It’s Smart and Sexy!

UPDATE–THE START DATE FOR THE SMART TRAIN HAS BEEN DELAYED TO THE END OF SPRING 2017. YOU CAN READ WHY THIS HAS HAPPENED HERE. SOMEWHERE IN THIS POST I STATED THAT IT WOULD BE MY LIFE'S MISSION TO CONNECT THE MENDOCINO TRANSIT AUTHORITY(MTA) TO THE SMART TRAIN. THAT SHOULD HAPPEN SOON. I WROTE ABOUT THE POSSIBILITY OF MTA HAVING A SECOND RUN OVER TO WILLITS AND UKIAH. ON OCTOBER 23, 2016 THE MTA HAS STARTED FOUR (YES—-FOUR!!) ROUND-TRIPS TO THE INTERIOR OF MENDOCINO COUNTY AND ANOTHER TRIP TO SANTA ROSA. ALL THESE EXTRA TRIPS SHOULD MAKE IT EASIER FOR PEOPLE ON THE COAST TO GET WHERE THEY WANT TO GO AND RETURN AT MORE CONVENIENT TIMES CONNECTING UP WITH OTHER BUS SERVICES, THE AIRPORT AND AMTRAK. PEOPLE IN UKIAH WILL NOW BE ABLE TO TAKE A DAY TRIP TO THE COAST ON A HOT SUMMER DAY. YOU CAN FIND THEIR NEW SCHEDULE HERE. NOW ALL THEY HAVE TO DO IS GET ME DOWN TO THE SOUTH MENDOCINO COAST FOR A DAY TRIP AND I'LL BE HAPPY.

I know that most people find the subject of public transportation boring. They just can't get away from jumping into their cars at a moments notice. I find the subject very interesting and in one case very sexy and that one case is what this post is all about.

What's not sexy about the above picture. It contains a Smart train and a bike path and it will be coming, at least partially, by the end of 2016.

Tired of sitting in traffic along Highway 101? Looking for a green alterative to sitting in your car? Looking to create jobs in the North Bay to help stir our economy? There’s one place to look: SMART.

You asked for it and you voted for it. And we’re working hard to make it happen.

In 2008, almost 70% of the voters of Marin and Sonoma supported Measure Q to create a train that connects the two counties. Despite headwinds in the worst recession in 50 years, we’re moving forward to make SMART a reality.

We’re not stopping until we’ve done what you asked us to do: create an energy-efficient, green alternative to sitting in traffic on Highway 101. Once SMART is operational, you’ll be able to ride the train along the tracks or ride on the SMART bike and pedestrian pathway system.

Smart was conceived to get people away from this:

The above picture is definitely not sexy and begs the question, why do people love their cars so much? The Smart project route looks like this.

When it is fully built, SMART will offer clear sailing along the rail tracks that run from Cloverdale, through Healdsburg, Windsor, Santa Rosa and Petaluma; down to Novato, Marin, San Rafael and Larkspur. Running at a projected 70 miles an hour in brand new, clean diesel trains, SMART will allow you to get off of 101 and still get where you need to go – for work or for fun. Or if you must drive, SMART will spell relief by easing the burden on our congested roadways.

The bike and pedestrian pathway will promote healthy activity and provide an option for travel between neighboring towns and cities without relying on automobiles.…Links segments constructed by SMART with existing segments and other planned projects to create one of the longest continuous bicyclepedestrian pathways in the country.

Until phase two is completed connector buses will serve the communities of Cloverdale, Healdsburg, and Windsor. Cloverdale is just 29.6 miles south of Ukiah in Mendocino County. It will become my mission in life to connect the Mendocino Transit Authority(MTA) to the Smart System. That will mean getting the people who live on the Mendocino coast to Cloverdale on a regular basis.

When I started riding the MTA buses I've noted that the coastal parts of Mendocino County were underserved. There are many quirks in the system that you have to work around. One of those quirks is there is only one bus in the early morning going directly from Fort Bragg to Willits and Ukiah. That means you have to spend the whole day over there and come back in the evening. It also means that people in Willits and Ukiah can't make a day trip to the coast. Recently the MTA expanded service between Willits, Ukiah, and Santa Rosa. The coast got nothing. I responded with a letter to the editor in the Fort Bragg Advocate.

Editor:

Did you hear the latest Mendocino Transit Authority(MTA) ad on the local radio station? They are expanding service between Willits, Ukiah and Santa Rosa to two trips a day. This includes Saturdays. That's good news for the inland Mendocino County population but what expanded services have Fort Bragg, the second largest city in Mendocino County, and the coast received? The word I believe is bupkis. We don't even have a bare bones Saturday service and we are left with our one early morning bus to the inland cities and Santa Rosa.

