Passenger Transport - February 2, 2009
Photo by Getty Images
A Day of Records
This was a day of records.
“Our Metro system wasn’t designed to transport this many people in such a short time, but we did it,” said General Manager John Catoe. “Months and months of planning paid off. Throughout Inauguration weekend, we effectively dealt with record-breaking crowds. On Inauguration Day, our rail ridership surpassed the one million mark.”
Virginia Railway Express, the commuter rail line connecting Northern Virginia with Washington, ran a full slate of 30 trains on Jan. 20, according to spokesperson Mark Roeber. VRE sold 17,500 round-trip tickets for the day, he said, but the trains also provided service to 400 uniformed officers who traveled free, as well as some commuters who had to make their regular trips to work.
“We moved our schedule to accommodate the day’s events,” Roeber said. “I know we carried more riders than we had anticipated.”
In an example of how the area transit systems worked together to support the effort of moving the Inauguration Day crowds, Roeber added that when WMATA faced passenger backlogs at its L’Enfant Plaza station, VRE stepped in and directed riders to its nearby platform. “It got cold very fast, and people were looking for any way they could get out or get relief,” he said. “We immediately got them on board trains.”
Another instance of cross-regional cooperation could be found at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, which is served by MARC commuter rail and MD MTA’s light rail system. In this case, WMATA provided Inauguration Day travelers feeding into BWI with access to the Greenbelt Metrorail station through its regularly scheduled bus route.
In Maryland, demand was so great that the Maryland Transit Administration’s MARC commuter rail service sold out all 38,000 Inauguration Day round-trip tickets by Jan. 9.
WMATA operated Inauguration Day rapid bus service on 23 “Presidential” bus corridors, accounting for 228,000 of the day’s Metrobus rides. Special shuttles implemented to accommodate crowding in the rail system provided 15,000 rides, and 3,000 rides were on supplemental buses serving park-and-ride lots in Maryland and Virginia.
More than 8,000 WMATA employees worked on this day, which included more than 400 Transit Police officers. Also working were 266 volunteer police officers from other departments and 340 volunteer Metro Ambassadors who provided visitor services.
Safety and Security on Public Transit
In preparation for the Inauguration, Metro beefed up its law enforcement capability, with transit officers from all over the country flown in to augment the Metro Transit Police. “We saw an unprecedented level of interest and cooperation from law enforcement agencies across the country,” said Metro’s Chief Michael Taborn. “We were grateful for their assistance, and were excited to have them participate alongside us for this historic occasion.”
One of those officers was Eliot Swainson, a 15-year veteran of the Houston Metro Transit Police Department. Around 9:30 a.m. on Inauguration Day, he saved a woman who had fallen onto the tracks of Metro’s Red Line.
"We are very proud of Officer Swainson for the quick and decisive actions taken in this incident,” said Houston Metro Police Chief Tom Lambert. “Eliot is a true transit police professional and his actions demonstrate his commitment to public safety.”
While hailed as a hero, Swainson took the attention in stride. “As far as the event itself, that’s what we were there for—the safety and security of the patrons and the system,” he said. “That’s essentially what you go to do.”
In a time of economic downturn, good financial news is hard to come by. So the announcement by the Federal Transit Administration of three Full Funding Grant Agreements will provide both a boost to the economies of Seattle, Salt Lake City, and Denver and dramatically enhanced public transportation access to the residents of those areas.
At ceremonies in January, acting Federal Transit Administrator Sherry Little presented the FFGAs to Sound Transit in Seattle, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in Salt Lake City, and Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD).
Sound Transit received the largest FFGA: $813 million for the University Link light rail extension, presented during a Jan. 14 ceremony at Union Station in Seattle. When it opens in 2016, the University Link light rail line is expected to add more than 70,000 daily riders to Sound Transit’s light rail system.
According to a U.S. Department of Commerce model, the University Link project is estimated to generate 2,900 direct construction jobs, with a total economic impact equivalent to 22,800 both direct and indirect jobs. The total cost of the extension project is $1.9 billion, with the balance coming from existing Sound Transit revenues.
The main Link light rail line, operating between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport, opens this year.
“When the system is complete, students, faculty, staff, and visitors will find it much easier to come to campus and move about the region with greater ease and efficiency,” said University of Washington President Mark A. Emmert. “And they will also be traveling in an environmentally friendly mode. The University District is about to take another major leap forward into the future.”
The Mid-Jordan Extension of UTA’s TRAX light rail system received an FFGA totaling $428.3 million, announced Jan. 9 at an event commemorating the completion of 25 percent of construction on the line. The Mid-Jordan Extension is scheduled to enter service in late 2011, and UTA estimates daily ridership on the 10.6-mile line at 9,500 by 2030.
This extension will connect the existing Sandy/Salt Lake TRAX line with the developing Daybreak development in South Jordan. It will include nine new stations and an additional platform for connections at an existing TRAX station, along with acquisition of 28 new vehicles.
In Denver, RTD received $308.6 million in funding through its FFGA for the West Corridor Light Rail Project at a Jan. 16 event. The light rail line is due to open in 2013—one year ahead of schedule—with 12 new stations, six with park-and-ride facilities, and is estimated to carry 30,000 daily riders by 2030.
The West Corridor, part of the comprehensive FasTracks project, is the fifth RTD rail project and fourth rail line to receive federal funding. It will connect Denver Union Station with the Jefferson County Government Center in Golden, serving Denver, Lakewood, the Denver Federal Center, Golden, and Jefferson County.
