Passenger Transport - September 22, 2008
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Clinton, Millar Testify on Transit and Energy Issues

The House Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee heard from public transit industry leaders and advocates at its Sept. 9 hearing on “Strengthening the Ability of Public Transportation to Reduce Our Dependence on Foreign Oil.” U.S. Sen. Robert Casey Jr. (D-PA) chaired the hearing in the absence of Chairman Christopher Dodd (D-CT).

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) testified in support of transit as “a win-win-win” for the environment, the economy, and the public. “We must take steps to ensure that our public transit systems keep pace with increased demand without sacrificing service or increasing fares,” she said.

Clinton recently introduced the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008 in the Senate. The legislation, which authorizes $1.7 billion for transit over two years, previously passed overwhelmingly in the House.

“Transit is the answer to a lot of problems,” she emphasized. “More and more service is being provided, but even more is needed. We have to make public transportation a public priority.”

Millar told the committee about the continuing trend of ridership growth for U.S. public transportation agencies, announcing a 5.2 percent increase in the second quarter of 2008. (See related story on page 3.) “Riders may have come to transit for the high gas prices, but they’re staying because transit is convenient and meets their needs,” he said.

He explained that—although transit use saves the nation 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline each year—systems face difficulties related to capacity problems and high fuel costs. He cited APTA’s recent fuel price survey, in which 35 percent of respondents reported either cutting passenger service or considering it. He asked Congress to provide financial assistance to public transportation agencies to help them avoid raising fares or eliminating service.

Dorothy Dugger, general manager of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, noted that her agency operates only on electric power, so fossil fuel costs are not an issue. However, she added, BART is working to accommodate increased ridership by removing seats from some rail cars to make room for more standees.

Keith Parker, chief executive officer of the Charlotte Area Transit System in Charlotte, NC, presented examples of how the LYNX light rail line has improved the quality of life in nearby neighborhoods.

Dave Kilmer, general manager of the Red Rose Transit Authority in Lancaster, PA, noted that smaller public transit systems face problems similar to those in larger metropolitan areas. “Our primary concern is being able to replace older vehicles,” he said. “We also need facility improvements—our facilities are antiquated, not energy-efficient.”

Other witnesses on the panel included Andy Darrell, vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund, and Robert Puentes, a Fellow with the Brookings Institution.

Members of the committee also commented on the importance of public transportation in helping Americans cope with high fuel costs.

“Public transportation can efficiently and effectively transport commuters to and from their destinations while using less fuel, creating less pollution, and taking a significant amount of stress—and congestion—off our roadways,” said Ranking Member Richard Shelby (R-AL).

“The cheapest gallon of gasoline is the one we never need to buy,” said Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE).

“Mass transit plays an important part in America’s energy independence strategy,” said Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC). “Securing energy independence is critical to national security…It is important that America has an energy policy that is not dependent on Venezuela, Iran, or Russia.”

Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT) noted that, while urban areas may have the highest concentration of public transit service, rural areas need to be included in any solution.

Three days after the hearing Clinton restated her support for transit and described her legislation at a press conference in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with representatives of New York State public transit agencies and advocacy groups in attendance.

“Every day, more hardworking Americans are turning to our nation’s mass transit systems for relief from a slumping economy that has saddled them with skyrocketing gas and transportation costs,” Clinton said. “As the demand continues to rise, we must take steps to ensure that our mass transit infrastructure keeps pace with the increased ridership, so that we are not putting the burden on commuters and an already stretched system.”

House-Passed Energy Bill Incorporates Transit Provisions

On Sept. 16, the House approved, by a vote of 236 to 189, a comprehensive plan to address America’s energy future. The legislation incorporated the main provisions of H.R. 6052, the “Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act of 2008” authored by Rep. James L. Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.

“This bill recognizes the importance of funding public transportation to further our energy savings and security goals,” Oberstar said.

Specifically, H.R. 6899 authorizes $1.7 billion over two years for grants to transit agencies nationwide to temporarily reduce fares, expand services, or offset the increased cost of system and fleet maintenance to meet the needs of the growing number of transit commuters.

“Public transportation in all its forms–buses, light rail, subways, to name a few–saves fuel and reduces our dependence on foreign oil,” he added. “Increasing the use of public transportation by providing Americans the good transit service they want and need must be an important part of a holistic national energy policy.”

 

Transit Systems Respond as Hurricane Ike Slams Texas

By Leslie Bucher, Special to Passenger Transport

Hurricane Ike was no Katrina. Ike was no Rita. But for the people of Galveston, TX, Hurricane Ike was the end of the world they knew.

With winds at 110 miles per hour and a storm surge of 15 feet, Ike took deadly aim at Galveston, crashing ashore in the early morning hours of Sept. 13 as a Category 2 hurricane and bringing untold devastation to an island that was home to some 60,000 residents. Not anymore.

“Do not come back to Galveston,” Mayor Lyda Ann Thomas warned. “You cannot live here at this time.”

Throughout the storm, as more and more people fled the devastated areas, Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County and VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio provided support efforts to assist the evacuees.

As the city of Houston dealt with its own considerable damage from the hurricane, Houston Metro initially reported service on only 15 of its more than 130 routes two days after Ike hit.

“The first two days we could offer no service, but by Monday we were offering limited service, focusing on operating priority routes to hospitals, grocery stores, and employment locations,” said Carolina Mendoza, media specialist. She also reported that Metro waived fares for the first few days after Ike.

According to Mendoza, Houston Metro has now fully resumed local bus service, with park-and-ride service on an abbreviated schedule. Power permitting, light rail was scheduled to return to service as Passenger Transport went to press.

Mendoza also reported on Metro’s efforts before Ike struck, evacuating and rescuing more than 2,300 people. “We’re continuing to provide emergency rescue help as requested by local agencies,” she added.

