Passenger Transport - September 8, 2008
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Welcome to the "new" Passenger Transport!

William W. Millar
President

With this issue of Passenger Transport, we inaugurate major changes in APTA’s publications as we continue our goal of keeping you up-to-date on what is happening in, with, and to our industry. To provide stories in greater depth, Passenger Transport moves from weekly to bi-weekly and adds an electronic edition as well.  In the alternate weeks when Passenger Transport is not printed, you will receive Passenger Transport EXPRESS electronically – which will highlight legislative issues and breaking news.

One of the major jobs of any association is to inform.  Through these publications, APTA will keep its 65-year-old pledge to you of being a continuing information resource for the public transportation industry.  In all those years – and 3,250 issues – we’ve moved from typesetting to desktop publishing and from “The Role of Transit in Post War Planning” (September 1943) to “U.S. Transit Ridership Reaches 10.3 Billion in 2007” (March 2008) and “Pelosi Stresses Support for Infrastructure Funding; Speaker Addresses June 1 Forum at Rail Conference” (June 2008).  But wait – there’s more!  With these changes, we will be significantly increasing our reach as our online version will be sent to all APTA members.

Now, you may have noticed some design changes in this issue.  Well, we figured, why make just some changes when we could make lots of changes!  Yes, the look of Passenger Transport is different, and, as you will find in the weeks and months ahead – so will be the content.  We listened to your many suggestions – and to those of you who responded to our survey – thank you.

Overall, you said you wanted more in-depth stories covering a range of topics, and more analysis – and that’s what you’ll be reading.  We will also feature a number of recurring departments, including The Sustainable Source and Technology in Practice, Letters to the Editor (of course there won’t be this department if you don’t write to us!), and commentary, such as this – President’s Perspective – which will replace The President’s Letter.  So from time to time I will be writing in this space, but there will also be commentary and perspective from a variety of contributors – including you, if you wish.

In addition, we are in the process of redesigning our web site to feature a cleaner, more modern appearance, with functional design, structure, and enhanced user-friendly access.  The site will promote a strong image and identity for APTA and will provide visitors with at-the-ready information and assistance.  

Passenger Transport's look has changed many times over all these years.  But its mission – “to communicate news and information about public transportation and to serve as the voice of the public transportation industry” – has never wavered.

In that spirit, as we celebrate a new chapter in Passenger Transport and a new approach to APTA communications efforts, I thought I’d take this moment to give all of us in the industry a collective pat on the back.

Starting sometime last year, the media and legislators began talking about climate change and what carbon emissions are doing – and, left unchecked, will do – to our planet.  With the advent of $4 a gallon gas, the discussion narrowed dramatically to its skyrocketing costs. 

For weeks on end this spring and into this summer, we saw front page, above-the-fold stories on this topic every day – all of which reminded us how critical our jobs are.

This is a transformational time in our industry – with public transportation having the opportunity to become the linchpin for two major issues: climate change and energy independence.

But transformation does not come without difficulties – and barriers to implementation.  The decrease in driving and large increase in ridership we have experienced presents a double-edged sword:  While we welcome new riders, transit’s fuel and power costs continue to rise rapidly.  In fact, the industry is facing a triple-edged sword (if there is such a thing!) as many transit systems are dealing with rapidly growing demand, the increased costs of fuel, and decreased funding because of the economic downturn. 

How agencies are responding to these demands – and how they are dealing with the many challenges such demands bring about – we address in our cover story in this issue and in a companion piece in our next issue.

While we face these challenges, however, let’s not lose sight of the opportunities.  Millions more people are riding our buses, trains, and other services we offer.  We are being seen as a green and affordable option.  People are demanding that their elected officials take action.

So as we continue to say that public transit is the best way to beat the high cost of gas, let’s take full advantage of this momentum to position our industry for the long haul.

I hope you not only enjoy but also benefit from our revamped Passenger Transport – both the print and electronic version – and our new publication, Passenger Transport EXPRESS.  I welcome and encourage your feedback in the months ahead.






Soaring Ridership Challenges Transit Agencies

Dramatic increases in ridership have led to widespread capacity constraints on public transportation systems nationwide, according to a survey released this week by APTA, with more than half the respondents calling for federal financial support for fuel purchases.

The survey of 115 APTA members, representing approximately one-third of all APTA U.S. public transit agency members, clearly shows that transit systems across the country are severely challenged in their ability to meet surging ridership—now at its highest level in 50 years.  Increases in fuel prices, together with flat or declining state and local tax revenue, are making it very difficult for transit systems to add new service.  The study also reveals that agencies are actively seeking help to enable them to meet the public’s soaring demand for public transit services.

“Additional funding is clearly needed,” said APTA President William W. Millar,“ if our nation’s transit systems are to continue to provide more transportation choices for all Americans.”

Respondents included agencies operating all public transportation modes and are representative of a range of size:  About half operate more than 100 vehicles.

Nearly all agencies surveyed (86 percent) report increased ridership over the past year, ranging from 2 percent to 30 percent—with two thirds reporting increases during both peak and off-peak periods.  To address increased ridership, agencies have taken a variety of actions:  42 percent have increased service frequency on existing routes, 29 percent have expanded service into new geographic areas and 15 percent have reallocated service to higher ridership lines.  Some agencies are simply unable to take any action at all, making service cuts likely.

Increases in public transportation ridership over the past few years have also resulted in relatively widespread capacity constraints, with 85 percent of responding transit systems reporting capacity on at least portions of their systems. Six out of 10 (63 percent) of these  transit agencies are experiencing constraints during peak periods, half (49 percent)  report the problem on short segments of high ridership routes, and 13 percent are reaching their limits on numerous routes.

Although many agencies facing capacity constraints are simply unable to respond at all to capacity constraints at this time,  nearly half (48 percent) do report taking  action to add service by increasing the use of their existing fleet (79 percent), and in some cases, by purchasing new vehicles (29 percent).  Nevertheless, despite such efforts to meet the surging demand, more than half of the agencies (54 percent) still report allowing crowding beyond local service standards and 39 percent even report having to turn passengers away.