For the first time, representatives of passenger and freight rail, public transportation, and environmental organizations have combined “to make sure people are aware of the benefits of rail,” said Anne Canby, the group’s spokesman.
This coalition—OneRail—hopes to become a beneficiary of the Congressional stimulus package. In addition to the stimulus legislation, the transportation authorization bill to be passed later this year will be another priority of the coalition.
The coalition seeks to bridge the goals of expanding intercity and commuter passenger and rail options across the country with the need to ensure the capacity, safety, and integrity of the nation’s freight rail network.
APTA is a founding member of the OneRail Coalition, along with Amtrak, the American Short Line & Regional Railroad Association, Association of American Railroads, Building America’s Future, National Association of Railroad Passengers, Natural Resources Defense Council, Railway Supply Institute, States for Passenger Rail Coalition, and Surface Transportation Policy Partnership.
“Trends all point to a robust future for railroads—passenger and freight,” said APTA President William W. Millar. “America’s railroad community can gain strength with increased investment and through partnership, working together, and growing together to serve America in the years ahead.”
The energy and environmental benefits of rail are significant, according to the coalition, with a coordinated approach of rail and truck shipping already showing substantial efficiencies and net reductions in potential carbon emissions. Expanding passenger train options between and into U.S. urban centers would substantially reduce highway congestion, fuel consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing intermodal freight shipments on rail would also reduce those emissions—every ton mile of freight that moves by rail instead of long-haul truck reduces greenhouse gas emissions by at least two-thirds.
The OneRail Principles are available online here.
“Public transportation investment, energy-efficient land use policies, and other strategies that promote transportation choices are proven ways to reduce emissions from the transportation sector,” said Fred Hansen, general manager of the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon in Portland, when he testified at a Jan. 27 hearing before the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) chaired the hearing on “Public Transportation, Energy Reduction, and Environmental Sustainability in Surface Transportation.”
Hansen cited statistics showing that public transit already saves 4.2 billion gallons of fuel and 37 million metric tons of carbon emissions a year, while supporting two million jobs.
“The potential for greater green dividends from public transportation in America is vast if appropriate public transportation is made available in every community,” he continued. “If we are serious about achieving energy security and addressing climate change, America should set a minimum goal of doubling the market share for public transportation by 2020 and achieving, by 2045, a public transportation market share equal to that in the European Union.”
He offered examples of how this approach has worked in the Portland area, with efforts dating back to the 1970s that have led to more efficient land use planning and improved compliance with federal air quality standards.
Infrastructure and Job Creation
Representatives of a transit bus manufacturer and a public transit agency board testified before the full T&I Committee at a Jan. 22 hearing on “Infrastructure Investment: Ensuring an Effective Economic Recovery Package.” The hearing, chaired by Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), included testimony from individuals from all modes of infrastructure, including highways; bridges; rail; aviation; ports; waterways; wastewater treatment facilities; and federal buildings.
John Marinucci, senior executive with New Flyer, noted that his company sustains or creates one job for every $24,600 in incremental funding, and works with more than 200 component suppliers that provide products to each bus it builds. New Flyer has ongoing relationships with 240 transit authorities, including 19 of the 25 largest agencies in North America.
Carole Brown, chair of the Chicago Transit Authority Board of Directors, cited the importance of maintaining a healthy transit system for the entire region it serves, adding, “If we don’t receive an infusion of funds soon to build upon our repair work, then our work will be for naught, the slow zones will return, and those people who did give transit a try will return to their cars.” She reported that the agency has numerous unfunded needs to bring service to a state of good repair, since the oldest elevated rail line in the CTA system dates back to 1897.
Copies of the Final Report of APTA’s TransitVision 2050 Task Force and accompanying DVD – the culmination of nearly two years of effort – will be distributed soon to all APTA member designees.
As part of developing this vision, APTA conducted an extensive dialogue within its membership and collaborated with many partners. The outreach efforts for this report – approved last October by the Executive Committee – used contemporary communication techniques to gather input, which included chat rooms, blogs, webinars, video conferences, and streaming videos.
Written in the voice of someone describing a future world, the report outlines a vision that “in 2050, America’s energy efficient, multi-modal, environmentally sustainable transportation system powers the greatest nation on earth.”
The online version of this report can be found here.
When you think of public transportation working in clock-like precision, think Swiss. Public transportation accounts for 19 percent of all trips in Switzerland; it is a very appreciated and successful mode of transport used not only in the big cities, but also to connect small towns and villages.
To examine the success of the Swiss model, lessons the U.S. transit sector can learn, and the innovations and challenges facing transit in both Switzerland and the U.S. in the near future, APTA and the Swiss Embassy are teaming up Feb. 10 to unveil The Challenge of Sustainable Transportation for the 21st Century: The Prospects for Switzerland and the U.S.—a collaborative expo and workshop at the National Building Museum in Washington. This event, hosted by Urs Ziswiler, Swiss ambassador to the U.S., and APTA Immediate Past Chair Michael S. Townes, will explore the ramifications of taking a holistic approach to creating and financing modern public transportation.
“We are excited to launch this ThinkSwiss traveling exhibit in Washington, DC,” said Dora Fitzli, Ph.D., counselor for science and technology with the Swiss Embassy. “Working towards a more sustainable transportation system is a common challenge for Switzerland and the U.S.”
Ziswiler added: “We think it is an excellent time to have a dialogue on public transportation. Awareness is growing in the U.S. and Switzerland is currently building two new tunnels through the Alps,” he continued. “On this basis, many topics can be discussed: urbanism, the overall planning of a transportation system, the public support, and the financing.”
