Passenger Transport - January 4, 2010
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Sound Transit Welcomes Light Rail Service to SeaTac Airport

Just five months after the introduction of service on Central Link light rail, Sound Transit in Seattle extended the original 14-mile line by 1.7 miles on Dec. 19. The new Airport Link connects the former terminus at Tukwila International Boulevard Station to the new SeaTac/Airport Station, providing direct access to SeaTac International Airport.

Sound Transit and the Port of Seattle collaborated on the Airport Link project, including the new light rail station; pedestrian bridges connecting the station to the airport parking garage; and a pickup and drop-off area to the east serving the city of SeaTac. The port also relocated and upgraded the Airport Expressway and the Return-to-Terminal roadway loop.

“It’s been a heck of a journey, but we delivered on what we promised: light rail from downtown Seattle to the airport in 2009,” said Seattle Mayor and Sound Transit Board Chair Greg Nickels. “This opens an entirely new option for travelers and commuters, and represents the first steps of a truly regional network.”

Sound Transit kicked off service on the airport extension with an inaugural ribbon cutting at SeaTac/Airport Station before the station and trains opened for regular passenger service at 10 a.m.

“Opening the doors to Sound Transit’s airport line in time for the holidays is a great gift to residents of the Puget Sound region,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA). “This is just the latest in environmentally friendly transportation that will help ensure our region’s long-term economic growth.”

“With more than 30 million passengers through SeaTac every year and 15,000 airport employees, we anticipate light rail will be a welcome ‘green’ alternative for travel to and from the airport,” said Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton. “Using light rail will reduce air emissions and traffic congestion. It’s good for the airport, and it’s good for our region.”

Sound Transit plans to open its next light rail extension in 2016 with service from downtown Seattle to Capitol Hill and the University of Washington. Construction is underway on that segment, the University Line, while the agency plans for 36 more miles of light rail extensions to Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond, Mercer Island, and Federal Way by 2023.

Banta Is New CEO for Valley Metro Rail

Valley Metro Rail, operator of METRO light rail in Phoenix, has named Stephen R. Banta as its next chief executive officer, effective Jan. 20, 2010. He succeeds Rick Simonetta, who stepped down Dec. 31, 2009, after six years of service.

Banta comes to Phoenix from Portland, OR, where he was executive director of operations for the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet). He began his 23-year public transit career repairing railcars, and also served agencies in San Diego; Washington, DC; Los Angeles; Dallas; and Pittsburgh.

For APTA, he serves on the Bus and Paratransit CEOs Committee; Commuter Rail CEOs Subcommittee; Rail Conference Planning Subcommittee; and Rail Transit CEOs Subcommittee.

“We are extremely pleased to move forward with Mr. Banta,” said METRO Board Chairman and Phoenix Vice Mayor Tom Simplot. “The METRO light rail organization will benefit from his years of experience managing an operation that is a model in the transit industry.”

METRO General Counsel Mike Ladino will serve as acting CEO until Banta’s arrival.

LAVTA Takes First Step Toward Future BRT

The Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority (LAVTA) in Livermore, CA, recently broke ground on its first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) route, Tri-Valley Rapid. Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) joined the LAVTA Board of Directors, staff, and project team members at the event.

LAVTA has designed Rapid service as a way to lure more people out of their cars, offering service on new buses powered by clean hybrid technology for cleaner emissions, improved fuel economy, and a quieter ride. Stops along the route will offer such enhanced shelter amenities as real-time bus arrival signage, paving, improved way-finding signage, recycling containers, and bike racks for those who want to bike a portion of their commute.

“The Rapid BRT project is a true partnership of federal, state, regional, and local government,” said LAVTA Chair Jerry Thorne. “Specifically, the Rapid received a total of approximately $13.8 million in funding, including $11 million in federal funding; $1.1 million from state Proposition 1B; $1 million in [California] Transportation Development Act funds; $450,000 from the [regional] Transportation Fund for Clean Air Program; $300,000 in Alameda County Measure B and local funding from LAVTA.”

McNerney noted that the BRT route will help reduce congestion along the heavily traveled I-580 corridor, providing service between Pleasanton, Dublin, and Livermore and a connection to San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) service.

Planning for the project began in 2004 with a BART Corridor Study that analyzed alternatives for extending rail service from the existing Dublin/Pleasanton BART Station to Livermore. While the financial aspects of extending rail to Livermore were daunting, the study showed how BRT could provide service in the near term while consideration continues for a possible future rail option.

