Passenger Transport - January 18, 2010
(Print All Articles)

LaHood Announces Adoption of Long-Sought ‘New Starts’ Criteria

By JOHN R. BELL, Program Manager-Communications

In a dramatic policy shift, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Jan. 13 announced that DOT will amend its New Starts and Small Starts grant requirements to rescind the stipulation that projects attain a cost-effectiveness rating of medium in order to get funding.

“We are going to free our flagship transit capital program from long-standing requirements that have allowed us only to greenlight projects that meet very narrow cost and performance criteria,” LaHood said to an audience of more than 1,000 people at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) in Washington. “Instead, as we evaluate transit projects going forward, we will consider all the factors that help communities reduce the carbon footprint, spur economic activity, and relieve congestion,” he said to sustained applause.

In a “Dear Colleague” letter issued the same day, LaHood noted that to be recommended for funding, a project must still attain a “medium” rating for the overall project. “These include not only mobility-oriented benefits such as transit travel time, but also important economic development, environmental, social, and congestion relief benefits,” LaHood explained in the letter.

The decision reverses a 2005 “Dear Colleague” letter that limited New Starts funding recommendations to projects that achieved a medium or higher cost-effectiveness rating.

“This new approach will help us do a much better job aligning our priorities and values with our investments in transit projects that really strengthen communities,” LaHood explained. “We’ll finally be able to make the case for investing in popular streetcar projects and other transit systems that people want and that our old ways of doing business did not value enough.”

He emphasized: “Folks, this is a big deal. This is a huge reform at the Department of Transportation. Change has come to DOT!”

APTA President William Millar heralded this announcement, saying: “We are very pleased that the DOT will now give consideration to the multiple benefits of new transit projects such as economic development, environmental impact, and land use improvements. This is a change that APTA has long championed, and it will allow for a more efficient approval process, so projects can move forward more quickly.

“As a part of our recommendations to Congress and the administration, APTA advocated that the Federal Transit Administration must consider transit supportive land use and economic development in a way that simplifies the New Starts rating process,” Millar said. 

“This policy change is a tremendous step forward as we work to create more livable communities in the United States.  As we look to implement a variety of transit projects to meet Americans’ many needs, we look forward to working with the administration on this new policy direction.”

Jobs Bill
LaHood also discussed the need for a forthcoming jobs bill to include transportation projects, including public transit.

“The final bill should reflect a robust investment in highways, transit, marine highways, aviation, and rail—including Amtrak,” he said. “We know these investments will produce good-paying jobs and great projects for Americans. This is the right direction at the right time, and it’s what American taxpayers are asking for.”

LaHood lamented the fact that DOT has received more grant applications than it can fund. “We received many, many more applications for our three discretionary stimulus grant programs than we could ever possibly fund,” he said. “And that includes our high-speed rail program, our discretionary TIGER grants, and our transit energy grants.”

He emphasized that such nontraditional federal funding sources are “important not only because they create good jobs that help the environment, but also because they fund projects that are nearly impossible to do through traditional ways or programs that we have at DOT .... We’re sitting on high-quality applications worth billions of dollars submitted through our TIGER grant program that could be announced right away if we had the funds .... So we hope Congress sees the 2010 jobs bill as an economic opportunity to unlock many more good transportation projects that are ready to go with more TIGER funding.”

LaHood noted that his travels over the past year have shown him the breadth and urgency of the demand for more public transit and other projects. “Everywhere I go, the message is loud and clear: People want more and better transportation infrastructure in their communities, from highways and bridges to light rail, multimodal transit stations, bike paths, and walking paths,” he said. “They want the opportunity to leave their cars behind, to live near work and schools and good hospitals and enjoy clean, green neighborhoods. Our stimulus funds are helping many communities begin to realize these dreams, and we’re pleased to see that Congress is also taking action.”

High-Speed Rail
LaHood also discussed the $8 billion in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants for high-speed rail in the U.S. “High-speed passenger rail is coming to America, and it is long overdue. This is a tremendously exciting opportunity,” he said. “President Obama’s dream, Vice President Biden’s dream, is to have good passenger rail service all over America.”

He noted that more than 30 rail manufacturers and suppliers have pledged to expand their operations in the United States if chosen by the states to build the new system. “And I’ll make sure those investments in manufacturing help our most distressed communities in Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. Creating good manufacturing jobs in this country while modernizing transportation at the same time goes to the heart of what livability is all about and reflects the principles this country was built on.”

Authorization
LaHood acknowledged that neither ARRA nor a jobs bill can completely fill the need for more transportation investment: “We need a comprehensive, forward-looking authorization program. ... President Obama wants a robust, comprehensive transportation bill that meets the needs of America. The problem is, that bill costs between $400 and $500 billion. And we want to work with Congress, the president wants to work with Congress to get an authorization bill that meets the needs, and we need to find the money to pay for it. And so for all the criticism of the delay, the president is committed to a strong transportation program for America. And we will get there. I believe we will get there this year.”

The TRB Annual Meeting attracts more than 10,000 transportation professionals from around the world over the course of four days.

Szabo, Rae to Keynote Regional Seminars on High-Speed Rail

Federal Railroad Administrator (FRA) Joseph Szabo and FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae are among the numerous speakers scheduled to participate in three regional seminars on high-speed rail in February hosted by APTA and the International Union of Railways (UIC). The two associations developed the regional seminars, titled “International Practicum on Implementing High-Speed Rail in the United States,” to provide U.S. decision makers with the information necessary to implement high-speed rail.

Szabo and Rae will present keynote addresses at the high-speed rail programs. Other speakers will represent rail agencies from countries including Japan, France, Spain, Germany, and Italy, as well as Jolene Molitoris, director of Ohio DOT and former FRA administrator, and Frank Busalacchi, secretary of Wisconsin DOT and chair of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition.

The seminars will be held Feb. 8-9 in Washington, Feb. 9-11 in Chicago, and Feb. 11-13 in Los Angeles. They will offer presentations from representatives of high-speed rail systems around the world, focusing on best practices and lessons learned from European and Asian systems. The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials will grant professional development hours to state DOT employees enrolled in any of the three practicums.

This is the first set of seminars developed under a new partnership between APTA and the UIC. The two groups will continue to engage in extensive information sharing that can cover the various technical, finance, and management aspects of planning and building high-speed rail systems.

APTA is the legacy organization of the former High Speed Ground Transportation Association, which in 2007 integrated its members and assets into the APTA structure and now functions through the constituent high-speed and intercity rail committee.

To register, click here.

 

DOT/FRA Announce Historic New Rail Safety Standards

On Jan. 12, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Federal Railroad Administrator (FRA) Joseph Szabo announced historic safety regulations requiring the installation of Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on the nation’s major rail lines as well as commuter and intercity passenger rail routes—to enable passenger trains to prevent collisions.

“Safety is our highest priority, and we believe the installation of this equipment will make our nation’s railroads safer,” LaHood said.

“We believe this final rule, as mandated by Congress, is a giant step forward toward ensuring the safety and reliability of our freight, commuter, and intercity passenger rail routes,” added Szabo.

The final rule will also allow railroads to immediately begin finalizing their PTC Implementation Plans, which are required by statute to be submitted to FRA by April 16, 2010.

The Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 mandates that interoperable PTC systems must be fully operational by the end of 2015. Some properties, however, are voluntarily planning to have this in place before that date. While train control systems such as PTC will be mandatory for most commuter rail operations and for trains hauling certain hazardous materials, they are not required for such passenger rail systems as light rail, rapid transit, and subways.

APTA compliments FRA on its inclusive and transparent rulemaking process, and is now reviewing the technical points of this ruling.

Catoe to Step Down from WMATA

John B. Catoe Jr., general manager of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), announced Jan. 14 that he will resign his position effective April 2.

A Washington native and son of a D.C. cab driver, Catoe returned to the city in January 2007 when he joined WMATA as its general manager. He was previously deputy chief executive officer with Los Angeles County Metro, and earlier was director of transit services for the Big Blue Bus in Santa Monica, CA, and served the Orange County Transportation Authority in Orange, CA, for 17 years.

Catoe has shifted WMATA’s 30-year focus from construction to operations and customer service. During President Barack Obama’s inauguration, he oversaw record service, which included an unprecedented 17 hours of rush-hour rail availability. In the fall of 2008, he rallied the industry to leverage its collective power on the courts and on Capitol Hill to resolve transit leasing agreements. The Metrorail accident in June 2009 in which six people died caused unprecedented media and public attention for WMATA.

His APTA activities have included chairing Leadership APTA and serving as co-chair of the Legislative Committee’s Reauthorization Task Force. In October 2009, he was honored as APTA’s Outstanding Public Transportation Manager during its Annual Meeting in Orlando, FL.