Virtually all agencies (91 percent) are constrained in their ability to add service to meet increased ridership levels.  The most common limitation is budgetary, with two-thirds of these agencies reporting insufficient revenue to operate additional service.  One-third of the responding agencies do not have vehicles available to add service. 

To make matters even worse, in the face of spiraling fuel prices and surging ridership levels,  many agencies are also facing limited available resources from state and local sources.  In fact, more than half (58 percent) of all agencies report either stable or declining  local and state resources over the past year, resulting in part from declining property values and  lower sales tax revenues—two additional trends not likely to improve any time soon.

So what’s a transit agency to do?   Respondents to this study cited a number of significant actions to address the negative impact of spiraling fuel costs, with more than 60 percent considering a fare increase or fuel surcharge, 50 percent seeking increases in state and local contributions, and 30 percent looking towards new dedicated funding such as new local taxes. 
Other more troubling options include postponing or canceling operating improvements, delaying or canceling planned service increases, or cutting service completely—all options cited by more than 30 percent of respondents—and certainly not welcome news in a time of soaring ridership demand.

Virtually all agencies believe that federal action is essential and are also looking to the federal government for critical assistance.  More than half of the respondents (56 percent) believe the most effective short-term federal action would be new federal financial support for fuel purchases.  Agencies also recognize the need for additional capital support, with 20 percent citing a preference for increased federal capital investment to add new transit vehicles.  Thirteen percent would opt for a more dramatic action:  changing the current law to allow existing federal funds to be used for fuel purchases.  The implication of this response is that agencies are facing the most immediate challenge within operating budgets as they attempt to meet surging demand, and need the flexibility to move money in and out of fixed categories.

Skyrocketing fuel prices are forcing transit systems to reevaluate their operations in major ways.  As this study indicates, agencies need assistance as they attempt to meet the surging ridership demand while still protecting existing service.  

APTA Participates in Democratic and Republican Conventions


 

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer and more than 50 members of Congress promoted public transportation at the Denver Regional Transportation District.

 For the first time ever, APTA and public transportation were a focus of activities surrounding the Democratic and Republican conventions. In Denver, APTA joined with the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies (CASTA), the Community Transportation Association of America (CTAA) and the American Bus Association (ABA) to host a reception at the Democratic National Convention.  In Minneapolis, at the Republican National Convention, APTA, CTAA, and the ABA co-hosted.

In Denver, the event was held at Union Station. Among the many attendees, APTA First Vice Chair Beverly Scott (Atlanta) and William W. Millar greeted Congressional transit supporters, including House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee Chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN), T&I Railroad, Pipelines, and Hazardous Material Subcommittee Chairwoman Corrine Brown (D-FL), and House Ways and Means Committee Member Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) as well as Denver Regional Transportation District General Manager Clarence “Cal" Marsella and CASTA Board members.

The reception coincided with a major press event outside the station where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC), and more than 50 other members of the U.S. House of Representatives took RTD's MallRide buses to Union Station.  An RTD hybrid bus served as a backdrop to emphasize the role public transportation plays in reducing our nation’s dependence on foreign oil and greenhouse gas emissions. 

In Minneapolis, American Bus Association Board Member Charles Zelle hosted a reception.  Attendees included Ranking Member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee John Mica (R-FL), his wife and staff, as well as representatives from ABA, CTAA, Mn/DOT, and the Twin Cities business community.   

“As first efforts”, said Millar, “these were successful events that should be repeated.  Getting public transportation’s message before the wide range of federal, state, and local officials and leaders from across the country makes the conventions appealing sites.” 

In the next issue of Passenger Transport we will highlight how the respective transit systems played an integral role in transporting thousand of delegates, and others, to the convention events.

As Gustav Threatened, Transit Agencies Responded

By Leslie Bucher, Special to Passenger Transport

With the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina still reverberating in New Orleans and elsewhere, the threat of a major hurricane—in this case, Gustav—mobilized federal, state, and local officials to action.

Virtually three years to the day of Hurricane Katrina’s wrath and catastrophic flooding, New Orleans showed the world it was taking no chances with Gustav. Although the Category 2 storm had weakened by the time it made landfall on Louisiana’s southeast coast in the late morning of Labor Day, all but 10,000 of the city’s estimated 300,000 residents had already left town following a mandatory evacuation order by Mayor Ray Nagin.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal activated 5,000 National Guardsmen, ordering 1,500 of them to New Orleans well before the storm hit. Also, two days ahead of Gustav’s arrival, the city activated its City Assisted Evacuation Plan (CAEP), providing transportation to more than 9,000 of the city’s neediest from 17 pre-designated sites to the nearby Union Passenger Terminal train station to await subsequent state-provided transport to out-of-town safe shelters.

The driving force of CAEP—literally—was the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority (RTA), which supplied 40 buses to provide free rides to any New Orleans resident who needed them. The agency also moved other vehicles, including 35 new biodiesel-powered buses, out of the city for safety.

“We lost 200 buses during Katrina,” explained RTA Public Information Manager Rosalind Blanco Cook. “Our efforts this time were 100 percent more organized, at the city, state, and federal level, so people didn’t feel so left out and alone—it worked a lot better than I ever dreamed it would.”

Cook also said that, once the city reopens to residents, RTA will provide the same service in reverse to bring the evacuees back home, ending an often frustrating three-day stay in shelters.

Officials are reportedly taking quiet pride in the historic evacuation, with U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff commending all for heeding the call to evacuate. “The reason you’re not seeing dramatic stories of rescue is that we had a successful evacuation,” he said.

