Passenger Transport - December 7, 2009
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Congress: Urgent Need for More Public Transit Investment; APTA: Any Jobs Bill Should Include Transit Projects

There was much activity on Capitol Hill this week as two Congressional committees held press conferences focused on public transportation and opportunities for job creation, and as Congress began to discuss the possibility of a second round of stimulus funding, with the target almost solely to create jobs. APTA participated in both press events on Dec. 2, spotlighting how investment in transportation results in jobs, and citing a survey that called for investing $15 billion in public transportation to support and create hundreds of thousands of jobs and stimulate the economy.

Dec. 2 Capitol Hill Press Conferences
In a press conference held Dec. 2 on Capitol Hill, Reps. James Oberstar (D-MN), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee, and Peter A. DeFazio (D-OR), chairman of the T&I Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, underscored the good news about transportation and American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding.

Because of the legislation, Oberstar said, “People are off the unemployment rolls and on the payrolls. They’re getting their health insurance reinstated and they’re paying federal taxes. They’re leaving behind a long-term investment for the American driving public. We need to sustain and extend this investment.”

Oberstar continued: “It is our opportunity, our necessity, and our urgency to invest in jobs and be prepared to move on a longer-term authorization for the benefit of the country.”

DeFazio echoed these statements, saying: “The message we need to send is what we did in the stimulus. We have a proven track record and can do it again with projects that will have a more sustained impact on the economy.”

On the Senate side, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, held a press conference the same day to announce her support for two reports. The first, from APTA, pointed to more than $15 billion in public transportation capital projects that can be started in 90 days, and the other, from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, identified 9,500 highway, bridge, transit, port, rail, and aviation projects worth more than $69 billion that, if funded, can be used to create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country.

“We know these highway and public transit projects are job creators,” said Boxer. “Jobs are where we need to concentrate on this economy recovery.” She added: “This effort is immediate job creation, and that’s what we need to have right now.”

APTA Calls on Congress to Invest $15 Billion in Public Transit
As part of its continuing effort to demonstrate the connection between job creation and public transit, APTA called on Congress to invest that $15 billion.

APTA’s survey estimated that this investment would support and create more than 450,000 jobs. According to the Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment, a report completed this fall by the Economic Development Research Group, every $1 invested in public transportation generates an average of $4 in economic returns, along with nearly $3.6 billion of business sales and nearly $500 million in federal, state, and local tax revenues.

“Let’s get Americans back to work,” said APTA President William Millar. “It is essential that a jobs bill include public transportation investment to create good-paying jobs for Americans.”

Millar continued: “There’s no doubt that new federal funding for public transportation will create and maintain much-needed jobs. Funding public transit should be a priority since it helps local economies while also supporting our developing green economy.”

Job Creation Proposal
Directly related to the discussion of transit and job creation, Oberstar and Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, crafted a proposal to provide more than $100 billion in highway and public transit spending from the U.S. Treasury’s general fund. This money would require a two-year suspension of any new Highway Trust Fund obligations, during which general fund appropriations would replace and supplement contracting authority.

On the eve of the White House Forum on Jobs and Economic Growth, Oberstar and DeFazio sent a letter to President Barack Obama saying: transportation projects create family-wage jobs and can create them quickly.

The letter said, in part: “We write to emphasize the need to increase investment provided by highway and transit formula programs as a way to create and sustain family-wage jobs, contribute to our nation’s long-term economic growth, and help the United States recover from the worst recession since the Great Depression.”

The two chairmen pointed to data collected by the T&I Committee on the progress so far under ARRA, noting that nearly 7,900 highway and transit projects throughout the country have created or sustained more than 210,000 direct, on-project jobs, as well as hundreds of thousands of indirect jobs, in the past nine months.

Additional Advocacy Efforts
As part of its efforts on behalf of job creation, APTA—in conjunction with The Transportation Construction Coalition and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce-based Americans for Transportation Mobility—placed an ad in The Washington Post and several Capitol Hill publications that emphasizes how public transportation projects will provide work for Americans.

Further, while the APTA Legislative Committee held meetings in Washington last week, APTA arranged for committee members to participate in a series of radio and media tours of nearly a dozen communities that reinforced the connection between the industry and employment.


