the online trip planner -- a work in progress. We know there are glitches in the system and are modifying it daily. At the bottom of each Web page is the address of
    webmaster@gcrta.org.

    Send him details of what you asked for and what you got back as an answer. Your feedback will help us change things.

    Many thanks.

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  21. Jeff Buster asked about the Tower City stickers posted on RTA rail cars.

    RTA GM Joe Calabrese approved the posting. He notes:

    "These stickers about the parental involvement program are a public service. Many rail passengers (30,000 a day) are bound for Tower City, and we want them to know of the regulations they will face when they arrive."

    Jeff, I hope this answers your questions. There is no contract to review, because no money changed hands. The GM has the authority to act in the best interests of RTA, and he used that authority here.

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  22. Is there any way to buy a one way one time rapid ticket (or farecard, or whatever) in Tower City with a $20 bill without getting $15+ dollars in quarters as change? What IS the one way one time fare? I was there a couple of weeks ago, and none of this was immediately clear to me.

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  23. B. P. Beckley writes:
    Is there any way to buy a one-way one-time rapid ticket (or farecard, or whatever) in Tower City with a $20 bill without getting $15+ dollars in quarters as change? What IS the one-way one-time fare?

    There is no such thing as a "one-way one-time" farecard. We are an "exact change" system, so you pay the farebox $1.75 cash.

    I have two recommendations for you.

    Buy a 5-ride farecard, keep it in your wallet, and use it as needed. It certainly comes in handy when you need it, and it does not expire.

    If you board at Tower City, a customer service center is staffed from 7am-6pm M-F. You can purchase your fare media there and get change.

    Thanks for riding RTA.

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  24. Thanks for your answer, Mr. Masek. You probably shouldn't be thanking me for riding RTA because I didn't -- I didn't want to deal with $18.25 in quarters and happened to have other options at the time, so I didn't ride.

    So you always pay with cash or farecard when you get on the vehicle itself? I seem to recall paying when I got on in one direction and when I got off in the other, and eliminating that point of confusion can only be a plus. And aren't there gates in Tower City station that you have to go through in order to get to the trains? Is Tower City just different from all the other stations?

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  25. Christine

    You made several suggestions about our Web site, timetables and system maps.

    I will pass them along to the proper officials.

    Thanks for your feedback.

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  26. BP,

    This link might help.

    http://www.riderta.com/howtoride_gettingstarted.asp

    I will try to briefly answer your questions.

    When boarding a bus or Circulator, you pay your fare on-board.

    When boarding a heavy-rail Red Line rail car, you pay your fare at a booth before entering the platform area. In non-rush hours, there may not be a booth attendant. During those times, you enter by the door closest to the rail operator, and pay your fare on board, just like the bus.

    Tower City is different from other rail stations, because it is RTA's hub (about 30,000 passengers a day). If you downtown and leaving from Tower City, you pay your fare at a booth, or use a farecard or pass to pass through gates. If you are arriving at Tower City via light rail, you pass through the fare gates and pay as you leave.

    There are always RTA staff on duty at Tower City to answer your questions.

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  27. I agree that RTA is not set up for evening and weekend riding, and riders wind up wasting a lot of their time living around their transit but I'm willing to cut them slack for that knowing the configuration of the city. But what I encountered this summer when I was taking the train and bus between Lakewood and East Cleveland is that the buses were often late or simply did not come on weekday nights. What's the point of catching the train so I can get to the 98th St. station and then sit for 40 minutes because the bus did not come? And the 326 schedule is posted, so I know when it's supposed to arrive. Why put myself through the stress and waste my valuable time? I'd rather live in a place that doesn't have the pretense of a transit system than put up with such malarky.

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  28. kerry said:What's the point of catching the train so I can get to the 98th St. station and then sit for 40 minutes because the bus did not come? And the 326 schedule is posted, so I know when it's supposed to arrive. Why put myself through the stress and waste my valuable time?
    ananymous said jmasek said earlier:RTA routes can change up to four times a year If we posted a system map at 1,500 bus shelters, updating them in a timely fashion would be impossible.

    I am sure its not impossible to post the schedules and maps. 1,500 stops times 4 times a year is 6,000. So that's 4 per hour for someone with a full time job. If I were GM for a day I know I could do it. Maybe RTA finds it impossible to be on schedule? I could never really tell since there was no schedule back when I waited at the stops wondering if the bus was even running...

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  29. http://www.riderta.com/pdf/ReportCard/2007q1q2.pdf

    RTA's publishes a quarterly report card that includes on-time performance. The link above takes you to our most recent report card, where on-time performance is 73 percent. Some delays are caused by construction projects, including the Euclid Corridor.

    You made an interesting observation about having a full-time person changing timetables at every bus shelter. There are at least two other issues that must be addressed.