Four days after Ike made landfall, more than 35,000 people remained in shelters. Roughly two million were still without power as officials distributed millions of meals and liters of water, as well as generators, tents, tarps, and other supplies.

Two hundred miles southwest of Houston, San Antonio received many of the evacuees from the hurricane, and VIA was prepared to help them.

“We started late last week as we got word evacuees were being sent to San Antonio,” said Priscilla Ingle, vice president, public affairs. “Our efforts are targeted at shuttling evacuees around the city and to help emergency responders get to where they need to be.”

VIA also sent 14 buses to transport patients from the Corpus Christi State School to the San Antonio State School. Ultimately, neither Corpus Christi nor San Antonio suffered Ike’s wrath.

San Antonio provided four shelters for storm victims, serving an estimated 9,000 evacuees and counting, as more people were forced to flee the flooding and destruction—many from Galveston. VIA operations supervisors have been on hand at the shelters to help evacuees figure out what bus routes they may need to take to get around while staying in San Antonio. According to Ingle, the services also include taking evacuees to visit their pets at a specially designated shelter.

Throughout the siege of Hurricane Ike and the storm’s aftermath, VIA has operated two free, dedicated shuttle routes with 17 buses to serve evacuees. VIA also continues to offer evacuees free service on its Main Line routes, which operate with a fleet of 435 buses.

Ingle also looked back at 2005, when San Antonio hosted evacuees from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. “Those people were here for a period of time,” she said, “and during that whole time we transported them to places of business so they could attend to their personal needs.”

Metrolink commuter rail in southern California resumed full service four days after a Sept. 12 crash in Chatsworth, 25 miles northwest of Los Angeles, that killed 25 people and injured 135. The accident occurred when a Metrolink train collided with a Union Pacific freight train along the stretch of shared track.

According to investigators with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), the Metrolink engineer went through a signal that should have warned him to stop. An NTSB accident re-enactment test showed that the engineer of the Union Pacific train had only four seconds to react before seeing the oncoming Metrolink train and hit the brakes just two seconds before the point of collision.

The two trains were both traveling about 40 miles per hour along a curving section of track at the time of impact, which forced the locomotive of the Metrolink train back through the adjoining car.

As investigators continued to probe the events leading up to the crash, they planned to interview the freight train’s brakeman and conductor. The engineer, who survived the crash, was still too injured to speak with authorities at press time.

Nearly three years ago, on Jan. 26, 2005, 11 people were killed and 180 injured in a collision in Glendale, CA, involving a Metrolink train. Juan Alvarez was convicted of 11 counts of first-degree murder for causing the crash and sentenced to 11 consecutive life terms. Alvarez had said during his trial that he was trying to commit suicide when he parked his gasoline-soaked SUV on the railroad tracks; a Metrolink train struck the SUV, derailed, and struck another Metrolink train traveling in the opposite direction. The prosecutors and jury disagreed and found Alvarez guilty.

 

Public Transit Ridership Surges in 2nd Quarter

APTA announced Sept. 16 that U.S. public transportation ridership climbed 5.2 percent in the second quarter of 2008 compared with the same quarter in the previous year. Americans took more than 2.8 billion trips on public transportation between April and June of this year, nearly 140 million more trips than from the same time period last year.

While public transportation use continued to climb, vehicle miles traveled on the nation’s roads continued to go down—by 3.3 percent, according to the Federal Highway Administration, marking the eighth consecutive month of decline.

“Record numbers of Americans from small communities to large cities continue to ride public transportation to beat the high gas prices,” said APTA President William W. Millar. “This large quarterly increase is remarkable, particularly since an economic downturn usually causes fewer people to ride public transit. This surge in ridership underlines the urgent need for increased investment in public transportation from state, local and federal governments.”

Light rail showed the highest percentage of ridership increase among all modes, posting a 12.3 percent increase for the second quarter. Light rail systems showing double-digit increases were Buffalo, NY, 45.9 percent; Philadelphia, 34.9 percent; Kenosha, WI, 26.9 percent; Sacramento, 26.3 percent; Salt Lake City, 19.4 percent; Minneapolis, 16 percent; Baltimore, 13.7 percent; San Francisco, 12.2 percent; and Pittsburgh, 12 percent.

Overall bus ridership had the second highest increase for the quarter, 5.1 percent nationwide. Bus travel in communities of all sizes saw ridership increases; communities with populations ranging from 100,000 to 499,999 experienced a 14 percent increase, and ridership in communities under 100,000 increased by 11.1 percent. The highest increases at the largest bus agencies were in Baltimore, 18 percent; San Antonio, 14 percent; Phoenix, 13.3 percent; Oakland, CA, 10.2 percent; San Diego, 9.6 percent; Chicago, 8.5 percent; Denver, 8 percent; Minneapolis, 7.6 percent; Seattle, 7.5 percent; and Boston, 5.3 percent.

Ridership on commuter rail grew 4.9 percent nationally for the second quarter. Commuter rail systems with double digit ridership growth in the second quarter of 2008 were Portland, ME,  43.2 percent; Seattle, 30.9 percent; Pompano Beach, FL, 28.8 percent; Santa Fe, NM, 28.3 percent; Harrisburg, PA, 17.8 percent; Philadelphia, 15.5 percent; Dallas, 15.3 percent; Stockton, CA, 14.9 percent; New Haven, 13.7 percent; and Oakland, CA, 13.7 percent.

Heavy rail ridership increased by 4.3 percent. The heavy rail systems with the largest increases in ridership for the 2008 second quarter were San Juan, PR, 20.8 percent; Atlanta, GA, 15.6 percent; Staten Island, NY, 11.3 percent; Miami, FL, 9.2 percent; Lindenwold, NJ, 9.1 percent; Boston, MA, 7.7 percent; Los Angeles,7.6 percent; Jersey City, NJ, 5.7 percent; San Francisco, 5.6 percent; and Baltimore, 5.3 percent.