Transportation Regulators Energized by Challenges, Vision for Public Transit

BY KATHERINE LEWIS, Special to Passenger Transport

The Obama administration has ushered in a new era for public transportation with higher funding and renewed emphasis on safety, the environment, and new technology, according to DOT officials at a Jan. 12 session during the Transportation Research Board’s 89th Annual Meeting, Jan. 10-14 in Washington.

“To say that the world has changed is an understatement,” said Federal Railroad Administrator (FRA) Joseph Szabo, part of a panel of one dozen administration officials. “It’s a transformational time at FRA.”

The agency is implementing three key pieces of legislation: to develop new approaches to safety and risk reduction; to enhance FRA monitoring of Amtrak and better include state regulators; and to stimulate economic recovery and reinvestment. Looking just at the $10.5 billion aimed at developing high-speed rail, that is 200 times the previous year’s discretionary budget, Szabo said.

“It’s created an incredible excitement amongst the staff,” he said. “It’s all based on caffeine and sugar, but the level of energy is tremendous.”

Funding for research and development has doubled, Szabo said, allowing FRA to continue “to develop technology and practices to reduce the risk of accidents.” He mentioned the close call reporting program, real-time testing of rail conditions, automatic detection of cracks, and a national rail cooperative research program.

“To understand the Obama administration’s commitment to public transportation, you don’t really have to look beyond the [American] Recovery [and Reinvestment] Act [ARRA],” which boosted the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) budget 80 percent in one year, said FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff. ARRA “created an extraordinary challenge,” he continued. “We are very energized at FTA, as they are at FRA, about the president’s renewed commitment to public transportation.”

FTA has obligated 89 percent of its ARRA funds for projects around the country, which have not only created jobs but funded preventive maintenance and helped avoid service and job cuts. The comprehensive rail safety bill that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood proposed in December represented the first message ever to Congress exclusively focused on transit, Rogoff noted.

Just as aviation regulators harmonized safety rules to bring commuter planes in line with larger airplanes, the administration now wants to bring the same kind of consistency to rail transit rules, which have robust commuter standards alongside understaffed state agencies.

LaHood’s vision for transportation rests on strong federal leadership organized around the meeting of national needs, said Roy Kienitz, DOT undersecretary for policy. Key priorities include safety, good repair, economic competitiveness, livability, and environmental sustainability.

The largest challenge is monetary, between the economy and the erosion of gasoline tax revenue due to high gas prices and consumer preference for small and hybrid cars. 

"The gasoline tax is no longer a stable, reliable, and predictable source of revenue that grows at 1.5 percent per year. That’s a thing of the past,” Kienitz said. Relying solely on gas tax revenue, he added, would fall “probably $100 billion short of the average set of expectations in the community.”

Every surface mode of transportation that relies on the federal Highway Trust Fund needs to think about new sources of revenue, Rogoff said.

Safety issues and solutions can cut across all modes of transportation, so DOT regulators have built close working relationships to address concerns and share research, said Peter H. Appel, administrator of the Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA). “The greater but important challenge is to integrate across the folks that are in this room,” Appel told the TRB audience. “We need to be talking to each other.”

One of RITA’s key areas of focus is professional development and the agency plans to expand its work to professional and high schools, Appel said in response to a question about academic partnerships.

The Federal Highway Administration is pleased by declining highway fatalities but is continuing to look at innovative ways to continue the trend, Administrator Victor M. Mendez said, encouraging the audience to take home a glow-in-the-dark safety band for pedestrian safety.

“If you want to advance safety, you can just use public transportation,” said Rogoff, quipping that FTA doesn’t have the budget for “cool yellow safety bands.”

In response to a query about whether federal agencies might look into international contractors, Rogoff said: “We are looking for complete and unquestionable compliance with Buy America for all recovery dollars.”

Kienitz said the Fiscal Year 2011 budget to be unveiled Feb. 1 will include details of an infrastructure bank that President Barack Obama promised during his campaign. But the administration weighs projects based on their outcomes, costs, and benefits, not on whether they rely on innovative financing. “Financing is interesting but not the highest-order thing,” he said.

In response to questions about the role of pedestrians and bicycles, Rogoff mentioned that he cycles to work in good weather. “We have done everything I think we can within current law to embrace the bicycle and pedestrian connection to transit into eligible transit funding purposes with very much the whole last-mile challenge in mind,” he said, promising that as policies and laws come up for renewal, the administration will take a fresh look with those modes of transportation in mind.

Townes Honored with 2010 Sharon Banks Award

Michael S. Townes, president and chief executive officer of Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) in Hampton, VA, and APTA chair in 2007-2008, accepted the 2010 Sharon D. Banks Award for Innovative Leadership in Transportation from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) at the Jan. 13 Chairman’s Luncheon during TRB’s 89th Annual Meeting in Washington.

“This is the greatest honor I’ve ever received in my life,” Townes said. He noted that any award named in honor of his mentor, Sharon Banks, would rank among the top honors in any person’s life.

Townes chaired the TRB Executive Committee in 2004 and is a past chair of the Transit Cooperative Research Program Oversight and Project Selection Committee.

TRB recognized Townes for “his service-oriented approach to addressing the mobility needs of people throughout the community, no matter what their economic or social background”; his strong commitment to internal and external customer service; his contributions to the development of future transit professionals; and his persistent efforts to promote diversity and minority advancement.

The award honors the memory of Sharon D. Banks, chair of the TRB Executive Committee in 1998 and general manager of AC Transit in Oakland, CA, from 1991 until her death in 1999. TRB presents the award to transportation professionals whose accomplishments exemplify her ideals of humanity and service by making a significant difference in the lives of those who use, deliver, or support these services.

Townes has worked in public transportation for more than 25 years, heading HRT since its founding in 1999. He joined the former Peninsula Transportation District Commission (Pentran) in Hampton in 1986 as assistant to the executive director and later served as executive director. In preparation for the merger of Pentran and the Tidewater Transportation District Commission in Norfolk that formed HRT, Townes served concurrently as interim executive director of the Tidewater agency beginning in March 1998. Beginning as executive director of HRT, he became the agency’s first president and CEO in 2002.

 

Photo by Cable and Pam Risdon
Michael Townes accepts the Sharon D. Banks Award from Suzanne Schneider, TRB assistant executive director.

Transit Agencies ‘Tell Their Story’ to Members of Congress; First Annual ‘District Days’ Find Success

APTA member public transportation agencies and businesses across the U.S. opened their facilities to their members of Congress and held events during APTA’s “Telling Your Story to Congress District Days,” Jan. 6-8. As the Senate does not reconvene until Jan. 19, this program was extended to take advantage of the ongoing presence of senators in their home states.

The purpose of the visits was to show congressional representatives the importance of passing long-term surface transportation authorization when they return to Washington, because the current extension lasts only through February. Another federal issue of importance to public transit is the forthcoming jobs bill, which will provide more opportunity for lawmakers to make the most of public transportation's job benefits.

Here are a few examples of how transit systems used their “District Days” to reach out to Congress.

Groundbreaking and Dedications in Texas
The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority (CCRTA) broke ground Jan. 6 for the first new bus shelter in what will eventually be a system-wide improvement and enhancement program funded with $2.9 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds. A constituent representative for Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-TX) attended the event.

Karina Paris, CCRTA marketing specialist, explained that the construction program will improve bus stop accessibility at more than 360 locations with the installation of landing pads, curb cuts, shelter pads, sidewalk improvements, and curb and gutter repairs.

“We know that the foundation of ARRA is to create jobs, to really impact the community and start the process toward recovery mode,” Paris said. “Public transportation is there to revitalize communities, so we chose a part of the city that needs a little start. Eventually, this effort will change our entire service area.”

Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) came to Fort Worth Jan. 7—despite an early morning ice storm and atypical temperatures in the teens—to help the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) dedicate 12 new downtown transit shelters. The T designed the new shelters in collaboration with committees of downtown stakeholders led by Downtown Fort Worth Inc. using a $600,000 Federal Transit Administration grant secured by Granger.

Two separate citizen committees recommended a new shelter design and new shelter graphics with the goal of enhancing the major downtown bus corridors along Houston and Throckmorton streets. As a result, The T’s sleek new steel shelters contain such passenger amenities as improved lighting, Fort Worth heritage photos, and large transit information displays. They replace 20-year-old concrete and wood structures that also took up unnecessary sidewalk space.

“Fort Worth has a beautiful, dynamic downtown, and the partnerships that helped to develop these new passenger shelters make it even better,” said Granger, adding: “The T is a pleasure to work with as it continues to make transit more accessible and as more people use public transportation in our city.”

