Passenger Transport - November 23, 2009
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DOT Proposes Expanded Transit Safety Role for FTA

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has called for the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to add safety oversight authority for light and heavy rail systems as well as bus systems, saying: “Safety is our number one priority when it comes to planes, trains, and automobiles. And it only makes sense that we should be looking out for passengers who ride subways and light rail and municipal buses, too.”

Over the last several months, APTA has met with FTA regarding federal oversight, and is urging that the industry continues to be included in the process so a common sense approach is taken. 

APTA President William Millar said: “Public transportation systems are very safe. We will work with the federal government and Congress to make sure that our safe systems are even safer.”

Currently, 27 state safety oversight agencies controlled by the states provide safety oversight to light rail and heavy rail transit agencies. Commuter rail safety is covered by the Federal Railroad Administration. The secretary noted, however, that some states face fiscal constraints that may affect their ability to regulate their own transit agencies.

“This conversation is particularly important for us,” he said, “because we’ve been working hard to expand transit use as a way to reduce traffic congestion and the country’s dependence on foreign oil. If the role of transit is going to grow, transit safety efforts must also grow.” He added that DOT will take the proposal to Congress next month.

While specific details have not been announced, initial press reports indicate that under the administration’s proposal, states that keep their oversight bodies would need to pass safety certification programs; demonstrate that they had adequately trained employees; and possess the financial independence and authority to compel compliance from the systems they oversee.

They would receive federal funding to cover salaries, training, and other expenses. Further, FTA would assume direct oversight for states that decided to opt out of monitoring. FTA would also take over for state organizations that it determined to be inadequate.

Although initial efforts will focus on rail transit systems, the plan would also allow FTA to issue safety regulations for bus transit systems. Lastly, transit systems would be responsible for costs incurred with complying with the new requirements.

Millar noted that APTA is a Standards Development Organization recognized by the federal government, and has created more than 100 voluntary rail standards. APTA also has a history of working on standard development efforts with other organizations.

“We hope that the federal government would look at the standards already in place,” Millar said, adding that, “FTA paid for their development. We would expect that if there are major changes and if there are significant new costs, that additional revenue from the federal government would pay for these costs,” he said.

APTA will join LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff at a Dec. 8 hearing of the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, on the federal role in public transit safety. Secretary LaHood is expected to release a more detailed proposal at that hearing. Several bills regarding oversight have also been introduced by members of the House and Senate. They include: S. 1506 by Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD); H.R. 3338 by Rep. Donna Edwards (D-MD); and H.R. 3975 by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC).

Senate Leaders Call for Six-Month Transit Authorization Extension

On Nov. 17, a bipartisan group of seven Senate committee chairs and ranking members sent a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) emphasizing the need for a six-month extension of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) that expired on Sept. 30—and has continued to operate through short-term extensions attached to continuing resolutions. This extension will ensure sufficient time to complete the surface transportation authorization legislation. The senators urged Reid and McConnell to file cloture on the motion to proceed on the extension, citing job creation and economic recovery as reasons.

Signers of the letter were Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and James Inhofe (R-OK), chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Environment and Public Works (EPW); Chris Dodd (D-CT) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; John Rockefeller (D-WV) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), chairman and ranking member of the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation; and Max Baucus (D-MT), chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

The letter noted that in July, EPW, the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs each reported an 18-month extension of the surface transportation program. The letter said, in part: “We believe a multi-month extension of SAFETEA-LU is the best solution. It would give states the certainty they need to plan and contract for transportation infrastructure projects ... Unfortunately, a small number of Senators continue to object and will not allow an extension to be considered by the Senate without a cloture vote.”

In urging the cloture vote, the Senators wrote that the six-month extension would “put Americans back to work and keep our economy moving.”

EPW Chairman Boxer and Ranking Member Inhofe convened a members’ briefing Nov. 18 with DOT officials John D. Porcari, deputy secretary of transportation, and Roy Kienitz, undersecretary for policy, to discuss issues related to the transportation authorization.

“The Department of Transportation estimates that every $1 billion spent on transportation and matched by the states supports approximately 35,000 jobs,” Boxer emphasized. “That is why extension of the surface transportation program is so important.”