I have been riding MTA's buses regularly for three years. I do it to lower my carbon footprint and save money. Getting around Mendocino County using the MTA isn't convenient because of the quirks in their system. Want to go over to Ukiah but not spend the whole day? A day trip to the South Mendocino coast? Have friends in Willits and Ukiah that may want to come over to the coast for the day during triple digit temperatures? It's hard to believe but it can't be done! Miss a bus in Fort Bragg? You might as well walk to your destination because the next bus is a hour away. It's even worse for Albion, Little River, Mendocino and Caspar.

If residents of the Mendocino Coast want a convenient public transportation system they should let their voices be heard. Local representatives on the MTA Board of Directors are Fort Bragg Vice Mayor Lindy Peters and County Supervisor Dan Gjerde.

I received word recently that the MTA had received some grant funds to start a two a-day bus service between Fort Bragg, Willits and Ukiah starting in January. The configuration of that service still has to be worked out but I will be anxiously waiting. I'm not taking credit for any of this because the grant was in the works before my letter but at least MTA knows someone is watching them. Update: just 11 days after writing this I was told that the grant money fell through. The coast is back to BUPKIS again. Update number two. I attended a MTA board meeting on 9/24/15. There was a twofold reason for attending. I had a no cost proposal to give south coast residents traveling to Fort Bragg in the morning better bus service and I wanted to ask about the SMART project and the MTA. My proposal was well received and we will see if it gets through the MTA bureaucracy. It also seems that the grant money is back in the picture and the expansion of service for the coast in January is coming. Jeff the MTA supervisor for the north coast told me later to believe it only when it happens. We will see. UPDATE number three (10/29/15). I was told by Jeff that my proposal of better bus service for south coast residents was approved and will start next week. Wow! I made a change for the better. Actually I should give my favorite bus driver, Cheryl, the credit. It was her idea but was rejected locally here on the coast. I figured that a customer presenting a written proposal to the MTA Board of Directors would force the issue and it did.

My proposal would mean that the morning Coaster(60) coming into Fort Bragg would not drop it's riders at the Boatyard for a wait of 10 to 15 minutes to transfer to the BraggAbout(5). The Coaster would take us directly to our destination. This would also, in most cases, avoid a time delay of having to ride through the C. V. Starr and school sections of Fort Bragg. It would save the elderly and disabled a transfer. It would give me an extra half hour of birding time and skip a bike rack change. Everyone wins. A better bus riding experience at little to no cost for the MTA.

Update(12/11/25) what makes a public transportation nerd happy in this seemingly gloomy world we live in. Congress passed and the president signed a five year fully funded transportation bill. It included an eighteen percent increase in funding for public transportation. Let's get some of that funding for Mendocino County. I'm celebrating!!

Bound for Eureka, Train 2 pulled by No 139, charges up the grade toward Tunnel 3 near Greenbrae. The train left Sausalito at 8:20 am, will be at San Rafael at 8:45. It will terminate at Eureka, 267 miles farther, at 7 in the evening.

Northwestern Pacific Railroad Historical Society.

A blog about the new Smart project got me thinking of the past.

Many communities in Marin and Sonoma County grew up around rail. At its peak in the 1920s, North Bay passenger rail ridership was among the busiest in California.

Passenger trains operated by Northwestern Pacific once served the North Bay, providing service as far north as Eureka. At Sausalito and Tiburon, passengers made seamless transfers to ferries bound for San Francisco and other parts of the bay.

Wikipedia states,

The railroad service became popular; a 1911 daily NWP timetable shows 10 passenger trains each way, plus dozens of freights.

Passenger service boomed until the 1930s, when improved roads and highways made traveling and shipping by motor vehicle more accessible, and by 1935 both freight and passenger service slowed to a crawl because of the Great Depression.

During March, 1958, with the exception of the tri-weekly Willits-Eureka Budd Rail Diesel Car passenger service, all mainline passenger service was discontinued. The “Budd car” made its last run in 1969.

In 1996, the California Northern Railroad lease was terminated, and the NCRA took over operations of the line between Schellville and Willits. Using “Black Widow” EMD GP9 and SD9 locomotives, the “new” NWP ran from 1996 until 1998, when money problems and management issues caused the line to fail.

Plans for the future of NWP freight include rebuilding the line to Healdsburg around 2014, and Willits by 2020, dependent mostly on state and federal grants and income to the NCRA and NWPco. The Eel River Canyon segment is still on the drawing board while awaiting a decision whether or not to rebuild the segment, due to extreme costs and a lack of possible business.

So it was possible at one time to actually travel from the Bay Area to Eureka in Humboldt County. That must of been one hell of a trip. Would have liked to ride on one of those trains. The Smart project has a pictorial Historical Context of railroad history on their site.

 

It's my experience that most folk who ride trains could care less where they're going. For them it's the journey itself and the people they meet along the way. You see, at every stop this train makes, a little bit of America, a little bit of your country, gets on and says hello.”