Because of the unusual and unseasonable cold, The T served hot chocolate at the event.

Enhancements in California
The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) in Oakland, CA, welcomed recently elected Rep. John Garamendi (D-CA) for a Jan. 7 tour of the $38 million Central Contra Costa County Crossover project, which received $13 million in ARRA funding. The project is putting thousands of people to work and ultimately will provide riders on BART’s Pittsburg/Bay Point line with more seating, more trains, and improved on-time performance during their commute.

Also in California, the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board in San Carlos, which administers Caltrain commuter rail, welcomed Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) to its Jan. 7 meeting. Speier reported on federal transportation issues that impact the agency, including the inclusion of funding for Caltrain’s Positive Train Control project in Fiscal Year 2010 appropriations and support in ARRA for ongoing track rehabilitation and capacity increases in the Bike on Board program.

On Jan. 4, the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) in San Carlos announced the introduction of 137 new buses, funded largely through ARRA. The agency said the new buses will be responsible for the preservation or creation of over 100 jobs in the region.

Touring in Tennessee
In Memphis, TN, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) joined the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) Board of Directors—including APTA Chair M.P. Carter—for a briefing and tour of the MATA transit facility, also on Jan. 7. A representative of Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) also participated in the board event.

Welcoming Representatives in Indiana and Washington State
Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) braved snow and cold to join Citilink in Fort Wayne, IN, on Jan. 7 as the agency welcomed five new Glaval Titan II light duty vehicles made in Elkhart, IN. These vehicles replace almost half of Citilink’s current Access paratransit bus fleet.

“The same companies that are suffering from the slump in recreational vehicle sales benefit from this transit vehicle order. We are pleased to help our Northeast Indiana neighbors and improve the safety and efficiency of our fleet,” said Ken Housden, Citilink general manager.

On Jan. 8, Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA, welcomed Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) to its Merrill Creek Operations Base and a trip on the Swift bus rapid transit line. He boarded the bus at the southbound Casino Road station in Everett and rode to the Lincoln Way station in unincorporated Snohomish County. 

 

 

Rep. Kay Granger joins Bob Jameson, center, The T’s past chair and current director, and current Chair Bob Parmelee in ribbon-cutting ceremonies Jan. 7 for one of 12 new downtown passenger shelters.

Rep. Steve Cohen, second from right, meets with Memphis Area Transit Authority representatives, from left, Dr. Fred Johnson, board chairman; Will Hudson, president/general manager; board member and APTA Chair M.P. Carter; and Memphis City Council member Bill Boyd.

 

Ken Housden, left, general manager of Citilink, and Rep. Mark Souder stand before the Fort Wayne agency’s five new paratransit vehicles

 

.

 

FTA Extends Deadline for Quarterly ARRA Reporting

The Federal Transit Administration has announced an extension on deadlines for submitting the quarterly Milestone Progress Reports and Federal Financial Reports required under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) to 30 days after the end of the quarter, effective as of the quarter that ended Dec. 31, 2009. Reports from that quarter are now due by Jan. 31, 2010.

Recipients who have already submitted their reports do not need to resubmit the information. Regional office representatives can respond to questions regarding this change.

New Orleans RTA Continues Renovation with FEMA Funds

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Louisiana Recovery Authority (LRA) have announced more than $10.8 million in public assistance funding to the Regional Transit Authority (RTA) in New Orleans for facility damages resulting from the 2005 onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.

The funding includes nearly $9.2 million for the RTA’s Desire Parkway facility, combining more than 20 grants into a single payment so the agency can access the funds more quickly.

The remaining $1.6 million obligated represents new funds for necessary repair work on the second and third floors of RTA’s Randolph Building on Canal Street.

“By allowing funds to be consolidated, FEMA is helping the transit authority to more quickly provide bus and streetcar services to the citizens of New Orleans,” LRA Executive Director Paul Rainwater explained.

Before Katrina, the Desire Parkway facility had housed maintenance and administration buildings, bus and framework washes, a fueling center, and essential maintenance equipment such as 13 rotary bus lifts and five light duty automobile lifts. RTA’s Canal Street Facility was inundated with floodwaters on the first floor and received damage from wind-driven rain on upper floors; the second and third floors will house the RTA’s corporate administration offices after the completion of mold abatement work.

Through partnership with the LRA, to date FEMA has obligated approximately $121 million to the RTA to support the agency’s recovery efforts from Hurricane Katrina.

Victoria Is New CEO of Omnitrans

Milo Victoria, a transit industry veteran with 33 years experience, will join Omnitrans in San Bernardino, CA, in late January as its new chief executive officer. He will succeed Durand Rall, who officially retired in December 2009 after serving in the post since 1994, but is remaining as the appointed interim CEO through the end of January.

Victoria is assistant general manager, bus service, for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. He began his transit career with the former Southern California Rapid Transit District in Los Angeles and later its successor, Los Angeles Metro, most recently as deputy executive officer of maintenance and rebuild.

“We are confident that Milo will bring both the experience and the leadership skills needed to carry Omnitrans to a new level,” said Omnitrans Board Chair and Mayor of Highland Penny Lilburn. “The search to fill the Omnitrans CEO vacancy attracted numerous high-caliber candidates, but ultimately the Board was unanimous in its selection.”

Victoria serves on the APTA Bus Technical Maintenance Committee. He is a member of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials, was a steering committee member for Hispanics in Transit, and is a former board chair of the Southern California Regional Transit Training Consortium.

Leary Joins York Region Transit as GM

Richard J. Leary, chief operating officer with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston for the past five years, announced he has joined the York Region Transit (YRT)/Viva system in York, ON, as its new general manager.

Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas, transportation commissioner for the Regional Municipality of York, called Leary “a person who will bring a modern transportation vision and strong management skills to our transit system at a time when York Region is expanding its Bus Rapid Transit network and building a new ridership base.”

The expansion of York Region’s transit operations is funded by a $1.4 billion (Cdn.) MoveOntario 2020 investment by the Ontario provincial government. “With transit infrastructure developments being taken seriously by the provincial government and YRT/Viva expanding its service, York Region is an exciting place to be for a transit system manager,” Leary said.

Transportation Learning Center Receives $5 Million Federal Grant

The Transportation Learning Center in Silver Spring, MD, has announced receiving a $5 million federal green jobs training grant from the Department of Labor as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Center Director Brian J. Turner said he believes this is the first federal grant for direct workforce training in the public transit industry from either DOT or the Department of Labor. “This award provides an important stamp of national recognition for the value of the industry-wide partnership training system that transit labor and management have been working together to establish in recent years,” he added.

The grant will fund training of 3,640 participants for jobs in the public transportation sector, and will help to prepare new and incumbent workers to adequately maintain and operate the nation’s transit systems and its increasingly advanced green technologies. It will help to
mobilize labor-management partnerships for transit agencies including the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City; New Jersey Transit Corporation; the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus; and MTA New York City Transit, working with the Amalgamated Transit Union and the Transport Workers Union.

Center-sponsored partnerships at the local and regional levels have provided training opportunities to more than 16,000 transit technicians and leveraged $17 million in state training grants since 2001.

The Year Ahead: How I See It

BY M.P. CARTER, Chair, APTA, and Commissioner, Memphis Area Transit Authority, Memphis, TN

This year – 2010 – has such tremendous potential.

First of all, I’m hoping that this last extension for authorization of the public transit funding legislation is the last – and that we pass the bill in the near future, under my watch. I know that there are front-burner items, such as Afghanistan and health care reform, but we really need our recommendations made into law so that we can advance public transportation for the citizens of this country.

No matter, we will keep pushing for a much larger federal investment that will advance our industry. But that brings me to several other areas that will also move public transportation forward this year.

In December, APTA’s Executive Committee approved major changes in our governance and committee structure. What we’ve produced will really make our organization and our committees stronger, and a vital part of the transportation industry – and make APTA the organization it needs to be in the 21st century.

We have a high hurdle to climb, though, to pass these changes in our bylaws. It’s 67 percent – so get those cards and letters in! In other words, VOTE! The sooner we get the vote in, the sooner we can implement the wonderful ideas that have been brought forward, and the sooner we can see our organization grow.

Another major change is our dynamic and transformative Strategic Plan, covering 2010-2014; the Executive Committee approved the draft of this plan last November. Developing it was one HUGE effort of many people, involving Annual Meeting sessions, webinars, surveys, and feedback gained through our website.

It will be our vehicle for taking APTA to the next level and positioning our association for the future. 