Bloomington-Normal Breaks Ground for New Facility

The Bloomington-Normal Public Transit System (B-NPTS) in Bloomington, IL, recently broke ground for a new administrative facility and garage on a 10-acre lot on the boundary line between the two cities, with an adjacent seven acres to be purchased to allow for future expansion.

“This new facility opens the doors for expanded service,” said Mary Caisley, chair of the B-NPTS Board of Trustees.

B-NPTS General Manager Pete Weber said that when it opens, the new 75,000-square-foot facility would triple the space now available to the agency. The current headquarters, housed in a nearly 70-year-old building, does not have sufficient garage space to house the current 37-bus fleet; the new building will accommodate 48 buses, with room to expand to a 72-bus fleet.

The almost $8 million cost of the project includes about $3.2 million in federal funding, with the remaining $4.7 million coming from the transit system’s own local resources.


Donning hard hats and turning over the first shovels of dirt at the ground breaking are, from left: B-NPTS Board of Trustees Chair Mary Caisley; Vice Chair Mark Peterson; Secretary John Thomas; Trustee Judy Buchanan; General Manager Pete Weber; Transportation Superintendent Gary Gwin; Maintenance Superintendent Phil Campbell; Amalgamated Transit Union President Mick Ferrell; Bloomington Mayor Steve Stockton; and Normal Mayor Chris Koos.



Webinar Provides ARRA Reporting Guidance for FTA Grant Recipients

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is conducting a webinar Jan. 7 to provide recipients of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants from FTA with guidance and technical assistance to enable them to comply with the reporting requirements under ARRA Section 1512. It will cover recently issued reporting guidance from the White House Office of Management and Budget and tips on making the January reporting process successful.

The webinar will run from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Eastern time. The text of the power point presentation will be posted the week of Jan. 4.

To register for the web conference, click here. To participate in the web conference, entrants should click here 15 minutes prior to the start time. On the Adobe sign-in page, select the log in as a GUEST option—do not use a Login ID and password. Enter first and last names in the field marked “GUEST,” then select the button that reads “Enter Room.”

Participants also can access the audio portion of the program by phone at (800) 988-0375, passcode 3911229. They should call in 10 minutes prior to the scheduled start time.

Send technical support questions here before the day of the web conference. For emergency technical troubleshooting, contact the Web Conference Support Hotline at (703) 235-0545.

Bess Lomax Hawes Dies; Co-Author of ‘MTA’ Song

Well, let me tell you of the story of a man named Charlie
On a tragic and fateful day.
He put 10 cents in his pocket, kissed his wife and family
Went to ride on the MTA.

The co-writer of the famed “MTA” song, Bess Lomax Hawes, died Nov. 27 in Portland, OR, after a stroke. She was 88.

Hawes championed folk arts throughout her life, both as a performer and an official with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). As a child, she helped her father, folk musicologist John Lomax, collect and transcribe field recordings for the Library of Congress. Her brother, the late Alan Lomax, also became a major collector of folk music of the 20th century.

Hawes joined the Almanac Singers—a group that also included Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie—soon after graduating from Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania, where she majored in sociology. In 1970, she received a master’s degree in folklore from the University of California at Berkeley.

During her time with the Almanac Singers, Hawes co-wrote the MTA song with her friend Jacqueline Steiner, adopting two folk tunes for the music.

The song was originally created as a campaign tune for a 1948 Boston mayoral candidate opposed to a transit fare increase; the candidate lost. A decade later, the Kingston Trio released its version, which became a hit. Other musical groups created their own variations: "Skinhead on the MBTA," from the punk band the Dropkick Murphys, and "The Man Who Finally Returned," by the Front Porch Country Band. The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston immortalized the song and its lead character in 2004 by naming its electronic farecard the “CharlieCard.”

Hawes became assistant director of the Smithsonian’s celebration of the national bicentennial, and in 1977 became director of the NEA’s folk arts program in 1977. Funding for folk arts increased from approximately $100,000 to $4 million during her tenure. In 1993, just after she retired, President Clinton awarded her the National Medal of Arts.

In retirement, she created the National Heritage Fellowships, a way for the nation to honor trailblazers in folklore.

