Passenger Transport - April 12, 2010
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Survey: 'Funding Crisis' for Agencies Due to Economic Recession

The recession could be called an “equal opportunity employer,” in that it has affected every industry in the United States, including public transportation. According to a new APTA survey, Impacts of the Recession on Public Transportation Agencies, 84 percent of U.S. public transportation agencies have raised their fares, cut service, or considered either of these actions since Jan. 1, 2009—a direct result of declining revenues.

Fifty-nine percent of the nation's transit systems reported that they have already cut service or raised fares.

The report noted that 62 percent of transit systems either have reduced or will consider reducing off-peak service; 56 percent have made similar changes to rush hour service; and 40 percent have reduced the size of their coverage area.

“Public transportation is experiencing a funding crisis and it is negatively impacting the millions of riders who depend on public transportation every day,” said APTA President William Millar. “The results of this survey are grim as many public transportation systems are facing large budget shortfalls due to declining state and local revenues.”

He continued: “As bad as things are today, more drastic service cuts, fare increases, layoffs, and deferred capital projects will occur if this problem is not addressed.”

The survey reports that almost seven out of 10 public transit systems (69 percent) project budget shortfalls in their next fiscal year. As far as spending reductions, 68 percent have eliminated positions or are considering doing so in the future, while 47 percent have laid off employees or are considering layoffs in the future.

In addition, more than half (54 percent) of public transportation systems responding have transferred funds from capital use to operations, thus aggravating efforts to keep systems in a state of good repair.

Time for Investment
Noting that commuting to and from work accounts for nearly 60 percent of trips taken on public transportation, Millar said: “Now is not the time to cut service that helps people commute to work or enables the unemployed to look for work. Now is the time for federal, state, and local governments to invest in public transportation to help support and create jobs, and maintain service to the public.”

The report is based on a survey of 151 APTA transit system members representing more than 80 percent of the nation’s transit riders, and includes 19 of the top 25 agencies in terms of annual ridership. The full text of the report is available online.


St. Louis Sales Tax Earns Strong Support

By a measure of 63 percent in favor to 37 percent opposed, voters in St. Louis County, MO, demonstrated their support for public transportation April 6 by approving a half-cent sales tax to support the Metro transit system. The measure, known as Proposition A, will help Metro reverse service cuts and, later, will support MetroLink light rail expansion and operations.

The positive vote reverses the defeat of a similar half-cent sales tax in 2008, which had led to fare increases, service cuts, and layoffs of some 500 Metro employees. The new tax is expected to bring in about $75 million annually in St. Louis County.

Bob Baer, Metro president and chief executive officer, called the victory “a tremendous win for our region and for us.” He recognized the broad coalition supporting the effort, including the business community; health care facilities and hospitals; every educational institution in the region; and various religious groups, noting that the Catholic Archbishop of St. Louis and several African-American ministers mentioned the issue on Easter Sunday.

“I think what worked to our advantage is that people really understood the value of transit when they didn’t have it,” Baer said. “That’s what brought all these groups together, which is a great victory in itself. This coalition proved to me that nothing’s impossible when we work together.” He added: “Getting 63 percent in this economy where we’re all tax-fatigued—I’m proud of the community coming together on an issue of this importance.”


Photo by Laurie Skrivan, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Liz Kramer, dressed as “Miss MetroLink,” exults in the passage of Proposition A during an election watch April 6 at Washington University in St. Louis, hosted by the university and Citizens for Modern Transit. “I think it is essential for St. Louis to be a strong city and retain and attract young people," she said.


Senators Urge More Transportation Funding

In addition to a letter signed by APTA and 27 other organizations regarding transportation and climate legislation, two other groups have sent letters on the issue to Sens. John Kerry (D-MA), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) regarding their climate change legislation. Both letters state the need for transportation investment in a climate bill while also emphasizing the importance of “green” transportation investments.

Eight senators—Tom Carper (D-DE), Arlen Specter (D-PA), Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-OR), Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), and Michael F. Bennet (D-CO)—cited Environmental Protection Agency statistics showing that “a comprehensive set of strategies can reduce transportation emissions by 26 to 40 percent and oil consumption by four to seven million barrels per day in 2030,” such as high-speed rail, public transportation, and smart growth. The letter also states: “Travel efficiency measures alone will not solve the climate problem. However, we believe that comprehensive climate legislation cannot be successful if it does not provide additional transportation mobility options for Americans.”