APTA President William Millar, far left, presents an APTA compendium of ARRA public transportation projects to legislators at an event in Washington, DC, to highlight the 252,000 jobs in public transit that are being created and supported with the passage of ARRA. He joins, from second from left, Reps. John Garamendi (D-CA); Peter DeFazio (D-OR); and James Oberstar (D-MN); and AASHTO Executive Director John Horsley.
Photo by Jim Berard/House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure




Livability Plan Offers $280M for Circulators

The Obama administration’s Livability Initiative—a joint venture of DOT, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency—has made available $280 million for such urban circulator projects as streetcars, buses, and bus facilities. U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced the funding Dec. 1 in New Orleans, where he was touring the historic Carrollton Car Barn streetcar facility.

According to LaHood, the funding “represents a significant effort to promote livable communities, improve the quality of life for more Americans, and create more transportation choices that serve the needs of individual communities.” He added: “Fostering the concept of livability in transportation projects will stimulate America’s neighborhoods to become safer, healthier, and more vibrant.” 

"Not only will these urban circulator and bus projects provide Americans with new neighborhood-friendly transit systems, they will give us a cleaner environment and create much-needed jobs,” added Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff.

The federal program will make available up to $25 million per project from approximately $130 million in unallocated discretionary New Starts/Small Starts Program funds.

Transit developments that connect destinations and foster the redevelopment of communities into walkable, mixed-use, high-density environments will receive priority.

A second pot of money, totaling $150 million in unallocated discretionary Bus and Bus Facility funds, will be available for projects that will foster the preservation and enhancement of urban and rural communities by providing new mobility options that provide access to jobs, health care, and education, and/or contribute to the redevelopment of neighborhoods into pedestrian-friendly vibrant environments. 

FTA plans to announce the grants early next year.

“As a longtime champion of streetcars, it is rewarding to see this administration prioritize community livability and invest in our nation’s transportation systems,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR). “Making a down payment on streetcars, better bus access, and improved public transit means investing in our nation’s economic success.”

Snohomish County, WA, Welcomes 'Swift' BRT

Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA, welcomed the first bus rapid transit service in Washington State, known as Swift, with a public celebration Nov. 29. Regular weekday service along the 17-mile line began at 5 a.m. Nov. 30.

About 100 transit riders and members of the public won rides on the inaugural Swift buses, which traveled from the Aurora Village Transit Center in Shoreline, WA, to the Crossroads Station in Lynnwood, WA, for the ribbon-cutting ceremony and other activities. Community Transit operated the service, which runs from Aurora Village to the Everett Station, free until midnight. 

“What makes Swift swift is the ability to load and unload passengers as quickly and safely as possible and keep the bus moving,” said Community Transit Chief Executive Officer Joyce Eleanor. “The earlier riders learn how to ride Swift, the more efficient the service will run.”

The agency deployed easily identifiable street teams at each Swift station during the first several days of service. Specifically, riders need to know that they cannot pay their fares on board the vehicle; they must use ticket vending machines or One Regional Card for All (ORCA) smart card readers at each station.

“We recognize that there will be a learning curve for our riders with Swift,” Eleanor added. “There are several aspects of Swift that people are going to need to get used to, and we want to help out in any way we can.”

Community Transit has placed an interactive route map on its web site, allowing users to view details about each station including transit connections and nearby landmarks. Also available at the site are a “How to Ride” video and another video explaining how to use the ticket vending machines.

FTA to Establish Advisory Committee for Transit Safety

On Nov. 23, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood authorized the establishment of a Federal Advisory Committee to address transit safety issues. The Transit Rail Advisory Committee for Safety (TRACS) will consist of up to 25 voting members who will provide recommendations regarding transit safety and other issues to the secretary through Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff.

Nationwide, rail transit is considered one of the safest modes of transportation for the more than seven million people boarding these vehicles each day, with transit agencies experiencing fewer fatalities and injuries than any other mode of transportation.

This advisory committee on transit safety will serve the public interest by providing a forum for the development, consideration, and communication of information from knowledgeable and independent perspectives. The level of expertise and balanced viewpoints of this committee will enable early identification of potential problem areas and accelerate corrective actions, thereby creating greater safety and public confidence in the country’s public transportation systems.

TRACS, which will meet at least twice a year, will not make determinations of fact or policy. For more information on the draft charter for TRACS, click here.

New York MTA Reopens Subway Platform Near Ground Zero

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) reopened the northbound side of MTA New York City Transit’s Cortlandt Street subway station on the R and W lines, adjacent to the World Trade Center site in lower Manhattan, on Nov. 25.