Participation in this program is free but space is limited, so interested persons should contact Jessica Bechir at email@example.com or (202) 496-4833 for registration and further information. Further information is also available on the APTA web site.
The appointment of Matthew Welbes as Executive Director of the Federal Transit Administration – the senior-most non-political slot available in the agency – marks the return of a position last held in the early 1980s. Terming this re-establishment “long overdue,” APTA President William W. Millar said: We’re very lucky to have a man we’ve worked with for many years – and one of the top-rated professionals within FTA – in this position.” Millar stressed that having Welbes’ appointment will ensure continuity during a presidential transition or other period of change.
Welbes was previously a senior advisor in the Office of the Administrator; prior to that, he worked in FTA’s Office of Budget and Policy. He began his federal government career in 1992 as a Presidential Management Fellow, serving in FTA offices, the Office of the Secretary, and the Office of Management and Budget. He holds an M.P.A. from the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and in 2000 he received a German Marshall Fund fellowship to study transportation, environmental, and land use policies in Europe.
In his new position, he will provide day-to-day administration and operation of the full range of FTA’s responsibilities. This will include working with the administrator and deputy administrator to define the agency’s role, structure, and strategies for the 21st century, representing them as necessary before Congress, at conferences, and in consultation with senior departmental staff; other federal agencies; and state, local, and foreign governments. He will also be responsible for leading the agency’s Executive Management Team in planning and establishing FTA’s program policies, objectives, and priorities.
“Both the industry overall and APTA look forward to working with Matt at this very critical juncture to advance public transportation,” said Millar. “In this time of change, our industry is fortunate to have a man of Welbes’ caliber providing leadership.”
By ROBERT GOODMAN
AMHERST, MASS.—The federal government is giving General Motors, Ford and Chrysler $25 billion in low-interest loans, and the companies are asking for up to $25 billion more. These same companies have spent millions of dollars lobbying against federal fuel-economy standards and are suing to overturn the emissions standards imposed by California and other states. In exchange for the loans, Congress should first insist that the automakers stop fighting these standards. But it should also make sure that better outcomes will result from these billions than just fuel-efficient cars.
The Obama administration should ask the companies, as a condition of financial assistance, to begin shifting from being just automakers to becoming innovative “transportmakers.” As Barack Obama’s new chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, recently said: “You don’t ever want a crisis to go to waste. It’s an opportunity to do important things you would otherwise avoid.”
As transportmakers, the companies could produce vehicles for high-speed train and bus systems that would improve our travel options, reduce global warming, conserve energy, minimize accidents and generally improve the way we live.
This better way forward has been kicking around Washington for more than 35 years. In a prescient 1972 article in The Atlantic, Stewart Udall, an interior secretary under John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, warned of America’s excessive dependence on cars and called for this approach.
At a time when almost no politicians and industry leaders were paying attention to this problem, Mr. Udall made a bleak but accurate prediction. He wrote that “the oil needs of the other industrialized countries are growing faster than ours” and that this “surge of demand will soon begin to send shock waves through the American economy and transportation system.”
“Unless we exercise foresight and devise growth-limits policies for the auto industry, events will thrust us into a crisis that will lead to a substantial erosion of our domestic oil supply as well as the independence it provides us with,” Mr. Udall wrote. He predicted that the cost of petroleum imports would “give the Middle Eastern suppliers a dangerous leverage over our transportation system as well.”
But Mr. Udall recognized that the country could not afford the economic consequences of losing all of the automobile industry’s jobs and profits. He proposed that the auto companies branch out into “exciting new variants of ground transportation” to produce minibuses, “people movers,” urban mass transit and high-speed intercity trains. Instead of expanding the Interstate highway system, he suggested that the road construction industry take on “huge new programs to construct mass transit systems.” And he called for building “more compact, sensitively planned communities” rather than continuing urban sprawl.
As we now know, warnings like these went unheeded, and Americans became ever more car-dependent. And now, the auto industry is asking for government money that promises, even with more fuel-efficient cars, to give us more of the same. Instead of supporting companies that want to put as many cars on the road as possible, we need a transformational strategy.
As part of its loan package, the government should insist on the development of “transportmaker business plans” from the car companies, with specific timelines for developing more fuel-efficient cars. The companies should also provide detailed plans to transform some of their factories into research and manufacturing centers for the development of light-rail cars and high-speed trains and buses. (In some cases, these could run on existing tracks and on the median strips of Interstate highways; in others, entirely new lanes and tracks would be built.)
Even before Mr. Udall, there was ample precedent for these ideas. In the early 1930s, G.M. joined with other companies to develop the Burlington Zephyr, a radically innovative train that broke world speed records and cut train travel times in half. During World War II, the auto companies converted their factories to build not only military trucks and jeeps, but also airplanes, weapons, tanks and other vehicles. Ford’s Willow Run plant built thousands of B-24 bombers, becoming the world’s biggest bomber plant.
The research and production capacity that the car companies built during the 20th century could be adapted for the needs of the 21st. But other companies should be able to bid for the same opportunities.
Stewart Udall rejected the view that American prosperity depended on Detroit producing ever more cars. The financial crisis gives us a second chance to make his vision happen.
Robert Goodman, a professor of environmental design at Hampshire College, is the author, most recently, of The Luck Business. His new book, Changing Lanes: New Directions for Curing Car-Dependence and Urban Sprawl, will be published late next year. This column originally appeared in the Nov. 16, 2008, issue of The New York Times, and is reprinted with permission.
