Passenger Transport - November 22, 2010
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GAO Identifies Methods to Improve Transit Performance Accountability

On Nov. 17, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that identifies three performance accountability mechanisms for making federal transit programs more performance-based: providing financial rewards or penalties/sanctions; increasing or decreasing program flexibility as a performance incentive; and recognizing entities that achieve certain performance goals.

GAO explained that it created the report as Congress prepares to consider a new surface transportation authorization bill. Since most federal transit funding currently has no connection to performance, the agency examined the extent to which federal transit programs do use performance information in making decisions about funding distribution; reported on mechanisms for making these programs more performance-based and strategies for supporting their successful implementation; and showed examples of selected U.S. and foreign transit agencies that have used performance measurement in their planning and decisions and their views on the federal role in transit.

The full text of the report is available here.

2010 Elections—What Will They Mean For Transit?

BY PAUL DEAN, APTA Director, Government Affairs

Now that the groundbreaking 2010 mid-term congressional elections are on the books and newly elected members are preparing to swarm Capitol Hill, political pundits, journalists, and of course, transit industry professionals—are all attempting to answer one basic question: what does it all mean?

Predicting the exact impact the election results will have on any industry’s legislative priorities is, of course, difficult at best. By taking a close look at the new congressional structure, the new leadership of key committees, and the stated political positions of those leaders, however, we can make some educated guesses at a few of the likely scenarios for the disposition of the transit industry’s legislative priorities in 2011.

A New Landscape
The 2010 election results will bring significant changes to Capitol Hill. Republicans will take control of the U.S. House of Representatives, and the Democrats’ majority in the Senate is diminished after losing six seats. Legislative gridlock is anticipated due to the split control of Congress and little desire by Republicans to grant the Obama administration any major victories before the 2012 presidential election.

Many of the new members were swept into office on a platform of reducing the federal deficit by cutting federal spending. New federal spending was met with fierce opposition from most Republican legislators during the congressional session that is about to come to an end as well. This trend will certainly continue, with the Republican Party in an even stronger position. New taxes, such as an increase in the federal motor fuels tax, are unlikely to gain traction, and any increases in spending will need offsets by cutting other parts of the federal budget.  It is expected, though, that the high unemployment rate will continue for the next two years, and legislators on both sides of the aisle will be under pressure to pass measures that will create new jobs. This presents the possibility that new investments in transportation infrastructure may provide the opportunity for some common ground.

In addition to changes in House leadership, there will be several different chairs of key committees. While many of the new members have previous legislative experience, it is extremely important for the public transit industry to educate these members on how the federal transit program works, the benefits that investment in public transportation produces, and how important it is for federal investment to continue and grow.

The U.S. House of Representatives
The biggest change as a result of the 2010 elections is the shift in control of the U.S. House of Representatives from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party.  While the results of a handful of races are still outstanding, the Republicans will gain at least 60 seats, giving them no fewer than 240 in total.

A new majority means new leadership across the board.  Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) will be the speaker, while fellow conservative Eric Cantor (R-VA) is expected to become the majority leader.  As mentioned, the primary platform for the new House leadership is to rein in federal spending, so it is almost certain that attempts will be made early in the session to cut the federal budget.  This could have an impact on the outcome of the still-pending fiscal year 2011 appropriations bills, including the transportation bill that funds transit programs. (See more on this below.)

For the Democrats, current Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will become minority leader and current Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) will become minority whip. Current Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) will take on the number three leadership position with the title assistant leader.

New leadership will also mean new committee chairs, including those important for public transportation.  Rep. John Mica (R-FL) is expected to take control of the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure (T&I) and will be a central figure in the debate over the next surface transportation authorization bill. 