“Budget rules governing continuing resolutions mean less money is available for states. Short term stopgap fixes also don’t provide states with the certainty they need to keep crucial transportation projects moving forward,” Boxer stressed. “Although I prefer an 18-month extension, the [Senate] EPW, Banking, Commerce, and Finance committees are currently working to advance a 6-month extension that will restore state funding to the Fiscal Year 2009 level and help reverse the rescission of $8.7 billion that occurred when SAFETEA-LU expired.”

She continued: “Once we pass a multi-month extension, we will continue our bipartisan efforts to enact a multi-year surface transportation bill.”

Metro Transit Celebrates the Arrival of Northstar

Metro Transit introduced commuter rail to the Twin Cities metropolitan area Nov. 16—opening 10 weeks ahead of schedule—and $10 million under budget. It began revenue service that morning on the 40-mile line between Big Lake and downtown Minneapolis by providing 1,207 rides.

“Today was a good beginning to a service that has been nearly 13 years in the making,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. “With speeds up to 79 mph, Northstar offers a fast trip and, more importantly, a consistent trip—51 minutes end-to-end regardless of weather and nearby road congestion. Northstar provides a viable alternative to driving alone in a car.”

The transit agency posted staff members at each of the six Northstar stations—Big Lake, Elk River, Anoka, Coon Rapids/Riverdale, Fridley and Target Field in Minneapolis—to help customers become acquainted with the new service.

Each train consists of a locomotive and four passenger cars, with seating for about 140 per car. The passenger cars have three seating levels, work tables, electrical outlets, and an on-board restroom. Further, every car can accommodate two bicycles and is fully accessible for persons with disabilities.

Northstar schedules five morning rush-hour trips to Minneapolis and five trips home in the afternoon, as well as one reverse-commute trip. The line operates three round trips on Saturdays and Sundays.

Upon their arrival at Target Field Station, passengers can make easy connections to Metro Transit’s Hiawatha Light Rail Line (which has been extended four blocks to ease transfers between the two systems) and to regional bus routes for rides to their final destinations.

In conjunction with the launch of Northstar service, St. Cloud Metro Bus in St. Cloud, MN, at the north end of the commuter rail line, inaugurated NorthstarLink commuter bus service between St. Cloud and the Big Lake Station.

Minnesota DOT designed and built the $317 million Northstar project, which is owned by the Metropolitan Council and managed by Metro Transit, an operating division of the council.

Weekend Celebrations
Prior to the introduction of regular service, the six Northstar stations opened their doors Nov. 14 for public events organized by the local communities, featuring speeches, entertainment, displays, and information on how to take public transportation. Approximately 3,500 people at the five suburban stations then boarded non-stop trains to Target Field Station.

On Nov. 13, the Northstar Corridor Development Authority (NCDA) brought together public officials including Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff; Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee; and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Al Franken (D-MN) for the inaugural ride on the line. Guests also observed the historic connection of Northstar and Hiawatha lines at the Minneapolis Transportation Interchange, adjacent to Target Field.

In his remarks, Oberstar jokingly termed the new line “a moral issue” because it will decrease the number of times frustrated drivers swear at the traffic congestion.

L.A. Metro Opens Gold Line Extension

Federal, state, and local elected officials joined community leaders and representatives of Los Angeles Metro Nov. 14 to dedicate the new Edward R. Roybal Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension. The light rail line opened to the public the following day with free rides and community celebrations at and around four of the eight new stations: East L.A. Civic Center, Mariachi Plaza, Little Tokyo/Arts District, and Union Station.  Revenue service began the morning of Nov. 16.

Roybal, who represented the community served by the new six-mile light rail line, was in Congress for 30 years until his retirement in 1993; he died in 2005. His daughter, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), was among the participants in the ceremonies.

The light rail extension—under construction for five years and coming in on budget with a flawless construction safety record of more than four million hours—links East Los Angeles with Pasadena along the Metro Gold Line, and connects with the light rail Metro Blue and Green lines, the Metro Red and Purple subway lines, and the Metro Orange Line dedicated busway. Its opening brings the Metro system to a total of 79 miles of rail.

“For the first time in nearly half a century—since the last trolley ran down First Street—rail will again carry passengers from downtown L.A. to East Los Angeles,” said Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “This caps a 20-year battle to bring rail back to East L.A., one of the most transit-dependent communities in Los Angeles.”