David Baldacci, The Christmas Train

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

Fun Things You Can do Using the Bus!

This is going to come as a shock to some of you but in July I will qualify for a “full” Social Security retirement. Yes I know, I don't look that old!!! They say that you should apply 3 months in advance so I set up an appointment to go over to the Social Security Administration office in Ukiah. Wanted to get this done before the Republicans in Congress screw up Social Security. Most people would get into their cars and drive the over 100 mile round trip fighting the twist and turns and traffic on Highway 20 or Highway 128. You would get home drained and tired. As you can guess that wasn't my choice. I called MTA the day before my appointment and scheduled an early pickup in Mendocino at 7:00AM to get me to the Boatyard in Fort Bragg for the CC Rider's 7:30AM leaving time heading to Ukiah and beyond. Everything went well and I arrived in Ukiah a hour early for my appointment. The SSA Office was only half a block away so I had to kill some time. Had two choices, McDonalds or Starbucks. Normally I would have preferred Starbucks but McDonalds was closer and they also had wifi so I went there and had a mocha and checked my emails. Bob the bus driver was there taking his break so we talked about retirement. Bob is in his 70's and already has a couple of retirements to his credit. I also consider Bob to be the best MTA driver, technically, that I've ridden with. He's smooth!!

After killing the needed time I walked down the street to my appointment.

When I was delivering mail in Chico, CA, my last carrier job included delivering mail to the SSA Office there. It was like a small fortified building with only a face, mostly female, behind a little window. Never needed to be beeped in. The Ukiah building was a little better but they still had an armed security guard that asked me to show him my pocketknife and went through my backpack. My Swiss Army knife passed muster and I was allowed to check in. You can apply for retirement over the phone or on the internet but eventually they need to see certain documents. I'm glad I went in person. If and when you make an appointment ask them what documents they need to see. The appointment letter they send you to confirm your appointment was a little short on that information. My appointment was on time and I had a wonderful application person. Maria was a little surprised that I had everything I needed. After much typing on a computer and my swearing under oath that everything was truthful she asked me when I officially wanted to start receiving benefits. I told her that July would be the time for a full retirement payment. This is where I was glad that I went in person. Maria explained that if I started this “month” my payments would only be $2 different then if I started in July and I would get three months of retirement benefits before July. I later figured that I would have to live at least 15 more years for that $2 to factor in.

I must explain that because of my limited civilian employment and my civil service pension, I am covered by the Windfall Elimination Provision(WEP) which reduces my benefits by over half. My monthly check will just about cover my beer and birdseed needs. In fact my wife will collect more then me from my benefits. Will not be driving a Tesla or even a Nissan Leaf anytime soon.

After leaving the SSA building I felt that things went so well that I would take the time and have a sit down lunch instead of my usual Subway fare. I had plan to recycle old ink cartridges at Staples so I took the Nine (that's what they call the bus that drives around Ukiah) over to the shopping center where Stapes is located. I did my thing there and walked down a short ways to the Alley Grill. Noticed that they had beer on tap and wifi. Since I wasn't driving I decided to have the Teriyaki Chicken Sandwich(excellent) and a glass of a Belgian White Beer.

Checked my emails and found out people were looking for me. Confirmed some scheduled Big River Spring Bird Survey dates and times. Found out I was approved by California Fish and Wildlife to work on another Mendocino Land Trust project. Outside the Grill I noticed a woman walking by (I knew her walk before I recognized her) that used to work in the office at the Woods where I live. We had a nice chat. I walked around the shopping center and then back to the bus stop. Noticed a women coming out of Walmart with some potted vegetables which gave me the idea of getting some vegetable starts that I could kill. Took the Nine back to the Pear Tree Shopping Center where I had a scoop of the flavor of the month, Cream Brùlée (not impressed), at Baskin Robbin's and then walked over to Home Depot and bought three different varieties of tomatoes, zucchini, and basil in hopes that something will survive in our coastal climate. The cashier provided me with a carton to carry them on the bus. Walked across the street for a short wait for MTA's route 75 to take me back to the coast. The trip back went smoothly. There were no released people from the county jail but there was Bob. Bob works for the local radio station(KZYX) in Philo. Bob is an expert on everything and is willing to share his opinion with anyone. I've ridden with him before. Bob! We did not go to war with Russia over Syria!!! This time it was the marijuana market locally and nationally. He might be an expert on this subject because he sometimes smells of the subject matter. In any case Bob, the rock group, The Eagles, had a song you should take to heart, Learn To Be Still.

Bert, the bus driver, made a statement just before we arrived at our break stop at the Navarro Store. He said the women should go inside and ask to use the “regular” toilet if needed. The men were limited to the blue boxes outside. I said that that was a sexist remark. No one I know, male or female, likes to use the “blue” box toilets.