The station, like the neighboring Cortlandt Street Station on the 1 line, sustained major damage in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, that brought down the World Trade Center towers. The R/W station initially reopened on Sept. 15, 2002, but closed again in 2005 to accommodate excavation and construction of the Dey Street underground pedestrian concourse, part of the Fulton Street Transit Center being built by MTA Capital Construction.

The station incorporates such improvements as wider stairways to allow more people to enter and exit with less crowding; widening of a 150-foot-long section of the newly rehabilitated northbound platform; and new tiling on the walls.

Federal funding covered the entire $7.25 million cost to rehabilitate and improve the northbound side of the station. The MTA expects to open the southbound platform, which is within the World Trade Center reconstruction footprint, on Sept. 11, 2011.

“Today we celebrate a significant step forward in the rebuilding of lower Manhattan,” said MTA Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jay H. Walder. “The MTA has played a key role in the revival of downtown, and we’re excited to provide customers with an improved station just in time for the holidays. The opening re-establishes a key travel link for lower Manhattan residents, commuters, shoppers, and tourists.”

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) added: “Today’s reopening of the Cortlandt Street Station is proof positive that lower Manhattan is healing and regenerating eight years after 9/11. This greatly improved R/W station is a clear indication that the MTA, city, state, and federal government have pooled their resources to revitalize our city and reconnect—both literally and figuratively—New Yorkers to their downtown.”

NJ Transit Joins FRA ‘Close Call’ Pilot Program

New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) has announced that it has become the first passenger railroad to participate in the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) “Close Call” Project, a safety pilot program designed to give rail employees the ability to voluntarily and anonymously report “close call” incidents that could have resulted in an accident but did not.

NJ Transit is the third railroad to join the program, after Canadian Pacific and Union Pacific.

FRA currently requires railroads to routinely report a wide range of accidents and incidents; however, routine reporting of “close calls” is not mandatory.

Researchers will use the cumulative results of close call reports to determine areas of potential risk and to develop solutions to prevent and minimize their occurrence in the future. According to FRA, preliminary analysis from the Union Pacific close call reporting project at its rail yard in North Platte, NE, already shows a significant reduction in human factor-related incidents.

Before participating in the pilot, NJ Transit, the United Transportation Union, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen, and the American Train Dispatchers Association each ratified agreements with FRA to allow employees to make confidential reports of close calls.

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics is assisting FRA on this research effort.

More information on the program is available online

Rogoff to Participate in Transit Board Webinar

Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff will participate in the quarterly webinar designed for APTA’s transit board members Wednesday, Dec. 9. It will run for an hour, beginning at 1 p.m. Eastern time.

APTA Vice Chair-Transit Board Members Flora Castillo, a member of the New Jersey Transit Corporation Board of Directors, will host the webinar. Rogoff will share his views on a variety of topics to include the pending federal safety oversight role, authorization, and the state of good repair.

The webinar is open to all APTA members; participation is free, but space is limited. To reserve a seat, click here. More information is available from Lynne Morsen.


Pierson Named CEO of Parsons Brinckerhoff

Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) has announced that George J. Pierson will assume the post of chief executive officer on Jan. 1, 2010. He succeeds Keith J. Hawksworth, who will become PB chairman.

Pierson also will continue his current duties as president and chief operating officer of PB’s Americas division. He is a licensed engineer and lawyer who joined PB as general counsel and secretary in February 2006 and was named to his most recent post in January 2008. Earlier, he served as partner and director of the International Construction Practice Group of Peckar & Abramson, PC, a national construction law firm.

PB has 15,000 employees in 150 offices worldwide and 2009 revenues of $2.1 billion. In October 2009, Balfour Beatty, an international engineering, construction, professional services, and investment group, acquired the company—with PB now a wholly-owned subsidiary of that firm.

Hawksworth is a 33-year PB employee who was named CEO in January 2008 and oversaw the strategic planning process that resulted in the merger with Balfour Beatty. He succeeds James L. Lammie—also a past CEO—as PB’s chairman.

Dayton’s Northwest Transit Center Welcomes Greyhound

The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority’s (RTA) Northwest Transit Center in Dayton, OH, is now a multimodal facility, providing intercity bus service as the new official depot for Greyhound Lines Inc.