    1. The schedules changed Dec. 16, so until the employee arrives at YOUR bus shelter, the old timetables would still be posted and thus, mislead the public.

    2. There is a hiring freeze on at RTA because of budget issues and critically low state funding. However, we could cut bus service and re-assign a bus operator to handle the timetable role. Would you like to decide whose bus service to cut?

    100 percent of RTA's resources are already being used. The only way to add more to "X" is the take something away from "Y". You may not like that and you may disagree with that, but it is reality, and if you were GM for a day, that would be the rule that governed your every action.

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  30. The solution lies in funding public transit much more heavily, doing away with ODOT non-maintenance projects immediately, and increasing the frequency of runs and extending the hours. GCRTA needs to pull in money now used for other programs that create no income for anybody. Public transit has a unique ability to make the economy hum along efficiently and cost-effectively. Cars need to be considered a luxury item, reserved for special use. Transit needs to become the daily norm. Sorry, all you GM and Ford employees, but we can't afford to use your products, those icons of an American ethos sadly out of step with current realities, as much as we have in the past. Those days are done. We can no longer support and subsidize waste and inefficiency.

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  31. if I were gm for a day and it was Dec 15, with 13 routes changes scheduled for the next day, I guess I would be trying to make the rta user friendly for occassional riders as a way to boost revenue on the margins. I would have posted maps in all the stops on my GM for a day job last year since they change less frequently then the schedules. and I would post the new schedules on the 13 routes in advance of the change, next to the current one. with the EFFECTIVE DATE in big letters. I would spread this work out to 1)rta police on regular rounds or in between responding to calls 2)volunteers, like city year workers at first. later you could hire someone with the extra money from the extra riders who read the maps and schedules and pay to take the bus 3) and if that doesn't free up enough resources then I would stop the waterfront line for at least a few hours in the middle of the day when it has no riders and send those drivers and maintenance guys around to post the maps and schedules.
    then, on December 16th, with the new schedule in effect a big picture manager for a day like Tim Ferris could take over.

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  32. And then, Mike, when I took over, I'd make sure the schedules and the routes didn't change for years and years. I'd give people something they could depend on. I'd make it so that somebody could build a business around the certainty of the RTA schedules and routes. I'd make it so that the passing of bus-schedule knowledge would be done on an intergenerational basis, lore handed down from grandparent to grandchild. Nothing would change.
    RTA service would become a fixture, an institution, immutable, reliable, dependable, everything it is having trouble being now.

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  33. I invited RTA CEO Joe Calabrese to personally respond to Tim Ferris, who wrote "nothing would change."

    Calabrese wrote:

    Things do change. Businesses open and close, schools recess for the summer, new retail establishments are built and people move from one location to another.

    If we had all the money we needed, we would be less concerned about running empty buses by schoolyards and businesses that are closed, but we don't.

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  34. RTA CEO & General Manager Joe Calabrese offered this response to MikeM, about changing timetables in our bus shelters.

    We agree. In a perfect world, we would have multiple panels in each of our 1,800 shelters to hold both the current and the upcoming schedules. We know we need to do much better at that, but it is "all about the money" and the time it would take. The good news is that this is old technology. We do keep our Web site updated with the current and future schedule, so in a perfect world, all our customers would be able to access our information electronically.

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  35. Tim

    No transit system "makes" money. Every ride operates at a loss, and is subsidized by tax dollars. RTA has limited financial resources, and is obligated to make the most of them. Our main source of revenue, a 1 percent sales tax, has underperformed for most of this decade.

    Most people take RTA to work and back, so much of our service reflects that. It is more efficient and practical to operate full buses and trains at rush hour than it is to operate them nearly empty at 2 a.m.

    Let's say the cost per hour is $100 per vehicle. What's better, to have 50-60 on the bus, or to have 5? This is especially important when you realize you cannot have both. 100 percent of RTA's resources are now in play, so if you want to add an hour of service at 2 a.m., then somewhere in the system, you have to cut an hour of service at some other time.

    RTA will continue to look for ways to serve as many people as possible.

    The last time I checked, staff took 1.3 million trips a year on RTA. Most of those trips were work-related, but some of our employees are car-free. By their own choice, they do not have a car or a driver's license.

    GM Joe Calabrese lives in Westlake. His motto: "if you own a restaurant, you ought to eat there." He often rides RTA to special events or to work, parking at the Westlake Park-n-Ride or the Triskett Rapid Station, which is close to I-90.

    I have ridden RTA every day for almost 20 years.

    Thanks for your ideas.

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  36. Jerry, I need an email for you over at RTA, if you please.

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  37. Claudia J. Taller writes beautifully and i do agree that this piece is put together very well. thanks for this post though, i probably wouldn't have come ac cross this devotional piece is it wasn't for this!

    cheers,
    Kannada

    Bic Pens

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  38. Live in the Midwest and there is no real mass transit. It would be great to see light rail.

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