The complete text of the second-quarter ridership report can be found here.

Framework for the Future Task Force Releases Draft Report

The Framework for the Future Task Force has released a draft report addressing organizational issues related to implementing TransitVision 2050. The task force is now seeking input and comments from APTA members.

Led by co-chairs John B. Bartosiewicz of McDonald Transit Associates, George F. Dixon III of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, and Leslie R. White of the Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District, the task force was charged with defining what APTA’s purpose should be, who APTA should represent in the future, and how APTA’s committee and reporting structure could be more efficiently configured.

The draft report will be discussed at the Oct. 5 APTA Board of Directors meeting in San Diegom during the APTA Annual Meeting and EXPO, and all interested APTA members are encouraged to submit their comments through the APTA web site by Oct. 13. A copy of the report is available online at www.apta.com.

  • APTA’s Purpose and Membership
    With regard to APTA’s purpose and who should be members of the association, the report notes that, to be a player in the broader public transportation policy formulation role envisioned in TransitVision 2050, a major shift will be needed in who is involved in APTA and that APTA should seek out non-traditional partners to advance its agenda. The task force recommends that APTA membership be extended to organizations that are committed to public transportation as their core mission as it evolves over time.

    The task force was unanimous in its belief that it is essential to maintain APTA’s core strength in providing technical service related to the delivery of transit service, and that the association must continue to meet the technical support needs of public transit agencies and business members. On the policy side, the task force noted the need to be flexible and inclusive to proactively influence the formulation of public transportation policy, and to be open and encouraging to new members that focus on the policy, planning and funding of public transportation.

    APTA Committees
    The report identifies the core activities of APTA’s committees as developing its people, conducting APTA business, and advancing technical practice. It notes that inclusion and encouraging participation by individual members have been hallmarks of APTA’s committee structure.

    It states that APTA’s committees serve two purposes: working to advance APTA’s policy objectives and supporting the industry’s needs on technical issues. While these roles are significantly different from each other, the task force views them both as appropriate and critical if the organization is to achieve its goals and meet the needs of its members.

    The report contains a number of recommendations regarding APTA’s committee structure, including: 

    APTA’s standing committees should be aligned with the strategic goals of the organization, a framework that will be flexible and responsive to changes that take place in the industry in the future, and 

    APTA’s policy committees should be aligned around the organization’s strategic goals and the non-modal issues that will shape the future of the industry. The committees need to focus more on cross-cutting issues and to be less modal in nature.

    The task force noted that APTA committees are already considering a number of key issues identified in TransitVision 2050 that can be given a higher profile.

    Drawing upon suggestions from APTA’s business members, the report recommends the establishment of four new standing committees that focus on cross-cutting issues that currently have no “home” in APTA. These committees covering these issues—conversion and integration of separate transportation entities into intermodal transportation systems, sustainability, public-private partnerships, and mobility management—would report directly to the APTA Executive Committee.

    The report notes that APTA’s committee structure dates back to the 1974 merger of the American Transit Association and the Institute for Rapid Transit into the American Public Transit Association, and that over the years APTA simply added on to the existing structure rather than considering whether changes were needed. Currently, 49 APTA standing committees report to 13 vice chair members of the Executive Committee, and the number of committees expands to more than 100 with the addition of subcommittees, technical forums, and task forces.

    The report recommends undertaking a review of the number and structure of APTA’s committees, with the goal of reducing the number of committees, increasing the consistency in the way committees are organized, minimizing overlapping responsibilities, and enhancing the strategic focus in the organization of committees.

 

More Riders, Tighter Budgets: How Transit Agencies Are Responding

In the Sept. 8 issue of Passenger Transport, APTA presented the results of a recent survey on the competing challenges agencies are facing across the country due to surging ridership, increases in fuel costs, and dwindling revenues from state and local sources.

But how are individual agencies responding in their local contexts? APTA recently conducted in-depth interviews with 15 member transit agencies, large and small, across the country to find out.

High Demand Creates Capacity Constraints
One thing is clear. Many public transit systems, regardless of size, that are seeing double-digit increases in ridership on their most popular lines are, at the same time, facing huge capacity constraints and large deficits in their Fiscal Year 2009 budgets or are anticipating deficits for 2010. But they have widely different ways to address these challenges. Many systems have found that the most effective response so far has been to take a multi-pronged approach with a combination of service cuts, fare increases, and finding alternative revenue sources.

Service cuts have been, by far, one of the most painful actions for transit systems, which often start by reducing frequency on certain routes but sometimes eliminating them altogether, creating for some systems a vast public outcry.

In Cleveland, more than 2,000 customers recently attended a public meeting on proposed service cuts to express their concern, anger, and desperate need for the routes that would be eliminated. The Lane Transit District in Eugene, OR, is preparing a public consultation process in the face of an anticipated need to cut service by as much as 15 percent; LTD’s ridership increased by 17 percent in the past year.

Other systems are looking at ways to modify their paratransit services or vehicles to ensure maximum cost-efficiency while meeting minimum requirements. For example, Sun Tran in Tucson, AZ, is using its mini-buses that get the best gas mileage on the longest routes to save on fuel.

Some transit agencies are creating extra capacity by increasing their load factors: Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has increased its target load factor on its commuter rail line from .9 to 1.0, and is preparing to add a significant amount of parking at its northernmost light rail station. But, as DART General Manager Gary Thomas pointed out, trying to meet demand is a bit like trying to hit a moving target. “It is anticipated the demand will continue to exceed capacity,” he said.