“With the opening of ‘La Linea de Oro’—the Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension—Eastside residents now have access to jobs, schools, medical centers, shopping, entertainment, and cultural opportunities throughout our county,” said Gloria Molina, a Los Angeles County supervisor and Metro Board member. “In turn, the region will get the benefit of Eastside talent; our rich cultural heritage; our dedicated work ethic; and our welcoming business climate. It’s a winning combination for the whole county.”

Roybal-Allard noted her father’s longtime support of rail service to the Eastside neighborhood, adding: “He worked long and hard towards that end. It has been my pleasure to continue that fight, and today his dream of affordable, clean, and efficient transportation is becoming a reality.”

The first Eastside Extension train, carrying officials from Union Station, broke through a banner as confetti was strewn, fireworks cannons were fired, and a band played, marking the beginning of the dedication. Other event speakers included Reps. Grace Napolitano (D-CA) and Judy Chu (D-CA); Metro Chief Executive Officer Art Leahy; and Metro Board Chair Ara Najarian.

Two of the extension’s eight stations are underground, at Soto and Mariachi Plaza, and the line includes 1.7 miles of underground track. The design of each station incorporates art created specifically for each location.

Carper: More Climate Change Funds for Transit

The National Journal Group hosted a Nov. 17 Transportation Policy Lunch that featured Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), chairman of the Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and a panel of transportation policy experts.

At the event, Carper called for climate change legislation to channel additional revenue generated from selling carbon credits toward efforts to reduce Americans’ reliance on automobiles in favor of public transportation, bicycles, and other emission-free forms of transportation.

In response to questions posed by National Journal correspondent Lisa Caruso, Carper said the current House version of a climate change bill puts 1 percent of revenues toward alternative forms of transportation, which he said is not enough. “I hope, by the time we get through the debate in the Senate, we can get to 4 or 5 percent [of revenues],” he said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s better than what we have.”

The senator said changing the nature of personal transportation in the United States was vital to lowering greenhouse gas emissions, much of which are generated by automobiles. “By 2030 there will be a 50 percent increase in the number of miles traveled,” he said. “We’ve got to figure out a smarter way to do it.”

Joining Carper at the event were panelists James Corliss, campaign director of Transportation for America; Deron Lovaas, federal transportation policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council; Jack Schenendorf, vice chairman of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission; Samuel Staley, director of urban growth and land use policy at the Reason Foundation; and Polly Trottenberg, U.S. DOT assistant secretary for transportation policy.

Trottenberg cited “a huge demand for more transportation options, for rail, for biking, for walking …. I think there are some incredible transportation innovations that will work in all kinds of communities, not just in compact, high-density communities.”

Schenendorf added: “We simply need the leadership to get us that next step and provide the kind of transportation system that’s going to power our economy in the 21st century. Otherwise, transportation is going to drag down our economy. We lived off the excess capacity of the highway system for years, and now that excess capacity is gone.”

The event, presented in association with CSX and the Transportation Construction Coalition, is the latest in a series of National Journal Group policy breakfasts and lunches that showcase the opinions of key stakeholders regarding major issues on Capitol Hill.

Valley Metro Opens Transit Center; Superstition Springs Is Agency’s First Construction Project

Valley Metro in Phoenix opened the Superstition Springs Transit Center in Mesa, AZ—the first construction project in the agency’s 23-year history—with ribbon-cutting ceremonies Nov. 5. The new facility provides access to five regular bus routes and LINK, Valley Metro’s Bus Rapid Transit service, with six bus bays and 80 new parking spaces.

Speakers at the program included Mesa City Manager Chris Brady; Scottsdale Councilmember and Valley Metro Chair Wayne Ecton; Westcor Senior Manager Steve Wood; and Mesa Councilmember Scott Somers. Westcor, a developer of malls and shopping areas, is a major partner in the Superstition Springs project, along with Valley Metro RPTA and the city of Mesa.

Valley Metro designed the $2.3 million transit center to incorporate a natural style of public art in a comfortable setting for passengers; artist William Barnhart developed the art elements of the facility with a goal of connecting sustainability and transit, including artistic fencing that incorporates such elements as rusty steel, stone, and rock; art box panels to showcase work by local schoolchildren; and benches, trash receptacles, and tree grates with an integrated design that coordinates with the shelter structure and fencing.

Green elements include a living roof that contains native, low-water plants and provides a cooling effect to the shelter below, and trees placed in areas to provide shelter and shade from the sun as it sets in the west.