RTA Transit Center Supervisor Jeannie Carr said she was a little anxious but upbeat when she arrived for work on Greyhound’s first day on RTA turf in late October. An eight-month employee of the system, Carr was promoted to supervisor after RTA assumed management of Greyhound.

She noted that her co-workers at the Northwest Transit Center have acquired additional duties with the arrival of Greyhound, such as securing baggage and shipping packages; the number of customers they assist will also increase.

RTA began employing Transit Ambassadors in 2008 at all five of its centers to provide on-the-ground customer service and security. They receive special training from Dayton police and county lawyers as well as from the transit agency.

Transit Ambassador Melia Williamson—a 20-year Greyhound employee before joining RTA—spent the first day helping her Ambassador colleague Denise Stickel learn Greyhound’s schedules and fares. Meanwhile, Susan Tate and Marc Shields, Transit Ambassadors based at the transit center, greeted and assisted customers outside the facility.

Because of local concerns related to Greyhound’s move to a Dayton suburb, RTA employees were determined to make the new service flawless. Within a few hours on the first day, however, that became a non-issue, according to Carr. She reported that RTA passengers using the center for local travel were largely unaffected and Greyhound customers made the transition well to the new location.

“We have tweaked the current safety plan to enhance customer service, vehicle safety, and security at the Northwest Transit Center,” said RTA Safety and Security Solutions Director Jim Napier.

About her new role, Carr said: “I know most of the ambassadors. I’ve already interacted with them. We’re always there for each other. Since the beginning, I’ve tried to be the big sister.”

Napier added: “A number of the Greyhound drivers have made positive comments about the support they receive from the ambassadors, [noting] that the facility is one of the brightest and cleanest in the region.”

Bus Tour in Greensboro, NC, Remembers Rosa Parks

The Greensboro Transit Authority (GTA) in Greensboro, NC, commemorated Rosa Parks’ 1955 refusal to move to the back of a city bus in Montgomery, AL, with the Rosa Parks Bus Tour on Dec. 1—the 54th anniversary of the act, which spurred a bus boycott of more than a year and was a pivotal event in the civil rights movement.

A special GTA transit bus visited four middle schools, where City of Greensboro Public Transportation Manager Elizabeth James spoke about Parks’ efforts and touched on the benefits of public transportation in Greensboro. GTA staff also distributed commemorative buttons to riders at the J. Douglas Galyon Depot transit center.

“In the strides that we have seen as of late in our great country, we must take great care not to lose sight of those moments that made them possible,” James noted. “We are now in a period where the city of Greensboro has seen its first African-American mayor, chief of police, city manager—and of course, nationally, first African-American President of the United States. None of this would be possible without the selfless actions of others at strategic points in our history, such as [sit-ins by African-Americans] in front of the Woolworth’s counter [in Greensboro in 1960] or on that Montgomery transit bus.”

SunLine ‘Fills the Bus’ with Almost Eight Tons of Food

The SunLine Transit Agency in Thousand Palms, CA, collected almost eight tons of food for Martha’s Village and Kitchen, a nonprofit organization providing human and social services to persons in need, during its annual “Fill the Bus” drive on Nov. 19.

During that one day, SunLine parked a bus outside four supermarkets in the Coachella Valley to accept canned goods, non-perishable food items, and toiletries. The bus delivered the donations to Martha’s Village and Kitchen the next morning.

SunLine reported that, because of the current economic situation, the facility has experienced a 45-50 percent increase in demand for its services this year.

BART Offers Free Transit to Military Personnel on Leave

Starting in January 2010, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) will make $50 BART tickets available on a complimentary basis to military personnel on leave from Operation Iraqi Freedom or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan.

BART Board President Thomas Blalock called the program “a small token of our deep appreciation to the men and women who leave their loved ones behind and put their lives on the line to defend our freedom.”

BART Director Gail Murray, who came up with the idea to offer the free transit tickets, added: “Even in these tough budget times, we want to send our military personnel a message that BART, on behalf of the [San Francisco] Bay Area community, values their service and sacrifice.”

The one-year pilot program was approved by the BART Board of Directors. It provides for the issuance of up to $50,000 worth of free BART tickets from the Customer Services Center at the Lake Merritt BART Station to persons who present a valid military ID card and leave order from their respective branch of the military authorizing them to be on leave. If the $50,000 threshold is reached before the year is over, staff will return to the board to modify the program.