Arrived back in Mendocino well rested And my vegetables still intact. Costs for the trip–A small mocha was $2.39. A sandwich and beer was $14.06. A single scoop of ice cream was over $3. Veggies were under $10. The big bargain was a round trip bus ride to Ukiah and back for $7.70. You can't beat that.

 

 

Stand Up 4 Transportation Day

This Thursday, April 9th, is national Stand Up 4 Transportation Day. As you know I'm a public transportation supporter so this post is part of my participation in that day. Below I will have a link that will allow you to Be a Voice for Public Transit.

Investment in public transportation:

Creates jobs

Provides access to jobs

Revitalizes business districts and neighborhoods

Enables employers to tap a larger workforce

Boosts commerce

Saves money on infrastructure costs for taxpayers

Public transportation helps consumers save!

Taking public transportation rather than driving saves families an average of $800+ each month, and more than $9,700 annually.

Downtown parking costs an average of $1,995 annually.

94 percent of the average American household’s transportation expenses go toward buying, maintaining, and operating cars.

All forms of public transportation are more energy efficient than cars. Every day, people using public transportation save the equivalent of 900,000 fill-ups of gas.

By expanding public transportation around our nation, combined with smart land use and consumer education, we can reduce our nation’s greenhouse gas emissions even further. America reduces its dependence on foreign oil by more than 4 billion gallons of gasoline every year because of public transportation.

Even if you don’t use public transportation, you benefit from it every day. Public transit results in less air pollution, and it alleviates congested streets and highways. Even if you don’t ride, you’re often helped by people—at your grocery store, your health clinic, your bank, your school—who get to work on public transit.

Public transit also supports healthy lifestyles. People who use public transportation walk more, which improves fitness and reduces the risk of developing obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The cleaner air in communities with public transit contributes to lower incidence of asthma, lung cancer, and other diseases. Public transit also reduces isolation, especially for older Americans and people with disabilities.

All of the above facts and more can be found at publictransportation.org

With all these benefits of public transportation why do you have to become a Voice for Public Transit?

It's all about politics. Many Republicans hate public transportation.

In a recently approved Amtrak funding bill every single vote(101) against the bill was a Republican member of Congress. A GOP vote to eliminate all funding failed 147-272.

Just last month Republican members of Congress introduced a bill that would:

Most federal funding for public transportation, bike lanes and pedestrian walkways would cease under a House bill introduced late last week that's aimed at keeping the Highway Trust Fund afloat without more revenue.

Starting this October, the “Developing Roadway Infrastructure for a Vibrant Economy (DRIVE) Act” would effectively erase the trust fund's mass transit account and end allocations for bike and pedestrian projects. Overall, the bill would save the fund about $10 billion annually, according its lead sponsor, Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) That amount would cover at least the bulk of the gap between current spending levels and flagging fuel tax receipts.

The quote above is from E&E Publishing which is a paid service. Don't think I can link to the article.

So there you have it. If we are going to have a vibrant and useful public transportation system we have to speak out.

For you to become a Voice for Public Transit, and I hope you do, use this link and sign the petition. It's very important and painless.

 

 

 

 

Off the Grid in Kern County

I ventured out into the world this last weekend. It wasn't pretty. I call it the land of the billboards but I will get into that later. March 22nd, would have been my mom's 90th birthday. My baby sister, Jill, thought it would be nice to get all the kids together for a little memorial service. I was having some trouble with the idea of a return trip to Kern County after just being down there last month. Jill came up with an intriguing idea. Her daughter and my niece, Amanda, and her boyfriend would be coming down from Fortuna for the service and they could pick me up in Willits. I said I could be in Willits at 8:30AM and Amanda said that was doable so arrangements were made. So last Thurday I was on the road again. Caught the early pickup bus in Mendocino which dropped me off at the Boatyard in Fort Bragg for the trip to Willits using the CC Rider. I had never gotten off in Willits before so that was a first. The bus was 15 minutes late. Not a good first impression. Amanda was waiting at Babcock Park when I got there and we were off. Roughly 9 hours later I arrived at my sister's (used to be my parents) home in Wofford Heights. I had not seen Amanda in many years and had never met Erin, her boyfriend, so we spent the first part of the trip catching up. Obviously there was an age difference when Erin asked what kind of music I liked but we all connected when I found out they were beer connoisseurs. Beer was something I could talk about.

The trip from Willits to just outside of Sacramento was generally a good visual experience. Currently the hills and the farmland are green and you can actually see them. Once you get to the Central Valley things start going downhill. We took Highway 99 down the center of California. Interstate 5 would have been the same. It is billboard land. Miles and miles of billboards. All shapes and sizes.

They were trying to get you to stop and kill yourselves slowly.

They offer you a place to spend the night.