Also on Nov. 5, Valley Metro introduced 13 of the 26 LINK stations between Alma School/Main and Baywood/Power to service. The stations provide maximum shade, real-time messaging that announces the next bus arrival time, and raised platforms (at some sites) to help ease boarding.

The LINK station at the Mesa Arts Center features artwork by Laurie Lundquist that integrates the design of the arts center. Dangling mirror-coated raindrops hang from the ceiling to create a dynamic feature of movement and sound, allowing passengers literally to see themselves in transit.

Cutting the ribbon at the Superstition Springs Transit Center are, from left, David Boggs, Valley Metro executive director; Steve Wood, Westcor senior manager; Scott Somers, Mesa Councilmember; Wayne Ecton, Scottsdale Councilmember and Valley Metro chair; Chris Brady, Mesa city manager; and facility artist Bill Barnhart with grandson Walter Rogers.

Prendergast Named to Head NYC Transit

Thomas F. Prendergast, a longtime employee of public transportation agencies in New York City who more recently served as chief executive officer of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink) in Vancouver, BC, is returning to the city as president of MTA New York City Transit, effective Dec. 1. He succeeds Howard H. Roberts.

Prendergast has more than 30 years of transportation experience, beginning with the Chicago Transit Authority and the Federal Transit Administration. He joined NYC Transit in 1982, rising through the ranks and ultimately serving as senior vice president of subways from 1990 to 1994. He then served as president of MTA Long Island Rail Road from 1994 to 2000.

He joined TransLink in July 2008 after being employed by the private sector for eight years. During that time, Prendergast worked in the engineering and construction management consultation sector and was directly involved in the delivery of transportation infrastructure and construction projects.

Prendergast chairs the APTA Standards Development and Oversight Council and the Rail Conference Planning Subcommittee, and serves on the Rail Transit CEOs Subcommittee; High-Speed and Intercity Rail Committee; Commuter Rail Committee; Bus and Paratransit Conference Planning Subcommittee; and Conference Program Planning Committee.

Jay H. Walder, chairman and chief executive officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority, called Prendergast “a leader who brings an extraordinary variety of experiences from around the world to a system that he already knows extremely well. Tom’s work running one of the most technologically sophisticated systems in Vancouver will be invaluable as we take the MTA to the next level in performance and customer service.”

Flowers Moves to Charlotte as CATS’ Next CEO

Carolyn Flowers has been named the new director of public transit for the city of Charlotte, NC, and chief executive officer of the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), effective Jan. 4, 2010. She succeeds Keith Parker, who left CATS earlier this year to take the top job at VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, TX.

Flowers comes to Charlotte from the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority where she has worked for 10 years; since 2006, she has been its chief operations officer. She also served two years as budget director for the city of Beverly Hills and held financial positions in the private sector.

She is a graduate of the Leadership APTA Class of 2002-2003, vice chair of the APTA Diversity Council, and a member of the new Passenger Transport Advisory Board.

“Carolyn demonstrated a number of skills for us we think are critical going forward, first understanding the importance of CATS growing beyond Mecklenburg County and into our region, the importance of all transit modes—commuter rail, light rail, streetcar, bus and rapid bus transit—that there’s a role for each of them to play in an integrated system,” Charlotte City Manager Curt Walton said in announcing Flowers’ appointment.

CATACOMMUTE Enhances Mobility Management in Central Pennsylvania

BY JACQUELINE K. SHEADER, MBA, Marketing Manager, Centre Area Transportation Authority, State College, PA

As if to emphasize the fact that the Centre Area Transportation Authority (CATA) in State College, PA, has moved fromoffering only traditional fixed route and paratransit service into the realm of mobility management, the authority has announced that the expansion of its CATACOMMUTE program is one of its biggest successes over the past year.

This program encompasses a family of commuter services including a ride-matching program, a vanpool program, a Guaranteed Ride Home service, and other services designed to provide commuters with easy and economical ways to get to and from work via alternatives to the single-occupancy vehicle.

CATA is no stranger to the promotion of commuter alternatives: its initial RideShare program, which consisted of ride-matching and Guaranteed Ride Home services, originated in 1999. However, the program didn’t take off in a major way until late 2007, when CATA went into the “vanpool business” by taking over Penn State’s six-vehicle employee vanpool program and broadening it to serve the general public.

