Michael Wiley has been General Manager and CEO of the Sacramento Regional Transit District(RT) for nearly six years now. He was appointed to the position by the RT’s Board of Directors in February 2008 after serving as Interim General Manager and CEO since the prior October. He began his career at RT as a service planner in 1978 and has been employed with the agency for nearly 36 years. Wiley has served as a member of RT’s Executive Management Team for the past 28 years and held the position of Deputy General Manager for two years prior to his appointment as Interim and then Permanent General Manager and CEO.
Mr. Wiley recently spoke with the Sacramento Press in a phone interview after finishing up his annual “Ride with the General Manager” event. He has spent parts of every weekday in October since becoming General Manager riding the various bus and train routes of the RT, talking with riders and employees to find out what is working with the system and what could use improvement. In addition to this annual scheduled event, Wiley also takes time throughout the year to use the system he is in charge of so that he can better understand and coordinate efforts to provide the Sacramento area with ever-improving public transportation.
Jeffery Cassity SACRAMENTO PRESS: Having recently completed this year’s Ride with the General Manager, what did you learn?
MICHAEL WILEY: I received lots of positive feedback from riders, especially regarding our drivers. People constantly complimented the job that they do and their caring attitude towards the people of Sacramento who use the system’s buses and trains. I personally was impressed by the fact that when making connections to different lines, I never missed a connection. I was pleased that, based on my thirty-six years experience with the RT, I could tell that the drivers were not trying extra hard to impress me but just going about their normal work. I came across no safety or security issues during my trips which pleased me. I also liked the fact that riders were happy to see me sharing the buses and trains they ride on a daily basis and being there to listen to what they had to say about the job we are doing for them.
Of course, there are some negative items I came across which we as a system will have to address. While the drivers work hard to maintain the cleanliness of their buses and trains, I did notice that some passengers were careless in leaving trash behind, especially on the trains. We will have to look at ways to address this issue. Also people want the amount of service provided later into the night, on weekends and during the weekdays increased. Reversing the reduction in service the system has experienced over the past few years is the goal of the Board and my management team. We see the challenge of doing this in a cost effective way as an opportunity to highlight our commitment to area residents to return the service levels to what they had been in the past.
SAC PRESS: Do you plan on continuing these October Ride with the General Manager events?
WILEY: As long as the Board sees fit to keep me in charge, I do. Yes.
SAC PRESS: Would you recommend to other city and county government officials to have similar contacts with Sacramento area residents?
WILEY: While I would not tell other officials what to do, I can say that the rides I do in October and throughout the year play an important part in helping my management team and I understand what is good and what needs to be improved. I couldn’t do my job without the feedback and observations I get from riding RT buses and trains. I leave it to the other officials to decide whether they would benefit from similar interaction with the public.
SAC PRESS: Nick Miller, an editor at the Sacramento News & Review recently wrote a Editor’s Note column in which he put forth the idea that the RT should create a Central City discount rate for those who would and do use the buses and trains for short trips in the Downtown and East Sac area. What is your response to this suggestion?
WILEY: First of all, tell Nick that his idea is something we have been looking at for the past couple of years so he can’t take any credit for proposing it after he sees it come to fruition. The Central City Fare which was in effect for the area bounded by the Sacramento and American Rivers, Broadway and Alhambra, was something we had to eliminate back in 2009 as the RT started dealing with financial difficulties associated with the Great Recession. We have been working on a revised fare system which includes a reduced fare for those who use our services or would like to use our services for those short but frequent trips in the Central City area. We are piloting a program starting in February 2014 which takes advantage of RFID technology to reintroduce this discount and the other rate changes. The Board and I see it as an opportunity to generate additional income by taking advantage of a pent-up demand in this area of the city. Receiving additional minimal fares is better than not receiving fares from these current non-users at all. We hope to expand use of this technology to the entire system by mid summer 2014 also. It will replace the currently card reader system on buses and trains which we don’t use. People should be on the lookout for the introduction of what we are calling “Connect Cards” which are read by scanners but don’t have to be swiped.
SAC PRESS: Since you brought up the issue of the card readers, why aren’t they used currently?
WILEY: We(the RT) found that using them during peak times on many of the routes, especially the train lines, caused additional delays which grew as passengers boarded at each station or got on the buses at each stop. It was much easier and more efficient merely to have the riders show our employees the cards instead of “swiping” them. We obtained the same information but without the added system delays.
SAC PRESS: You mentioned earlier when talking about your experiences riding on the system during October that you didn’t come across any safety or security issues. In preparing for this interview, several items in these areas came to our attention. We would like to ask you about three of them.
The first one is the lack of lighting at several stops on several different routes. This is a serious matter for early morning and evening riders.
WILEY: We work closely with the various jurisdictions whose boundaries our routes cross to ensure passenger safety and access to stops and stations. We still estimate that about 50% of the locations across our system need improvement currently. Not just with lighting but with all areas of access including sidewalks, shelters, etc. Many of the stops which need improvement are go back even before my time with the RT, that is over 36 years ago. Many stops are just points at the side of the road. We are working with the other governmental units to address these issues as our financial and their financial resources allow. We want each stop to be what we call a “complete street”—adequate lighting, easy access for all our riders, and a safe location to wait to board or exit our buses and trains.
SAC PRESS: The next issue is reports of stones being thrown at trains as they cross the American River at Highway 160.
WILEY: We are aware of such reports, not only at the location you mentioned, but at others as well. The members of our RT Police unit of 30 members as well as other law enforcement work hard to investigate these incidents and apprehend those individuals responsible. Our system of fixed cameras along our train routes to spot and record these incidents is the most extensive one in the Sacramento area.
SAC PRESS: The final safety issue concerns reports that train operators and bus drivers frequently text messaging and using Instagram while operating the moving vehicles. What is your response?
WILEY: This is a very serious concern. My team and I want everyone to know that this is a serious violation of the work rules, something strictly prohibited. We want riders who see this type of behavior to report such incidents to our central offices so we can investigate and discipline as appropriate any of our drivers or train operators who are doing it. It is something we do not and will not tolerate.
SAC PRESS: Our final question deals with the current condition of the RT, both financially as well as regarding its infrastructure and rolling stock. What are the state of each today?
WILEY: We are very focused on not experiencing again the cuts in service that we had to make as a result of the Great Recession period a few years ago. We have worked hard to balance our budget and starting to build a Reserve Fund for the future. We were the first governmental agency locally to do both. In three years, we have managed to build a reserve of about $10 million. This is the first real reserves our system has had in about 15 to 20 years. However, it is only part way to our goal of having a reserve equal to one and half months of our operations budget, approximately $25 million.
The RT is working to restore the past service cuts in a cost effective manner as part of our short-term and long-term plans. So while you won’t necessarily see the return of the exact same routes which were cuts, you will see growth in our service to our riders.
We are working on upgrading our equipment. The RT Board will be asked at its December meeting to approve a Request for Bid to replace 96 of our aging buses which are nearing the end of their effective lives. We are looking to have them replaced over the next 3 years. We will be looking at replacing many of our current light rail trains which date from the 1980s and are reaching the end of their effective lives also. We are looking at a 5 year time frame for those replacements.
At the same time we are working on replacing our equipment, we are busy on upgrades to our stations and stops.
Both areas are part of our commitment and focus on providing better, more cost efficient service to those who use our services currently and those we hope to attract in the future.
SAC PRESS: Thank you very much for your time.