Another example of careful and effective planning allowed the safe evacuation of 550 residents from coastal Harrison County, MS, by bus well before Gustav’s arrival. Three days before the storm, the Harrison County Emergency Management Agency put into effect a transportation plan that urged all persons requiring transportation to pre-register with the Coast Transit Authority (CTA) in Gulfport. The simple pre-registration process asked residents to describe the transportation needed, as well as any special needs such as medical conditions and, for the first time, pets.  “We’d already had 350 people registered with us for evacuation transportation,” said CTA’s Kevin Coggin, who also serves as vice president, urban systems, for the Mississippi Public Transit Association. “Once the transportation plan went into effect, that number went up to 850 in just two short days.”

According to Coggin, CTA evacuated 550 coastal residents—among them 28 special needs passengers—along with three cats, one dog, and two parakeets.

“We’re livin’ and learnin’,” said Coggin, a lifelong resident of Mississippi. “We’re doing good here. Everything went very orderly and it was a good test of our plan. Now we’re busy bringing everyone back to where they belong—and keeping our eyes on the next storm.”

Other neighboring state transit areas simply awaited the opportunity to provide transportation. For example, according to Executive Director Betty Wineland of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority in North Little Rock: “Friday before the storm we got a call from the airport requesting buses, but they did not call us back, so plane travel must have been lighter than expected. We’ve got about 5,600 evacuees here now in Arkansas ... during Katrina it was 15,000.”

California High-Speed Rail Bonds on November Ballot

A statewide measure on the Nov. 4 California ballot—amended Aug. 26 by California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger—will authorize the sale of $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds, with $9 billion funding pre-construction activities and construction of a high-speed passenger rail system and the remainder paying for capital improvements to passenger rail systems in the state.

The governor’s signature on Assembly Bill 3034 means that Proposition 1, the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, will be replaced on the ballot by Proposition 1A. The new proposition includes fiscal controls for taxpayer protection, such as requiring a peer-reviewed financial plan before bond money can be spent; enables public-private partnership financing; and limits the amount of bond money that can be spent on non-construction items.

 “Californians deserve the opportunity to vote on a high-speed rail proposition that includes taxpayer protections and financial guidelines,” the governor said at the bill signing. “With these technical changes, voters can now be assured that, if the bond is approved, high-speed rail would be built as planned and with fiscal controls ensuring financial accountability.”

State Assemblymember Cathleen Galgiani, sponsor of AB 3034, called herself “a strong supporter of high-speed rail” who introduced the legislation because of concerns about two potential routes for the line within her district, and to ensure that the “bond measure placed on the ballot would establish oversight criteria and financial accountability.”

The state legislature will have to appropriate funding for the bonds. General obligation bonds are backed by the state, meaning that the state is required to pay the principal and interest costs on these bonds.

The state created the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996 to develop an intercity rail system that can operate at speeds of 200 miles per hour or faster to connect the major metropolitan areas of California, originating in San Francisco and operating from Sacramento through the Central Valley into Los Angeles, Orange County, the Inland Empire (San Bernardino and Riverside counties), and San Diego. The $9 billion would be used, along with available federal money and funds from other sources, to develop and construct a segment of the high-speed train system from the San Francisco Transbay Terminal to Los Angeles Union Station. After construction of the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment is fully funded, any remaining bond funds may be used to plan and construct any of five additional segments.

Congress Returns to Consider Several Transit Bills

The good news as Congress returns for its fall session is that both the U.S. House and Senate may take up legislation recognizing public transportation as part of the solution to the nation’s energy problems.

The House overwhelmingly voted in June to approve H.R. 6052, the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008, sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN). Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) has introduced a companion measure in the Senate.

H.R. 6052 authorizes $1.7 billion of capital and operating funds over two years for public transit agencies, allowing them to reduce their fares, expand transit services, and cope with increased energy costs.

On July 16, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced a similar bill: H.R. 6495, the Transportation and Housing Choices for Gas Price Relief Act. The legislation is designed to help Americans cope with high gasoline prices by supporting transportation alternatives, including public transit.

In the Senate, Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT), among others, are sponsoring energy packages that would benefit public transit.

Appropriations Uncertain
Another situation facing Congress is that, when the House recessed this summer, it had voted through only one appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2009, even though FY 2008 ends on Sept. 30.  This inaction leaves Congress with three alternatives, none of which is certain:

  • Congress may decide not to take action on appropriations until after the Nov. 4 election, instead passing a Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government operating after Sept. 30;
  • Congress may return for a lame duck session; or
  • Congress may not take up FY 2009 appropriations bills until it reconvenes in January.

To recap: The FY 2009 appropriations bill for U.S. DOT exists in two versions. The version approved by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies includes $10.3 billion for public transportation—the full amount authorized by the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users, or SAFETEA-LU. In contrast, the bill passed by the Senate Appropriations Committee would provide a lower amount for public transit, $10.225 billion.

Both the House and Senate appropriations committees have approved FY 2009 appropriations legislation for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that includes $400 million for transit security grants.

Amtrak, Trust Fund Shortfall
Congressional staffers worked through the August recess on Amtrak authorization legislation, preparing for a conference committee slated to meet when Congress reconvenes. Some outstanding differences remain between the two versions of the Amtrak bill, and President Bush has stated his opposition to both.
 
The Senate made changes to the House-passed version of the Railroad Safety Enhancement Act before approving it, which means that the full House will need to reconsider the measure for final passage.

APTA has expressed support for H.R. 6532, a stand-alone measure passed by the House but not yet taken up by the Senate, which would transfer $8.017 billion from that fund to the General Fund. This proposal would prevent a shortfall in the federal Highway Trust Fund in FY 2009, and will fully fund Federal Highway Administration programs. APTA also has stated its opposition to the Administration’s proposed fix, which would borrow from the Mass Transit Account, unnecessarily jeopardizing future transit funding.