Since then, the number of participants in CATA’s ride-matching database has increased to 1,172, more than double the 572 registered at the beginning of 2008. Today, more than 260 active carpool participants are registered with the system and 17 active vanpools—accounting for nearly 225 daily riders—travel more than 30 miles on average into the State College area from 11 counties throughout central Pennsylvania.

The authority began its long-distance commuter services in response to a need for alternatives to solo commuting. In the State College region, housing close to the Penn State campus is very expensive relative to more outlying areas, which means that many lower-income workers must travel long distances to work. Because CATA’s funding structure limits its ability to run buses beyond the boundaries of its five member municipalities, the provision of ride-matching services was seen as a way of meeting this need to at least a small degree.

The new vanpool initiative was made possible by funding from the federal Congestion Management/Air Quality program, for which the State College area became eligible in 2007. The Centre County Metropolitan Planning Organization allocated funds to the new program—in response to a request by CATA—as a small step towards reducing traffic congestion and air pollution. Through a strong partnership with Penn State, vans were acquired to get the program off the ground.

One of CATA’s most social vanpool groups—dubbed “Gary and the Vanettes”—makes a daily round trip of about 50 miles from the Lamar/Snydertown area of central Pennsylvania into State College.

Veterans Day at Grand Central

Crowds gather in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal at 11 a.m. Nov. 11 for Veterans Day ceremonies conducted each year by MTA Metro-North Railroad. The program included the flag ceremony, the Pledge of Allegiance, the playing of taps, the laying of a wreath while a bagpipe band played, and remarks by Metro-North President Howard Permut.

Winning ‘Dump the Pump’ Videos Depict Relationships Between Passengers and Public Transit

What do a jilted gas pump, an upbeat musical portraying the joys of avoiding traffic, and an inspiring call to action to save the planet have in common? They took the top three awards in APTA’s recent “Dump the Pump” contest for online videos generated by public transportation riders.

Participants were asked to create videos that demonstrated why they were “dumping the pump” in favor of using public transportation.

The first-place video, “Romance,” created by Bob Richardson of Portland, OR, depicts a woman sitting at a café table for two, ostensibly saying goodbye to her significant other. “I know this is painful for you, but going on like this isn’t healthy for me. And really, if you think about it, I was just using you,” says the woman—then the camera pulls back to reveal that her lunch partner is actually a gas pump. Richardson received a year of free public transportation and an Apple iPod Touch.

Judith Keenan of Berkeley, CA, won six months of free public transportation for her second-place video, which contrasts the points of view of a driver stuck with high gas prices and freeway traffic against a bicyclist connecting to Caltrain commuter rail and a Muni bus in San Francisco. The soundtrack shifts from talk radio in the car to the swing tune “Choo Choo Ch’Boogie” for the bicycle and public transit.

The third-place award, presented to Miles Clark of Atlanta, is three months of free public transportation. Clark’s video juxtaposes a single performer and transit-friendly slogans such as “You… me… everyone can help stop global warming” and “Don’t have a fuss—take the bus,” concluding with “Don’t be a chump. Dump the pump,” over the song “If My Heart Was a House” by Owl City.

The judges also selected two videos for special mention. The first shows a man breaking up with his car: “I’m just not getting what I need out of this. I mean, you’re getting me where I need to go, but at what cost? You said you’d clean up your act, but you’re still a slob. Your—well, your carbon dioxide emissions per passenger mile, they’re embarrassing me,” he says. The second is a computer-generated scene of urban gridlock and serene passengers on board a bus flying above traffic.

All winning videos and special mention entries can be viewed here.


Fort Worth’s ‘T’ Wins Top Awards from North Texas Clean Air Coalition

The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) recently received two 2009 Working for Clean Air™ awards from the North Texas Clean Air Coalition (NTCAC). The award program recognizes outstanding workplaces in North Texas for clean air, sustainability, and green initiatives.

The T won the Western Region’s Commuter Initiatives Award “for its outstanding programs to promote alternatives to single occupancy vehicles and provide solutions to the business community, including vanpools, bus, commuter rail and commute cyclist programs,” and the Western Region Employer of the Year Over 500–Silver Award.