They offer a place to gas-up.

They tell you where you are.

Need an attorney?

They even offer to save your soul.

Of course I could go on for awhile but in keeping with my last post, Is California Doomed?, I will add these homemade billboards that you now see driving along Highway 99. Of course Democrats are to blame for the drought.

Beside billboards you have the wall-to-wall trucks. Getting around them is a constant problem.

Then you have the construction that I'm told has been going on forever and the drivers that dart in and out of lanes and others that can't stay in their lanes or maintain a consistent speed. Can't say it was a pleasant ride and thank goodness I wasn't driving. I didn't see this next billboard but you know what I'm thinking.

As you might have guessed I took none of these pictures and most were not credited.

This is the view from my sister's home. Lake Isabella use to fill a good portion of this picture. Today the lake is caught in a dilemma. It should be storing water for those further downstream but it has been declared a danger because of it's construction method and it's on an earthquake fault. Because of that they have to let water run down the canyon. There are plans to upgrade it but that's a future project.

The area my parents decided to retire to is in the southern most part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. It's dry and hot in the summer. It's supposed to be wet and cold in the winter but that is changing.

Note the dead trees in the second picture. Much of my visit was spent sorting through old pictures, newspaper articles, and family history material. That of course lead to the constant questions of what was our old dog's names, who is that with Aunt Verne or Uncle Doug or where was that taken? Lot's of memories coming back from dead brain cells and who knew what a cute kid I was.

While family matters took center stage we each spent some time doing what we do best. For me that was doing some birding around the house. The first day was getting acclimated to the bird sounds. Was that a Hairy or Nuttall's Woodpecker calling? I had to remember that I was in a dry oak habitat. The dawn chorus was loud and started early. The first morning a Great Horned Owl was calling. I heard a strange call that I didn't know. Heard it again the second day and investigated what it could be. It turned out to be a Common Poorwill, a life bird. A great yardbird was a California Thrasher.

I found 30 bird species in the area. Two were invasive birds, House Sparrow and Eurasian Collared-Dove, that I hadn't seen there before. I had thought that the House Sparrow was a city bird but I guess not. The story of another non-native bird is rather strange. Apparently where my sister works they have Peacocks. A chick from a recent brood hatched late and fell behind the rest of the birds. My sister's son, Kenny, wanted to raise it. So they brought it home where it is getting bigger and bigger. Don't know how this story is going to turn out.

While pumping gas for my niece's car I spotted a Great-tailed Grackle on a power pole. Not a bird we see much in Mendocino.

The butterflies were also moving through. They were mostly flying too fast. I saw a swallowtail but didn't see which one. This Mormon Metalmark(?) was a new butterfly for me.

The reason for the title was that my sister didn't have wifi at the house and there are not many public places to get internet service. I felt a little isolated. Couldn't blog, search the internet or check my emails. Mixed feelings about that. Finally I was dropped off at the local McDonalds in the town of Lake Isabella where I got caught up with my other life.

Sunday the clan gathered for the memorial service. They were all on time for once. The plan was to have a lilac bush planted using mom's ashes, have lunch and birthday cake and ice cream. Then we would go down to the local cemetery and put the rest of her ashes on father's grave. And then we would go back to the house and play Gin Rummy which my mother always enjoyed doing. That's the way it happened.

REQUIESCAT IN PACE

That evening I notice a very bright crescent moon and Venus together in the sky. We got Kenny's telescope out and had a excellent view.

We left the next morning. The return was the reverse of the trip down. To while away the time I decided to write down the repeat billboards that I saw on the way back. Don't know why I did that but you now get to read the results:-) Eating places were McDonalds, Carl's Jr., Subway, Burger King, IHOP, Wendy's, Denny's, Jack in the Box, In-and-Out Burgers, Applebee's and KFC. Gas stations were Shell, Valero, Arco AM/PM, 76, Chevron, and Circle K. Hotels and motel were Motel 6, Budget Inn, Marriott, Best Western, La Quinta, Day's Inn, Holiday Inn & Express. OK I'll stop but you can see how boring the scenery was. I didn't even include the massive new car lots, shopping malls, tractor sales and RV parks. The one exciting part of the trip back was stopping at a Chipotle Mexican Grill in Elk Grove for lunch. I had never been to one before. It was an exciting lunch that was cheap and good. They bill it as, “Food With Integrity“.

Based on my experience of being in a car for a roughly 900 mile round trip I ask myself why people don't use the bus and train more often. Why fight the traffic? Why not sit back, read a book, talk to people, eat lunch, drink a beer, check your emails, search the web, watch a movie, snooze, or walk around if you have to? The scenery is better on a train. It does take a little longer but it's much more relaxing and environmentally better for the planet.