Public Awareness Campaigns
Many systems are reaching out to the public to help riders deal with overcrowding and to offer alternative routes and off-peak travel suggestions.

The Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore launched a public awareness campaign to shift riders from overcrowded routes, and the Kansas City Area Transit Authority (KCATA) in Kansas City, MO, issues rider bulletins to help the flow of passengers on its bus systems. KCATA also recommended that passengers buy monthly passes to increase their boarding speed, explaining: “You can just swipe and ride, plus you’ll be saving money all month long.”

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), located in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, has reached out to riders via the local news media to explain the pressures of increased fuel prices on the system.

Fare Increases: Another Option
Transit systems that recently implemented fare increases have not reported a negative impact on ridership. Those that are looking ahead to future fare increases, however, are considering basing them on a passenger’s ability to pay.

Two transit agencies interviewed, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority and the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City, have either recently created or are proposing fuel surcharges on their fares based on the national price index that, in turn, is based on the quarterly cost of diesel fuel.

Some systems are looking at incremental fare policies each year as part of a general policy to eliminate lag time in budgeting for and implementing new fare increases. PRTC is contemplating fare indexing: increasing fares every two years at a rate of 10 percent or higher, depending on changes over time in the Washington-Baltimore urban area wage earners’ index and fuel prices.

Additional Approaches Vary
Systems that pre-purchased fuel at a set price have been able to avoid being hit by higher fuel costs so far, as have systems with more vehicles in their fleets powered by alternative fuels. With that in mind, several agencies are looking to replace their diesel buses by hybrids in the near future.

Further, many transit agencies have cut administrative costs through hiring freezes, contract non-renewals, staff cuts, elimination of nearly all travel and training, and spending fewer dollars on advertising and marketing.

Most agencies have found that alternative or guaranteed sources of funding are hard to come by. However, some are generating new revenues in one area: expansion of existing pass programs. This seems to be working well for the Transit Authority of River City (TARC) in Louisville, KY, which is developing new partnership arrangements with local academic, governmental, and business entities. Metro Transit of Madison, WI, is particularly targeting smaller employers that have not historically participated in its pass program.

Beyond that, many agencies are foregoing service improvements to cover operating expenses; deferring capital replacements for the future; and reprogramming capital dollars for service expansion, such as shifting funds for facilities to purchasing new rolling stock to use on high ridership routes. These actions may delay a number of planned projects, such as the Bus Rapid Transit project scheduled for 2012 in Grand Rapids, MI.

Some systems are being helped by contingency funds or reserves of about 5 to 10 percent of operating budget, created specifically to weather downturns in the economy. Others are considering establishing these reserves, even if they have to borrow funds to do so.

Though many transit agencies are just beginning to feel the fiscal impact on their services, one transit CEO aptly described the situation at the moment: “Right now, we are just containing the damage.”

Sufficient Funding Is the Key Issue
Lack of funding is certainly the number one constraint to preserving services for most of the systems interviewed, but other barriers also exist to implementing service improvements quickly, such as the lead time for vehicle procurement, the lack of parking at park-and-ride stations, and the Federal Transit Administration’s new charter rules. In addition, as one transit general manager said: “The need to maintain and improve lines and modes that serve existing riders, many who are transit dependent, is a priority.”

The key short-term issue for a number of transit systems is how they can secure funding for unanticipated and unbudgeted fuel costs because of higher gas prices, or how to find further energy-hedging opportunities. In the long term, the goal is to advocate for local and state funding sources that are more stable than sales, property, or fuel taxes.

One transit general manager described what is needed as a “Marshall Plan” for public transportation, stating that “a major, ambitious community reinvestment plan is needed to redevelop urban infrastructure.”

Many transit CEOs interviewed see the increase in gas prices across the country as a redefining of the transit market, especially for those who are transit dependent. The irony, as stated by TARC General Manager J. Barry Barker, is that, at a time when there is almost universal agreement by community groups in his service area that “there is a need for more public transportation, there is no agreement on how to pay for it.”
 
The ridership surge and growing funding problems of transit systems will be the subject of two sessions at the APTA Annual Meeting and EXPO in San Diego, titled “The Perfect Storm.” The full report on which this article is based will be made available then.

Public Transit Issues on the Ballot Across the Nation

Public transportation is on the minds of many Americans, but it’s also an important topic on the Nov. 4 ballot for municipalities in 14 states throughout the U.S. Seven of the ballot measures are in California, with two each in Colorado, Michigan, Missouri, and Oregon.

Voters in Jonesboro, AR, will have the opportunity to decide the future of the Jonesboro Economical Transportation System (JETS) three years after its establishment. If this measure fails, JETS will begin to cut back on service in 2009 unless it can identify another source of funding.

A statewide ballot measure in California authorizes the sale of $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds to cover the preliminary costs of a proposed high-speed rail system. Proposition 1A includes fiscal controls for taxpayer protection. If approved, the new service would enter service in about a decade.

Property owners in California’s Alameda and Contra Costa counties could vote to double their parcel tax to $48 a year to fund AC Transit bus service under a proposal endorsed by the transit agency’s governing board. AC Transit administrators proposed the tax increase as an alternative to raising fares.

Measure R in Los Angeles County provides for a quarter-cent sales tax increase for road and public transportation projects, including the beginning of the “subway to the sea.”

Monterey County voters have a ballot measure that in part will provide for bus service improvements and transportation for the elderly and persons with disabilities, funded by a 25-year, half-cent sales tax and state and federal matching funds.

In Santa Barbara County, CA, voters will have a chance to renew the current half-cent sales tax for transportation before it expires in April 2010. An earlier measure providing for a 30-year renewal of the tax failed in 2006. Measure D, originally approved in 1989, supports roads and transit in the county; the renewal is on the ballot as Measure A.