 

Attending EXPO 2008: A Smart Investment

With energy costs rising and U.S. public transportation ridership at record levels—10.3 billion rides in 2007—transit agencies are faced with growing challenges. They must meet the needs of a changing ridership, including infrastructure; funding; increasing energy demands; emerging technologies; and safety and security.

Where can systems go for help? The APTA 2008 Annual Meeting and EXPO, Oct. 5 to 8 in San Diego.

Covering every mode of transportation and every aspect of transit systems, EXPO 2008 is the place to discover new technologies, gain knowledge, network with colleagues, and interface with respected industry experts and peers. The EXPO exhibitors will provide an opportunity to see, demo, and buy virtually any product to make transit operations more efficient, more economical, and more effective. EXPO brings together all the solutions for public transit in a single event!

What makes EXPO 2008 unique?

Expanded show floor. EXPO 2008 is bigger and better than ever, featuring two floors of the complete range of public transit-related products, services, and technologies.

Transit Technology and International Showcases offering free educational opportunities for all attendees, right on the show floor. The program includes technical, management, and operational sessions and sessions focused on international advancements and solutions.

The Natural Gas Vehicle Zone is new for 2008—a section of the show floor dedicated to the latest natural gas technology and products that are revolutionizing the public transportation industry.

Registration to APTA’s EXPO 2008 is free. Held every three years in conjunction with APTA’s Annual Meeting, the EXPO is public transportation’s premier showcase of technology, products, and services. EXPO is the platform from where the public transit industry moves forward.

Speakers at Annual Meeting
APTA has announced several speakers during the 2008 Annual Meeting, which begins with committee meetings Oct. 4 and the Annual Business Meeting and Election of Officers on Oct. 5.

Environmentalist and actor Ed Begley Jr. is scheduled to speak at an afternoon session on Sunday, Oct. 5. The day’s activities will also include the Host Forum, “Partnerships for the Future,” sponsored by the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.

Federal Transit Administrator James S. Simpson will be among the speakers at the Opening General Session on Monday, Oct. 6, while U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, will address the conference on Tuesday, Oct. 7.

The Oct. 8 Speaker Breakfast sponsored by the Washington Division of URS, APTA’s business members, and the Women’s Transportation Seminar will feature Darcy Stallings Winslow, a longtime executive with Nike and senior advisor with the Nike Foundation, which seeks to empower disadvantaged girls ages 10 to 19 through poverty alleviation and creating economic livelihood opportunities.

Jim Donald, former chief executive officer of Starbucks, will give a presentation at the Wednesday Closing General Session, “Leadership: Act Like You Own It.” This session also includes the recognition of the American Public Transportation Foundation’s 22 scholarship recipients.

The Federal Transit Administration is sponsoring a session titled “State of Good Repair—A CEO Perspective” on Oct. 8. FTA analyses show that roughly one third of the nation’s “legacy” heavy rail agencies’ rail and bus assets are in substandard or poor condition, and that bringing heavy rail infrastructure to a “state of good repair” may cost as much as $7 billion annually over the next 20 years. FTA Administrator Simpson will report on FTA’s recent State of Good Repair Roundtable, and several transit general managers will share their perspectives.

More information about the APTA Annual Meeting and EXPO is available online.  

MTS: A Vehicle for Art
For the tenth year, San Diego MTS is partnering with Jean Isaacs San Diego Dance Theatre to present “Trolley Dances” Oct. 4 and 5. Patrons ride the San Diego Trolley to various locations for site-specific dance performances.

This year’s program begins at Hazard Center; continues on the Green Line along the San Diego River; and switches to the Blue Line in Old Town, ending at the Santa Fe Depot downtown.

 

New Technologies Make Trip Planning Easier Than Ever

By Maureen Minehan, Special to Passenger Transport

Recent technology developments are giving public transit systems the tools they need to provide their customers with faster, more accurate trip planning information whenever and wherever they need it. From the introduction of Google Transit to the online city transit guide HopStop, agencies nationwide are offering new ways for riders to travel more efficiently and to make the most out of their public transit experience.

In addition, upgrades to existing trip planning tools on transit system websites are reaching out to riders as never before, enabling them to get instant, real-time information on a variety of platforms as well as regional information across multiple transit systems. 

The makers of all these technologies are in agreement on a fundamental goal: to increase ridership on public transportation.

Google Transit
Consider Google Transit. The Internet search engine giant partnered with transit agencies throughout North America, Asia, and Europe to provide public transportation information to users of Google Maps. To date, 54 systems provided Google with their schedule, fare, and other information, which in turn became the tool users access in planning their trips.

From 13 cities and counties in California alone to Austin and Dallas, TX; Detroit and Ann Arbor, MI; Cleveland and Columbus in Ohio; statewide throughout Rhode Island; and Morgantown, WV—and more—Google continues to respond to agencies’ requests to help them aid their riders by adding more trip planning capability.  The latest addition?  Twin Cities’ Metro Transit, launched in time for the Republican National Convention.

If you are a transit agency, said Jessica Wei, a strategic partner development manager at Google who focuses on public transportation, you have three key reasons to partner with Google:  

  •  It’s a discovery portal for all transit agencies, delivering “choice” riders to an agency’s doorstep.
     
  • It’s a discovery path.  “Once people understand and know the public transit option is there, they are more likely to try it,” said Wei.
  • The service itself is free.

Internationally, riders can plan their trips using public transit—via Google Transit—in four Canadian cities; all of Japan, Austria, and Switzerland; in London and South East regions of England; and such cities as Moscow and Florence, Italy.

 “When users visit our site to find out how to get from Point A to Point B, if public transit is available, we show a public transit link that they can use to get trip information,” said Wei.  “Where available, we also show the cost of public transit compared to the fuel cost of driving and historical data on traffic patterns at the time of day when they want to make the trip.”

In addition, Google Transit has added a “Maps for Mobile” tool that allows users to retrieve point-to-point trip information on many mobile devices—even if the users find themselves in a strange city.  Google initially supported just BlackBerry smartphones, but it recently added support for Nokia’s S60 and Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platforms.