Amanda and Erin dropped me off in Willits about an hour early. Thought I could kill some time at the Starbucks in Safeway but they didn't have seating so I spend the time at a local Jack In the Box with a milk shake. I guess there is a use for a fast food joint after all. The CC Rider coming back from Santa Rosa was only 8 minutes late to take me back to the coast.

 

A Cute Dog Picture

 

AAH! I've been meaning to use this picture for sometime. I know it's just a cheap trick to suck you into another public transportation post but since I've been on the subject lately I thought I would do a general follow up.

If a cute dog picture doesn't get you interested maybe for the ladies, Ryan Gosling?

If all else fails how about people in their underwear?

I wrote about this event back on January 15, 2014, under the title We Don't Do This In Mendocino. We still don't do this in Mendocino but there was one passenger who seemed to be in their pajamas. The No Pants Subway Rides started in 2002 with just 7 participants.

On Sunday, January 11th, 2015 tens of thousands of people took off their pants on subways in over 60 cities in over 25 countries around the world. In New York, our 14th Annual No Pants Subway Ride had over 4,000 participants, spread out over seven meeting points and eleven subway lines.

Check out the video (second one down) of the first event on their history page. Notice the title of the book the woman was reading.

Speaking about Mendocino–I discovered a YouTube video produced by the Mendocino Transit Authority. In talking about it with the local supervisor and bus drivers none of them had seen it. This might be the first public viewing for them.

I was reading the local paper back on November 13, 2014 when I notice a picture of a woman that looked familiar. It was a feature titled, Way Back When. Sure enough, it was Cheryl, my favorite MTA bus driver.

Since I've just been on a trip using Amtrak let's link to several stories Grist.org did on using Amtrak to move from Boston to Oakland. The stories were done by Heather Smith. Part one is called, Amtrak wait? Blame the freight. It explains the reasons why the Amtrak Train is almost always late, sometimes excessively. Part two is called, Why Americans love to hate the train — and always have. In it Heather gives you the history of our railway system and where it went wrong. Part three is called, Rumors of the death of the train station have been greatly exaggerated. The history of train stations is explored in this part. I believe the pictures are by Heather. The first one is Chicago's Union Station and the second is Denver's train station. She also talks about transferring to the California Zephyr, number 5 In National Geographic's 10 best train trips in North America.

Part four is the final article. It's called, At continent’s edge, a rail epic concludes, pursued by tank cars. In this article she concludes her trip with a discussion of conversations on trains and the dangers of oil-by-rail.

Like my articles on my Amtrak trip, sometimes it makes taking the train seem like a pain in the ass. It is more like an adventure but you do have to weigh the advantages to the environment. Take for instance this Forbe's article called, The Most Efficient Mode Of Transportation In America Isn't A Prius — It's A Train. The new documentary, Transforming America, tells about the differences between our passenger rail system versus Europe's.

There is no doubt that Americans live in a car culture. Many U.S. citizens don't know what it would be like to live in a train culture.

The population of the U.S. is on track to add over 100 million people to the country by the year 2050. Airports and highways are already over crowded.

I for one like train travel and will leave the subject of Amtrak with this fact–“Last year Amtrak announced their 10th annual ridership record in 11 years, carrying 31.6 million passengers. Amtrak’s ridership is growing faster than any other major form of travel.”

Let's go on to buses.

A Danish mass transit solutions company, Midttrafik, is trying to make bus riding sexy with a couple of videos.

We don't see ads like these in,this county. Maybe we should. Technology is changing your typical bus. Some headlines and some links below.

Electric Buses Being Tested Around the World Pleasing Passengers and Environment.

BYD's All-Elecric Bus Sets a New Record with 200 Mile Journey Around Copenhagen.

First Battery-Powered Bus Transport 135,000 Passengers in 10 Days.

Electric Bus Breaks World Record by Traveling 700 Miles in One Day. Note that they charged it during the day.

This poo-powered Bus Runs on Regular as Long as You do.

So what happens to used buses? It turns out you can get them cheap. They are sold at auctions and even on EBay to other agencies and people. These old buses in San Francisco are being put to a good use by providing shower facilities to the homeless.

LavaMae’s first mobile shower bus launched last weekend. CREDIT: KENA FRANK

At this site you can check out pictures of old subway car being dumped into the Atlantic Ocean to create artificial Reefs.

So who loves public transportation and who doesn't. It use to be a nonpartisan issue but not any longer. I found two articles that explains why the right doesn't love public transportation. One article has the very catchy title of, Why Do Conservatives Hate Public Transit.

The transportation bill moving through the House eliminates the provision that dedicates to mass transit 20 percent of monies from the gas-tax supported Highway Trust Fund — an arrangement that has been in place since Ronald Reagan was president. It also slashes support for high-speed rail projects, cuts subsidies to Amtrak, and eliminates designated funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure as well as the “Safe Routes to School” program.