“While The T’s internal business and employee initiatives are a model for other companies, it is their external programs that set them apart as an Employer of the Year,” said NTCAC Chairman Cathy Altman in presenting the award to Dick Ruddell, president of the authority, and Bob Parmelee, its board chair.

The award recognized such programs as “Be Airesponsible,” which educated thousands of residents and businesses in the Fort Worth area about air quality; The T’s early and continued development and promotion of natural gas for bus fleets; its sponsorship of Fort Worth’s Bike to Work Day; high-profile local promotions of national Dump the Pump Day, including free passes to encourage public transportation commuting; and its help in revitalizing the city’s annual Clean Air Bike Rally.

Dick Ruddell, president of The T, checks out the world’s first compressed natural gas-powered chopper motorcycle, which was exhibited at the North Texas Clean Air Coalition’s Western Region annual awards program, where the Fort Worth public transit agency received two top awards.

St. Louis Metro Opens Paint Facility

Representatives of Metro in St. Louis recently joined state and local elected officials to celebrate the grand opening of the public transit agency’s new $4.3 million paint facility. Located in East St. Louis, IL, the new facility will allow Metro to prepare and paint MetroLink light rail vehicles (LRVs) in an environmentally controlled area that is both healthier for employees and better for the environment.

Metro explained that many of the 87 LRVs in its fleet have been in service since the 1990s, clocking an average of 500 miles per day; as a result of their heavy use, the vehicles require fresh paint to maintain their structural integrity, extend their useful life, and keep up their appearance. While Metro has been manually repainting the LRVs at its maintenance facility in St. Louis, the new paint booth is expected to improve the process through increased technology while also minimizing the environmental impact of maintaining the trains.

“This facility will allow Metro to effectively and efficiently restore the body of the light rail vehicles, extend the service life of each train, and create a consistent image for Metro’s customers,” noted Ray Friem, Metro’s chief operating officer of transit services.

The LRVs that will be repainted at the new facility operate along the entire alignment in St. Louis City and St. Louis County, MO, and St. Clair County, IL.

Participants in dedication ceremonies for St. Louis Metro’s new paint facility include, from left: Keith MacKenzie, vice president of STV Incorporated; Dr. Richard LaBore, Metro board commissioner; Metro President and Chief Executive Officer Robert Baer; Illinois state Rep. Thomas Holbrook; U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello (D-IL); Delores Lysakowski, chairperson of the St. Clair County, IL, Transit District; Mark Kern, chairman of the St. Clair County Board; East St. Louis Mayor Alvin Parks; Scott Plocher, president of Plocher Construction; and Ray Friem, chief operating officer of Metro.


Continental Public Transit Now Becomes Trapeze ITS

Continental Public Transit has been acquired by Constellation Software’s wholly owned affiliate Trapeze Software Inc., and is now operating as Trapeze ITS—a separate company within the Constellation Group.

Trapeze ITS is part of the Trapeze Group, one of six business units of Constellation Software Inc. The company has locations in Cedar Rapids, IA; Switzerland; the United Kingdom; Poland; and Germany.

“This alliance allows greater synergies between the Trapeze Group and Trapeze ITS to provide customers with a broader product offering,” said David Brandauer, general manager of Trapeze ITS USA, LLC.

ORCA Regional Smart Card Shifts to Electronic Transfers

The ORCA (One Regional Card for All) smart card, which serves six public transit agencies throughout the Puget Sound region of Washington State, is preparing to shift from paper transfers to electronic transfers on Jan. 1, 2010, for trips that involve transferring between agencies.

While King County Metro Transit in Seattle and Pierce Transit in Lakewood will continue to offer paper transfers for use within their own systems, Community Transit in Snohomish County and Sound Transit in Seattle plan to switch to all-electronic transfers. Everett Transit in Everett and Kitsap Transit in Bremerton have already phased out paper transfers on their systems. Transfer policies for Washington State Ferries, the seventh ORCA partner agency, will remain unchanged with no transfers between ferries and buses or trains.

All ORCA partners will continue to accept cash, but beginning Jan. 1, riders using cash instead of the card to transfer between different agencies’ systems will pay the full fare for each leg of their ride.

ORCA automatically credits a rider’s first trip when he or she transfers within two hours. With each trip, the card automatically deducts the correct fare, including any transfer value, or riders can load their ORCA card with a monthly pass good for unlimited rides.