Please remember to give your input on the draft by mid-February to me, Bill Millar, or APTA First Vice Chair Mike Scanlon, who is leading the effort this year. We will present the final version of the new Strategic Plan to the APTA Board of Directors for adoption at its next meeting in mid-March.

Workforce development is another ongoing APTA effort, and one of my initiatives as Chair. There’s a great need for training, educating, and recruiting of what I like to term “new blood,” many of whom don’t realize the opportunities that await them in the transportation field.

As part of our efforts to promote public transportation as a career, in 2009 we embarked upon an initiative to reach 9,000 K-12 students. We met that goal – and went past it! – reaching over 14,000! This year, we will develop resources for educators and transit systems to use in continuing to encourage the youth of America to pursue a career in public transit.

Permeating all of my work so far, though, are the efforts of everyone in Telling Our Story.

And to be quite frank, I’m ecstatic over this. I have great hope that during our District Days, Congressional representatives will go back to Capitol Hill with real facts and good information that gives them insight into why we need an increased federal investment. Through your story-telling efforts, they will learn how our industry helps “green” America and how it provides jobs.

They will also learn why, in these difficult economic times, the answer is not to cut service: that’s a dichotomy that must not happen. So it’s incumbent on us to tell the whole story – the positives and the negatives, because once they receive the hard facts, they’ll better understand our industry and be more convinced that we need their support.

I’ve learned over the years that people see things differently when they know what’s going on – rather than just relying on opinions – or guesses.

One more point I’d like to make as we look ahead to this year, and that is, we must enhance small business participation in our industry because they are the backbone of our country. I see this as a real opportunity for APTA.

The Diversity Council, in concert with the Procurement and Materials Management Committee, the BMBG Small Business Committee, and COMTO (Conference of Minority Transportation Officials), is looking at ways APTA can strengthen its support of small businesses. I look forward to their recommendations.

If we can help in that regard, we will have done a yeoman’s job in benefiting our members.

Also, I want to single out the creative and outstanding Leadership APTA project. It’s incredible the young people we have. The energy and the passion they bring will be making waves throughout our industry – and those are good waves! I see them as the bread and butter of our industry, so I will be encouraging and supporting them in any way we possibly can. By combining their youthful energy with our “mature” wisdom – that marriage is unstoppable!

There are so many initiatives and projects on the table – we have a lot of things that we could do. If we pull together and complete the things that we’ve started – then 2010 will be colossal for us.

So that’s my look ahead at our opportunities and our goals for 2010. May we capitalize on the former and work diligently to achieve and exceed the latter.

 That's my story and I’m sticking to it.

Cincinnati Metro’s New Articulated Buses Spread the Word

When Metro in Cincinnati decided to tell the story of the benefits of public transportation to its public, the agency chose to use the largest backdrops in its fleet—the five 60-foot articulated buses that joined the fleet at dedication ceremonies Dec. 4, 2009. The Cincinnati Museum Center at Union Terminal, originally built in 1933 as a railroad station, served as the setting for the event.

Metro Chief Executive Officer Marilyn Shazor was so impressed by APTA’s “Public Transportation Takes Us There” campaign that she made it the foundation of the system’s marketing and public relations efforts for 2010. The campaign emphasizes how public transportation helps the nation move forward, focusing on “Three Es (economy, energy, and the environment) and a Q (leading to a better quality of life).”

Four of the articulated buses have different exterior color themes—blue, economy; green, environment; red, energy; and yellow, quality of life—while the fifth showcases all four colors and themes. All have the APTA message on the back.

Each of these buses can carry up to 50 percent more riders than a standard bus at about the same operating cost. Metro will run them on its busiest routes to add capacity at a time when service is being reduced because of budget concerns.

Shazor called the buses “workhorses” that will “allow us to carry more customers per bus and increase the efficiency on routes that are frequently crowded. This is especially important now as we try to stretch every dollar to serve as many customers as possible with a smaller budget.”

The new buses will provide service on three routes along the Reading Road Corridor that account for 10 percent of overall system ridership and connect the region’s two largest employment centers, downtown and uptown.

The articulated buses replace old buses that were beyond their useful life. They cost just over $611,000 each, funded primarily with federal Congestion Mitigation/Air Quality money made possible through Ohio DOT and the OKI Regional Council of Governments.

2010: Public Transit Faces Legislative Challenges

Public transportation faces a variety of challenges in the year ahead. The need for Congress and the president to approve a transportation authorization bill may be the most central concern, but other issues of importance include passage of the Jobs bill; federal funding for high-speed rail projects; financing of the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF); and the possibility of federal regulatory oversight of rail transit safety.

The Fiscal Year 2010 Defense appropriations bill passed in December 2009 includes an extension through Feb. 28, 2010, of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). The extension sets funding at FY 2009 levels.

This action allows Congress to continue consideration of a long-term surface transportation authorization bill or a further extension of existing programs, such as the one-year extension added in separate legislation passed by the House of Representatives.

Before adjourning, the House approved H.R. 2847, The Jobs for Main Street Act 2010, a second economic stimulus bill that would appropriate $8.4 billion for public transportation out of a total $37.3 billion for transportation programs. This amount includes $6.15 billion for transit capital assistance formula programs—$4.84 billion allocated for urban formula grants and $605 million each for rural formula grants and high density/growing states formula grants; $500 million for the Capital Investment Grant (New Starts) program; $1.75 billion for the Fixed Guideway Modernization program; and $100 million for the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program. Amtrak would receive an additional $800 million for fleet modernization, including both rehabilitation of current equipment and purchase of new equipment.

The Jobs for Main Street Act also renews a provision made available through an amendment to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in July that enables grant recipients to use up to 10 percent of their formula apportionment (those funds received through the provisions of the Jobs Act) for operating costs or for eligible activities under section 5311(f).

Most importantly, the bill provides for a further extension of SAFETEA-LU, through the end of FY 2010. House transportation leaders and staff have indicated that it is their intent that this further extension will provide sufficient authority to cover the funding levels set in the FY 2010 Transportation appropriations bill. However, with only the House having acted on this provision, it is not clear how and when the Senate will deal with the bill.

The bill also includes a provision that allows for 100 percent federal funding for projects funded during FY 2010, either through new funds provided under The Jobs for Main Street Act or through regular FY 2010 FTA appropriations. Under the provision, the federal share for projects in the bill can be up to 100 percent at the option of the grant recipient, excluding New Starts projects, projects of regional and national significance, highway earmarks in FY 2010 Transportation and Housing and Urban Development appropriations, and Office of the Secretary discretionary multi-modal grants.

Finally, Section 2010 of the bill would transfer $19.5 billion from the General Fund of the Treasury to the HTF, with $14.7 billion to the Highway Account and $4.8 billion to the Mass Transit Account (MTA). The provision is provided to restore prior-year interest previously forgone to the HTF and to allow the HTF to recapture the interest on balances earned in the future. The restoration of interest to the HTF and MTA is estimated to be valued at $1.7 billion annually and will contribute positively to the fiscal health of the HTF and MTA going forward.

Senate leaders have indicated that the Jobs bill will be considered by that chamber sometime early in 2010.

SamTrans: Redefining Its Role in a Continually Changing Economy

BY CHRISTINE DUNN, Public Information Officer, San Mateo County Transit District, San Carlos, CA

Faced with unprecedented fiscal challenges driven by slashed state budgets and a deep economic downturn, the San Mateo County Transit District (SamTrans) is pressing ahead with opportunities to keep and attract riders and to redefine its role as a mobility manager.

The San Francisco Peninsula-based transit district operates SamTrans bus and paratransit services and funds shuttles that link key employment centers with San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District and Caltrain service. The transit district also is the managing partner for the three-agency partnership that owns Caltrain, the region’s commuter rail system. And the district manages the San Mateo County Transportation Authority, which administers revenue from a half-cent sales tax for transit and transportation programs.

The elimination of state funding in California, a decrease in ridership, and a decline in local sales tax revenue all have hit the transit district hard. In spite of a number of cost-cutting measures implemented earlier in the year, on July 1, 2009, SamTrans faced a $28.4 million budget shortfall.

For the first time in its 33-year history, the agency was forced to implement a 7.5 percent reduction in its service. The changes included the elimination of six express routes to San Francisco and one local route and a reduction in the frequency of service on six routes. In addition, the transit district will increase fares Feb. 1, the second time in a year.

But even as the district implemented these cuts, there was strong sentiment, led by the board of directors, to go forward, prepare for the eventual economic turnaround, and proceed with the reinvention of the district to meet the needs of coming years.