Mica is a longtime advocate for public transportation who understands the need for a strong federal program.  He has long worked with the committee’s Democratic leadership to advance a full six-year authorization bill, and has pledged to continue that work as the new chairman of the T&I Committee. While he has made it clear that he does not support an increase in the gas tax to finance a new bill, he has stated that he will work to find other budget offsets and to promote public-private partnerships to help finance major projects. He is a strong proponent of high-speed rail, although he has stated that he prefers investments be concentrated in specific corridors that can achieve higher speeds along dedicated tracks, rather than marginal gains in speed along existing corridors.

The elections saw the defeat of current T&I Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN), ending his career in Congress after 36 years. Oberstar has been a stalwart advocate of public transportation, and his leadership will be missed. His expected replacement as Democratic ranking member, Rep. Nick J. Rahall II (D-WV), is a veteran of the T&I Committee, and has also advocated for the passage of a long-term authorization bill.

On the financial side of the ledger, the Appropriations Committee will have new leadership, with veteran Republican lawmakers Reps. Jerry Lewis (R-CA), Hal Rogers (R-KY), and possibly Jack Kingston (R-GA) vying for the chairmanship.  Rep. Tom Latham (R-IA) is next in line to chair the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which provides annual funding for the transit program. However, Latham may seek openings for other appropriations subcommittees, which could result in a different chair. The new ranking member position is slotted for Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA). The important chairmanship of the tax-writing Ways & Means Committee is expected to be held by Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI), with current Chairman Sander M. Levin (D-MI) serving as the ranking member. 

The U.S. Senate
The U.S. Senate will remain under Democratic control in the 112th Congress, but the majority will control with a much smaller margin. The Democrats will hold 53 seats next year (51 Democrats and 2 Independents who caucus with them), while the Republicans will hold 47. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) is expected to remain in his leadership position, while Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) will retain the minority leader post. Most of the chairmen of the key committees are expected to remain in place, including Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) of the Environment and Public Works Committee, Max Baucus (D-MT) of the Finance Committee, Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) of the Commerce Committee, and Daniel Inouye (D-HI) of the Appropriations Committee. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) narrowly won re-election and is expected to remain chairman of the Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.

The notable exception will be a change in leadership of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs.  Current Chairman Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) did not run for reelection and is expected to be replaced by Sen. Tim Johnson (D-SD).  While Johnson has not been heavily involved in public transit issues, he has been an advocate for the small systems in South Dakota, and has been an active supporter of advancing public transportation in rural areas.  The Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation, and Community Development will likely continue to be chaired by strong transit advocate Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ).  On the Republican side, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) will remain the ranking member.

Democratic leadership in the Senate is likely to oppose any House Republican efforts to initiate deep cuts or eliminate popular domestic spending programs. However, legislation to expand federal programs or add to the federal deficit will be more difficult to enact. During the last session, major legislation such as health care reform, financial reform, and the stimulus package were able to pass the Senate because a few moderate Republicans voted with the Democrats, providing the crucial 60 votes to overcome a filibuster. This will be more challenging in the 112th Congress, with many more votes needed from a more conservative group to overcome the 60-vote threshold required to pass legislation.

The Public Transit Legislative Agenda
Looking forward, considering the split Congress, it is difficult to see a path for some of the public transit industry’s top legislative priorities.  There are, though, reasons for optimism.

The top priority for APTA and its industry partners is the enactment of a full, six-year surface transportation authorization law. The 111th Congress proved disappointing in this regard, as we saw SAFETEA-LU expire without a new replacement, and we have been operating under short-term extensions since Sept. 30, 2009.  Furthermore, while APTA and many of its partners in the transportation industry have advocated for an increase in the gas tax to fund increases in the budget for our programs, both the Administration and expected incoming Chairman Mica have stated that raising taxes while the economy remains in a fragile state is not an option.

But investment in the nation’s transportation infrastructure may be one area where the Congress and the Administration can find some common ground.  Over the past few months, President Obama has made several statements advocating for investment in transportation infrastructure through a long-term authorization bill. In addition, Mica has voiced his commitment to passing an authorization bill in the coming months.  Both the Administration and Mica have talked of finding alternative resources to enhance trust fund investments by closing tax loopholes, capturing unspent funds, enhancing public-private partnerships, and leveraging private resources through bonding and other means of innovative finance.