A new law allows the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority in San Jose, CA, to place a sales tax of one-eighth-cent on the November ballot in Santa Clara County. The measure would support transit projects, including expansion of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District.

In the California counties of Sonoma and Marin, voters will have another opportunity to consider a quarter-cent sales tax to support the proposed Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit line. A similar measure lost in 2006 by slightly more than 1 percent. SMART’s plans call for a 70?mile passenger train service on the existing publicly?owned right-of-way between Cloverdale and Larkspur, along with a parallel bicycle pedestrian pathway connecting all 14 train stations.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) in Aspen, CO, is asking voters to approve a sales tax increase of 0.4 percent to help implement Bus Rapid Transit, and the issuance of $38 million in bonds to launch the expansion of the bus system. RFTA serves six municipalities—Aspen, Snowmass Village, Basalt, Carbondale, Glenwood Springs, and New Castle—and two counties, Eagle and Pitkin.

A measure on the ballot in Weld and Larimer counties, CO, would create a regional transportation authority that could levy up to a 1 percent sales tax.

Honolulu voters will consider an amendment to the city and county charter that would establish a proposed $3.7 billion commuter rail system. A separate measure proposed by rail opponents failed to get on the ballot.

Voters in Lawrence, KS, will consider two separate sales tax proposals: a .2 percent transit tax proposal and a .3 percent infrastructure sales tax. Lawrence City Commissioners proposed the taxes because of concerns about funding for local public transportation.

Kalamazoo County, MI, is proposing a property tax millage to pay for transit services over the next four years. The levy would start at .63 mills in 2008, gradually increasing each year, and ending at .86 mills in 2011. This new millage would replace two expiring taxes: 1.38 mill for residents of Kalamazoo and 0.38 mill for the rest of the county.

Spring Lake, MI, is asking voters to consider a .98 millage to finance the village’s share of Harbor Transit bus service for Fiscal Years 2010 and 2011. Costs for the transit service have escalated dramatically over the past year; the only other time the village used a millage to fund public transit was from 1976 to 1979.

In Kansas City, MO, voters will decide on a measure for a 25-year, three-eighths-cent sales tax increase to fund a 14-mile light rail starter system. Earlier this year, Kansas City voters renewed the same level of tax to finance bus operations.

A half-cent increase in the transit sales tax will be on the ballot in St. Louis. Proposition M allocates half of the increase for maintenance of the existing Metro transit system and the other half for expansion of MetroLink light rail.

Several New Mexico counties will consider a ballot measure proposing an increase of one-eighth cent per dollar to the gross receipts tax for transportation purposes. In the Rio Metro Transit District, which includes Bernalillo, Sandoval, and Valencia counties, half the revenue would be dedicated to the New Mexico Rail Runner Express commuter rail system, and the other half to surface transportation projects within the counties. In the North Central Regional Transit District, covering Santa Fe, Los Alamos, Rio Arriba, and Taos counties, only Santa Fe County would dedicate half the tax revenues to Rail Runner; the other counties would use the tax revenue for local bus and van projects.

Two transportation-related measures are on the November ballot in Washoe County, NV. One authorizes an additional one-eighth of 1 percent general sales and use tax to be used for public transit, and the other would show support for state legislation that would allow additional funding for transportation projects.

A quarter-cent sales tax measure that failed earlier this year in Mahoning County, OH, is back on the ballot. The Western Reserve Transit Authority in Youngstown has expressed concern that it may shut down if voters do not approve the measure.

In Bend, OR, voters will consider a measure that would create a separately funded transit district to support Bend Area Transit (BAT); funds would come from a property tax of $.393 per $1,000 assessed property value. The Bend City Council made cuts to BAT funding earlier this year, and the agency is looking at much deeper cuts if this measure does not pass.

Salem-Keizer Transit in Salem, OR, has a ballot measure asking for a levy of $.49 per $1,000 in assessed property value to sustain transit service at current levels while adding service to overcrowded routes. If the measure does not pass, the system anticipates service cuts. Also on the ballot is a $99.8 million transportation bond for roads and bridges.

A ballot measure in Allegheny County, PA, would repeal the county’s 10 percent
drink tax and increase property taxes to pay for public transportation through the Port Authority of Allegheny County.

Voters in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, WA, the region served by Seattle’s Sound Transit, will consider a 15-year mass transit package that increases express bus and commuter rail service and creates a 53-mile regional light rail system. Funding would come from a one-half percent increase of the local sales tax, or 5 cents on a $10 purchase.

A half-cent local sales tax dedicated to public transportation is on the ballot in Milwaukee, WI.

Voters in municipalities across the United States approved approximately 67 percent of public transportation-related ballot measures during 2007.

 

FTA’s First Class in Environmental Management Systems Training Shines

By Susan Berlin, Senior Editor

In a process that began in 2003, the Federal Transit Administration created its first Environmental Management Systems (EMS) Training and Assistance Program class.  As FTA’s Jim Barr, Office of Planning and Environment explained, in 2003 the agency invited 100 U.S. transit agencies with the highest ridership levels to participate in training and assistance for implementing these systems.  Issues covered include energy conservation, efficient water use, vehicle emission reduction, materials recycling, and management of hazardous materials.

Out of the 100, FTA selected 10 applicants to participate in four sessions of training, conducted by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University at its facility in Roanoke, VA.  More recently, FTA and Virginia Tech began a second session of training for representatives of eight transit agencies.

The EMS process consists of 17 elements, according to Barr, beginning with the transit agency’s creation of an environmental policy and its approval by the agency’s board. Other elements considered in the process include safety and security, various environmental aspects, and preliminary objectives.