Looking Forward
So, even as SamTrans imposed cuts in service, the agency began rolling out 135 new, streamlined buses. The buses, which will replace about one-third of the district’s fleet, have a host of new features designed to make taking transit more comfortable, including upholstered seats, a smoother-shifting four-speed transmission, automatic rear doors, and LED interior lights. SamTrans accomplished the bus purchase primarily with capital-only federal and state funds, including $3 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds.

Caltrain is grappling with similar financial realities. The elimination of state transit assistance, although not impacting the agency directly, has placed additional financial strain on Caltrain’s partners: SamTrans, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

After years of setting record-breaking numbers, ridership began to decline. As a result, Caltrain was forced to eliminate eight midday trains and increase parking fees.

In spite of this, high-speed rail and the electrification of Caltrain continue to move forward, carrying the promise of a modernized Caltrain and a significant public works project of the kind that occurs once in a generation. Last year, Caltrain reached an agreement with the California High Speed Rail Authority to work together to bring high-speed rail to the Caltrain corridor in partnership with the commuter rail system’s own electrification and modernization plans, aided considerably by the fact that Caltrain owns its right-of-way.

The federal government has committed $8 billion in ARRA funds to build high-speed train corridors throughout the U.S., and California voters approved a $10 billion high-speed rail bond in 2008. As the only high-speed rail project with matching state and local funds, California is well positioned to receive a major share of federal dollars. In addition, California has completed a decade of engineering and design work for high-speed rail.

As the state continues to grapple with its budget, the transportation authority can credit voters with the foresight to reauthorize the half-cent sales tax in 2004, long before the downturn of the economy. The passage of the measure ensures transportation funding in San Mateo County through 2033. The TA will issue its first “call for projects” under the reauthorized measure this spring, spurring the reinvention of the district’s business units as part of a menu of transit and transportation options that constitute mobility management.

The challenges of today have brought the importance of public transportation into sharp focus. Now is the time to take advantage of every opportunity to expand and improve public transportation. Working together, in our communities and across the country, we can continue to provide the kind of clean, efficient, reliable service that moves America forward.

What Do You See as the Top Priority for 2010?

BY MICHAEL MELANIPHY, Vice President, Public Sector Division, Motor Coach Industries, and Second Vice Chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors

Motor Coach Industries (MCI) would like to see a stable, long-term federal investment in public transportation. Obviously, the key to achieving that is a new six-year surface transportation bill that would provide transit agencies with the horizon they need to plan for multi-year capital procurements. This is good for the agencies, the communities they serve, and business members dedicated to this industry.

As the economy improves, transit agencies need to be prepared to give better service to existing and new ridership. One of this country’s key take-aways as a result of the recession is a new appreciation for the true costs of personal transportation.

Americans are demanding lower-cost, high-quality alternative modes of transportation to access jobs, medical appointments, and quality-of-life activities. Agencies serving outlying suburban areas are poised to reap significant benefits due to the positive economic appeal of park-and-ride commuter service. Yet luring suburban commuters out of their SUVs and onto public transportation takes modern equipment with amenities like Wi-Fi and power outlets that allow riders to be productive while commuting to work.

Companies like Google and Apple, with their own transportation divisions, see returns by offering these types of commuter coaches. Transit agencies can do the same for their communities, and many already are.

Thousands of MCI Commuter Coaches serve express routes around the country in communities both large and small. A significant number of those were purchased with federal funds. Last year, many federal transportation programs were augmented with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act stimulus funding. Those enhanced programs made a positive difference in U.S. communities, both for the transit agencies that serve them and the industry suppliers located there. Investment in public transportation is good policy for our country and the economy, as well as a great investment in jobs related to our industry.

MCI’s coach assembly operation in North Dakota employs hundreds of full-time employees, supported by a network of 3,000 suppliers located throughout the U.S. and Canada. The funding of a new transit commuter coach for one city generates jobs all across North America. With the inclusion of after-market support, the network increases to 10,000 suppliers over the 12- to 15-year lifetime operation of a coach. The building of public transportation vehicles, especially hybrids, supports jobs in the “green economy” and often brings new, high-tech skill sets to small, rural communities.

The Federal Transit Administration’s Buy America and Altoona requirements also have positive effects on job retention. It’s important to use U.S. tax dollars to purchase equipment assembled here.

During this transitional time legislatively, it is critical that all APTA members share their stories with their own congressional delegations. MCI is doing its part by meeting with each of the senators and representatives for states where we have significant operations. In addition, we recently participated in a local business roundtable with two members of Congress representing Illinois.

This past summer I was also honored to represent APTA’s business members while testifying before the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, urging swift passage of the next surface transportation authorization bill.

The typical transit bus procurement takes 18 to 24 months from concept to delivery. With a long-term capital program in place, agencies will be in better position to prepare for a successful future.

 

MCI representatives Tom Sorrella, second from right, president and chief executive officer, and Michael Melaniphy, third from right, recently participated in a local business member roundtable hosted by Reps. Melissa Bean (D-IL) and Bill Foster (D-IL), center. Centergy, a Siemens company, hosted the event.

 

Looking Ahead to a Bright Future for Public Transportation

BY BONNIE ARNOLD, Director of Marketing, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail, Pompano Beach, FL

In December 2009, the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA)—operator of Tri-Rail commuter rail—received an early holiday gift. After more than a decade of trying, the Florida State Legislature finally passed a dedicated funding source to support the agency at a specially called session to address rail issues.

The legislation provides for a revenue stream, funded by gas taxes, that will secure the operation of Tri-Rail at its current levels. It also provides for the creation of a commuter rail system in central Florida, Sun Rail, and paves the way for the state to compete for federal high-speed rail funds.

For the first time in 21 years, Tri-Rail has the dedicated funding to sustain it for the next two decades. This was a major win for the agency and one that enjoyed support from both political parties, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, Florida DOT, and the three counties we serve: Broward, Miami-Dade, and Palm Beach. The SFRTA was blessed to have a governing board that understood the issues the agency faced and courageously elected to take the path that led to success.

The agency is in the process of developing a strong business plan to ensure better service for existing passengers and—when gas prices increase, as they inevitably will—capture new riders and hold onto that growth. We are looking at implementing technologies such as the Smart Card, more sophisticated passenger information systems, and train tracking capabilities to enhance the commuting experience.

Throughout our struggle to obtain dedicated funding, the Federal Transit Administration remained supportive yet firm in insisting that we meet our obligation to provide the base level of service to which we committed when we signed the Full Funding Grant Agreement which made possible our Double Track Corridor Improvement Program. Clearly, our federal representatives delivered a consistent message to their state counterparts that Tri-Rail needed to be supported and allowed to grow.

Concurrently, the Federal Railroad Administration found itself, through President Barack Obama’s intervention, with $8 billion to invest in high-speed rail as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The president has a vision of developing a national railway network that would connect regional high-speed and commuter systems throughout the country. Systems such as Tri-Rail are integral to the structure of his plan.

Our agency is in the same position as every other public transit system in the country, challenged to sustain operations while being poised to provide for integration into a national operation that would move goods, freight, and people from coast to coast. For the first time in decades, we are seeing members from both sides of the aisle at the state and national levels recognizing that mass transit needs to be supported and that it is the only solution for the nation’s mobility.

Now is the best time ever to be in the transportation industry. What highways were to the 1950s, public transportation is to the 2010s.

For DART, 2010 Means New Destinations and Opportunities

BY GARY C. THOMAS, President/Executive Director, Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Dallas, TX, and APTA Vice Chair-Rail Transit

A new year means new opportunities for ridership and job creation.

Each day, our industry is connecting tens of millions of our customers to their jobs and opportunities for education and entertainment. At the same time, many public transit agencies are creating new jobs as they add to the infrastructure of the cities they serve with new facilities.

In the case of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), our 45-mile Green, Orange, and Blue Line DART Rail expansion is projected to generate more than $4 billion in economic activity between 2009 and 2014.

We also know the expansion will create 32,095 job-years of employment, or an average of 6,400 jobs each year for the next five years. Separately, our ongoing operations will generate $663 million in annual economic activity and more than 5,300 jobs.

Other transit agencies have similar stories to tell. Across the country, each of our projects will create new connections and new destinations, as well as additional ridership for years to come.

DART Rail Doubling; 25 Miles to Open This Year
DART Rail will double its coverage area in stages, reaching 90 miles by 2013. The heart of the project is the 20-station Green Line, the longest light rail project under construction in North America.

The first section of the Green Line, which opened in September 2009, is three miles long and connects downtown Dallas to key employment and entertainment destinations southeast of downtown.

The remaining 25 miles of the Green Line, scheduled to open in December 2010, continues southeast to large residential areas and northwest from downtown Dallas to major employment centers such as the Dallas Market Center, Southwestern Medical District, Love Field Airport, and the cities of Farmers Branch and Carrollton.