Mica is expected to introduce a new authorization proposal early in the next congressional session. His bill will likely change courses from the proposal offered by Oberstar, with a greater emphasis on distributing funds through formula programs. House Republicans have indicated that they will likely not advance authorizing or appropriations legislation that included earmarks, and will be unwilling to cede the authority to distribute funds to a Democratic administration, so eliminating discretionary accounts in favor of formula programs is their likely solution.

The conventional wisdom is that negotiations on a bill must begin early in 2011, well before the 2012 presidential election cycle heats up. In the short term, Congress must extend current authorizing legislation before its expiration on Dec. 31. 

On the transit safety side, Congress will have a more difficult time enacting a sweeping safety oversight system, as proposed by the Administration and Senate Banking Chairman Dodd last year. Mica has indicated that he favors making improvements to the current State Safety Oversight System for rail transit, but is wary of changing the fundamental role of the Federal Transit Administration to a safety standards setting body. His position, combined with the retirement of Dodd in the Senate, will likely lead to a scaled back safety program.  However, there are still strong proponents of safety legislation in both the House and Senate, so the debate will continue.

On tax legislation, the status of important provisions such as the alternative fuel tax credit and the equalization of the commuter tax benefit with the parking benefit remain unclear. Both Republican and Democratic leaders have expressed interest in continuing these important items, but again, with tight budgets expected, it will be difficult to advance those provisions without some offset. While there is a possibility a short term extension could be considered in the lame duck session, it is more likely that these will be debated as part of a larger package of extenders early next year.

The fate of other smaller legislative proposals, such as changes to the Buy America statutes, increases in the rail liability cap, new funding for positive train control, and a whole host of issues, remains unclear. Many of these will likely be resolved in the context of the authorization debate, or fade into the sunset, or rise to the forefront depending on the direction of the debate. What is certain is the upcoming congressional session will have a major impact on the future of the federal transit program, and it will be absolutely critical for our industry to play an active role in the legislative process. Transit industry leaders—from operators, riders, businesses, and workers—must all do their part to let Congress know of the crucial role public transportation plays in their community, and of the many benefits our industry provides on a daily basis.

High-Speed Rail: Track Record of Success

A new study from the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG)—using lessons learned from other countries—found that high-speed rail can boost a nation’s economy, curb pollution, provide an appealing alternative to congested roads and airports, and conserve energy.

“A Track Record of Success: High-Speed Rail Around the World and its Promise for America” provides details of several well-established high-speed rail systems in other countries whose results support the case for establishing these systems in the United States. Some of the benefits include:

* Job creation (approximately 8,000 people were involved in the construction of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link to London).

* Development opportunities near stations (in Lyon, France, in areas near the city’s rail station, office space increased 43 percent).

* Economic growth(the counties surrounding the German towns of Limburg and Montabaur reported a 2.7 percent increase in their Gross Domestic Product—a result of the Frankfurt-Cologne high-speed rail line providing increased access to markets).

* Reduced oil dependence (a typical Monday morning business commute between London and Paris on high-speed rail uses approximately one-third less energy than does a car or a plane).

* Reduced road congestion (Spain’s high-speed rail service between Madrid and Seville dramatically reduced the share of car travel on highways between the two cities—from 60 to 34 percent).

In a prepared statement, U.S. PIRG Transportation Associate Dan Smith said: “Now that the elections are behind us, it’s time to get serious about high-speed rail. Leaders from both parties should support long-term investment in high-speed rail for the economic, environmental, and quality-of-life benefits.”

Transit Salutes/Supports Veterans on Nov. 11

Each year, people throughout North America commemorate the sacrifices of their veterans in Nov. 11 observances of Veterans Day in the U.S. and Remembrance Day in Canada. Public transportation agencies, integral parts of their communities, show their support by providing free rides and other forms of recognition to former and current members of the armed forces.