HUD Sustainability Chief Discusses Better Communities

By JOHN R. BELL, APTA Program Manager-Communications

On Nov. 10, Shelley Poticha, senior advisor for sustainable housing and communities at the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), shared the ways her agency aims to reform its programs and policies that affect transportation, by working with DOT.

HUD is “completely aware of the value of transit” in pursuing its mission, she told a packed room at the APTA offices in Washington as part of APTA’s “Transportation Tuesdays” speaker series.

Earlier this year, HUD partnered with DOT and the Environmental Protection Agency to explore ways the three agencies can collaborate to promote better livability in American communities.

Poticha noted that HUD hopes to see $150 million in grants for sustainable community development included in the 2010 budget appropriations bill and is currently working with other federal agencies and departments to develop a “place-based” budget proposal. The funds will be distributed through a competitive grant process, but HUD will work with DOT staff to select grantees, she noted.

She discussed ways that HUD would like to make aspects of its interactions with DOT more oriented toward sustainable land use and transit-oriented development. HUD is considering how transportation investments foster economic development and “how places that have been growing need one set of strategies and places that are declining ... need another.” For example, the agency recently changed rules that once made it impossible for HUD housing grants to be used to develop brownfields.

The future likely holds other changes, Poticha said: “I would like to see a proactive land acquisition strategy around transit corridors, so we can afford to build” new projects. HUD would also like to consider transportation expenses in determining affordability, along with direct housing expenses. She indicated HUD will work with DOT in reforming the New Starts process. Poticha and others at HUD would also like to use Community Development Block Grants to reward communities using funds to promote sustainable development. However, “our focus is on activities that we can do under current law,” she said.

Poticha noted the importance of communicating these reforms to stakeholders—particularly the economic benefits of transit-oriented, livable communities. “We’ve got to talk about what is happening around the country, because there is a lot of demand for this—and there is a lot of innovation,” she noted. “We have to talk about how these initiatives will help the economy.”

APTA President William Millar termed her comments a call to action for public transit. “Now it’s our challenge to support her and her colleagues to make it happen,” he said.

There Is Still Time to Cast Your Vote!

Approximately 36 percent of APTA members have submitted votes on the proposed changes to the association’s bylaws and governance and committee structure as of Nov. 13. Voting remains open, and APTA needs to hear from all its members to complete the process.

Learning about the issue and submitting your vote is easy: either use the paper ballots mailed to each APTA member on Oct. 21 or go to the ballot and materials online. For more information or to vote online, access any of the following links:
* An electronic ballot form.
* An electronic version of the proposed bylaws.
* An electronic version of the transition plan.
* A side-by-side comparison of the old and new bylaws.
* A summary explanation of the proposed changes.
* Recordings of the webinars held on Sept. 14 and 22 to explain the proposed changes.

Even asking questions about the process is easy. Simply send them here.

Seeking Conference Abstracts

APTA is seeking abstracts through Nov. 30 for presentations at the 2010 APTA Transportation and University Communities Conference, April 10-13 in Athens, GA.

Prospective presenters are asked to submit a half-page abstract on their proposed topic along with a completed form available online.

Categories for conference presentations include marketing; universal access; sustainability; transportation in small college and university communities; transportation safety, security, and emergency preparedness; and future university trends.

This opportunity is open only to APTA members; all authors must be members. For information, contact Heidi Salati.

Time to get rail on track


Editor's Note: High-speed rail has been placed in the spotlight by both the Obama administration and the public transit industry. Here are just two recent examples, reprinted by permission.

This article originally appeared in the Orlando Sentinel on Nov. 12, 2009.

For too long, Florida has put off investing in commuter rail and all of us are paying the price. Florida’s long stretches of highway combined with increasing traffic congestion have made traveling between major cities difficult and time consuming. This constricts our productivity and the state’s overall economy. Just building more roads is not a solution; we need high-speed and commuter rail. The good news is that right now, Florida has an historic opportunity to develop its passenger rail system, and all that’s needed is a commitment from our State Legislature.

Right now, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is preparing to award $8 billion in grants for high-speed rail construction. The USDOT is considering more than 270 applications from 40 states. Florida’s application for $2.6 billion stands a good chance of winning an award because the state has already secured rights-of-way for high-speed corridors from Tampa to Orlando, plus environmental assessments are complete. But a major hurdle is a firm commitment to construct, operate, and connect local commuter rail lines to the high-speed rail backbone. That is where the State Legislature’s actions in the next two months are critically important.