HopStop
HopStop.com, another aggregator of public transit information, allows users to deliver trip information via the web or text-enabled mobile devices.  It provides a range of mobile services options:  users can access HopStop through their device’s web-based browser; they can send a text message to HopStop with their starting and ending points and receive a text message back with directions; or, they can call a toll-free number, provide the addresses, and get directions sent directly to their phones.

Hopstop currently offers trip planning in eight areas: New York City; Boston; Chicago; San Francisco; New Jersey; Long Island; Washington, DC; and the “Metro North” region north of New York City.  Now reaching 1.5 million visitors per month, HopStop is looking to bring its service to more U.S. cities.  “We plan to expand into other major metropolitan markets as well, such as Philadelphia, Seattle, and Los Angeles,” said Chinedu Echeruo, chief executive officer and founder of HopStop.

Echeruo explained that he created HopStop after moving to New York City and encountering the complicated nature of traveling around large cities, for residents and visitors alike.  “I started thinking of a solution to the problem that would be easy to use,” he said.  “It’s taken us a long time to create such a platform, but what we have now works really well—and solves the problem of ‘how do I go from Point A to Point B in a large city?’”  In addition to its door-to-door subway and bus directions and maps, HopStop’s web site also offers its City Guide option, enabling users to search for restaurants, accommodations, and local sights.

Besides the added benefits of partnering with companies such as Google Transit and HopStop, transit agencies are also expanding customer service by upgrading and enhancing trip planning services offered on their own websites.

“Having a trip planner on your web site is just not enough anymore,” said Timothy Moore, web site manager for the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District. “Transit customers are mobile by definition, and you need to be able to connect with them wherever they are, on whatever platform they're using. That’s why we offer trip planning services on a variety of platforms including Palm OS, Pocket PC/Windows Mobile, mobile wireless and, most recently, Apple iPod.”
  
Trapeze
For many transit agencies, third-party trip planning tools have long served as invaluable aids for better serving customers.  The Trapeze Group’s Transit Information module is one example. The latest version provides transit agencies with a web-based interface through which riders can plan trips and access schedule and additional transit information directly from the agencies’ sites—all in real time, and all instantly reflecting unexpected route changes, traffic delays, and other factors affecting transit schedules.  The Trapeze module also lets users see their results on their mobile devices through Web-based browsers and/or SMS text messaging.

“We’re able to provide accurate, real-time information vs. ‘this is what’s scheduled to happen’ and fine-tune the trip planning results users get,” said Matt Goddard, director of Global Product Management at Trapeze. “If an agency has preferred transfer points, for example, we can tailor the results to put the routes with preferred transfer points first.”
 
Trapeze also can provide regional transit information across multiple systems, so a person could, for example, map a route from St. Petersburg to Miami.

GIRO
Another third party resource is GIRO Inc.’s HASTINFO, the trip planning and schedule information module of the venerable HASTUS technology.  Initially introduced in 1989 as installations for call centers exclusively, HASTINFO added its web version for self-service public access in 1998, and in 2005, developed a set of generic trip planning web pages for transit agency use.

Earlier this year, GIRO launched the latest enhancement of HASTINFO, which enables riders to use interactive map displays, powered by Microsoft’s Virtual Earth™ platform.  With it, users select origins and destinations by simply clicking on a stop/landmark on the screen of their computer or web-enabled wireless device. Once a request is submitted, HASTINFO updates the map to show the optimal transit route.

According to François Carignan, GIRO senior account manager, the latest release of HASTINFO is now being used by 16 transit systems, including Florida’s Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA). 

“This is our second year using HASTINFO and it has enabled us to give our customers 24/7 trip planning assistance, especially when our customer service staff is off duty,” said PSTA Customer Relations Manager Terry Parks.  “With rising fuel costs we’re seeing increased ridership, and this tool lets our customers get the best travel options … and lets them see the shortest distance, the fastest route and the fewest transfers to get where they’re going.” Parks added that PSTA offers HASTINFO in four languages:  English, Spanish, German, and French. 

Combining Forces
Fortunately, with so many interesting options available, transit agencies don’t need to choose one over the other. “It’s not mutually exclusive. Agencies shouldn’t look at Google Transit as a replacement for their own trip planners. Instead, they should look at Google as another channel for distribution,” Wei said.

Goddard agreed: “Google Transit and others can supplement what the agencies have. They are another medium to make information available to the public.”

As a demonstration of this interactivity, Trapeze offers users of its Transit Information products free access to Google Export service, which sends transit systems’ data to Google in the format it needs for inclusion in the Google Transit database.

“It’s another step in solving a business problem every agency has—how to push information out to the public in an easy way,” Goddard said.

GIRO also sees the synergy as beneficial.  “So far, Google appears to complement HASTINFO,” said Carignan, “and it seems to appeal to a different audience than an in-house trip planner.    Carignan also noted that to accommodate GIRO clients who wanted to upload their scheduled data to Google Transit, GIRO began providing a Google Transit interface for its recent software versions.

By greatly simplifying the process of traveling from one place to another—and making mobility more user-friendly (and dare we say) more fun—there’s no doubt that these technological developments will continue to play a critical role in enabling transit systems to provide more amenities to customers and to help make public transportation an essential part of their everyday lives.

Transit Agencies Make Strides in Recycling Efforts

Susan Berlin, Senior Editor

Oil and water shouldn’t mix, so when public transit agencies turn an environmental eye on them, our industry and our planet both benefit.

Today, environmental management doesn’t just mean processing wastewater to limit levels of pollutants. It also means ensuring that the streams where people fish today will still be open for fishing tomorrow.

In addition, a basic part of being a good steward of the environment is not only to collect and reuse engine oil, but also to make sure the oil does not drain into the ground and contaminate the water system.