A letter signed by members of the Transportation for America coalition recognized the senators for “leadership in crafting comprehensive, economy-wide energy independence and climate change legislation.” It continues: “We urge you to include robust investments in transportation in your forthcoming Senate clean energy legislation, provided those investments reduce oil use and [greenhouse gas] emissions, as well as cut transportation costs for consumers.”

FTA Announces $24.8 Million for Public Transportation in National Parks

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced April 5 that national parks, forests, and wildlife refuges in 20 states will receive $24.8 million in federal funding through the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program to implement public transportation within the facilities.

“As Franklin Roosevelt said, ‘There is nothing so American as our national parks,’” said Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. “The national parks are American treasures, and Transit in Parks funding will make these national treasures more accessible and enjoyable to everyone.”

The National Park Service, Forest Service, and Fish and Wildlife Service will receive funds for 46 projects ranging from new diesel buses at Yosemite National Park in California to ferry improvements at Gulf Island National Seashore in Florida, and from visitor shuttle buses in Mount Rainier National Park to bus stop improvements in Acadia National Park in Maine.

“The transportation improvements to our national parks and wildlife refuges will help preserve and protect our cultural and natural resources while ensuring all Americans have access to America’s great outdoors,” said Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

“By reducing traffic, Transit in Parks will help preserve the splendor of the national parks experience and protect our country’s natural resources,” added FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff. “The program also improves visitor mobility and ensures access to all, including persons with disabilities.”

The complete list of recipients is available online.

Congress established the Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program to enhance the protection of national parks and federal lands and increase the enjoyment of those visiting them. Administered by the FTA in partnership with the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, the program funds capital and planning expenses for alternative transportation systems, such as shuttle buses and bicycle trails in national parks and public lands. The goals of the program are to conserve natural, historical, and cultural resources and reduce congestion and pollution.

The photo shows a scene of Yosemite National Park.

Report: Transportation Costs Affect Affordability

Only two in five American communities—or 39 percent—can be termed affordable for typical households when their transportation costs are considered along with housing costs, according to a new analysis by the Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology (CNT).

CNT’s Housing + Transportation (H+T) Affordability Index and its accompanying report, Penny Wise, Pound Fuelish, released March 23, demonstrate the affordability of 337 metro areas across the country—encompassing 161,000 neighborhoods and 80 percent of the U.S. population.

“By factoring transportation into the housing affordability equation, the H+T Index reveals that the current pattern of sprawling development and lack of public transportation options is neither affordable for a large number of families nor environmentally sustainable,” the center stated in releasing the index and report.

The traditional definition of affordability is when a household spends 30 percent or less of its income on housing; however, when the definition of affordability includes transportation costs as well as housing—at 45 percent of income—the number of communities affordable to households earning the area median income decreases significantly. Nationally, the number of affordable communities declines from 70 percent, the figure when taking into account housing alone, to 40 percent (with transportation costs added), resulting in a net loss of 48,000 neighborhoods.

For many families, transportation is the second largest household expense. Further, the new analysis shows that families moving to a more remote location because of lower housing costs may find that unexpectedly high transportation costs cancel out any possible savings.

The index shows a range of transportation costs, from 12 percent of household income in efficient neighborhoods with walkable streets, access to transit, and a wide variety of stores and services to 32 percent in locations where driving long distances is the only way to reach essential services.

“In recent years, we have seen foreclosures increasing faster in outer suburbs than in central cities,” said Scott Bernstein, president and founder of CNT. “When gas prices peaked in 2008, families in many regions saw their transportation costs soar by $3,000 per year or more. When communities have few transportation options and require driving long distances for basic necessities, already stressed household budgets are very vulnerable to spikes in gas prices and rising transportation costs. The H+T Index gives a reliable estimate of each neighborhood’s average household transportation costs, a strong move toward a ‘no surprises, no sticker shock’ home buying or renting experience.”

More information on the H+T Index and the text of Penny Wise, Pound Fuelish are available online.