In New York City, MTA Metro-North Railroad continued its annual tradition of holding a ceremony honoring all veterans of the U.S. armed forces—as well as its employees who have served—in the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal. The program featured the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Police Pipe and Drum Band, as well as a color guard from Commodore Vanderbilt American Legion Post #1158.

Metro-North employs 669 veterans, about one in five of all its employees, including a dozen who are currently on active duty. 

TransLink in Vancouver, BC, and its operating companies, honored men and women who have served in current and past conflicts on Nov. 11 by providing free rides to members of the Royal Canadian Legion; veterans of the Canadian Army, Navy, and Air Force; and the Korean Veterans Association. The free transit service was also available to members of the armed services currently; police, including auxiliaries; firefighters; the Coast Guard; BC Ambulance Paramedics; and officers of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

“Providing free transit service is one small way of thanking the men and women of the Services for the job they have done over the years in protecting freedom for Canadians and others abroad,” said TransLink Chief Executive Officer Ian Jarvis.
 TransLink’s components—Coast Mountain Bus Company, West Vancouver Blue Bus, SkyTrain, SeaBus, and Community Shuttles—observed a period of silence at the stop they reached closest to 11 a.m.

For many years, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) has helped the Royal Canadian Legion increase awareness of the annual Poppy Campaign (for what Canada refers to as “Remembrance Day”) by hosting the official launch and inviting the media to attend.   The monetary returns from this campaign provide many types of assistance, including supporting veterans for expenses not covered by the federal government. From the end of October through Nov. 11, Legion representatives were in all subway stations every day.

“The annual Poppy Campaign is important for several reasons, said TTC Vice-Chair Joe Mihevc. “First and foremost, it commemorates those who served our country in times of war, and in peacekeeping operations.  This is particularly important once again this year with our troops serving in Afghanistan.”

In addition, on Nov. 11, TTC brought its fleet of buses, streetcars, and subway trains to a halt for two minutes at 11 a.m. in honor of Canada’s veterans. Subways stopped at station platforms, while buses and streetcars remained at scheduled service stops. Before the two-minute pause, TTC made the following announcement: “Attention TTC customers, the Toronto Transit Commission will observe a two-minute ‘stop and stay,’ to pause and reflect on the sacrifices for peace made by Canadians.”

The Corpus Christi Regional Transportation Authority (CCRTA) in Corpus Christi, TX, thanked veterans and active-duty military and invited them to ride free on any of its services, including paratransit, on Nov. 11. “It is a privilege for us to serve our veterans and active-duty military on a day that symbolizes respect and honor such as Veterans Day,” said Mike Setzer, CCRTA interim chief executive officer. “Allowing our military to ride free for a day will allow us the opportunity to serve and thank them for their service.”

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority in Tampa, FL, also invited retired and current military members, as well as their family members and dependents, to ride free on Veterans Day.

But some states go significantly beyond the annual Veterans Day support. A recently passed state law in Minnesota says disabled veterans—and approximately 50,000 of them live there—may ride free on any fixed route transit system in the state at any time, along with a personal care attendant if needed.

“This initiative will provide a tremendous service for disabled veterans in Minnesota. They are our nation’s heroes,” said Clark Dyrud, commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs.

In Illinois, all riders with disabilities—not just veterans—are eligible for free transit rides.

 

Photo: Toronto Transit Commission
Several former TTC employees, all veterans of World War II, attended the annual Poppy sale launch at the Toronto Transit Commission's Davisville subway station. 

Innovative Brevi Bus Unveiled in Rural Putnam County

BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

Back in 2003, Putnam County, FL, decided to update its aging vehicle fleet, which included 10 buses. Ride Solution (which operates the system) searched around the country to find buses that would meet its needs—a bus that could traverse the county’s nearly 50 percent of unpaved roads.

Ride Solution proposed designing and building its own vehicle, tailored to its own specific needs. On Oct. 15, Rep. John Mica (R-FL)—ranking member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee and its expected chair in the next Congress—attended the unveiling of the new Brevi—from “abbreviated”—Bus.