The Green Line will create a connection between Dallas’ southeast neighborhoods, where residents are expected to outnumber local jobs three-to-one by 2025, to the northwest section of the region, a robust employment center with thousands of jobs in technology, transportation, health care, education, and services.

Construction is also underway on the first nine miles of a new Orange Line that will branch from the Green Line in northwest Dallas to serve the city of Irving in 2011. The line will be extended to Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport by 2013.

DART also is building a five-mile extension of the Blue Line in the northeast part of the service area, which will connect the cities of Garland and Rowlett when it enters service in 2012. Separately, planning continues on a second light rail alignment through downtown Dallas, scheduled to open in 2014.

Funding is the Key
But for all the growing demand and aggressive planning, none of these projects in our area, or similar projects around the nation, will happen without adequate funding.

DART is fortunate because we have long enjoyed strong federal support. The Green Line has benefitted from a $700 million Full Funding Grant Agreement and the Orange Line has already received $61.2 million in federal stimulus funds.

But more is planned, and even more needs to be done to respond to growing local requests. We’ll have to have new sources of funds to do that. Again, federal funds will be critical.

Our opportunities are unlimited, but funding is not. How we balance them in 2010 will determine the stories we tell in 2011 and beyond.

Transit Leaders Must Communicate with Government at All Levels

BY R.E. “TUCK” DUNCAN, Executive Director, Kansas Public Transit Association, Topeka, KS

This year—2010—is the time for transit advocacy. No one knows transit any better than those of us in the arena of providing public transportation services. Will we rise to the challenge?

We’d better.

My mother always told me that no one would speak up any better for Number One than I would. So, speak up folks. We have a great story to tell and, in times of scarce resources, we must compete with others who also have good stories.

As a state association director, I believe this advocacy role may be even more important at the state and local levels, as available funding there is in short supply. Policy makers need to hear firsthand from providers and from those to whom we provide services about how we are their lifelines to work, school, medical, and daily life activities.

This is the year for advocacy because, as state and federal budgets are determined this year, those budgets will be the template for the entire decade. When your state senators or state representatives are attending an “eggs and issues” breakfast, attend as well and ask them how they intend to fund transportation.

Ask what you can do to make their job easier in meeting your needs. Tell them you will support the tough votes. Go to your state capitol and visit with state senators and representatives, even if there is no transit-related legislation pending.

Policy makers want to hear from their constituents, and preferably not just at times of crisis. It’s better if they hear from you firsthand than from others secondhand, since others may not tell the story as well as you can.

Also, don’t forget the executive branch. It takes a governor and his or her cabinet to implement favorable transit-oriented policies.

Remember that most (if not all) politics is local. Show up at City Hall for those governing and planning board meetings where participants decide on the policies affecting transit services and transit-oriented development at home.

Let’s all be better advocates for transit. Mom’s right: if we don’t tout our own importance, no one else will. I resolve to follow Mom’s advice in 2010.

In Lansing, CATA Is Part of a Vision for the Future

BY DEBRA ALEXANDER, Assistant Executive Director, Capital Area Transportation Authority, Lansing, MI

If you only rely on what you read in the press about mid-Michigan’s dramatic job losses and its place at the top of the national unemployment chart, it doesn‘t bode well for the future of this region. There is no question—the economic challenges are significant.

But Greater Lansing’s unstoppable spirit is driving the region forward: incubating entrepreneurial projects, supporting creative ventures, and embarking on new environmental initiatives to take us forward in a new, positive direction.

The shift from a manufacturing focus to the new economy is made possible by rich talent pools created by Michigan State University (MSU) and other local colleges. New information-based, biotech, and environmental firms bring employment opportunities in research and production. MSU’s new $550 million U.S. Department of Energy project—the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams—is attracting interest from top nuclear scientists from around the world. This one project is expected to bring $1 billion in economic activity and 400 jobs to Greater Lansing.

As we focus on this renaissance, we still face formidable economic challenges, and the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) is not immune. Finding ways to do more with less has become the new normal at our system as it is elsewhere. CATA must continue to be visionary planners and vigilant stewards of resources if we are to be a valuable asset in Lansing’s future.

How Transit Fits in This Equation
Faced with daunting challenges, CATA stepped up to the plate; initiating a study for advanced transit infrastructure. We must continue to reinvent and innovate if our region is going to compete in the new economy.

New employers require a different transportation system than was built for a previous employment paradigm. The old emphasis was on moving goods. Today, we are more focused on moving people and ideas. This new purpose—and a renewed interest in sustainability and cost-effectiveness—requires much of what advanced public transportation has to offer.

Seeing this shift several years ago, CATA initiated a transportation study of the Michigan/Grand River Avenue Corridor. This 7.1-mile corridor features the Michigan State Capitol building, a minor-league baseball stadium, MSU, a regional hospital, a shopping mall, and a broad array of retail, housing, and small business. Local plans call for significant density increases and redevelopment in this area.

The corridor has been identified through regional research as a focal point for future economic development in the region, so creative transit solutions will be needed. CATA now provides frequent, daily bus service along the corridor—and service is already running at capacity. In 2005, CATA approached Michigan DOT to encourage the department to perform a study of this corridor, as it is a state trunk line. Michigan DOT replied that it could not fund a transit study, but would be an eager partner should CATA take a leadership role in coordinating a multi-modal transportation study.

The Process So Far
Fast forward to 2009, when, in the midst of stimulus bill discussions, CATA released a request for proposals for a multi-modal corridor study. We assembled a broad coalition of partners including key local governmental agencies, MSU, the Lansing Regional Chamber of Commerce, and the Lansing Economic Area Partnership. Together, the members of this regional coalition are guiding the study to produce the information our region needs to steer decisions about future transportation.

The study includes four phases: project initiation-vision/ideas; possible corridor transportation options; evaluation of alternatives; and selection of locally preferred alternative. We are currently in the second phase, identifying the universe of transportation options. We anticipate completing this phase in the spring, when we will move forward with the in-depth analysis of the remaining corridor alternatives.

The study oversight team designed a plan to maximize public involvement and transparency throughout the process using the following means:
* Web site;
* Facebook page;
* Media releases;
* Public open houses;
* Online surveys;
* E-mail updates; and
* Person-to-person communications.

The plan is to present study findings and recommendations this coming summer.

Where We Are Going
Public transportation plays a vital role, both now and in the future, in moving our economy forward. By exploring transportation improvements, CATA hopes to be the catalyst that moves economic development plans within our region, and helps build a more livable, sustainable, and vibrant community. Public transportation cannot accomplish these things alone, but is an integral part in the equation for a better, brighter future.

Central Texas Must Take a Regional View of Transit

BY JOHN D. COWMAN, Mayor, Leander, TX, and Board Member, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Austin, TX

Everyone seems to talk about Central Texas’ transportation issues. In downtown Austin, many solutions have been offered: trolley cars, parking garages, rubber tires and/or steel wheels, and the like. We treat traffic congestion like the weather; we act as if we have no control over it. I offer the following approach to solve our regional transportation issues.

I do not know if it’s best to dedicate lanes, time traffic lights, go with steel wheels or rubber tires, or implement some combination of the aforementioned. But I do know for sure that the traffic problem downtown is not solely Austin’s problem. Downtown Austin’s traffic problem is the region’s traffic problem.

Many Central Texans come into downtown Austin to work and play. You can see this daily migration on the southbound lanes of MoPac Boulevard (Loop 1) and the northbound lanes of Interstate 35. Downtown is where we all seem to end up; Austin is the hub for the region.

Capital Metro’s MetroRail is set to begin operation from Leander to downtown Austin in the spring of 2010. This will be a moment for Leander and Austin as well as the region, as I am sure the system will be enjoyed by eager commuters finally getting an alternative to their daily grind of driving and fighting traffic. When commuters disembark in Austin, they will reach their final destinations on foot, by bike, or other local bus, or by a specially designated circulator bus that will be ready and waiting for train passengers.

It’s a great interim solution and will work on a temporary basis, but these commuters will be hungry for better access, for a system that connects them to all places they need and want to go—for a system that links our region.

What we need is a regional transit system, one that connects all areas of our region, that uses the right system for the connections, whether commuter rail, light rail, ultra-light rail, streetcars, trolleys, express buses, bus rapid transit, or local bus.

We need to come together as regional partners and fix the regional problem that affects all of us. The University of Texas, Austin Community College, and cities in Williamson, Hays, Travis, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties should come together to call a “regional referendum” for our 25-year transportation needs. We need leaders who are willing to make the best decisions for the whole region.