“As the agencies proceeded through the workshops, halfway through they developed a menu of environmental measures of importance to them,” Barr said. “Then they developed two or three aspects of the menu that they were specifically interested in.”  He cited such examples as lessening electrical use, controlling runoff to decrease permit violations, minimizing hazardous waste, and decreasing emissions to obtain a reduced oversight permit. “All of the agencies had two or three very specific measures,” he added, “and this part of the process was all about implementing those measures.”
 Barr noted that Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority was part of the first EMS group and chose to participate again in the second group. “They’ve got plenty of bus barns and rail facilities, and they’ll want to train people to implement EMS at each of their facilities. They were very enthusiastic,” he said.

Another class participant was the Utah Transit Authority (UTA).  After completing the EMS program, UTA considered the positives and negatives of going for International Standards Organization (ISO) certification. Grantley Martelly, regional general manager, central business unit, said, “We thought it would be a good exercise to prove it was feasible to be environmentally sound and still economically secure. We were able to show from our research that becoming ISO certified [which they did] was actually going to save us much more than it would cost to become certified.” 

Sound Transit in Seattle and Sun Tran in Tucson, two more of the original“10,” have also achieved ISO 14001.certification.  Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) in Hampton, VA, another participant, launched an agency-wide Sustainability Initiative in July, and has established a goal to achieve full EMS implementation and ISO 14001 certification next year.

Sound Transit instituted a Sustainability Initiative designed to help the agency continually improve its performance and respond to new challenges such as global warming and diminishing resources. Chief Executive Officer Joni Earl said the ISO 14001 certification “ensures that we are regularly audited by a third-party auditor who checks to make sure we are doing what we say we are going to do, and that we stay on track toward being a leader in sustainability.”

Perry Weinberg, Sound Transit manager, environmental affairs, and legal counsel, noted that the agency has created a checklist of sustainability targets for the current year, and is in the process of beginning to identify targets for next year.

Sun Tran achieved ISO 14001 compliance for its maintenance facility in 2005.  Its plan identifies four significant aspects of environmental management: stormwater, wastewater, hazardous, waste and coolant. The city of Tucson’s paratransit provider, Van Tran, also earned an EMS ISO 14001 certification in 2007 for its administrative operations, with significant aspects of electrical energy conservation and office paper use and recycling.

Michele Joseph, director of marketing for Sun Tran, noted that the agency expanded on its original EMS program by converting its older diesel buses to use of B-20 biodiesel. “Today, 100 percent of Sun Tran’s fleet uses cleaner-burning fuels, including compressed natural gas and biodiesel. Additionally, Van Tran’s fleet is completely powered by biodiesel fuel,” she said.

HRT seeks continuous improvement in its EMS plans, including top management support; financial and public accountability; and grassroots enthusiasm and commitment.

Another member of the EMS class – Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA – emphasized the help of its employees in organizing its environmental efforts. According to Colleen Murphy, risk management analyst: “We’re all responsible for the protection of the environment, and we expect all employees to participate in the process, whatever their job is. We’ve all got to work on this together.”

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.”

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority is participating in the second round of EMS training. The MTA is working toward environmental sustainability in several ways, including the use of solar panels at MTA New York City Transit’s Stillwell Terminal in Coney Island. The design of the MTA’s Corona maintenance shop for subway cars incorporates several forms of sustainability, such as natural ventilation, use of daylight for illumination, and a tank that collects rainwater for cleaning the subway cars.

 

Study Mission Investigates Transit’s Role in Addressing Global Climate Change

By Kathryn Harrington-Hughes, Special to Passenger Transport

A team of managers from public transportation agencies throughout the U.S. recently traveled to Europe to investigate ways that public transport agencies are addressing issues related to global climate change. The study mission was part of the International Transit Studies Program, sponsored by the Transit Cooperative Research Program.

The team—led by Fred Hansen, general manager of Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon and chair of the APTA Sustainability Task Force—met with representatives of public transport agencies, governmental agencies, and non-governmental organizations, such as community and green organizations, in Dublin, Ireland; Munich and Freiburg, Germany; Milan, Italy; and Bilbao, Spain.

“This study mission was particularly timely because communities throughout the U.S. are increasingly looking to public transportation as part of the solution to global warming,” said Hansen. “We gained a much broader perspective, and what we learned will help us shape effective strategies and policies in this country.”

The team learned that the Dublin region’s strong economy has resulted in a large, unexpected growth in population and an increase in car ownership, putting tremendous pressure on the transportation system and the region’s air quality.

Recognizing that a good public transportation network is crucial to making the city attractive to sought-after employees, the city’s business community is a strong proponent of improvements to the transit network.

One innovation in the region is Quality Bus Corridors, a mixture of “real” bus lanes, designated by paint on the roadway, and “virtual” bus lanes that appear only at signalized intersections.

“The more congestion, the better the Quality Bus Corridors work,” said John Ryan of Dublin Bus. “People will choose the faster mode.” He also credited changes in parking policy for making transit a more attractive option to commuters.

Marian Wilson, technical director, policy and planning, Dublin Transportation Office, echoed Ryan’s comment, saying, "There’s no sense taking a horse to town if you have no place to stable it.”

Transit ridership has always been very high in Munich, but recently the public transport agency, MVG, began collaborating with Green Cities, an environmental organization, to encourage even more people to take transit. One such effort involves offering mobility management plans to new residents, so they learn right away about the ease and convenience of public transport in the city. A test project with 5,000 residents showed that the effort yielded a 7 percent increase in the number of people opting for public transit.

“Public transportation is seen as part of the solution to global climate change,” said Gunnar Heipp of Stadtwerke Munchen, the parent company of MVG, the transit operator.

Over the past several years, Heipp said, the city has focused on strengthening the relationship between land use and transportation. “When you have the right urban structure, public transport works,” he added.