“Putnam County needed a vehicle to meet their needs and, when they approached me with the idea of building their own vehicle, I was a little skeptical. But I went to work for them and was successful in securing the approval to allow them to move forward and construct the Brevi,” said Mica.

What the Brevi Bus actually looks like was a surprise to everyone, who were basically expecting a chopped-up and put-back-together school bus. What they saw was a sleek, modern vehicle with an array of features, including:

* Specially designed seats that fold into the walls so people can wheel in wheelchairs and latch them.
* No steps to get on the kneeling bus.
* Automatic folding ramp with a very easy incline.
* The ability to hold five wheelchairs or two gurneys.
* No external blind spots—five cameras mounted outside.
* Modular engine design—replaceable within two hours.

When the bus was first tested on Putnam County’s most difficult dirt roads this past spring, Ride Solution hired a tow truck to follow behind—just in case. The tow truck got stuck. (Click here to see the Brevi Bus in action.)

“Like Putnam County, many rural areas have many unpaved roads which still need access to public transportation,” said Mica, “and these new Brevi Buses will fill this unique local and national need. The Brevi Bus is a great success and a testament to the ingenuity and vision of our residents.”

 

Rep. John Mica, holding scissors, cuts the ribbon to launch the Brevi Bus. From left are: front row, Putnam County officials Tim Parker, property appraiser; Tim Smith, clerk of courts; and Brad Purcell, commissioner; Dr. Carl Thornblad, fiscal consultant, Brevi Bus Project (Ride Solution Inc.); Alan Mosley, District 2 secretary, Florida DOT; Putnam County Commissioner Nancy Harris; Damian Ledonne, Brevi Bus shop supervisor; Mica; Boyd Thompson, executive director of Ride Solution Inc.; Palatka Vice Mayor Mary Lawson Brown; and Palatka City Commissioner Allegra Kitchens; back row, Palatka Mayor Karl Flagg; Palatka City Commissioner Vernon Myers; and, representing Brevi Bus, Archie Weiner, fabricator; Brett Fair, assistant fiberglass designer; and Greg Hill, project manager.



  

Groundbreaking for First MA Solar-Powered Train Station

As part of the Massachusetts Works program to promote job growth and long-term economic recovery, Gov. Deval Patrick and Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray joined Boston Mayor Thomas Menino on Nov. 15 to break ground on the $13.5 million Yawkey Commuter Rail Station reconstruction project—a key public transportation component of the $450 million redevelopment of the Fenway Park area. The station construction is expected to create 150-200 jobs.

What makes this station stand out is that it will be fueled entirely by solar power, making it the Commonwealth’s first net-zero energy rail station.

Construction on the station will begin this year with completion slated for Spring 2012. An extension of Yawkey Way will connect the station with shuttle buses that serve the Longwood Medical Area, creating an intermodal connection for thousands of employees. A bicycle share station and bicycle racks are also planned as part of the project.

The solar power, transit improvements, bike amenities, and improved pedestrian connections support “GreenDOT,” a comprehensive statewide environmental responsibility and sustainability initiative—all part of a plan to make the MassDOT a national leader in “greening” the state transportation system.

“Strategic investments in public transportation revitalize neighborhoods,” said Patrick. “This project will serve thousands of people commuting to work in the Longwood Medical Area, one of the fastest-growing and most important job creation engines in Massachusetts.”

“The combination of a complete upgrade for Yawkey Station and a larger development project that includes residential, commercial, retail, and parking space is a prime example of transit-oriented development and smart growth, the encouragement of which is a part of our strategic plan,” said MassDOT Secretary and CEO Jeffrey Mullan.

 

 

Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, at podium, is joined by, from left, Lt. Gov. Tim Murray, state Sen. Steven A. Tolman, Gov. Deval Patrick, and MassDOT Secretary and CEO Jeffrey Mullan.