I am challenging all entities in the five-county area to help develop a long-term transportation plan. We need leaders and professionals to step up—now.

First, we need a regional bond program to create and maintain a downtown Austin transit system. Second, we could use existing rail lines to add commuter rail from Elgin/Manor to Austin. Third, we could use the Mokan right-of way to build a commuter link between Georgetown/Round Rock and Austin. Finally, we need a link from downtown to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

We also need to be planning the Buda/Kyle corridor as well as Oak Hill and beyond, connecting ultimately with San Marcos, New Braunfels, and San Antonio.

As mayor of Leander, I recognize that a regional problem affects us all. No matter where the problem is, I am willing to invest my share in helping Georgetown, Oak Hill, or Elgin, just as long as I know we are working together as a region to solve our problems. I am willing to step up. I am challenging all city councils, boards of regents, commissions, neighborhood groups, and the like to push in the same direction.

Remember, a region divided cannot stand.

The Dawn of a New Decade: Public Transportation’s Opportunities, Issues, and Challenges

BY GREG EVANS, M.Ed., Vice President, Board of Directors, Lane Transit District, Eugene, OR, and Region VI Representative, APTA Transit Board Members Committee

As we enter a new decade, public transportation in America continues to face daunting challenges. The leaders of transit authorities across our nation are dealing with such pressing issues as passage of much-needed sweeping federal transportation authorization legislation; funding basic transit operations; service reductions; enhancing service to seniors and persons with disabilities; and the increasing role of transit in the formation and implementation of climate change policy.
 While this list is by no means all-inclusive or exhaustive regarding the issues facing our industry, the policy decisions of transit boards and transit properties throughout the U.S. will be shaped by the political, economic, and social constraints placed on us.

Authorization
Congress must deal with a sweeping authorization bill that will define the future of public transit well beyond the scope of its six-year run.

Our current and future ridership needs visionary legislation that expands access to public transportation, maintains affordability, creates economic opportunity, funds a substantial increase in infrastructure investment, reduces the carbon footprint and urban congestion, and addresses the increasing needs and costs of transportation for seniors and persons with disabilities.

As an industry, we must continue to press the case with Congress and the White House for full funding of APTA’s visionary $123 billion authorization proposal. Advocacy efforts on behalf of our industry at all levels of government must continue through the “Telling Our Story” campaign led by APTA Chair M.P. Carter—and other complementary initiatives.

The passage of comprehensive authorization legislation will be the foundation for a bright and exciting future in public transit.

Funding Transit Operations
The shrinking of revenues dedicated to transit operations is a looming national crisis. We are caught in a “perfect storm” as demand increases for transit service while operating revenues decrease and disappear.

State and local governments, the primary source of transit operations funding, are experiencing pressing needs from education, human services, and crumbling infrastructure. Transit board members, chief executive officers, and their agencies need to find and advocate for new sources of operating revenue and/or an increase in existing allocations.

We must craft creative strategies to maintain service to our service areas. Public/private partnerships present innovative solutions both for funding capital projects and extending operations funding opportunities.

Reductions and Consolidation of Existing Service
The current recession and dwindling operating revenues forecast the need for major reductions in our current service delivery packages; many transit authorities were facing these service issues even before the economic collapse of 2008-2009.

Our ridership will have to deal with significant service cuts in major markets and some form of total system redesign in smaller communities. The service “footprint” of transit agencies throughout the nation will become smaller as a result, and access to affordable reliable service for our riders may be severely compromised.

Again, this environment calls for collaborative, “out of the box” solutions. Transit agencies, state and local governments, and the private sector must form new working coalitions, not only to maintain current service, but also to expand service to meet increasing need.

Increasing Demand for Specialized Services
America’s population of seniors and persons with disabilities—as well as their transportation needs—have increased rapidly over the past two decades. Paratransit providers have seen their budgets strained to the breaking point by the swelling numbers of Americans moving into their golden years.

Transit agencies must continue to develop and implement programs to enable and encourage the usage of traditional fixed route service for customers with disabilities, where appropriate. As seniors reduce their dependence on the private automobile, their preferred choice for transportation will become public transit. We must educate and train seniors and persons with disabilities about the advantages of using public transit.

Climate Change
Climate change is a global issue, but carbon emissions from the U.S. make up a significant portion of the world’s carbon footprint. Public transit, while not a panacea, is a significant component of the overall strategy for creating sustainable, effective solutions to our environmental challenges.

Public transit agencies are in the vanguard of sound environmental policy. We are obligated to provide leadership in the reduction of carbon emissions, lessening of traffic congestion, mitigation of the adverse impacts of individual gasoline consumption, and maintenance of federal, state, and local highways, roads, and streets.

Changing the transportation habits and alternatives for Americans is critical to effecting lasting change in the effort to preserve and enhance our living environment.

In my view, these are the most pressing issues, challenges, and opportunities currently facing our industry. We must pool our efforts, resources, and creativity in crafting effective, provocative strategies and solutions. Our communities and the nation as a whole are looking to the public transportation industry for leadership and innovation as never before in our history.

AnsaldoBreda to Upgrade LRVs in San Francisco

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) has entered into a $54 million contract with AnsaldoBreda, a Finmeccanica company, to upgrade 143 light rail vehicles for the San Francisco Municipal Railway (Muni) operated by SFMTA. The city has operated AnsaldoBreda vehicles since 1996.

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom recognized the contract as part of “making the investment in our light rail system to keep San Francisco a transit-first city.”

The manufacturer will conduct the overhaul work on doors, steps, couplers, air supply units, wiring, and bearings at its plant in Pittsburg, CA.

Las Vegas Opens Maintenance Facility, Prepares for ACE Service

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) in Las Vegas recently began operations in its new Sunset Maintenance Facility. Unlike the RTC’s previous home, which the agency had outgrown, the new facility can service as many as 300 fixed route transit and paratransit vehicles each day.

RTC Assistant General Manager Mark Wells also cited the sustainable features of the new building, such as high-efficiency insulation and lighting; low-flow water features; water-efficient landscaping; and a high-efficiency bus wash that reclaims wastewater.

In fact, a total of 98 percent of the water used in the bus wash will be recycled water.

“These sustainability features are right in line with the RTC’s commitment to be quicker, cleaner, and greener,” said Wells. “We’re proud of that commitment and thrilled to see these principles applied to this property.”

The new facility also maximizes maintenance efficiency with vehicle pits that provide advantages over vehicle lifts, including lower maintenance costs and the ability to work both above and underneath a vehicle at the same time.

Federal funding covered most of the $75 million cost of the new maintenance facility.

RTC also is preparing for the spring launch of its ACE Gold Line, the first component of a rapid bus system, which will operate between downtown Las Vegas and the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. Almost all of the 50 vehicles—the StreetCar RTV made by The Wright Group—have arrived in the city in anticipation of the beginning of service.

The new vehicles will operate with diesel-hybrid technology, so they also fall in line with the RTC’s commitment to sustainability.

Fort Worth ‘T’ Employees Credited with Life-Saving Efforts

Two employees of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T)—Tonia Vann, a bus operator since 2008, and Leslie McDonald, who joined the agency in 1990 and became a street supervisor in 2006—recently received recognition in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram as Good Samaritans for their efforts in reviving an unconscious man at a T bus shelter.

In the Dec. 26, 2009, incident, Vann first noticed Tony Douglas as a passenger on her bus whom she found sleeping deeply when she reached the end of the line. After she roused him and he left the bus, she said, he walked to a nearby bus shelter and sat on the ground. When she returned to the site three hours later, Douglas was still there, unresponsive.

In accordance with T procedures, Vann contacted dispatch, and dispatcher Glenera Eason contacted McDonald and sent him to the scene. McDonald called 911 and began cardiopulmonary resuscitation before an ambulance arrived.

Valley Metro Opens ‘Rain Shelter’ in Mesa, AZ

Thanks to the efforts of artist Laurie Lundquist, passengers awaiting Valley Metro bus service at the southeastern corner of Main and Center streets in Mesa, AZ, near the Mesa Arts Center, can experience their trip from a new perspective. They stand underneath a canopy of shiny chrome raindrops hanging from the ceiling of the station stop, a dynamic feature that responds to the wind with movement and sound.

“The ‘Rain Shelter’ idea emerged as a playful way to relate to the desert and engage the imagination. The ‘raindrops’ themselves can sway in the breeze and reflect colors and light from their surroundings and the transit passengers using the shelter,” said Lundquist, who designed the shelter as well as the hanging installation.