VTA’s Commitment to Mutual Aid

BY LINH HOANG, Public Relations Supervisor, Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, San Jose, CA

The term mutual aid refers to county and local governmental agencies across the nation that assist one other during emergencies. The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is one of Santa Clara County’s first responders and, as the region’s transportation provider, provides mutual aid.

Almost as important to VTA as actually providing mutual aid is ensuring that its stakeholders know that doing so is one of its primary duties. VTA understands the need to “tell its story” by informing the communities and populations it serves of the role it plays during emergency situations.

For VTA, this commitment entails not only meeting expectations, but often exceeding what is expected. This effort is challenging under normal circumstances, but even more so when dealing with a limited operations staff. Yet, despite these limitations, VTA continues to provide assistance when warranted.

“We are a resource. People can rely on us to get to their jobs, schools, or homes during a significant emergency,” said Nanci Eksterowicz, VTA risk manager.

Depending on the need, VTA can usually provide two to four buses for various emergencies throughout the region, and potentially further. For example, VTA was asked to help transport local firefighters during the massive blazes that occurred in the summer of 2008 in Chico, CA—about five hours from San Jose. Because of the distance involved, the planning process for the trip itself required a collaborative effort.

“We were told a couple days before that we would be working to help transport Santa Clara County firefighters. We knew we would help, but we had to prepare our vehicles; our buses are not set up for traveling long distances on the freeways through the hot central valley in the summertime,” said Bill Capps, deputy director of operations.

This particular mutual aid effort required two VTA buses, each making two trips up north. Prior to the buses’ scheduled journey, VTA’s maintenance staff equipped them with new tires and took other precautionary measures to ensure a smooth trip. The collaborative assistance effort was successful: the buses transported fresh crews of local firefighters to the location of the fires and returned with tired firefighters who had spent a week on the fire line.

Sometimes VTA transports large numbers of people in situations that are not emergencies. In August 2009, VTA carried 90 soldiers from the California Army National Guard, 184th Infantry Battalion, from Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport to the California Army National Guard Armory on Hedding Street in San Jose. The personnel were participating in a 400-day deployment, approximately one year of which was spent in Iraq. VTA provided three buses to help reunite the troops with family and friends at the armory.

“VTA was proud to assist with this mutual aid request. We were glad to welcome our troops back home to Santa Clara County,” said VTA General Manager Michael T. Burns.

Making Decisions
Although VTA wants to help in emergencies, when the need exceeds its resources and interrupts service, the agency has to make a decision whether to help.

For example, during the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989, VTA stepped in to provide transportation services to hundreds of people who were left stranded by the magnitude 6.9 temblor that struck the California coast, from Monterey to San Francisco, during peak commute time. Since the earthquake was centered in the mountains south of San Jose, VTA, along with all local emergency first responders, had to face some very difficult choices. The VTA bus system was vulnerable to earthquake damage, and employees at its Operations Control Center had to deal with numerous incidents throughout the valley.

John Carlson, VTA superintendent service manager was working that fateful evening. “It was massive. We knew we were needed, especially to help serve those in the Santa Cruz Mountains area,” he recalled.

During that time, VTA buses did not regularly transport passengers to Santa Cruz—but, given the dire circumstances in the earthquake’s aftermath, people needed safe conveyance to the Santa Cruz Mountains. VTA worked with Santa Cruz Metro to coordinate the bus route that would navigate Highway 17 into Santa Cruz—which became so popular that VTA officials decided to continue it as part of its regular service. Thus, Highway 17 Express service, which serves on average about a thousand people a day, was instigated by providing emergency transportation.

Twenty years after the emergency, VTA continues to provide mutual aid using a dedicated staff of employees. 

‘Tell Your Story’ to Members of Congress

During the holiday Congressional recess, APTA members have an opportunity to make sure their members of Congress understand the importance of public transportation and the need for increased federal investment. APTA has designated "Telling Your Story to Congress District Days” for Jan. 6-8.

Since Congress extended surface transportation authorization only through February, this period is the perfect time to show members of Congress why long-term authorization must be an immediate priority. A forthcoming jobs bill will provide another opportunity for lawmakers to make the most of public transportation's job benefits.