An artist’s rendering of the solar-powered MBTA Yawkey Station near Fenway Park.

 

Help Extend the Commuter Transit Benefit After Dec. 31

APTA is encouraging its members to reach out to their riders and their congressional representatives to help extend the maximum transit commuter tax benefit at the level equal to the parking benefit. The transit commuter benefit puts transit/vanpool benefits presently at $230 per month; however, the transit/vanpool portion of the benefit will revert to $120 per month when the provision sunsets at the end of the year.

Unless Congress acts, a financial bias in the tax code against transit use will be reinstated at a time when working people are still dealing with the daily burden of an uncertain economy.

You can take two steps to help extend the transit commuter tax benefit:

* Call or write your congressional representative or senator. Mention that the average household spends 18 cents of every dollar on transportation, and that public transportation provides an affordable, and for many, a necessary alternative to driving. Remind your congressional officials that this benefit helps their working-class middle-income constituents.

* Reach out to your riders who follow you on Facebook and Twitter and ask them to write their member of Congress or senator.

Look for an e-mail from APTA that discusses nationwide outreach on this issue. APTA will provide a template release, a sample letter, and other tools. For more information, contact Mantill Williams.

APTA Seeks Applicants for Call Center Challenge

APTA invites call center personnel at member public transit systems to register by Dec. 17 for the fourth annual Call Center Challenge, a national competition to determine the best in the industry. The competition defines these individuals as employees who handle incoming calls relating to trip planning and/or customer service issues.

All applicants who meet the eligibility requirements will receive a time for a pre-selection phone interview with a panel of APTA member judges, tentatively scheduled for Jan. 10 and 11, 2011.

At the conclusion of all phone interviews, the judges will select seven finalists to compete in the national competition in San Diego, CA, in front of a live audience at the 2011 APTA Marketing and Communications Workshop, Feb. 27- March 2.

Finalists will be presented with three randomly selected customer service scenarios. Challenges from last year included an individual seeking advice on trip planning (someone who had never taken public transit before); general questions, such as asking whether a bus provides car seats for infants; and the best way to respond to irate customers (“I have to wait for at least three trains every morning at rush hour. Can’t you run any more so they aren’t so crowded?”).

Contestants will be assessed on their ability to respond well to each inquiry. The participant with the highest score, as determined by the APTA judging panel, will be named public transportation’s best telephone customer information agent.

All interested personnel must complete and return the official Call Center Challenge application, available online. More information is available from Jack Gonzalez.

U.S. DOT to Host IntelliDrive Mobility Workshop in VA

The U.S. Department of Transportation will host an IntelliDrive Mobility Workshop at George Mason University’s Arlington, VA campus Nov. 30-Dec. 1.

This free workshop is for all transportation stakeholders.

Topics of discussion will include background on the IntelliDrive Real-Time Data Capture and Management and Dynamic Mobility Applications Programs; information about its concepts, organization, schedule, projects, procurements, and products; details of the IntelliDrive program’s open data environment and its open source mobility applications; upcoming procurements and other opportunities to participate in the development of IntelliDrive; cross-cutting policy issues; and how improved mobility and efficient travel can support the environment and mitigate pollution.
 For additional information and to register for the workshop, click here.

Q’Straint, Sure-Lok Make Merger Announcement

Two manufacturers of wheelchair passenger safety systems—Q’Straint of Fort Lauderdale, FL, and Sure-Lok of Bethlehem, PA—announced their merger on Nov. 9.

For the near term, Jean-Marc Girardin will remain president of Q’Straint, while Robert Joseph will stay president of Sure-Lok and will fill the newly created position of vice president, business development, for the combined organization.

“In order to make this merger successful, it’s absolutely critical to us that we maintain a customer focus, and they experience the benefits of this merger,” Girardin said. “We know actions speak louder than words, and look forward to the opportunity to prove ourselves!” added Joseph.