Fenton Is New Head of Metrolink

The Southern California Regional Rail Authority, which operates Metrolink commuter rail in the Los Angeles region, named John E. Fenton as its new chief executive officer, effective April 16. He succeeds Eric Haley, who held the position on an interim basis.

Fenton comes to Metrolink from CIH Capital Partners, an investment bank he served as an operating partner. Earlier he was president and chief executive officer of OmniTRAX Inc., a Denver-based transportation services company offering a broad range of customized solutions to the industrial and transportation sectors. His rail experience includes serving as general manager/vice president of the Canadian National Railway and vice president of the Kansas City Southern Railway and Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway, which later became part of Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

Board Chairman Keith Millhouse said: “With a unique combination of experience operating rail services and serving at the highest level of executive management, Mr. Fenton is well prepared to ensure passenger safety and service in our complex railroad operating environment.”

New Transit Center Opens in El Paso

Sun Metro in El Paso, TX, began service to the new, $5 million Al Jefferson Westside Transfer Center on March 28, with dedication ceremonies scheduled for April 8.

The agency named the new facility in memory of Albert (Al) Jefferson, a local community activist known for his ardent support of public transit, who died in January 2007 at the age of 71 after a long battle with cancer.

The new transfer center provides such amenities as free Wi-Fi, 170 park-and-ride spaces, an enclosed waiting area with refrigerated air conditioning and heating, real-time information displays to help riders time their trips, large shade canopies, an automatic teller machine, a change machine, and vending machines.

The facility also houses the newest public artwork in El Paso, created by sculptor and ceramicist Garry Price: ceramic mosaic clocks located on each of the transfer center’s towers, inspired by the city’s renowned sunshine.

Buses Offer Access to Cherry Blossoms

When crowds came to Washington in the recent unseasonably warm weather to experience the beauty of the cherry blossoms, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority provided them with a convenient and inexpensive way to see the trees.
Photo by Larry Levine, WMATA

Unsnarling I-66 Congestion: Solutions are at hand to address backups on I-66


Reprinted, with permission, from the March 10, 2010, issue of the Fairfax Connection, Fairfax, VA.

According to his biographers, Richard Nixon as a young boy used to listen to the trains rolling by his house in rural California and draw inspiration that one day he could visit places far away.

The young Nixon had the good fortune to not live next to Interstate 66 in Fairfax County. Because nobody draws inspiration from stalled traffic.

Fairfax County has been wrestling with the congestion of Interstate 66 since the early 1980s. When I joined the Northern Virginia Regional Commission as City Councilman in 1998, traffic along Interstate 66 was already the #1 complaint of my constituents.

A year later, the Commission voted and passed the Interstate 66 “MIS” study, which promised a dual solution for the corridor: (a) adding more lanes inside and outside the Beltway, and (b) extending the Orange Line Metrorail from Vienna to Centreville (and eventually Manassas). Solutions were at hand.

Twelve years later, nothing much has happened. Instead, the Interstate 66 solution has been forgotten amid the hoopla surrounding Fairfax County mega-projects like “the Mixing Bowl” or “Rail to Dulles.” Yet that corridor continues to carry hundreds of thousands of vehicle trips a day, while incurring traffic jams at all hours.

This year in Richmond, a small group of legislators is trying to break the impasse. It is clear to us that, without a public-private project like HOT Lanes, there is not sufficient public money to fund cost-intensive solutions like fixed-rail or the widening of the current Interstate 66 corridor.

It’s time to think outside the box.

Over the past decade, the technology behind “bus rapid transit” (or “BRT”) has made it a cost-efficient service with the ability to transport the same number of people as fixed rail at a fraction of the cost. Modern cities like Seattle and Toronto rely on BRT to move their commuters within a large urban community.

The Interstate 66 corridor is a perfect match for BRT for a number of reasons. First, there is a high demand for transit service heading inside the Beltway. Second, there is an existing interstate with dedicated lanes along the corridor. Third, the interstate already has parking areas and access to arterials like the Fairfax County Parkway.

Like any good solution, it won’t be free. The Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation estimates a cost of $250 million to establish a functioning network with sufficient parking, at-grade boarding and direct access ramps from Interstate 66. Notably, that is about 6 percent of the cost to build the Dulles Rail line from East Falls Church to Wiehle Avenue.