MARTA Introduces Defibrillators Through ‘Project Jumpstart’

The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) recently installed 100 Automated External Defibrillator (AED) units throughout the system as part of its “Project Jumpstart” program, designed to help save lives by using early defibrillation in case of sudden cardiac arrest.

As part of this program, the American Heart Association provided MARTA staff with training and certification for using the AED units.

“At MARTA, we are committed to contributing to the health and well-being of our community, and this program is an excellent way to further enhance that commitment to our customers and employees.” said General Manager/Chief Executive Officer Dr. Beverly A. Scott. “Having defibrillators readily available throughout the system will ensure a more rapid response during those first critical moments when cardiac arrest occurs and will help to increase the chance of a person surviving.”

The heart association recommends defibrillation within 3 to 5 minutes of cardiac arrest. When used in conjunction with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, AED units have been proven to save lives. An AED unit is small, portable, and easy to use and will allow for quicker and more effective responses from MARTA staff and emergency responders.

Charlotte’s Sprinter Provides Direct Service to the Airport

The Charlotte (NC) Area Transit System (CATS) recently introduced Sprinter, an enhanced bus service that connects the Charlotte Transportation Center (CTC) with Charlotte Douglas International Airport.

Sprinter is one component of the authority’s 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan, operating with a fleet of hybrid buses. The line operates on a 20-minute headway on weekdays and 30 minutes on weeknights and weekends, making limited stops at newly designed shelters on the route.

The service operates along Trade Street, West Morehead Street, and Wilkinson Boulevard, providing efficient service to retail and health centers and neighborhoods as well as the CTC and the airport. The Sprinter line also offers a new shelter design and passenger amenities, with real-time digital schedule signs at key stops.

“We have many residents on the west side [of Charlotte] that use CATS to travel to and from work, and the increased frequency of the service helps them get to their destination quicker,” said Brian Fincher, president of the Camp Greene Neighborhood Association, an area served by Sprinter. “The wider aisles and luggage racks are also features that are beneficial to commuters and travelers.”

Alexandria, VA, Names New Transit Facility in Memory of Hurd

The Alexandria Transit Company (ATC) in Alexandria, VA, opened its new, 160,000-square-foot DASH Maintenance, Operations, and Administration Facility at dedication ceremonies Nov. 21. The transit agency named the facility in memory of William B. Hurd, the first chairman of the ATC Board of Directors, who served in the post for 23 years and died in 2008 at the age of 93.

ATC completed the $35 million building project on time and under budget. Its design conforms with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver rating.

“This new, state-of-the-art facility will enable DASH to expand its vehicle fleet in response to the city’s need for more public transit services,” Alexandria Mayor William D. Euille said at the event. He noted that the city used state urban funds to pay for construction of the facility, explaining: “Typically, these funds have been used to build roads. The city of Alexandria decided instead to invest $35 million of several years of allocations to build this facility, which is a first in the commonwealth of Virginia.”

Other speakers included ATC Board Chairman Paul R. Abramson; Alexandria City Manager James K. Hartmann; John Komoroske, chairman, Alexandria Planning Commission; Charles Badger, director, Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation; and ATC General Manager Sandy Modell.

Paducah Area Transit System Hosts Flu Shot Clinic

In preparation for the coming flu season, the Paducah Area Transit System (PATS) in Paducah, KY, hosted a flu shot clinic for the public as well as PATS employees. A total of 57 people received the seasonal flu vaccine, given by representatives of the Purchase District Health Department, at a cost of $20; Medicaid and Medicare recipients did not have to pay.

PATS noted that it hopes to host another clinic when sufficient vaccine becomes available for the H1N1 flu.

L.A. Metro’s ‘Source’ Takes Media into Its Own Hands

BY KIM UPTON, Metro Media Relations, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles, CA

The same story is occurring across the country. Newspapers, television, and radio stations are compacting, laying off, folding. Just when taxpayers need credible media to decipher what tax dollars are buying and why, a black hole is forming where reliable information used to be.

To help the public understand complex transportation issues, Los Angeles Metro launched “The Source” in October—and, through it, is making strides toward becoming its own media source.

This online news resource, featuring contributions from experienced journalists and editing by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Steve Hymon, receives updates throughout the day, providing key developments and unique viewpoints to help the public keep tabs on what’s being done to ensure that Los Angeles County moves.