Q’Straint was established in 1984 with a license from Queen’s University to sell the first integrated four-point wheelchair passenger securement system. Sure-Lok, originally a division of Kinedyne Corporation, has been under Joseph’s leadership as a separate company since 1998.

DART’s Thomas Pays Up


Photo by Margot Duane
Gary C. Thomas, president and executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), pays his end of a World Series bet by singing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” He also distributed snacks while wearing a San Francisco Giants uniform at the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District’s (BART) Embarcadero Station during the morning rush hour. BART and DART officials had wagered on whether the Giants or the Texas Rangers would take the 2010 World Series title. Joining Thomas at the event are a troupe of San Francisco Samoan dancers and a group of Chinese schoolgirls who make up the St. Mary’s Drum and Bugle Corps.

 

Robert Stewart Dies; Co-Founded ElDorado

Robert L. (Bob) Stewart, 79, of Sun City West, AZ, a founder of the firm now known as ElDorado National Co., died Oct. 23.

In 1960, Stewart joined other business people in the small town of Minneapolis, KS, to begin Honorbuilt Manufacturing Company, a manufacturer of recreational vehicles later known as ElDorado. He stayed with the company through several ownership changes, purchasing it in the late 1970s.

The company, which became known first as ElDorado RV Inc. and later as the ElDorado Motor Corporation, expanded beyond motorhomes and into the small transit bus industry.

Stewart was a board member and past president of the Recreational Vehicle Institute in Reston, VA, the self-governing body of the recreational vehicle industry.

He retired from ElDorado in the 1990s, but within a few months he became a co-founder of Coffee Reserve LLC, a coffee roasting and distribution company in Scottsdale, AZ. He was still working as a consultant for Coffee Reserve at the time of his death.

Engineer Brown Dies

Steven H. (Steve) Brown, PE, 54, a long-time transit professional with more than 28 years of experience in public transit and transportation engineering, died Nov. 10 in Denison, TX.

Brown was a 2008 graduate of Leadership APTA and was also active in his local chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers. From 2006 until October 2010, he was a senior project manager with the Rail & Transit Systems team of Lockwood, Andrews & Newnam, Inc. In October, he left to join Jacobs Engineering, managing teams on a variety of transit projects that included feasibility studies, alternative alignments, preliminary engineering, transit facility site layouts, and final designs associated with light rail and bus projects.

His previous work for such agencies as Dallas Area Rapid Transit, Houston Metro, and Sacramento Regional Transit included project management for light rail extensions, site design and layouts, hydrologic and hydraulic analysis, water surface profile modeling, and regulatory support.

CTTransit Welcomes Newest Generation of Fuel Cell Buses

Connecticut Transit (CTTransit) welcomed four next-generation, fuel cell-powered hybrid-electric buses to its fleet in recent ceremonies in Hartford. The new vehicles join an earlier fuel cell bus in operation since 2007.

The 40-foot buses from Van Hool, equipped with UTC Power fuel cell systems, are lighter than the older bus and feature advanced lithium-ion battery systems. The buses operate on hydrogen and produce only water vapor, with no harmful tailpipe emissions.

“The fuel cell bus we’ve been operating since 2007 has demonstrated that the technology works and its fuel efficiency is about two times better than a standard diesel-powered bus,” said Steve Warren, CTTransit assistant general manager-maintenance services. “With the reduced weight of the new model bus, our fuel economy should get even better. And drivers and the riding public tell us they love the quiet, smooth ride and appreciate the environmental benefits.”

CTTransit is building a new garage to store up to six fuel cell buses and plans to install a hydrogen fueling station onsite. Some of the buses will continue to refuel at a hydrogen station at UTC Power’s headquarters in South Windsor, CT.

 

Rep. John Larson (D-CT), at podium, welcomes the newest fuel cell bus to the CTTransit fleet in Hartford. In the background is Peter Butler, director of planning and program development for the Federal Transit Administration.

