April 13, 2009
2009 APTA - TRB Light Rail Conference Issue
|APTA-TRB LIGHT RAIL CONFERENCE
ARRA Helps Light Rail Provide Safe, Reliable Service
By NATHANIEL P. FORD SR., Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco, CA
As the global economy falters and the health of our environment becomes ever more critical, many Americans have two new priorities: reducing both their household expenses and their carbon footprints.
As has happened with our transit colleagues around the country, this has meant an increase in ridership for the Municipal Railway (Muni), San Francisco’s transit system, which is operated by the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA). We can capitalize on this renewed interest in using and developing public transportation by ensuring that the opportunities presented by federal economic stimulus funds are harnessed to the projects that will meet the needs of transit customers, starting with safe and reliable service.
To sustain the momentum of increased ridership, we must ensure that the infrastructure of our transit system is inviting and reliable for both choice and non-choice customers alike. Muni has been at capacity on its light rail lines for many years. Full vehicles and delayed transit service keep potential customers in their cars.
As Muni looks ahead to its centennial in 2012, its light rail system requires urgent rehabilitation and reinvestment. One of five transit modes operated by Muni, the light rail system stitches the city together and must continue to serve a growing, dynamic population. While this population has consistently supported transit at the ballot box with both support for sales tax funds and a Transit First policy, the current downturn brings new challenges.
Like so many transit agencies, the SFMTA was already combating a structural deficit when the state of California recently abandoned its commitment to funding public transportation for at least the next five years. This action, coupled with regional cuts and a reduction in local tax dollars, accounts for much of the agency’s budget deficit.
Prior to the economic downturn, the SFMTA had been on a path of improvement due to improved management practices and an increase in resources. Muni recently saw revenue increase with ridership and aggressive efforts to prevent fare evasion in Fiscal Year 2008. Yet the enormity of the economic crisis is already having an impact on many areas of our operations. This spring the SFMTA Board of Directors is weighing several options, including fare increases and service reductions and modifications, in order to reach its mandated balanced budget.
In conjunction with this difficult budget work, the SFMTA continues to seek solutions that bridge today’s operational needs and tomorrow’s capital challenges.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) provides tremendous opportunities for reinvestment in transit infrastructure and improved daily operations. More than half of the projects toward which the SFMTA has dedicated ARRA funds are directly related to improving our light rail system. An upgrade of our Operations Control Center, repairs to our automatic train control system, new ticket vending machines, preventive maintenance of track switches, and other infrastructure and facility improvements will all enhance the performance and reliability of the light rail system.
We are not content, though, to let the challenges of daily operation and infrastructure maintenance keep us from looking ahead. In San Francisco, this means growing our transit system to keep up with this dynamic city.
Two years ago, the SFMTA opened Phase 1 of the Third Street Light Rail Project, the T-Third line. Now, as we complete preliminary engineering for the second phase, the Central Subway, we are pleased to have cleared our final environment review hurdle with a federal Record of Decision this past fall and to have a commitment of nearly $1 billion in federal funds.
As the largest expansion of light rail in San Francisco in more than 20 years, the Third Street Light Rail Project will bring modern light rail service to the heavily populated eastern side of the city, reducing congestion and pollution and increasing access to jobs and the entire San Francisco Bay area. Because public transportation is a means to achieving personal as well as civic goals, the SFMTA will seize each opportunity to ensure that transit is available to help families stretch their tight budgets and shrink their impact on the environment.