Max Leupold of Green Cities called changes in Munich’s parking policies, which have made on-street parking more expensive than off-street lots, “the most important push for public transport in the past seven years.”

Freiburg, a town of 200,000 on the edge of the Black Forest, is known as an “eco-city,” having received numerous awards for its innovative work in sustainable development. Even though 80 percent of the city was destroyed in World War II, the trams never stopped running.

Public transport is at the heart of the city’s transportation policy. Eighty percent of the town’s citizens are within walking distance of a tram stop. Twenty percent of all journeys take place on public transportation; 28 percent are by bike, 24 percent each by walking and by car, and 4 percent by carpool.

“Our transportation policy was developed to keep the city attractive and livable so that people would not want to leave,” said Jan Maurer of the city’s Bureau of Transport Planning. The city has set an ambitious goal of cutting its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent by 2030.

Milan has been much in the news lately as a result of its Ecopass system, which is aimed at improving air quality in the city. Since January 2008, cameras placed at 43 locations throughout the city record the license plates of all vehicles entering the city. The government uses license records to identify the type of vehicle and levy a charge on the owner; the more polluting the vehicle, the higher the cost. Ecopass is thus a pollution charge, which is not to be confused with London’s congestion charge, a city representative explained.

The city council estimates that Milan will collect 24 million euros annually from the Ecopass system. Those funds are earmarked for improvements to the public transportation system.

The results to date are very encouraging, according to the city’s Mobility and Transport Sector staff. In the first four months of operation, the Ecopass program has led to:
A 22 percent reduction in fine particulate matter; 
A 15 percent decline in the number of vehicles in the city center and a reduction of 8 to 9 percent in the number of vehicles just outside the city center;
A 7 percent increase in the speed of buses because of less traffic; and
A 13 percent increase in subway ridership.

To accommodate the expected growth in transit ridership, Milan is investing one billion euros in three new subway lines, and added 20 kilometers of dedicated bus lanes last year.

Bilbao is a post-industrial city that, two decades ago, had high unemployment, a very polluted river, and large brownfield areas along the river. A terrible flood in 1983 became a catalyst for change.

“The city understood that a key part of urban regeneration involved integrating the transport infrastructure,” said Juan Alvaro Azcarate, development planning director for Bilbao Ria 2000. Today, the city boasts both a new Metro and a new tram system.

The Metro received financing from the Basque regional government, city government, state government, and European Union. The first stations opened in 1995, and the system will be complete by 2013.

Metro Bilbao aggressively markets its services, using humor in many of its ads. “The car industry presents itself as very glamorous,” said Susana Palomino, marketing director for Metro Bilbao, “and public transport must be as glamorous to compete.” A third of Metro’s customers have two cars at home. Another benefit of the system is that riders can bring bikes, surfboards, and other large items on board with them—at no charge.

Bilbao’s modern tram system, operated by Euskotren, entered operation in December 2002. It carries three million passengers each year on its 5-km stretch through the downtown area.

Planning is now underway for high-speed train service between Bilbao and San Sebastian and between Bilbao and Madrid. Amaia Etxebarria, head of Euskotren’s environment department, explained that the push for new tram and train service is being driven by two goals: to improve the environment and to reduce congestion.

TCRP will publish a detailed report from the mission later this year, and it will be available online here..

This was the 28th study mission sponsored by ITSP, conducted by the Eno Transportation Foundation under contract with TCRP. Karen King, chief executive officer of the Golden Empire Transit District in Bakersfield, CA, will head the next ITSP mission, which will visit Australia in October to study how agencies are balancing system expansions with the need for infrastructure reinvestment.

Transit Agencies Meet Their Convention Challenges

Democratic National Convention, Denver, CO: Aug. 25-28, 2008

As anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 people poured into Denver for the Democratic National Convention, the Regional Transportation District was waiting. After working with the Democratic National Convention Committee for close to two years—almost from the moment Denver was announced as the venue, according to RTD spokesperson Daria Serna—the agency had worked out how to accommodate the influx of people without disrupting its regular service. “It was important that we continue our daily service for our commuters; we made that clear,” said Serna.

RTD participated in many meetings over these months, and they multiplied as the convention grew closer to a year out: security officers with the FBI and Secret Service; other groups with operations officials; the city and county of Denver and DNCC; and RTD. RTD not only planned what it would do as an agency, but also worked closely with DNCC to see how it could assist during the event.

The transit agency made some very basic decisions, such as prohibiting any vacations in the week by all essential personnel, which included operators, managers, and supervisors. RTD encouraged riders during the convention period to purchase a five-day pass—and ordered an extra 5,000 of them. It kept regular commuters informed about road closings for security reasons, and provided updated information continuously through its web site, local television and radio stations, and the RTD Telephone Information Center. The agency also rerouted its buses and provided maps as a further aid to avoid detours.

All security officers received basic security and awareness training as well as First Amendment training. Also providing security were Transportation Security Administration surface inspectors, a TSA VIPR team (similar to a SWAT team), and a Federal Protective Service Canine Team.

The DNCC developed its own transportation plan for the delegates that included a shuttle service, but the committee needed RTD’s help to move the estimated 84,000 people on Aug. 28 from downtown sites to Invesco Field at Mile High Stadium, where Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech. Following the speech, RTD “rescued” many of the delegates and media by providing buses when their private shuttle buses could not make it back for second trips.

Further, RTD’s Access-a-Ride paratransit service carried numerous persons with disabilities when they were left without their scheduled DNC-provided transportation.

RTD General Manager Cal Marsella said: “This is yet again a testament to the highly dedicated and remarkably professional employees we have at RTD and with our contract partners.” He added, “I thank everyone who worked so hard to make the Denver metro area shine brightly in the global spotlight under which we operated.”