For example, participating transit agencies could:
• Invite the representative to tour a project funded with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) money, highlighting the number of jobs created or supported by this funding;
• Invite the representative to a ground breaking, contract signing, or ribbon-cutting ceremony for an ARRA project;
• Invite the representative to ride the bus or train and, in the course of the ride, talk about how many people ride public transit to commute to work; or
• Schedule a meeting at the district Congressional office to discuss local projects that need funding. Unveil a project rendering or have local advocates accompany you to the meeting.

Business members could:
• Invite the representative to visit your manufacturing plant and meet with employees;
• Schedule a meeting at the district Congressional office to discuss a project you are engaged in—and the impact those projects have on job creation or support; or
• Invite the representative to meet with you and other local business leaders to discuss the outlook for the economy in 2010.

More information on the event is available online.


Milwaukee Bus Operator Finds Missing Child

A bus operator in Milwaukee did more than transport passengers on his route Dec. 17—he rescued a missing boy from the cold Wisconsin night.

All Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) operators received a data message at 9:48 p.m. from the MCTS Dispatch Office, at the request of local law enforcement, describing a missing 9-year-old boy. Operator Mike Karges was returning to service from a layover around 11:41 p.m. when he noticed a child walking along the side of the road. Then he noticed that the boy was wearing a school uniform tie, matching the description from earlier.

Karges pulled over his bus and walked to the boy, who spoke very little English. He got the child to board the bus, then called dispatch for assistance.

"He must’ve been freezing; all he had on was a sport coat,” Karges said. “I bundled him up in my big winter jacket and gave him a candy cane I’d gotten from my supervisor at the station earlier.”

While waiting to hear back from dispatch, Karges flagged down a passing West Allis, WI, police officer, who assisted with the child and called the Milwaukee Police Department so the boy could be reunited with his family. As for Karges, he finished his route and managed to get his bus back on schedule.

“I’m happy it turned out this way; it could’ve been a lot worse,” he said. “I’m glad we can help. I have two children of my own, and I know what his parents must’ve been going through.”

Former VIA Leader Donates Funds to Child Care Center

When John M. Milam, former president and chief executive officer of VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, TX, discovered that more than $16,000 remained of the private funds raised for his retirement luncheon, he made sure to give back to the agency where he had worked for 34 years. He donated the money to VIA’s on-site Child Development Center for the purchase of new playground equipment.

County Commissioner Tommy Adkisson had raised the funds from private sources to thank Milam and recognize his commitment to VIA and the employees that keep the agency running.

VIA designed the Child Development Center to provide child care for its employees. At the time of its opening in 1990, the agency became the first in the nation to establish an on-site child-care center run by agency employees. Because of the center, VIA has seen absenteeism decline, recruitment increase, job performance improve, and employee morale grow.

The agency’s efforts in providing child care earned VIA honors including the 1991 APTA Management Innovation award.

‘Ambassadors’ Assist with Service Changes in San Francisco

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) deployed Service Ambassadors to help riders with the most significant route and schedule changes to the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) system in a generation, which began Dec. 5.

The SFMTA Service Ambassadors wear easily visible bright orange hats and vests. They are volunteers from throughout the agency as well as the Citizens’ Advisory Council, Muni Accessibility Advisory Committee, and community organizations; their job is to provide information about the service changes and answer questions.

The service changes, affecting more than half of Muni’s bus routes and one rail line, include discontinuing routes and eliminating route segments with low ridership; decreasing frequency on less crowded routes; and ending some routes at earlier times. Service enhancements to help offset the reductions will include adjusting schedules and running times to improve on-time performance and reliability; increasing service on crowded routes; restructuring routes to make new connections; and expanding limited-stop service.

INIT Receives German Innovations Award

The Intermodal Transport Control Systems (ITCS) expert panel of the German Transport Association (VDV) recently honored INIT with its 2009 ITCS Innovations Award, presented to recognize innovative achievements in the field.

The jury specifically cited INIT’s “online detour” feature, which it called a practice-oriented and user-directed function for incident management. Whereas public transit agencies previously had to plan ahead of time to institute a detour, “online detour” allows navigation of service disturbances on the spur of the moment. The INIT system provides all necessary information on a consistent basis to all subsequent levels including vehicles, drivers, and all real-time information systems.

Fort Worth’s ‘T’ Welcomes a New Travelers Aid Center

Travelers Aid Dallas/Fort Worth has opened a facility at the Intermodal Transportation Center (ITC) in downtown Fort Worth, TX, the largest bus transfer center for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T). The station also provides connections to Greyhound intercity bus; Trinity Railway Express commuter rail, which The T jointly owns with Dallas Area Rapid Transit; and Amtrak intercity rail.