Grantley Martelly, regional general manager, central business unit, with the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City, said restating the benefits of environmental awareness in non-technical terms helped bring UTA employees on board with the changes in its process. “By doing this,” he said, “you will ensure that your children and grandchildren can ski the same slopes where you ski, hunt the same game ranges you hunt. When we limit the impact on the environment, it affects these areas directly.”

Martelly explained that UTA keeps an eye on the impact of its used water and engine oil as part of its International Standards Organization (ISO) 14001 certification. “We discharge stormwater into streams, and we are required to make sure our stormwater drains are not polluted,” he said. “We have many ways to prevent this. For example, we dump oil in the shop and recycle it; we don’t do it in the yard where the oil can get into the ground. We follow these procedures to prevent pollution from occurring, which protects our investment in the environment.”

TriMet's Recycling Plan
The Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland reuses its wash water and puts used engine oil through an off-site re-refining process as part of its comprehensive recycling plan.
 
“Engine oil can be reused,” explained Carolyn Young, TriMet’s executive director of communication and technology. While recycling oil simply refers to filtering out contaminants, she said, re-refining puts the used oil through the full refining process, resulting in a product that can be used again in a vehicle.

“Re-refining is cost-effective,” she added. “There’s a disposal cost to get rid of oil, since we would want to do it in an environmentally safe way, and it doesn’t cost much more to get it to a re-refiner.”

TriMet puts its used wash water through an oil separator, so it can be treated and used again to clean buses and rail cars.

Young also described how TriMet uses bioswales, or buffer zones, to minimize stormwater runoff from its park-and-ride lots and construction sites. “It can really make a difference in the environment if you make sure you aren’t contributing to stormwater runoff,” she said. “You need a buffer between the end of a park-and-ride and anywhere that water can run off.”

Processing Water
Stormwater and wastewater management are also priorities for Sun Tran in Tucson, AZ, which achieved ISO 14001 compliance for its maintenance facility in 2005.

According to Steve Bobert, environmental manager: “We’ve implemented a program where we examine all the cleaning products we use, so our used washwater doesn’t adversely affect the county’s water treatment plant.” He explained that Sun Tran’s bus wash process allows some of the water originally used for rinsing buses to be reused to wash other vehicles.

Bobert noted that Sun Tran also works to minimize any adverse effects on stormwater, such as cleaning up engine fluid leaks before they can drain into the ground.

In the Snohomish County suburbs of Seattle, Community Transit has engaged its employees in the environmental management effort, specifically involving water processing. “As a result, some employees have had suggestions for things from an environmental standpoint,” said Colleen Murphy, risk management analyst.

Community Transit treats its stormwater using dried, composted leaves as a filter to remove metal and oil contaminants, Murphy said; the cleaned water then goes into a local stream. The agency also recycles water from its bus wash: the most recent calculations, in 2004, showed 12.8 million gallons of recycled water for that year.

Murphy said the agency’s improvement of water treatment has helped create an improved relationship with regulatory agencies. “We have a couple of wastewater permits for bus washing,” she said. “As a result of introducing this program, we’ve gone from making reports monthly to quarterly; it’s saved us money and hasn’t cost us anything. Because we have a good program, we’re on top of things, less likely to have problems.”

The agency also has worked to speed up its spill response in case of fluid leakage in the field, she said, with improvements in training procedures and reporting. “The first time we had an incident like that, the response took eight hours; now it takes two hours,” Murphy said.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is incorporating the recovery and reuse of rainwater into its vehicle maintenance procedure. MTA New York City Transit’s Corona maintenance shop for subway cars has a roof designed with a certain pitch so rainwater that drains into a 40,000-ton tank under the shop can be used for cleaning the rail cars.

Water conservation measures implemented by the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, CA, have allowed the agency to reduce its water usage by 1.54 million gallons—equivalent to the volume of 2.3 Olympic-size swimming pools—in the first four months of 2008 compared with the same period last year.

VTA implemented recommendations from the Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Water Use Survey Program and Irrigation Technical Assistance Program, such as installing more efficient toilets, faucets, and shower heads and immediately correcting major irrigation problems at transit-related facilities, park-and-ride lots, and light rail stations. Future efforts may include using recycled water for irrigation; replacing high-water plant-using landscape in heavily traveled areas with low-water plants; and enhancing the efficiency of bus and train washing facilities.

“Implementing water conservation strategies identified in the assessment is just one element of an extensive sustainability program that VTA has adopted in our commitment to being environmentally responsible,” said General Manager Michael T. Burns.

Palm Tran in West Palm Beach, FL, uses recycled water in its bus wash facilities. While the original reason for the reuse of water was that Florida was undergoing a water shortage, the process allows Palm Tran to minimize its impact on water use.

Geoffrey Ballard, Developer of Hydrogen Fuel Cells, Dies at 76 in Vancouver

Susan R. Paisner, Senior Managing Editor

Hydrogen fuel cells are such a part of today’s common language that if you Google that phrase, you will bring forth 531,000 hits. 

These days, people take this technology for granted.  But if not for the focused, determined efforts of Geoffrey Ballard, who died last month at age 76 in North Vancouver, Canada, there might be no such thing.  Because Dr. Ballard was the developer of hydrogen fuel cells, and he used them to build an emissions-free public transportation bus that knocked the air out of the automobile industry in particular when it was unveiled in 1993.

Calling him a “pioneer” and a “visionary,” Jaimie Levin, Director of Alternative Fuels Policy for AC Transit of Oakland, CA, termed this technology “clearly transformative.”  While still not yet viable for mass manufacture, Levin said that the hydrogen fuel cell is “the future of our industry,” citing both its efficiency and environmental.  A bus operating with this technology is, he said, “almost as quiet as a golf cart.”