Lundquist’s aim was to make the shelter fit within the context of the arts center without copying it. The twisted frames of the roof reflect the center’s twisted canopies. The supports that hold up the canopy are abstract tree forms to signify that a tree is one of the Earth’s most natural bus stops.

Also, Valley Metro introduced a special design for another 25 new bus stops, located at least every mile along both sides of Main Street and Power Road. These structures incorporate fiberglass louvers that allow access to the breezes in the summer and provide warmth from the winter sun. A band of light at the top of the station helps identify the shelter at night, and lights in the sidewalk show the driver and passengers where the bus doors will be located to assist with nighttime boarding.

Transit Stories from the 2010 APTA Calendar

The 2010 APTA Calendar provides public transportation agencies an opportunity to tell their story in their communities and beyond. Each month offers a different image of how “Public Transportation Takes Us There.”

The January 2010 photo shows passengers boarding a Baltimore Metro Subway train operated by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA).

In Maryland, access to public transit helps open the door to job markets, medical services, and activities that support thriving communities. With an average annual system-wide ridership figure of 102 million trips, MTA has helped residents and visitors stay connected to all the things they love. Riders can view scenic trees and urban skyscrapers, zip by traffic along elevated tracks, or travel deep down in winding corridors of the Metro Subway tunnels.

The APTA calendar is available online at $8 for APTA members and $12 for non-members. APTA will waive the $6 shipping free for all January orders.

Photo by Jon Berle, Maryland Transit Administration

Workshop to Consider Many Communications Topics

The 2010 APTA Marketing & Communications Workshop, Feb. 21-24 at the Westin Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale, FL, will consider a number of timely and important topics for public transit marketing and communications professionals.

The workshop serves as an important educational forum, offering sessions on all aspects of public transit marketing and communications, including branding; research; media relations; creating partnerships; and successful ridership initiatives.

Special emphasis will be given to social media, with an array of sessions and roundtables on the schedule focusing on the topic.

The workshop program kicks off Feb. 21 with a special session to introduce attendees new to the transit industry to the resources and people who can ease their entry into the industry. The conference also will include activities—such as the Marketing Exchange, roundtables, and Dinner Groups—to bring together marketing and communications professionals for discussions in an informal setting.

This year’s workshop is co-located with APTA’s TransITech. The two groups will hold a joint luncheon with a speaker, and participants in the Marketing & Communications Workshop are invited to attend the TransITech Products & Services Showcase.

Information on the workshop, including the preliminary program, registration form, and hotel registration, is available online or from Jack Gonzalez.

Public Transit Can Save Riders Almost $600 More Than in January 2009

People who give up a car and take public transit save an average of $9,242 annually—a savings increase of $600 compared with the same time period last year, according to APTA’s newest Transit Savings Report.

This savings is based on the average price of gasoline as of Jan. 11, 2010, along with the national unreserved monthly parking rate. The estimate calculates savings for a person in a two-person household who gives up one automobile and uses public transportation instead.

The savings are higher this year partly because the average U.S. gasoline price has risen roughly 54 percent[JB1] since the same time last year. Gasoline in January 2009 cost an average of $1.79 per gallon—almost $1 less than the $2.75 on average that Americans pay now.

Parking is expensive in most cities. The national average for a monthly unreserved parking space in a downtown business district is $154.23, according to the 2009 Colliers International Parking Rate Study. Over the course of a year, parking costs for a vehicle can amount to an average of $1,850.

Many riders save even more than this amount, however. In New York, public transportation users save an average of $13,765, and in eight of the top 20 cities, a commuter would save more than $10,000 by taking public transportation.

The Transit Savings Report is available on the APTA web site.

New Brochure Presents Public Transportation’s Contributions

APTA has revised and updated its popular advocacy publication that delineates the many benefits of public transportation.

Public Transportation: Moving America Forward outlines how the contributions of the public transit industry help improve the quality of life for Americans from all walks of life.

“The benefits of public transportation impact everyone, even those who may never
board a train or bus,” the report notes. “And high-speed rail promises to help Americans advance even more. Corridors around the nation will support communities with new jobs, offer individuals an alternative to congestion and high gas prices, and help the nation move toward a greener, more secure future.”

This publication provides detailed, new findings that illustrate the benefits of public transit. For example:
* The 36,000 jobs supported and created by every $1 billion of investment in public transportation result in roughly $3.6 billion in business sales and generate nearly $500 million in federal, state, and local tax revenues.
* Public transportation saves 37 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually—equivalent to the emissions resulting from the electricity generated for the use of 4.9 million households, or every household in Washington, DC; New York City; Atlanta; Denver; and Los Angeles combined.

The brochure is available for download at no cost on the APTA web site. Printed copies are available at the APTA offices or through the APTA bookstore.

 

Webinars Highlight Transit Advocacy

The National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates (NAPTA) and the Center for Transportation Excellence have announced the last four webinars in their monthly series on transit advocacy and support issues. All the webinars run from 1 to 2 p.m. Eastern time:

* Feb. 19: Building a Winning Coalition. Veterans of coalitions and ballot campaigns will detail how to build a broad coalition representing diverse interests.

* March 19: Making Your Message Matter. Connect with media and communication experts to gather insights and perspectives that can transform a public transit coalition’s public relations and media efforts.

* April 23: Social Media: Friending, Tweeting & Blogging Your Way to Success. The use of new technology in a campaign is rapidly moving from a novelty to a necessity. Learn how best to incorporate these tools.

* May 14: Silencing the Naysayers. Learn some of the more persistent criticisms, then arm your campaign with tactics and facts to beat back at the critics.

Information on the webinar series is available online.

 

Standards Available for Public Comment

The APTA Standards Program is accepting public comment through Feb. 11 on 10 documents covering Bus Rapid Transit, accessibility, and security issues.

The specific documents under consideration are:
* Recommended Practice for BRT Operations;
* Recommended Practice for BRT Intelligent Transportation Systems;
* Recommended Practice for BRT Running Ways;
* Recommended Practice for BRT Service Design;
* Recommended Practice for BRT Branding, Imaging, and Marketing;
* Standard for Gap Safety Management;
* White Paper: Random Inspections of Carry-On Items in Transit Systems;
* Fencing Systems to Control Access to Transit Facilities;
* Security Lighting for Transit Passenger Facilities; and
* Security Lighting for Transit Nonrevenue Facilities.

To submit comments, click here.

In addition, the standards program officially published 18 standards on Jan. 8: 12 on security, four on bus, and two on sustainability and urban design. Specific information about these documents can be found on the APTA Standards web site.

People on the Move

SAN BERNARDINO, CA—Durand Rall, chief executive officer/general manager of Omnitrans since 1994, announced his retirement effective the end of 2009. He will remain with the agency as a consultant through January.

Rall has worked in the public transit industry for 38 years, coming to Omnitrans from ATE/Ryder Systems Inc., where he was senior vice president and senior regional manager. He oversaw 13 ATE transit management contracts in the western U.S., and also worked for ATE as general manager of the Riverside Transit Agency in Riverside, CA. He also served transit agencies in Tucson, AZ: Norfolk, VA; and Minneapolis.

For APTA, he is a member of the Bus and Paratransit CEOs Committee; Bus Standards Policy and Planning Committee; Human Resources Committee; and Labor Relations Subcommittee, and formerly served three terms on the APTA Board of Directors representing Region VI.

He also has chaired both the California Transit Association and the California Transit Finance Corporation.


LOS ANGELES, CA—David Solow stepped down in December 2009 as chief executive officer of the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, operator of Metrolink commuter rail. Eric Haley, a former chief executive officer of the Riverside County Transportation Commission, a Metrolink member agency, heads the authority on an interim basis.

Solow will remain with the authority in the new position of “Advisor: Interagency Initiatives.” He will focus his efforts on the interagency collaborations necessary for Metrolink to implement safety enhancements, including Positive Train Control, and interoperability agreements.


FORT WORTH, TX—The Fort Worth Transportation Authority Board of Directors re-elected its current officers for 2010. Robert (Bob) Parmelee was re-elected chairman; Gary Cumbie will continue to serve as vice chairman; and Gary Havener was re-elected secretary.

Parmelee, a board member since 2005, is a principal with the Fort Worth law firm Williams, McClure and Parmelee, P.C. Cumbie, special assistant to the chancellor of Tarrant County College, joined the board in 2007. Havener, a Fort Worth developer, has served on The T board since 2002.


DALLAS, TX—The Texas General Counsel Forum honored Hyattye Simmons, general counsel to Dallas Area Rapid Transit, with its Magna Stella Award for excellence in leadership and management for a non-profit or government agency.
 Named DART General Counsel in March 2007, Simmons has worked as a DART attorney since 1988.