Vancouver, St. Louis Transit Agencies Receive International Award

The International Association for Public Participation (IPA2) recognized TransLink in Vancouver, BC, and Metro in St. Louis with its Core Values Award at recent ceremonies in Scarborough, UK.

TransLink won the Innovation Award for “It’s Your Move,” its 10-year plan, while St. Louis Metro was first runner-up with its “Moving Transit Forward” program.

Ian Jarvis, chief executive officer of TransLink, said: “Since its creation 10 years ago, TransLink has continually provided broader and more innovative ways to have dialogue with the public on how our transportation network should support Metro Vancouver’s future. The 2009 consultation played a critical role in helping us preserve and sustain significant transit expansion.”

Through “It’s Your Move,” TransLink received comments from thousands of people who participated in both offline community workshops and forums and online through a designated web site. Most of the comments supported increased investments in transit and transportation in the region, according to the agency.

“Moving Transit Forward” is the St. Louis region’s first long-range public transportation development plan, created by Metro with the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. Metro made available a variety of public outreach efforts including 22 public meetings; more than 150 presentations to business, civic, advocacy, and neighborhood groups; webinars; an interactive web site; and social media (Facebook, Twitter, blog).

“Metro is pleased by the recognition of our dedicated effort to engage the people of the region in development of this important plan to shape the future of public transit services for the St. Louis region,” said John Nations, the system’s president and chief executive officer. “We provided approximately 200 opportunities for area residents to get involved and to contribute to the plan to continue to build transit service that not only connects people throughout the region, but also fuels economic development and quality jobs.”

IAP2 is an international association that seeks to promote and improve the practice of public participation in relation to individuals, governments, institutions, and other entities that affect the public interest in nations throughout the world. The organization has more than 1,500 active members.

Austin Residents Offered a Variety of Rewards for Green Travel

Taking public transportation in the Texas capital means going green in two ways—at least for the next year.

A municipal partnership in Austin has introduced a program to reward local residents every time they choose some means of transportation other than driving themselves—including public transit, telecommuting, walking, cycling, and carpooling or vanpooling. The rewards include discounts and other offers from more than 50 restaurants and stores, along with $100 worth of vouchers given out weekly, to be spent in the Market District.

David Vitanza is a director at Schlosser Development, a partner in the program. “We are thrilled to be partnering with the City of Austin, Capital Metro, and the rest of the region’s Commute Solutions Coalition to help clear the roads and clean the air in Austin,” he said.

Chris Riley, a member of the Austin City Council, noted the benefits for the overall community. “Collectively, we can improve our air quality, reduce traffic congestion, and lessen our dependence on cars.”

Austinites can sign up for the program here and keep track of trips they make via any of the included transportation alternatives.

UTA Receives Federal Funds for First Streetcar Line

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in Salt Lake City has announced plans for a totally new mode of public transportation—a two-mile streetcar line connecting TRAX light rail with the Sugar House neighborhood.

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently presented $26 million in federal funds for the project through a TIGER II discretionary grant. The balance of funding for the $55.5 million project will come through financial commitments with Salt Lake City and South Salt Lake and $18 million from UTA, a partnership LaHood called “a model.”

UTA has completed environmental work and preliminary engineering for the line, which will follow a historic railroad corridor it owns between the 2100 South TRAX Station and McClelland Street near 1050 East. Construction could begin as soon as the spring of 2011, with a tentative completion date of 2012 or 2013.

UTA explained that the streetcar line will differ from light rail in three ways:
* More frequent stops, about every three-tenths of a mile, for a total of seven stations;
* Lower speeds, 25-35 mph compared with up to 55 mph for light rail vehicles; and
* A different vehicle: a modern low floor car similar to UTA’s new S70 LRVs but in a single-car consist.

UTA estimates ridership on the line at 3,000 per weekday when it opens, rising to more than 4,000 by 2030.

Public Transportation Opinions from Across the U.S.

Editor's Note: Below are excerpts from recent commentaries or editorials across the nation on the need for public transportation.