By PAUL KOSCAK, for Passenger Transport
These are challenging times for public transit.
Last summer, volatile fuel prices drew commuters in droves to buses and trains, pushing service to the limit in some regions. Now, with the economy in a downward spiral, not only must aging roads, bridges, and other connectors compete for limited funding – forcing rural and urban stakeholders at times to square off in a political tug-of-war – but other areas such as education, public safety, and healthcare are also fighting for scarce dollars.
Until the economy improves, this battle over financial resources is not the sort of problem that gets better over time. It's happening throughout the country; here is how one state met the challenge facing public transportation head-on.
“We live in a system where the car is king,” stated Jeanne Nesse, legislative counsel for Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. “We get no respect until gas prices go up. It’s extremely difficult in any state to raise taxes, and some legislators view Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as Sodom and Gomorrah!”
Can there really be a meeting of the minds with that kind of acrimony?
Pennsylvania officials apparently thought so, finding an innovative way to reach middle ground to support the state’s 75 public transit agencies. An 18-month study by Gov. Edward Rendell’s Transportation, Funding, and Reform Commission concluded that there is a funding crisis in the state. A perfect storm of static state and federal funding, dwindling gasoline taxes caused by a decline in vehicle miles traveled, and a financially staggering public transit system wrestling with soaring energy, operational, and health insurance costs and higher fares meant that something different was needed.
That something was Act 44.
A New Approach to Public Transportation Funding
Passed in 2007, this legislation nearly rewrites how the Keystone State funds and manages public transportation. Through Act 44, transportation is a shared responsibility where the state offers incentives for agencies that become more efficient and raise more money on their own, in addition to a guaranteed subsidy. The new simplified rules and regulations make it easier for agencies to operate—and there is even a provision for one authority to receive local tax support.
This legislation came about through a series of informal discussions rather than a single champion or coalition. Many scenarios led to its final version, noted Democrat Joseph Markosek, chairman of the state House Transportation Committee and the act’s sponsor. He formed several ad hoc groups to explore new ways to support Pennsylvania’s transportation systems, attended by state transportation and municipal transit officials, the turnpike commission, committee staff, and private stakeholders including transit unions.
Some ideas, such as raising the cap on the oil franchise tax by 10 percent—what dealers pay when they replenish their tanks—died when the governor and state Senate leadership refused to support them. But increasing tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike by 25 percent and raising money through bonds sailed through. “We didn’t get much opposition because people are already used to paying tolls on the turnpike,” said Markosek.
Further, bond financing for public transit was a breakthrough because it had not been legal in the past, according to Bob Mustin, the transportation committee’s legal counsel.
“It’s all new money,” said Markosek, “about $1.2 billion per year.” It also heralds a new entrepreneurial approach.
The legislation establishes a formula that rewards transit agencies for raising more revenue. The agencies are guaranteed an annual base subsidy, but may receive additional state money if they exceed certain passenger and operational thresholds. One target, for instance, requires authorities to collect at least 5 percent more than the annual state contribution.
Because Pennsylvania municipalities are prohibited from tapping into the gasoline tax, the state sales tax continues to support public transit along with a cadre of miscellaneous taxes that keep changing, such as revenue from hotel tabs and tire sales. Act 44, however, provides a dedicated sales tax of 4.4 percent so, as sales increase, so will funding for public transit.
But the legislation could not pass, according to Markosek, without the support of delegates from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, regions that depend heavily on public transportation: “We couldn’t get their votes unless you had something for transit.” At the same time, delegates from Pennsylvania’s rural areas demanded more accountability from public transit agencies before they would support more subsidies.
Act 44’s new formula-based system not only satisfies both of those demands; it also allows public transit authorities to plan ahead, eliminating the annual uncertainty and scramble for funds. It’s a balancing act SEPTA’s Nesse remembers all too well.
In 1991, public transit in Pennsylvania began receiving revenue from car rental taxes and, later, taxes from real estate owned by utilities, such as land used for substations and power lines. But when utilities were deregulated, that money stream ended. What followed were many lean years of state support and no local funds, except for fares, because the state’s counties do not tax for public transit. “We struggled with layoffs and rising fares,” Nesse said.
Even the latest source of transit revenue, bonding from the turnpike commission, was an uphill challenge, she admitted: “It took four years of agony to make it happen. There was a public perception we were falling apart.”
Standardizing Service, Operations, and Performance
Still, Nesse praised how Act 44 consolidated Pennsylvania’s five classes of transportation into one, creating a common benchmark to compare performance and operations. The new rules allow authorities to learn from each other by using a single standard when measuring service, operations, and performance throughout the state.
Rich Farr, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Transportation Association, agreed. Transit policies and regulations were complex and difficult to understand, he said. “Now, we can do benchmarking and make comparisons such as passenger miles, operator expenses, and total ridership per hour,” said Farr. “It’s been a huge help working with other systems and sharing information that will make us more efficient. We’re funded by taxpayers, so we need good stewardship.”
The act is particularly good for Allegheny County, home to one of the state’s largest transit systems in Pittsburgh, because it allows the county to enact public transit taxes. Since the steel industry collapsed in the 1970s, Pittsburgh has lost 30 percent of its population. Unlike transit systems in Lancaster, State College, and Philadelphia where ridership has grown, Pittsburgh has lost market share. Allegheny County now imposes a $2 tax on car rentals and a 10 percent tax on drinks purchased in bars and restaurants to support mass transit.