According to his son Mark, Ballard saw the gasoline crisis in the 1970s as a tell-tale sign for the need to change fuels.  “We have to burst into the hydrogen age,” he would frequently tell his children, “or else we’ll kill the planet.”  Dr. Ballard spent a great deal of his time trying to devise ways of obtaining hydrogen without burning coal.  “If you’re burning fossil fuels to get hydrogen to cease burning fossil fuels,” he often said, drily, “your efficiency is not that good.”

Paul Howard, an engineer and builder and a co-founder of Ballard Power Systems, was Dr. Ballard’s long time partner and best friend.  The company manufactured fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electricity, which can be stored in high capacity batteries on board.  By 1989 the company demonstrated that a hydrogen fuel cell, approximately 3 kw in size (equivalent to 4 horsepower), could light lights.  The next year, “Geoff had the view that in order for the public to really understand this – we had to do something quite visual and significant.  And he said: ‘Why don’t we put this into a bus?’”

Dr. Ballard’s reasoning, Howard said, was that a bus shared many similarities with a car:  They both moved people, they both used wheels, and they both used roads.  But when they told their engineers what they were going to do, Howard said, “most of them thought it was folly and would fail.  It was too big.”  Because they were talking about a passenger vehicle, the power/weight ratio was critical, which is why they spent so much time making the fuel cell smaller but with more power output.  

Dr. Ballard believed that public transportation was a viable way of bringing the hydrogen age to the marketplace.  In addition to the bus being “very relatable” to the average consumer, it had one main element that solved a huge chicken/egg type problem.  And that was – the car companies would not manufacture a vehicle if the owners could not easily “fill it up” at a nearby station, and the oil companies would not set up hydrogen fueling stations if there were no cars being made to use them.  Because buses refueled in a central depot, there would be a need for only one hydrogen refueling station.

“So public transit answered a bunch of questions that the car could not yet evolve to,” said Mark Ballard.  When in 1993 the first hydrogen fuel cell powered, zero-emission bus was unveiled in Vancouver – with Dr. Ballard, his 8-year-old grandson, and Vancouver officials drinking the emissions from this bus in champagne glasses – the automakers took notice.  “After that,” said Mark Ballard, “all the major players then got involved – with massive contracts.”  When Ballard Power Systems went public, Daimler-Chrysler and Ford bought a one-third share in the company – for many millions.  Dr. Ballard ceased active management of that company in 1998. 

Geoffrey Ballard, who risked his professional career on creating a non-polluting source of energy, was born near Niagara Falls in Ontario.  His undergraduate studies were in geological engineering at Queen’s University in Ontario, and he received a Ph.D. in geophysics from Washington University in St. Louis in 1963.  Dr. Ballard received many honors, including the Order of Canada and the Order of British Columbia.  Time magazine recognized him in 1999 as a “Hero for the Planet,” Scientific American magazine named him its Business Leader of the Year in 2002, and Discover magazine and the Economist gave him their innovations awards in 2002 and 2003.  He is survived by his wife Shelagh and three sons, Curtis, Mark, and Ed.

Dr. Ballard’s steadfastness has become his legacy.  Because of him, thousands of people have purchased hybrid vehicles to reduce dependence on foreign oil and hydrogen fuel cell powered buses have the potential to transform the public transportation industry. 

And in 2010, the Winter Olympics in Vancouver will be served by a full 20 bus fleet of hydrogen fuel cell zero emission buses – the largest single fleet in one place – ever.

As Mark Ballard said: “It’s kind of funny as a legacy to sit there as the son of our dad to find his work talked about at the Olympics and starting to be ingrained in the fabric of our society.”

In 1999, Dr. Ballard told Time magazine that science colleagues once “embarrassed to be seen with me at professional symposia” began asking him to speeches. “Be impatient,” he counseled students at British Columbia's University of Victoria as he accepted an honorary degree in 1998.  “Challenge the normal. Dare to be in a hurry to change things for the better.”


Waterborne Service Makes Waves

By Donna Aggazio Young, Special to Passenger Transport

Traditionally, waterborne transit has played a major role in the public transportation systems of other countries, but in the U.S. it has primarily been seen as an adjunct or stand-alone means of transportation. All that might be changing, however, if an organized group of waterborne transit operators has its way.

Waterborne transit has experienced substantial growth in the past decade; 47 waterborne transit operators in the U.S. currently provide an estimated 65 million trips annually. With land values at an all-time high, many communities have turned to this mode of transportation both to decrease congestion and to improve mobility. Nevertheless, connecting waterborne operations to other modes can present its own set of unique challenges. Further, because waterfront property is at a premium, the lack of available and affordable land in close proximity to ferry terminals can create complications for transit trips.

In the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, ferry service has been a part of the region’s history since the 1800s. Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) operates ferries between Portsmouth and downtown Norfolk, connecting with existing bus service. In anticipation of light rail entering service in 2010, HRT plans to build a transfer center to connect ferry passengers with light rail in downtown Norfolk, according to HRT Vice President of Operations Michael Perry.

A newer waterborne service can be found on a river in Oklahoma City. In April 2008, Metro Transit, a division of the Central Oklahoma Transportation and Parking Authority (COTPA), began its Oklahoma River Cruises along a seven-mile stretch of the Oklahoma River connecting the downtown to the airport. “We plan to expand the number of stops on the route and link to water taxis,” said Jeanne L. Smith, COTPA’s river transit manager.

Celia Kupersmith, chair of the APTA Waterborne Transit Operations Committee and general manager of the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway, and Transportation District, offered some words of caution. “Waterborne transit is not a simple continuum of a land-based operation,” she said, adding that new operators should prepare for overwhelming popularity and start thinking big in terms of the planned service.

Larry Jacobs, transportation coordinator for the Government of Bermuda and chair of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) Waterborne Committee, listed several examples of new technologies in waterborne transit.

    • ATG Alster-Touristik GmbH in Hamburg, Germany, is preparing to introduce the 100-passenger “Zemship” (Zero Emission Ship), powered by a hydrogen fuel cell. The company, which runs tourist excursions as a subsidiary of Hamburger Hochbahn AG, also has operated a solar-powered boat since 2000.