The other is called, Off the Rails.

What, exactly, do Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians have against trains? Seriously, what? Why did President George W. Bush try to zero out Amtrak funding in 2005? Why is the conservative Republican Study Committee suggesting that we do so now? Why does George Will think “the real reason for progressives' passion for trains is their goal of diminishing Americans' individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism”?

There have recently been several reports that the Koch Brothers and their partner networks have come out against transit projects.

But last Wednesday, some 50 anti-government groups, including Koch brothers front group Americans for Prosperity (AFP) and other recipients of the Kochs’ largesse such as Freedom Partners, sent a letter to Congress calling on it to oppose any increase in the federal gasoline tax. Among their chief complaints, “Washington continues to spend federal dollars on projects that have nothing to do with roads like bike paths and transit.”

It’s part of the right-wing and Koch network’s coordinated national attack on transit…the Kochs are going after transit in local referenda. Local AFP chapters have been leading the charge against transit expansions in regions like Indianapolis and Nashville. Last month, Urban Milwaukee reported AFP is trying to block a streetcar project. And Randall O’Toole, the anti-transit flunky at the Koch-funded Cato Institute is arguing against a new line on D.C.’s metro that would link the urbanizing inner-ring Maryland suburbs.

Where does funding for public transportation come from? It varies. The farebox revenue is the first thing that comes to mind. Fares are generally the smallest part of the funding. Here in Mendocino County the state requires the MTA to have at least a 14.7% farebox recovery rate.

Where does the rest of the money come from? Taxes, the types and amounts of which differ from region to region. In the United States, the most common form of taxation for transit is the sales tax. In states as ideologically diverse as California, Texas, and Washington, state wide sales taxes provide the lions share of transit subsidies.

At the federal level, a segment of the federal gasoline tax is used to support the programs of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The FTA supports transit development through such programs as the New Starts Program , which provides funding for new rapid transit projects and the rehabilitation of existing lines, the Job Access and Reverse Commutes (JARC) program, which provides funding to assist the poor in accessing jobs in underserved communities, and operating subsides to transit agencies in areas with a population of under 200,000.

You can check here and here (California) to better understand funding for public transportation.

Public transportation needs to be funded if we are to get people out of their cars, protect the environment and reduce the carbon going into the air. Your public representives, local, state and federal need to hear that you support trains, buses and bike paths.

 

The Trip Back

This is the Bakersfield Train Station at 4:30AM. Pretty quiet and empty. You can't see her but there's one Amtrak employee behind the counter and a security guard wandering around outside. The luggage on the left belong's to a women who asked me to watch it while she used the restrooms. It sort of made me feel good that a stranger would ask that of me. I guess I look like a normal honest person. There is a reason why I catch the first train out in the morning. I'll get to that shortly. The 4:55AM leaving time is the reason I use the Best Western Hill House Hotel just across the street. Schedule an early wake up call and a short walk and I'm at the train station. I had some extra luggage with me this time. My mother's fall in early December had prevented her from mailing Christmas presents to us. I was carrying them home.

The reason for the early train is just logistics and expense. The Amtrak Train and Bus gets me to Ukiah at 12:50PM. After a layover of about two hours (lunch time) I can then catch MTA's Route 75 through Boonville and Navarro to meet-up with MTA's Coaster at the Navarro River Junction which will take me to Little River for a pick up at the store. If I take the later train (10:05AM) it gets me to Ukiah at 5:50PM which is too late to catch any MTA bus over to the coast. I would have to check into another hotel and spend most of the next day in Ukiah.

I boarded the 4:55AM train and after finding a seat went to the cafe and got the first cup of coffee made that morning. Another reason to take the early train is that it's not crowded and most of the passengers just try to sleep. It's dark and foggy for the first two plus hours of the train trip so it's a good time to read or snooze if you can. It can be dangerous to sleep. I remember one trip where a guy slept pass his destination. On this trip the guy in back of me was sleeping. When we were leaving Modesto he woke with a start when he heard Jack London Square in Oakland as the final destination. This is something that the conductor does as a welcome to the new passengers boarding the train. I heard him say wait and was scrabbling to collect his luggage. He thought he had missed his stop which was Emeryville. I had to calm him down and told him we were only in Modesto. I spent the last hours of the train trip trying to identify ducks and shorebirds as we went by the many water and marsh areas. Shovelers, Buffleheads, Mallards and Scaups were the ducks I could pick out. Coots were everywhere. Avocets and Yellowlegs were the shorebirds. Lots of Snowy and Great Egrets. The train was 25 minutes late getting into Martinez. That was actually a good thing. It would cut my wait time in Ukiah.