In addition, the county is using the act’s new provisions to improve service, according to Stephen Bland, Port Authority of Allegheny County chief executive officer. “We’re going through new systems, studying models for cost recovery and looking at routes to see if they’re profitable,” he said. “We’re redesigning fares and adding a Smart Card. We have more leverage now.” Those evaluations have justified adding more connections to bus and rail terminals, he said.
Smaller Systems/Rural Areas
It’s clear that Act 44 has been a boon to large, urban agencies. But what does it mean to smaller, more rural systems?
The legislation saved services about to be chopped just as high fuel prices pushed people from their cars and into buses and trains. “Our ridership increased by the double digits,” said Rose Lucey-Noll, general manager of the Cambria County Transit Authority (CamTran) in Johnstown. She said the agency was preparing to hike fares 3 percent, cut service by 10 percent, and terminate three workers if Act 44 didn’t pass, but it did pass, boosting CamTran’s urban operating fund by an extra $1.3 million, from $2.9 million to more than $4.2 million. CamTran’s rural operating fund jumped from more than $880,000 to $1.32 million, an increase of more than $440,000. The relief went immediately to payroll, maintenance, and other operating costs and saved jobs, said Lucey-Noll.
In State College, Act 44 allowed the Centre Area Transportation Authority (CATA) not only to replace services it already cut, but even to expand them, according to General Manager Hugh Mose. CATA had received about $1.9 million in federal funds under the previous legislation, but Act 44 boosted the budget to $3.4 million, he said, allowing the agency to rebuild its aging fleet of 52 buses, purchase 10 new vehicles, and equip them all with Global Positioning Satellite systems to enable customers and schedulers to track buses in real time.
Before the Act 44 rescue, CATA significantly reduced its bus service from 12-minute headways to running every half hour. “State College is perhaps the most underfunded agency in the state,” Mose continued. “Act 44 levels the playing field,” allowing CATA to use current mile and hour figures—a “not historical precedent”—in predicting future needs, which is a more realistic calculation for growing districts.
For officials in other states who might consider similar legislation, Port Authority’s Bland advised them to “be prepared for the accountability argument.” Authorities should expect to be reviewed by the governor, labor, and other private interests and, most importantly, he stressed – should press for legislation that allows localities to raise funds. “You must have the political will to raise funds locally.”
An Update on Act 44
While Act 44 was successful in its first full year at putting some funds into transportation projects, not all of its proposed revenue streams became operational—mainly when the Federal Highway Administration rejected the state’s application to introduce tolls on Interstate 80.
State lawmakers, therefore, did not quite fix their revenue shortfall to pay for roads, bridges, and public transit programs. But, according to state Rep. Joe Markosek, chair of the House Transportation Committee and sponsor of Act 44, they made a dent.
Also in 2008, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission approved a 25 increase in tolls to ensure it met its obligations under Act 44. This marks the first year that the tolls will help fund infrastructure improvements in every Pennsylvania county; more than 90 percent of the toll-increase proceeds will benefit non-Turnpike road and bridge projects and transit operations. The toll collection began in January.
But the shortfall still exists, and local transportation officials are looking for federal support if President Obama achieves his goal of implementing a massive infrastructure jobs program. In preparation for that eventuality, officials across the state are thinking ahead by prioritizing projects that would be ready to start as soon as funding arrives.
Act 44 will sustain public transit funding through 2009. After that, it drops by half, from $500 million to $250 million, without another revenue source.
By MARK R. AESCH
In September of 2008, Regional Transit Service Inc. (RTS), the largest subsidiary of the Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA), lowered its fare to a price last seen in 1991: from $1.25 to just $1.
In this time of financial insecurity, the question is obvious: How did one transit agency manage to reduce its fares?
Changes in Philosophy, Approach, and Service
Four years ago, RGRTA faced a $27.5 million deficit, a massive operating gap that had the new management team initially considering significant across-the-board fare increases, many layoffs, and wholesale reductions in service to the community.
Refusing to accept these options, we made a commitment to sound strategic planning and focused performance measurement systems, looking for the end result of dramatic improvements in productivity.
In the past, performance measurement tools used by RGRTA, such as the Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI), first implemented in Fiscal Year 2005-2006, focused on only one subsidiary and on only customer service.
The Transit Organization Performance Scorecard (TOPS)—a comprehensive measurement instrument—reflects RGRTA’s desire to monitor continuously the overall health of the organization. TOPS combined measurements of the financial success, quality of customer service, productivity of service, and employee success to generate a single comprehensive measurement. With a measurement index for each pillar of our strategic plan, TOPS incorporates various metrics to measure, on a quarterly basis, how RGRTA is operating as a whole.
These measurement systems provide a true, accurate, and comprehensive picture of the way RGRTA functions compared to the strategic plan and how each employee contributes to the plan’s successful implementation; it also provides a clear blueprint to achieving excellence.
The TOPS Customer Satisfaction Index was a significant improvement over the previous one because it measures the satisfaction of customers served by all of RGRTA’s subsidiaries. Within TOPS, the highest weight was assigned to the Financial Performance Index because financial stability ensures adequate resources to achieve the other elements of our strategic plan.
The CSI combines 11 different customer service components. Since its inception in the fourth quarter of FY 2005-2006, RGRTA has achieved a 30 percent improvement in customer satisfaction.