Republican National Convention, St. Paul, MN: Sept. 1-4, 2008

When thousands of visitors came to St. Paul in early September to participate in the Republican National Convention, Metro Transit in St. Paul and Minneapolis was prepared. Nine months of advance planning sessions with the host committee and local and federal law enforcement agencies paid off as the system efficiently moved its convention visitors while delivering close to on-time performance for its regular riders.

Anticipating the inconvenience caused by creating a no-traffic zone around the convention site—the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul—the agency had 25 extra buses standing by at the beginning of the convention, and introduced another 10 to service during the week. Transit employees used the RNC Transportation Command Post, based at a Minnesota DOT office in Roseville, to observe traffic congestion and other conditions.

Ironically, the part of Metro Transit’s plan that required the most preparation never went into effect: coordinating the system’s buses and Hiawatha Line light rail trains with the motorcades expected to transport President Bush and Vice President Cheney to the convention—because, in the end, they did not attend.

To ensure availability of key staff, no street supervisors could take vacation time during the convention, and time off for bus operators was also significantly restricted. Bob Gibbons, spokesperson for Metro Transit, noted that extra staff of 12 street supervisors and eight customer service staffers worked to manage the buses and keep provide customer services throughout the week-long rerouting period.

While Metro Transit transported convention delegates to evening events at the Xcel Center, as well as to such non-political activities as shopping in the Mall of America in Bloomington, the agency did not provide daytime convention bus service. Instead, the host committee contracted with a private company to provide 350 coach buses to ferry conventioneers to and from their hotels.

For the most part, protestors outside the convention hall were largely peaceful, but there were a number of incidents of unrest that forced Metro Transit to suspend service in downtown St. Paul for several hours on one afternoon, and to reroute its buses around downtown Minneapolis on another. Said Gibbons: “Safety is job one for Metro Transit. Punctuality is job two.

Public Transit an Investment, Not Expense

By Ray Melleady, Executive Director, Capital District Transportation Authority, Albany, NY

First published: Sunday, August 24, 2008

Imagine operating a train traveling at 55 miles an hour and having workers laying the track you are traveling on just one mile in front of you. What would you do: Accelerate or slow down?

The answer is obvious: You would only move as quickly as there was track available to operate safely and reliably.

Sound ridiculous? This is exactly what running a public transit system is like in the United States where, with few exceptions, our infrastructure investment in the past 50 years has been built to support one mode of transportation — the car.

Transit systems are planning for the future, but within the context of survival. We have run out of track. We simply do not have enough capacity to meet current and future service demands.

When you regulate capacity, you regulate choice. For the most part, America has accepted a one-dimensional mobility strategy. That is until gas prices rockets past $4 a gallon and people quickly realize that most transit systems are not prepared to handle surges in ridership that came with increased energy costs.

As a result, some families are forced to choose between filling their gas tanks and filling their stomachs. Likewise, transit systems are forced to choose between cutting service and raising fares to balance budgets and pay for fuel.

The implications are obvious: We have created an economy that is completely dependent on the automobile. We are not prepared for high-energy prices, our transportation infrastructure is suspect, and our economy is being held hostage by the high cost of energy and our dependence on foreign sources.

Public transportation is a key part of the solution. This is a tremendous opportunity to recreate what was built 50 years ago for national security reasons when our highway system was created to move goods and people as part of a national defense strategy.

In our rebuild, we must re-create a system that moves people and goods efficiently but the focus must be on public transportation. Creating new capacity and improved travel options will help our communities become energy independent and our nation more secure.

Investing in public transportation systems is more efficient, less costly and more practical than building roads or investing in research and development that will take 20 years to spawn workable new products.

Without a significant change in public policy and funding models, transit systems are caught between equally perilous alternatives, neither of which can be passed without negatively affecting the convenience and reliability of transit services.

Most transit systems will either cut services or raise fares to balance budgets. Both options make transit service less attractive and less relevant to the communities they serve.

Moreover, cutting services reduces capacity, which further encourages single-occupant vehicle use and higher energy dependence. This vicious cycle is what led us to where we are today — an automobile dependent society that can no longer afford the economic realities of the system it created.

How can we change and how fast can we effectuate that change? What are the solutions — new fuel taxes, taxes on vehicle miles traveled, toll charges?

There is no shortage of recommendations when it comes to funding public transportation. Today, our biggest shortfall is a lack of action and commitment to a cause.

If we want to increase and improve travel options, we must build new facilities to house equipment and hire and train appropriate staff. At the same time, we need adequate funds for operations, and to purchase fuel and parts.

Investments in public transportation today will impact communities three to five years from now. That is because it takes time to realize the physical outcome of the decision to invest capital today.

Transit is an investment, not an expense. The only thing more expensive than investing in transit infrastructure today is deferring the inevitable cost to our children 10 and 15 years from now. Now is the time for stakeholders to speak with one voice to advocate for more and better transit service.

This is a direct call to elected officials, business leaders, chambers of commerce, labor unions and transit managers. If you are serious about energy independence and conservation, we need to advocate for the authorization of new public policy and funding initiatives that reward communities for developing a strong public transportation infrastructure.

The communities that get it right will grow and prosper. The ones that get it wrong will shrink and preside over a slow and steady decline.

The stakes couldn't be higher and we need to play the right hand now. The economic and social health of our nation is dependent on the choices we make today. We should choose public policies that support the efficient movement of goods and people for a healthy and prosperous tomorrow.

Toward that end, public transportation is a wise investment.


Ray Melleady is executive director of the Capital District Transportation Authority and vice president of the New York Public Transit Association.

All Times Union materials copyright 1996-2008, Capital Newspapers Division of The Hearst Corporation, Albany, N.Y.