I always try to pick a seat on the way back so I can see a different view of where I've been. That's just a little traveling tip. The following pictures are from the return Amtrak Bus trip. The first one is of the Carquinez Strait from the George Miller Jr. memorial Bridge. The second is the fairgrounds in Petaluma and the third is some of the countryside outside of Ukiah.

So we were about 25 minutes late getting to Ukiah. Had lunch at Denny's (don't judge, it was within walking distance and better then McDonald's) and then waited for MTA's Route 75 at the Pear Tree Center bus stop.

What can I said about Route 75 that wouldn't give you a bad impression of public transportation. Route 75 is easily the most interesting route that I've used. I have traveled with a cage load of cockatiels in the back of the bus. The county jail in Ukiah has a habit of releasing prisoners so that they catch Route 75 for those that live on the coast. I remember one smaller man complaining about the bigger prisoners stealing his food. This trip was no different.

A young girl boarded after me and dropped some condoms out of her wallet when she went to pay the fare. Ed, the bus driver didn't bat an eye. Said she might need them later. She sat down near me and said she was in Ukiah to buy uniforms for a new job and it was the start of her new “adult” life. At the library several people got on. One was an older gentleman who seemed to know the young girl. Another man immediately announced that he needed a phone to call his “shrink” because he was running out of meds. Valium was mentioned in the call after a girl loaned him her phone. It turned out that the older gentleman was a reporter for the Anderson Valley Advertiser. Part of his beat was the courthouses in Mendocino. His name is Malcolm. The young girl's name is Jazz and the “meds” man is Benjamin. It turns out that they had some connection by way of the court system. Malcolm was homeless five years ago and had a serious dislike for Fort Bragg Police because they kept busting him for smoking weed. Writing about the court system he knew all the police, lawyers and judges in Mendocino County. The three of them talked about who had arrested whom, who their lawyers were, and who their judges that heard their cases were. Jazz was a juvey arrested for selling drugs and spent some time at juvenile hall. Benjamin had spent some time in prison for what sounded like spousal abuse and was on probation. That conversation went on for some time and then Benjamin decided we wanted to hear his poetry. Who's going to say no? He read one and Jazz said it was awesome, Malcolm said it was excellent but needed a better reading. I said it was pretty good and got this glare. I thought I was in some trouble from the “meds” guy. Malcolm got off at Boonville and Benjamin moved over to try to hustle Jazz. I heard them both declare themselves clean and sober while they smoked and he had a beer during the break stop at the Navarro Store. At Navarro River Junction Jazz continued south on the Route 75 bus while Benjamin went north on the Coaster to visit his son in Little River. I got off at the Little River Store where my wife picked me up and drove me home safe and sound.

It didn't turn out to be the trip I was expecting but it worked. If you've read all the posts you might think that taking public transportation can be a pain in the ass. You might think that the negatives out weigh the positives. Riding public transportation in a rural area like Mendocino County is harder then if you lived in a big city. Major transportation hubs are hard to get to from Mendocino but it can be done.

What are the advantages? When traveling you realize there are lots of cars and trucks out there on the highways and city streets. I didn't have to worry about them. My vehicle wasn't one of them. I could set back and let someone else do the worrying. On the train I could have lunch and drink a beer or go to the restroom without needing to make any decisions on where to stop. With low gas prices it might be cheaper to drive especially if you don't qualify for a senior discount or have a AAA membership but you do put that wear and tear on your car and also yourself.

My major reason for using public transportation is to get my truck off the streets as much as possible. At around 852 miles round trip from Little River to Bakersfield I saved 766.8 pounds of climate changing pollution from going into the air.

Transportation is one of the single largest sources of air pollution in the state. That includes the smog and other ground-level pollution that damages hearts and lungs, as well as the greenhouse gas emissions that disrupt the climate. There are 33 million cars and light- and medium-duty trucks registered in California, more than in any other state in the U.S. And that number doesn’t include the big heavy duty trucks that carry freight around the state.

Road congestion in many parts of the state has become nearly unbearable… Californians annually waste nearly $19 billion in time and fuel while stuck in traffic. The average San Diego traveler can expect to spend 67 hours a year waiting in traffic, while the average San Francisco traveler can expect to spend 80 hours stuck in traffic.

We need to change our ways if we are to save this planet. You need to do it for your kids and grandkids. I do it for the birds.

 

 

 

 

President’s Day Travel

It's President's Day and I'm on the road. Left Fort Bragg on time and arrived in Ukiah on time. Have some time to kill so I had coffee at the local Denny's. I'm outside McDonald's using their wifi. Do I feel guilty? Not really. Having to listen to a guy's radio playing at full blast.

Connecting to the Amtrak Bus soon.

Pet peeve #1–People that smoke. Even if they can't smoke on the bus you can still smell them. The loud radio doesn't count because I can leave at anytime.

It's going to be a warm day. In the high 70's in Ukiah. Remember it's still winter. No snow on the local hills.