“There are fewer reporters covering Metro as newspapers and electronic media cut back,” said Marc Littman, deputy executive director for Metro public relations, who spearheaded the project. “That has created an information vacuum at a time when the public, more than ever, needs to be informed and engaged in what’s happening.”

Littman continued: “In Los Angeles County, we have dozens of significant issues emerging simultaneously. Among them are Measure R, the new half-cent sales tax for transportation approved by voters last fall; Metro’s Long Range Transportation Plan; federal stimulus funds; high-speed rail; the [Nov. 14] Metro Gold Line Eastside Extension opening; congestion relief efforts on the highways; and state and federal legislative developments. At the same time, many of the new information sources filling the traditional news void haven’t proved capable of explaining the complexities of how things work and why they should matter to the taxpayer. We can’t speak for everyone but we can at least provide accurate information about transit.”

As a result, Metro introduced The Source. The service posts short news and feature stories Monday through Friday at this link. Here are some examples of what a reader will find there:
* Posts by Frederick Dennstedt—who blogs as “Fred Camino” at—explore the joys and challenges of navigating car-centric Los Angles without a car.
* On-the-spot reporting chronicles “blow-by-blow action” at Metro Board meetings.
* Vintage photos from the Metro Library archives show Los Angeles as it developed, starting in the 1800s.
* Footage and photos from ground breakings and other news events, along with “Go Metro” videos recommending great destinations and events easily accessible by Metro, are posted daily.

The Source also reports traffic problems that create detours, along with updates so commuters can figure out the best ways to work around them.

The writers of the posts include Hyman, Dennstedt, and members of Metro’s media relations team—many of whom have newspaper backgrounds, including the Los Angeles Times, San Diego Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch. The Source runs on a modified version of WordPress, integrated by Metro web programmers into the web site.

The Source does not accept reader comments because of potential liability issues connected with erroneous information that can end up in postings. Source writers instead dedicate their time to providing content, rather than fact-checking comments. But The Source does take questions and comments from readers via e-mail and tries to share the best and the most relevant of these.

“It’s a new era in media relations and today’s technology enables any organization to become its own news information source,” said Matt Raymond, Metro chief communications officer. “The key is providing balanced information. It’s the future of media relations.”

Redirect new infrastructure stimulus toward mass transit


This column appeared in The Detroit News on Nov. 19, 2009. Reprinted by permission of the author.

The nation’s unemployment rate is at its highest level in 26 years, 10.2 percent, so policymakers are searching for ways to stimulate the economy again. The hottest proposition so far is the federal transportation bill.

Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell separately suggested that reauthorizing a transportation bill soon could be the best way to create new jobs. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN) has been pushing since last summer for a new federal surface transportation bill that would invest nearly $500 billion in transportation infrastructure.

Whether such a bill can be put to the best use for jobs depends on whether Congress and the Obama administration do the right kind of transportation infrastructure investment. One good approach would be to focus on repairing existing infrastructure: Fill the potholes and refurbish old bridges that cost Americans time, money and wear-and-tear on vehicles.

However, the best approach would be to direct new investment in public mass transit because it creates the most jobs per dollar spent, according to the Surface Transportation Policy Project (2004). It also responds to the growing demand for good transit that began with rising gasoline prices in 2008. In addition, mass transit investment also cuts air and global warming pollution.

In fact, a new report by the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness shows that increasing investment in conventional and green transit bus systems would cut greenhouse gas pollution around the country and create high-quality, long-term manufacturing jobs in nearly every state in the eastern United States.

The study notes that: “Many of these jobs are in Midwestern states deeply affected by the recession”—such as Michigan (15.3 percent), Ohio (10.1 percent) and Indiana (10 percent)—“where manufacturing employment and capacity, especially in the motor vehicle industry, are crucial for maintaining a leadership position throughout the recovery period and beyond.”

Unfortunately, current U.S. transportation policy greatly favors funding highways over public transit. The result is small and sporadic bus orders, making it difficult for the bus industry to grow.

The Duke study authors conclude that: “If federal, state, and local policy were to shift to a clear, sustained commitment to public transit, the nation would have the manufacturing capability to meet the resulting increased demand for transit buses.” In short, American companies have the know-how and the talent; they just need sustained funding.

Ironically, things are better abroad for U.S. bus manufacturers. The study notes that U.S. companies have established themselves as global leaders in hybrid bus manufacturing. Unfortunately, European firms are rapidly catching up because their countries’ governments more consistently invest in transit, so unless U.S. bus systems have funds to invest, hybrid-diesel bus manufacturing here could suffer.