The Route Productivity Index (RPI), consisting of Revenue per Revenue Mile and Customers per Revenue Mile, provides a measure of the effectiveness and efficiency of scheduling service to meet customer demands. In other words, how much money does RGRTA see in each revenue mile it drives and how many people is RGRTA serving in each mile it drives? This index balances service to the customer with the productivity demands of the taxpayer.
The Employee Success Index (ESI) focuses on our employees—our greatest asset—taking into consideration employees’ interactions with customers and personal achievement through the authority’s incentive pay program for the accomplishment of specified goals.
After developing the comprehensive measurement capability, RGRTA first focused on improving route productivity. Over the past four years, RTS has seen the number of people it picks up per mile increase by more than 40 percent. This pickup also meant a “pickup” in revenue, which increased more than 70 percent.
Second, RGRTA changed its philosophy about service, no longer picking up “passengers” and instead picking up “customers.” We realized that, while “passengers” are people who merely ride the bus, “customers” are people that make an economic decision to buy our product. As a result, we implemented substantial improvements in customer service:
* Increased on-time performance from 77 percent to 85 percent;
* Installed Trip Planner software on the authority’s web site;
* Completely altered a 35-year-old six-zone fare system and replaced it with one price for every customer; and
* Developed a nationally recognized Customer Satisfaction Index (and found that customers are happier with service today than they were four years ago).
Third, while productivity and customer service are critically important elements to any successful program, the inherited $27.5 million operating deficit was still present. Through the efficiencies from improving route productivity, relationships with major business partners that provided an appropriate return to the organization, and achieving equity in the distribution of state aid, RGRTA turned that projected loss into a $19 million gain: a turnaround of $46.5 million.
Thanks to the increased ridership and investments in customer service, we have been able to pass the savings on to our most valuable partner, the customer. Further, by lowering the fare to just $1, we effectively announced to the community: “We are open for business!”
Dramatic Responses to Fare Reduction
All these efforts paid off. Today, RTS no longer faces the thunderclouds that threatened its ability to provide much-needed service to its 50,000 daily riders. In the first month of the fare reduction, ridership at RTS increased 23 percent; in October that number rose to 30 percent, compared to numbers in the previous year.
RGRTA’s business plan, which projected a $44,000 loss with the fare cut, nevertheless gained nearly $10,000 with the ridership increase. This soaring increase speaks to the quality of service that regular—and new—customers experience every day.
All these efforts of providing a public-sector service with a private-sector mindset have resulted in successes beyond anyone’s expectations.
When gas prices were consuming more and more of a working family’s household budgets, many Rochester residents opted for the new customer-focused public transportation system as an affordable alternative.
Our plan, developed four years ago to operate the organization in a more businesslike fashion, used data and quality performance measurement systems to drive the decision-making process. The great news is—our plan worked!
By RICHARD J. LOBRON
In January 2008, the Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, or Houston Metro, implemented the Q Card “smart card” system in conjunction with the agency’s first change in fare policies in 14 years. Within six weeks, daily revenue collections grew significantly.
For a variety of reasons, Metro pursued new approaches to revenue management. Under the leadership of President and Chief Executive Officer Frank Wilson, the agency completely restructured its revenue management programs, pursuing new fare policies and revenue technologies and an organizational structure to manage revenue issues within a single activity center.
Complicated fare policies. Historically, Metro offered its customers more than 60 ways of paying fares, causing confusion among patrons and vehicle operators as well as a burden for managing instrument inventories, distribution to retail outlets, and reconciliation of sales transactions. The level of discounting on the agency’s $1 base fare, a rate last changed in 1994, also resulted in a very low farebox recovery ratio.
Rail requirements. With the arrival of rail, Metro needed a fare collection method for both bus and rail, but faced such problems as 16 rail stations constructed as open access, street-level platforms, without fare gates or other barrier systems; ticket vending machines (TVMs) that could not properly charge a stored value instrument for rail travel; and instruments produced by the TVMs that were not readable on the bus fareboxes.
New fare practices. Metro dramatically simplified its fare policies and products—improving revenue without raising fares—by using “smart card” technology, through ACS Transport Solutions.
The new policies simplified the fare structure, removed operators from patron confrontations on revenue issues, provided equitable discounting, and enhanced control over all forms of payment. Under the new rules, patrons received free transfers only with a smart card; transfers for cash payers were no longer available.
In addition, Metro eliminated the variety of discounts previously offered. Instead, all patrons received five free trips with every 50 paid trips. In this manner, agency policy provided the same discount to all frequent users, regardless of how much their trips cost. Metro also discontinued other costly discount products, such as the $2 day pass.
Further, Metro revised its cumbersome zone structure with a new policy calling for a single fare for each route, 24 hours a day.
Smart card system. Metro’s Q Card provides patrons with a single type of fare instrument—usable on both rail and bus—while producing a reliable way for rail inspectors to confirm that people pay the correct fare. Smart cards also decrease bus dwell times because patrons no longer must feed paper currency and magnetic stripe instruments into a farebox.
This new technology allows patrons to establish “subscription” accounts through which the card automatically refreshes its value when the balance reaches a pre-defined level. In addition, to provide convenient add-value sites, Metro installed Bus Banknote Reloading (BBR) devices on the rear of each local bus. Since the introduction of these devices, more than 70 percent of add-value transactions have used them.
Metro, LCL Advisors, and ACS worked extensively to deliver a complete smart card system to Houston. The final system included the installation of Bus Card Readers on each of the authority’s 1,200 buses, and TVMs and platform validators at each of the rail platforms. In addition, Metro installed 450 retail point-of-sale units at external sales locations and activated cashless point-of-sale devices and a bulk encoder for use in encoding large volumes of cards, as well as agency point-of-sale devices that could create photo identification cards for users of discount services, such as senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and students.