The ITC’s Travelers Aid desk will provide emergency assistance, referrals, and information for passengers traveling by ground transportation. The services will range from handing out diapers and overnight toiletry packs to giving information on essential travel services, such as where to replace a lost cell phone, rent a car seat, or fill a prescription. Staff will also make referrals, give away maps, and provide directions to stores, nearby restaurants, and overnight accommodations.

It is one of only eight Travelers Aid facilities located at a U.S. bus or rail station; the only one in a Texas city; and the only Texas expansion beyond Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where it has operated 35 years.

“The ITC is a major public transportation hub in Fort Worth, and it only makes sense that Travelers Aid be a part of this convenient center. It has the potential to benefit thousands of travelers with an outreached helping hand when they need it most,” said Fort Worth Mayor Mike Moncrief, who participated in ribbon-cutting ceremonies Nov. 12.

Dick Ruddell, president of The T, said: “Travelers Aid will also be helpful to city residents who rely on The T for day-to-day travel to increase their self-sufficiency by using the wide array of public transportation services available in this region.”

Universities Conference in Athens, GA

The 2010 APTA Transportation & University Communities Conference will convene in Athens, GA, April 10-13, with the Athens Transit System and the University of Georgia serving as co-hosts. This biannual conference focuses on meeting the unique needs of university communities, offering educational opportunities and practical solutions useful in the day-to-day management of university transportation and the communities it serves.

Dr. Yvette G. Taylor, Region 4 administrator for the Federal Transit Administration since 2004, will offer the keynote address at the Closing General Session.

The conference will bring together more than 150 public transportation professionals and experts from university communities around the country at the Classic Center in downtown Athens. Session topics will include green vehicles, developing successful marketing campaigns through partnerships, university safety and security programs, student roles and responsibilities in the university transit decision-making process, and a bonus roundtable discussion on being prepared for the next pandemic.

Information is available from Heidi Salati.

Keep Transit Plans on Track

Reprinted with permission of the Detroit Free Press, where this editorial appeared Dec. 28, 2009.

Local, on-the-ground efforts to improve mass transit in southeast Michigan should not stall while legislators consider a sorely needed plan to create a Regional Transit Authority.

Bills to create the authority were introduced in the state House last week by Rep. Bert Johnson, D-Detroit. But getting the plan covering Wayne, Oakland and Macomb Counties approved could take months. Meantime, other projects need to move forward, including a plan by Detroit to build a light-rail system along Woodward to 8 Mile, and basic improvements to city and suburban bus service. Such changes are needed to generate enthusiasm for a regional transit system and support for a tax to pay for it, as well as to improve service for the nearly 150,000 daily riders who already depend on the system.

Light rail appears essential for getting so-called choice riders who own vehicles to try transit. A light-rail system in Detroit along Woodward could provide a first success for the region to build on. City officials, working with the Michigan Department of Transportation and Federal Transit Administration, hope to get the Woodward line operating, from Hart Plaza to 8 Mile, by 2014.

Private investors will build the first leg of the Woodward line from Hart Plaza to the New Center—the so-called M1-RAIL project. The City of Detroit seeks to use the $120 million in private money invested to leverage federal match funding to complete the rest of the line to 8 Mile. Detroit plans to secure more than half of the $400 million needed to complete the project from federal new-starts grants, and secure urban transit money, called 5307 grants, from the Federal Transit Administration.

To secure suburban support, rapid transit plans for the rest of the region need to develop quickly. The Southeast Michigan Council of Governments has already applied for federal funds to study alternatives for rail, or rapid transit buses, along Woodward to Pontiac, Gratiot to Mt. Clemens, and M-59 from Pontiac to Mt. Clemens.

Other basic improvements are also moving forward. The Regional Transit Coordinating Council, SEMCOG and the city and suburban bus systems have been meeting since August to work out plans for transit hubs and express service along heavily traveled corridors. Simple changes, such as creating transfer passes from buses to the People Mover and operating a central information center for city and suburban buses, should have been in place years ago.

These on-the-ground improvements are as important as a Regional Transit Authority to creating a 21st Century transportation system. Southeast Michigan’s leaders must be equally committed to making them happen.