Early testing for hydrogen-electric hybrids is ongoing in California, at Sunline Transit, Santa Barbara Valley Transit Authority and AC Transit and in Connecticut at CTTRANSIT.

Buses are the main U.S. transit mode, accounting for 40 percent of all transit passenger miles. Continuing growth in transit demand could translate into larger and more consistent bus orders, but domestic demand is dependent largely on the availability of public funding for bus transit. Bus manufacturers in the United States primarily manufacture on a built-to-order basis and many agencies no longer can afford to meet federal financing formulas that require a local funding match of 20 percent.

Whether it be through transportation bill reauthorization or a new stimulus bill, new transportation funding needs to flow to transit. We have a great opportunity to create new manufacturing jobs during tough economic times and cut greenhouse gas emissions. We only need the political will to make it happen.

Kathryn Phillips is a transportation policy expert for Environmental Defense Fund.

BMBG Meeting Set for Jan. 20-22

The APTA Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG) will hold its first business member meeting of 2010 Jan. 20-22 at the Ihilani Hotel in Ko Olina, HI.

This meeting is open to all interested APTA business members, not only to BMBG members.

Participants will discuss the impact of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds on the public transit industry and the prospects for approval of the next federal transportation authorization bill.

The program will begin with business member committee meetings on Jan. 20. The BMBG meeting wil take place all day Jan. 21 and the morning of Jan. 22, followed by a closing dinner. The committees that will meet Jan. 20 include business member government affairs, procurement, programs, business development, member outreach and liaison and small business.

The BMBG asks meeting participants to make their hotel reservations at the Ihilani by Dec. 17 to ensure that APTA members can be accommodated in the APTA block. Registration and hotel information for the meeting is available online.

Additional information is available from Fran Hooper.

Register for Call Center Challenge

APTA invites call center personnel at member public transit systems to register by Dec. 18 for the third annual Call Center Challenge, a national competition to determine the best in the industry. The competition defines these individuals as employees who successfully handle incoming calls relating to trip planning and/or customer service issues with grace and good humor.

All applicants who meet the eligibility requirements will receive a time for a pre-election phone interview with a panel of APTA member judges, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 7 and 8, 2010.

At the conclusion of all phone interviews, the judges will select seven finalists to compete in the national competition in Fort Lauderdale, FL, in front of a live audience at the 2010 APTA Marketing and Communications Workshop, Feb. 21-24. Judges will present finalists with three randomly selected customer service scenarios; contestants will be assessed on their ability to respond well to each inquiry. The participant with the highest score, as determined by the APTA judging panel, will be named public transportation’s best telephone customer information agent.

All interested personnel must complete and return the official Call Center Challenge application, available here. More information is available from Lesa Rair.

Report Examines Business Investment in Public Transit

APTA just released a report, The Case for Business Investment in Public Transportation, that examines issues critical to private investors as they consider investments or future expansion into the public transportation industry. Investment questions typically focus on transit financing, sources, process, and dependability, funding targets for investments, and funding needs.

Regarding possible investment in new rail and bus rapid transit systems, the study shows extensive growth since 1995 with the opening of 17 new light rail, heritage light rail, and streetcar systems; 10 new commuter rail lines; one new heavy rail system; and seven new busways have opened. That period has also seen seven busway extensions, nine commuter rail system extensions, 18 heavy rail system extensions, and 71 light rail, heritage light rail, and streetcar system extensions.

Extensive charts provide details of capital funding, sources of capital and operating dollars, and New Starts projects proposed for Fiscal Year 2010.

The text of the report is available online here.

APTF Launches Holiday Fund Drive

The American Public Transportation Foundation (APTF) is conducting a special fund drive with the goal of raising $10,000 by Dec. 31. APTF awarded more than $65,000 in scholarships this year.

The APTF web site can accept donations, or donors may mail checks payable to APTF Scholarship Fund. Contributors of $25 or more become eligible for a drawing to win a Dell 10 Netbook small laptop computer; the winner will be selected on Jan. 4, 2010.

APTF has awarded more than 65 scholarships since its founding in 1988. The foundation’s mission is to increase and retain the number of young professionals entering the public transit field as a career by providing scholarships to deserving students who can become future leaders.

Information is available from Yvette Conley.