As the system approached completion, Metro managers from several departments performed extensive testing of the equipment. Through these efforts, Metro felt confident the system would meet all its needs.
The newly created Revenue Department, which assumed responsibility for the system’s final testing and operation, implemented an extensive distribution program. Marketing efforts targeted the “people in the seats,” existing riders who would be directly affected by the changes. These materials included bus cards and station posters that told riders how to use the system, the new Q Card, and the benefits awaiting them.
A key feature of the successful conversion effort was setting up numerous sites where patrons could obtain cards and add value to them, using outlets at local supermarkets and a variety of gas stations and convenience stores. In addition, the agency provided access for card transactions through the telephone, mail, and Internet; opened temporary sales offices at its 16 major transfer points; and placed devices on the buses. With TVMs at all rail platforms and credit point of sale devices at all park-and-ride sites, patrons now have more than 1,500 places throughout the service region, plus the Internet, where they can add value to their cards.
To date, the effort has generated an enormous response, with more than 400,000 cards issued over the initial 10 weeks of service. Metro processes more than 70 percent of its daily revenue transactions through the Q Card, and more than 70 percent of the add-value events occurring on the BBRs, with the web providing another sizable source of such transactions. Simultaneously, agency revenue has grown significantly and ridership has increased.
Converting to the Q Card, a key factor in providing Houston with a recognizable tool for use on all Metro operations both present and future, will clearly provide Metro with numerous benefits and a strong platform for future programs in Houston.
By RON KILCOYNE
This is certainly the most exciting time to be in transit in at least the 28 years I have been employed in the field. As many have noted, a perfect storm for transit has been brewing with fluctuating fuel prices, demands to significantly reduce carbon emissions, demographic trends favoring denser transit-supportive communities, and economic trends that do not favor low-density sprawl.
Will the growth in ridership that the transit industry has experienced over the past few years be sustained or accelerate? I refuse to make predictions; I have no crystal ball. However, it is incumbent on all of us in the transit industry, both providers and suppliers, to take advantage of the circumstances to advocate, making the strongest case for growing public transportation.
It is up to us to make it happen.
Transit has two Achilles’ heels that, if not addressed, will inhibit its ability to sustain and accelerate growth:
* We simply do not provide enough service, and even where we do, access to transit (i.e., the ability to easily walk or bike to a transit stop) is often inferior, if not impossible. If service isn’t frequent enough, does not operate early or late enough, or is not direct enough to meet customer needs, or even if it is but accessing it is difficult, unpleasant, or unsafe, customers will not ride.
* If we must cut back on service, as many agencies are now forced to do, ridership losses are sure to follow.
To some, these issues may seem intractable: the federal government no longer provides direct operating assistance (and to reinstate it would likely mean less needed capital investment), and transit agencies have no control over the built environment in which they operate. But federal policy could make a difference with carrots and sticks to the state and local governments that fund transit operations.
During previous authorization years, the likelihood of obtaining meaningful incentives or requirements was dim. While I have no illusion that acquiring substantive changes this time will be easy, the external circumstances mentioned above provide us with a much better opportunity. In fact, language supporting both issues is contained in APTA’s Recommendations of Federal Public Transportation Authorization Law.
While addressing operating investment, access, and many other issues needed to grow transit will require hard work and smart thinking on the part of the industry and its partners, I can’t help but fantasize that President Obama will build a world-class National Transit System (NTS), giving it the same prominence and investment support that the Interstate Highway System received 50 years ago.
The NTS—the missing leg in the three-legged stool—should be equal to technological research and development in addressing climate, energy, economic, and other environmental goals as well as helping improve the nation’s health. While our highway and aviation systems need increased investment to bring both to a state of good repair, the NTS (which should include urban or intra-regional systems as well as intercity rail and bus) would provide most needed new capacity.
Over the past year we have seen the development of APTA’s TransitVision 2050 and its recommendations for the next surface transportation law. Currently a committee chaired by Diana Mendes is developing the Metropolitan Mobility Concept—designed to provide guidance should more radical changes to the surface transportation law gain traction.
It is incumbent upon all of us to seize the opportunities available and draw on the hard work of many individuals to bring about sustainable growth for transit.
By HAL LINDSEY
The year ahead will be one of challenge and opportunity. The economic challenges we are all experiencing will be offset in part by a renewed focus on public transit and infrastructure renewal that we expect will open the floodgates of federal support for worthy public transit projects.
One major challenge for Fiscal Year 2009 will be the prioritization of those worthy projects—a burden and privilege that rests on the shoulders of the new Federal Transit Administrator and his or her staff, but one that we can help them carry.
Our challenge as an industry is to bring projects to the forefront that are viable from the aspects of political will and mandate, dedicated funding sources for capital and O&M, technical and environmental soundness, sustainability, and fit within the fabric of long range regional transportation plans.
Driverless transit systems of all sizes—from rapid transit systems to feeder lines to circulation systems—are poised to further the goals of public transportation and energy conservation in the coming years. As such, one of the top priorities of 2009 should be to take advantage of the technological and economic benefits of driverless transit systems.
Able to operate with a higher frequency of service and better safety record than manually driven systems, driverless transit systems can carry more passengers per hour with a lower operating cost per passenger. This innate ability will help address our current predicament: public transit is carrying record numbers of passengers but the unfortunate fiscal problems associated with diminished tax revenues hinder any growth in service to meet this demand.