    • As part of its effort to operate fossil fuel free by 2020, Stockholm, Sweden, is experimenting with biofuels to power ferries on inner-city waterways. The city owns a biofuels facility and already uses the fuel for its public transport buses.

    • Another solar-powered boat, similar to the one in Hamburg, is the Solarshuttle that operates on the Serpentine lake in London’s Hyde Park. The boat collects energy from the sun with 27 curved glass modules; a specially designed system stores the energy in batteries, which power two silent electric motors.

    • Regulations in Amsterdam, capital of the Netherlands, call for all new canal boats to operate with zero emissions. The municipal transit company already operates fuel cell-powered boats, and is running a hydrogen-powered canal boat on a test basis.

Overseas projects that are “raising the bar” in new technologies can provide sought-after guidance to both emerging markets and older established systems, particularly in the U.S.

APTA’s Efforts
To address the full range of policy and operational issues and develop a comprehensive and proactive strategy for waterborne transit, APTA’s Executive Committee officially approved the formation of the Waterborne Transit Operations Committee as a permanent standing committee during the 2007 APTA Annual Meeting.

The creation of a new committee set an ambitious plan in motion to not only provide networking opportunities to share best practices, but also to build stronger lines of communication with federal regulatory agencies and develop standards and improve industry practices.

In its first year, the committee has become a clearinghouse through which APTA members made industry contacts and shared experiences of what it means to be a waterborne transit provider. “We are attempting to stretch boundaries for APTA members who never thought of waterborne service as mass transit,” said committee Chair Celia Kupersmith.

The committee has spearheaded a new TCRP project: “H-40: Guidelines for Ferry Transit Services—A National Overview.” Once it is completed, this project will detail what comprises a high quality ferry operation.

This exchange of information does not stop within U.S. borders, however. Another of the committee’s networking goal is the furtherance of sharing information on the use of technology and clean energy with the 10-year-old UITP Waterborne Committee—a move that will potentially benefit numerous systems in the U.S that share a common concern for fuel efficiency.

The Waterborne Transit Operations Committee will meet Tuesday, Oct. 7, during APTA’s Annual Meeting in San Diego. An educational session, “Transit Takes to the Water,” immediately follows the committee meeting.


Public Transit Lost and Founds Serve Many Purposes

Susan Berlin, Senior Editor

Lost and found departments at transit systems across the country aren’t just places to house such commonly forgotten items as umbrellas, cell phones, and eyeglasses.   In some notable instances, they have reunited passengers with loved ones and helped our troops abroad keep in touch with their families.

In one case, an agency made sure a student could stay in the U.S. to continue his studies.  Pat Gilbert of the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) in Lansing, MI recounted this story of a man who left his passport on a CATA bus.  “When he came to get it, he had to hug me and kept bowing and then a kiss on both cheeks ... he said I had saved his life because he would have had to go back to Turkey and they may not have let him back to the U.S. to finish his education.”

It’s not unusual for bicyclists who attach their bikes to the front rack on a bus to forget to take them off when they depart.  While most owners ultimately claim their bikes, CATA donates unclaimed bikes after a period of time to the Share-A-Bike Program which, in turn, distributes them to needy members of the community.

When Valley Metro in Phoenix replaced its old fareboxes, it found a variety of non-money items inside, including religious medals and crosses, buttons, pieces of jewelry, heart-shaped charms, and guitar picks.

“I’m assuming most people just reached into their pockets and deposited into the fareboxes what they thought were coins (or maybe had hoped the farebox would count if they were short the fare),” said spokesperson Marie Chapple. "The old farebox did accept these trinkets, but not as payment.”

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) donates unclaimed cell phones to a program that provides them to abused women. Laura Simonson, a victim advocate with the Salt Lake City Police Department, said the police department receives donated phones from various sources, programming them solely to connect to “911.”  The phones can be a lifeline for emergency help–particularly if the abuser has cut the land line connection.

Lawnmowers and dentures have been found by UTA in addition to construction materials, wheelchairs, and prosthetic limbs.

Eyeglasses, particularly sunglasses, are not surprisingly among the most common items left on board Oahu Transit Services vehicles in Honolulu.  All unclaimed glasses--and cell phones--are donated to the Rocklin Lions Club in Rocklin, CA, which sells them to a licensed recycler. The Lions Club uses the funds to buy pre-paid Military Global calling cards that allow U.S. troops stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan to call home, and eyeglasses are donated to Third World countries.

And here’s a story you don’t hear every day.  Mary Fetsch at the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland told how an elderly woman was reunited with her departed husband’s remains.  Fetsch said that a black bag found on MAX light rail contained the identified remains of a gentleman.  “It had enough ID that TriMet was able to track down the daughter and speak with her,” she said. The grateful daughter said her mother carried her husband’s remains with her at all times, but frequently became forgetful and would leave them behind.

Medical-related items have turned up in public transit vehicles in both San Diego and Philadelphia. The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System has also found a vehicle transmission, piñatas, and $7,000 in negotiable bonds in addition to wheelchairs and crutches. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority listed a blood pressure cuff, insulin kits, and a glass eye.

Most of the time, the items are what one would expect.  SEPTA’s Sylvana Hoyos listed the most common items as “cell phones, wallets, handbags, laptops, rollerblades, skateboards, canes, trial attorneys’ briefcases, airplane tickets, jewelry including wedding bands, and medications.”  But there are always exceptions.

The Metropolitan Transit Authority in Nashville reported finding abandoned musical instruments, along with various mobility aids and a prosthetic leg. “We also receive Bibles on a regular basis,” said MTA’s Patricia Harris-Morehead, and employees of Broward County Transit in Pompano Beach, FL, reported finding among other items, a fishing pole, a golf club, and--a turkey.

Public transit an investment, not expense

By RAY MELLEADY