This week, a number of “outside the Beltway” lawmakers signed a letter which proposed that we “green light” a BRT system along Interstate 66 “as soon as possible” and without waiting on more time-consuming studies of a problem which we all know exists. Instead, let’s let private companies bid on this contract and show us how the service can be best optimized at a reasonable cost.

Perhaps years from now, a child in Fairfax County will hear the BRT bus going by and dream of destinations unknown. Or at least know that his parents will be getting home from work. 
Editor’s Note: Petersen is a Democrat representing Fairfax in the Virginia State Senate.

Photo of bus driver by Larry Levine, WMATA

Reasons Why the APTA Rail Conference is a ‘Must Attend’ Event

APTA’s 2010 Rail Conference is coming soon: June 6-9 in Vancouver, BC, preceded by the International Rail Rodeo competition June 5.

Why should rail professionals from all modes—high-speed and intercity rail, commuter rail, heavy rail/subway, light rail, streetcar, and automated transit—attend?

* Sessions devoted to such topics as positive train control, signaling, public-private partnerships, shared railway use, safety culture, American Recovery and Reinvestment Act status reports, and state of good repair;
* A luncheon program featuring Gordon Price, director of the City Program at Vancouver’s Simon Fraser University, discussing how the city rejected freeways and was developed with the help of streetcars. This program will also be accessible via webcast;
* Another webcast, “Fact or Myth: The Return on Investment of a National High-Speed and Intercity Rail Program,” covering case studies of rail projects in Europe and Asia; and
* The Host Forum, “Canada Line—Innovation from Start to Finish,” which will bring together representatives of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink), Vancouver International Airport, and other stakeholders to tell the story of Canada’s largest public-private transit partnership.

Other highlights include the Rail Rodeo Banquet the evening of June 6 and the Rail Products and Services Showcase June 8.

Early registration closes April 23. For more information, click here.

Apply by May 1 for Coalition Grants

Local transit coalitions have until May 1 to submit applications for grant funding through APTA to support grassroots activities focused on obtaining continued financial support for local transportation systems—with an emphasis this year on proposals to partner with local transit agencies on initiatives to help transit through challenging economic times. Eligible coalitions must have the support of the local APTA member transit system and be a member of the National Alliance for Public Transportation Advocates.

The program will award a total of 10 $5,000 grants this year. Additionally, applications for projects exceeding $5,000 may be considered, but applicants must specify how the funds will be used. Matching funds will not be required.

The review process will take into account need, strength of project plan, likelihood of achieving positive results, and geographic diversity.

APTA will announce the award recipients on June 1, 2010; all applicants will be notified of their proposal status.
 The grant guidelines appear at the APTA web site; click on Government Affairs & Policy, then Advocacy, and then Local Transit Coalition Grant Program. Submit all materials to Rich Weaver.

APTA Sponsors Students in Annual Mineta Institute Competition

A team of students from Redland Middle School in Rockville, MD, sponsored by APTA, gave a presentation on the environmental benefits of high-speed rail as part of the Mineta Transportation Institute’s recent annual Garrett A. Morgan Symposium on Sustainable Transportation.

The competition brings together middle school students who develop a project that demonstrates sustainable transportation in practice. Kemps Landing Magnet School in Virginia Beach, VA, sponsored by Hampton Roads Transit, won the competition.


Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, at podium, and former Secretary Norman Y. Mineta offered remarks during the event.


DOT’s Kim Reviews Policies

David Kim, DOT deputy assistant secretary for governmental affairs, reported on the current “transformational time in transportation policy” at the April 6 Transportation Tuesday event hosted by APTA.

For example, he said, the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant program will continue as “TIGER 2,” with $600 million available for projects in Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. Another DOT priority, high-speed rail, will see $2.5 billion in funding for the next round of grants, of which $50 million is earmarked for planning.

Responding to a question, Kim said DOT officials “know this is a painful time for most transit agencies” and that they are considering ways that would allow transit agencies to use a portion of their federal funds for operating expenses.

Kim also addressed such other topics as the possibility of extending the Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction program, which is not included in FY 2011 appropriations or the jobs bill; federal oversight of transit security, which he said is “needed sooner rather than later”; the interaction between high-speed rail and other modes including freight rail; and the ongoing conversation about the role of transportation in climate change legislation.