Some of the largest public transit authorities in the world have embraced the advantages of driverless transit systems sized to meet passenger demand.
In Asia, the Land Transport Authority in Singapore has built, and is continuing to build, driverless rapid transit systems for line haul needs and driverless automated guideway transit systems for lower-capacity feeder and circulator lines. These feeder and circulator lines extend the reach of the rapid transit system, not only in the areas served, but also through the use of frequent service and convenient transfers.
Development and land use policies in Singapore, the second most densely populated country in the world, are designed to enhance the use of public transit and vice versa. The result is public transit modal share that currently exceeds 60 percent during the morning peak hour trips and a public transit system that is profitable. In fact, the stock of SMRT, the integrated and multi-modal public transit operator in Singapore, is publicly traded.
By 2020, the Land Transport Authority hopes to surpass its goal of making 70 percent of all morning peak hour trips occur on public transit. This goal will in part be accomplished by doubling its current 85-mile-long rail transit system, which carries more than 1.6 million passengers on an average weekday. Numerous other examples exist in Asia and Europe. For example, manually driven rapid transit lines in Paris have been retrofitted for driverless service.
Vancouver, BC—where the first driverless rapid transit system in North America entered service in 1986—is another good example. Again, with very deliberate and close coordination of land use policies and a region-wide approach to intermodal transportation, the rapid transit system has flourished.
Today, TransLink’s Expo and Millennium lines total more than 30 route-miles with 33 stations and carry some 170,000 passengers on an average weekday. Another driverless line, the 11.7-mile Canada Line, is scheduled to open later this year, while design and construction will start on a fourth driverless line, the 6.8-mile Evergreen Line.
A Variety of Options
The fact that a transit system is driverless does not mean it will be successful; the formula for success is obviously much more complex. Nor does driverless transit technology make sense for every transit need. We are fortunate as transit professionals that our “solution toolbox” has a wide range of technologies to choose from. Where a grade-separated system is the right choice for a corridor or area, driverless transit technology should be considered without bias.
The successful demonstration and installation of communications-based train control in the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency’s Market Street Tunnel, in New York, and in other cities is a start. That being said, we have much to learn in the United States about the right application of driverless transit technology.
The new era dawning in 2009 will give us numerous opportunities to apply fresh thinking to old and new problems alike. May that be the case as we bring viable projects to the forefront for consideration, evaluation, and implementation.
Clark Campbell, 86, a bus driver in Winston-Salem, NC, for more than 62 years, died Dec. 30, 2008, following a lengthy illness.
Campbell began his career in 1944 with Safe Bus Company Inc., predecessor to the Winston-Salem Transit Authority (WSTA), and drove for the last time in 2006.
As a gesture of respect, WSTA kept Campbell on the active driver list until his passing rather than retiring him.
WSTA honored Campbell in 2007 by naming its transportation center in his honor, at ceremonies attended by dignitaries including representatives of the Federal Transit Administration; North Carolina State Legislature; mayor and city council; Veolia Transportation, which provides transit services in Winston-Salem; Transport Workers Union; North Carolina DOT; and Forsyth County, NC.
Art Barnes, WSTA general manager for Veolia Transportation, said: “It is difficult to express in words what Mr. Campbell meant to the Winston-Salem Transit Authority. Needless to say, Mr. Campbell’s passing marks the end of an era at WSTA.”
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security/Transportation Security Administration will allocate $600,000 to fund the Public Transit Information Sharing and Analysis Center (ISAC) during Fiscal Year 2009. While the funding of ISAC is not new, this will be the first year the money comes from DHS.
The monies will come through TSA’s Office of Transportation Sector Network Management, the office responsible for overseeing and supporting the development and implementation of security strategies and policies for each of the transportation modes, including public transportation. The continuation of this funding ensures ISAC’s effective integration with the ongoing collaborative DHS/TSA/Mass Transit Sector Coordinating Council effort to advance a model information sharing environment accessible to and supportive of all mass transit and passenger rail agencies nationally.
ISAC collects, analyzes, and distributes critical cyber and physical security and threat information from government and numerous other sources on a round-the-clock basis. As the designated sector coordinator, APTA is the primary organizer behind bringing the public transportation community together to work cooperatively on these issues.
For more information on this grant, contact Greg Hull at firstname.lastname@example.org.
APTA has offered the TransITech Conference over the last decade; its hallmark has been innovative sessions sprinkled with “wiz-bang” technology demos and a robust vendor exhibition. This year’s conference, Feb. 18 to 20 in Toronto, will continue the conference’s trendsetting style, offering three brand new sessions as well as sessions on building a better business case and return on investment; technology as a revenue producer; making the most of existing investment; and creating better communication with customers.
TransITech is an innovator, which is why there will be three sessions brand new to the venue:
* Roll Call of Transits. Each public transit agency registered for the event will have a chance to tell the assembled audience about the projects they have completed in the past year and their plans for both the near future and the long term.
* Technology Projects by Non-Transit Transportation Entities. Airport, highway, and metropolitan planning officials will report on their technology projects, providing ideas and parallels to transit professionals.
* So You Want To Be A CIO. A session focusing on transportation industry recruitment.
Don’t miss this opportunity to learn how transit agencies can get more out of their information technology, traveler information, and Intelligent Transportation Systems applications. From IT professionals and chief information officers to software developers, the program will offer information for everyone – and networking for all. See you in Toronto!
More information on the TransITech program, including registration, is available at the APTA web site.