It is critical the State Legislature hold a special session before the end of the year to approve a rail agreement for SunRail and to identify a sustainable, long-term source of funding for commuter rail. Achieving agreement on these two items will advance Florida’s chances for high-speed rail. In a meeting I requested with USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood, he confirmed that Florida has to bring commuter rail investments to the table if we are going to have a shot at federal high-speed rail funding.

If our legislative leaders pass commuter rail legislation in a special session this year, we will send a positive message to Washington. We will signal a clear understanding that if a statewide high-speed rail network is to be successful, then our communities must have local rail transit options in place.

The legislature’s previous efforts on SunRail have put Florida’s ability for transportation innovations at risk. I thank the lawmakers who have supported SunRail from the beginning and urge the lawmakers in Tallahassee who haven’t to support SunRail. I believe doing so will pave the way for Florida’s next generation transportation system.

Partnering with the Federal government for the construction of a high-speed rail system in Florida is a once in a generation opportunity. Shame on us if this opportunity is wasted. High-speed rail is the future of regional transportation in this country, and Florida stands to, yet again, be a national model of success.

Investing today in rail solutions will immediately bring thousands of new jobs to the state and improved connectivity will boost our economy. A Tampa-Orlando mega corridor filled with investment and employment opportunities will take shape around this new infrastructure. Rail will be the engine that drives transformative economic change for decades to come, all it takes is swift and affirmative action by the State Legislature.

High speed rail needs Feinstein’s help


This article originally appeared Nov. 3, 2009, in the San Jose Mercury News.

In the next few weeks, the Senate will decide whether to heed calls here in California and around the country for increased high-speed rail investment.

Right now, Congress is ironing out its annual transportation appropriations bill. The first version included a historic $4 billion investment in high-speed rail, intended to meet the enormous nationwide demand fostered by economic recovery funds. That bill passed in the House, with a wide bipartisan majority voting on more than one occasion to reject attempts to lessen the high-speed rail funding. The one thing that Republicans and Democrats showed they can support in unison so far in this Congress is high-speed rail.

When the bill moved to the Senate, though, the Senate cut the high-speed rail appropriation to down to $1.2 billion, allocating more to highway funding. Thankfully, there is growing national momentum for high-speed rail, but funding is needed to make something happen.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein has established herself as a high-speed rail champion. She has another great opportunity to stand up for high-speed rail, since she serves on the House-Senate conference committee that will finalize the bill. Its eventual choice will send an important signal to the country about Congress’ commitment to high-speed rail as an innovative solution to our nation’s transportation challenges.

High-speed rail also offers solutions to economic, energy, and environmental problems. It will put people to work, clean our air, cut our energy-consumption, facilitate travel and business and assist in the resurgence of American manufacturing.
 It will begin to cut climate changing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which is responsible for 41 percent of California’s global warming pollution. California will need high-speed rail to meet its carbon reduction goals over the long run.

A $4 billion federal investment would buy new, high-performance locomotives and passenger cars built in the U.S., better signals, track and grade-crossing upgrades and removal of rail bottlenecks — all resulting in faster and more convenient travel. In California, it will create hundreds of thousands of quality jobs in fields that have experienced losses over the last decade, including the technology, construction and engineering sectors.

Funding the statewide project will add up to 450,000 permanent jobs and 160,000 construction jobs in California. This does not include the jobs related to the manufacturing of new trains.

Americans are turning to passenger rail in record numbers. Rail travel ridership increased each of the last six years, while vehicle miles traveled for cars and trucks has fallen over the last two years for the first time since the oil crisis of the 1970s.

State and local leaders are searching for the means to meet this demand. The U.S. Department of Transportation reports that the Federal Railroad Administration has received at least 300 pre-applications from 40 states totaling more than $100 billion in requests for high-speed, intercity passenger rail grant funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

History holds a cautionary tale:

In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson and Congress joined forces to successfully create the fastest passenger train in the world.

The technology worked, but Congress did not follow through with the funding for the high-speed track. Now, Sen. Feinstein and her colleagues have the power to make history.

Sen. Feinstein has championed high-speed rail in the past, and we need that leadership again.

Florez is majority leader of the California State Senate. Steva is the transportation advocate for the California Public Interest Research Group.