Passenger Transport - January 3, 2011
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Public Transit Agencies Step Up as Winter Storms Strike U.S.

BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Public transportation agencies went the extra mile in December as much of the U.S. dealt with heavy snowfalls, high winds, and other forms of severe winter weather. Safety was critical; moving people and equipment were paramount. Below are a few examples of how public transit responded to and prepared for inclement weather conditions.

Massive Flooding
Earlier in December, parts of California took a pounding from heavy rains—and, as a result, endured flooding and mudslides. According to Larry Rubio, chief executive officer of the Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) in Riverside, CA: “The storm front that hammered our region last week certainly caused some challenges for the Riverside Transit Agency, but it also brought out the best in our staff—from coach operators, to dispatch, to our customer information center—who monitored the situation round-the-clock and ensured that our passengers got to their destinations safely.”

Rubio said the severe weather had flooded streets, downed trees, and caused delays and detours for several RTA routes, but that service had resumed mostly normal operations by Dec. 27.

Major Snowfalls
An unprecedented storm Dec. 26 buried New York City in almost two feet of snow, leaving residents of “the city that never sleeps” without some of their daily transportation lifelines. Employees of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) worked around the clock to restore service throughout the 5,000-square-mile service area in a manner safe for their customers, employees, and equipment. Workers cleared snow from tracks, roadways, platforms, and stairways and de-iced such critical infrastructure as switches and third rails.

MTA New York City Transit continued to run its subways at below-ground stations, but had to cope with outages on elevated lines and lines that operate in open cuts. MTA crews cleared buses stuck in snowdrifts and evaluated roadway conditions for individual routes before restoring bus operations where possible. MTA Long Island Rail Road resumed very limited service late the next day between New York Penn Station and stations on four branches, while MTA Metro-North Railroad maintained limited service on all its lines.

Similarly, employees of New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) worked non-stop for several days to extract more than 100 of the fleet’s 2,000 buses from the snow. “It’s been a Herculean effort,” said Jim Gigantino, vice president/general manager of bus operations for NJ Transit. “Our bus operators, maintenance crews, and support personnel have worked in the most extreme conditions to restore service and get our customers safely to their destinations.”

The weather conditions meant that NJ Transit did not operate its bus lines from the evening of Dec. 26 until early Dec. 28. During that time, bus operators provided assistance to stranded motorists on the Garden State Parkway at the request of the New Jersey State Police.

NJ Transit rail service operated on an enhanced weekend schedule as crews dug out and inspected about 140 of the system’s rail cars buried by snow in outlying railyards. More than 40 rail cars required repairs.

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in Salt Lake City learned from its experiences with bad weather earlier this season. “Our trains generally do well in the snow and cold, but our light rail vehicles can have problems with the doors jamming when there is a lot of snow accumulation over a short period of time and crews cannot clear the platforms quickly enough. Fortunately, that only happens a few times a year,” said UTA General Manager Michael Allegra.

UTA’s bus service to ski areas uses vehicles “equipped with chains that automatically deploy, so they do very well in the canyons and don’t have much trouble with stormy conditions,” he added.

Winter Preparedness
When snow began to fall in North Carolina, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) activated its winter response plan—which included an alert button at the top of the agency’s home page.

As it happened, advance knowledge of the coming storm meant that CATS had no trouble with the area’s Christmas weekend snowfall of three to four inches, said Bryan Leaird, general manager of safety and security. He cited the city’s pre-treatment of roads and the fact that CATS was operating on a holiday schedule for the system’s ability to remain in operation without delays or having to change routes.

Stephen Spade, director of Chapel Hill Transit in Chapel Hill, NC, also noted the benefit of advance planning—in this case, the fact that the snowstorm came through on a holiday when the agency would provide limited levels of service regardless of weather conditions. He said the area received only five to six inches of snow, which had no negative effects on the dozen buses on the road Dec. 27.

In the Midwest—an area that knows to plan ahead for severe winter weather—Metro Transit in Madison, WI, posted a video on its web site showing safe travel tips when snow and ice are on the ground. The most important tips? To allow extra time for the trip, since buses have to deal with traffic backups as well as mobility concerns, and to wait for the bus on a cleared sidewalk rather than on top of a snowbank or other unstable area.

Intergovernmental partnership is another way that public transit systems can prepare for inclement weather. For example, last fall the Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) in Portland joined representatives of city departments and Oregon DOT to prepare for the onslaught of winter. The agencies reviewed their preparedness plans and dispatched trucks fitted with chains, plows, and sanders for test runs on major roads that generally follow public transportation routes.

 

 

Photo by MTA Photographer Patrick Cashin
NYC Transit buses along the B35 route in Brooklyn cope with the late December snowstorm that dumped almost two feet of snow on the metropolitan area and buried parked vehicles.

Photo by MTA Photographer Patrick Cashin
An NYC Transit employee shovels snow off the platform of the N Line subway station at 8th Avenue and 62nd Street in Brooklyn.

FTA: Advanced New Starts Funds

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced that it is advancing a total of $182.4 million in New Starts funding for seven transit projects already under construction in New York, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Seattle, and Northern Virginia.

The funding is as follows: $44.3 million for MTA Long Island Rail Road’s East Side Access project; $40 million for MTA New York City Transit’s Second Avenue Subway; $22.7 million for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail line in Seattle; $20.6 million for the Utah Transit Authority’s (UTA) Mid-Jordan light rail project; $19.8 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Dulles Corridor heavy rail line from Tysons Corner to Reston, VA; $17.8 million for Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s Northwest/Southeast Light Rail; and $16.5 million for UTA’s FrontRunner North commuter rail line.

These grants will not increase the federal government’s overall share in the projects. Rather, FTA is paying a portion of the federal share for each project earlier than expected because of unallocated funds in FTA’s Fiscal Year 2010 budget for new construction. The projects have already received Full Funding Grant Agreements that establish the federal government’s share of funding as well as annual payment schedules.

“By making these payments now, we’re not only fulfilling the federal government’s commitment to these projects sooner, but we’re also giving a well-timed boost to communities that have made an important investment in their transportation infrastructure,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. “We want to keep the projects moving and people working with these early investments, which will save these cities money over the long haul.”

More information is available online.

FTA Grants to Finance Fuel Cell Technologies

The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) awarded $10.17 million to CALSTART in Pasadena, CA, and $6.42 million to the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) in Atlanta, through the National Fuel Cell Bus Program. The grants will allow CALSTART and CTE to coordinate research for new technologies among fuel cell manufacturers, engineering firms, and public transportation agencies across the U.S.

“The Obama administration is proud to partner with researchers who are exploring greener, more efficient ways to power buses,” said DOT Secretary Ray LaHood. “Adapting fuel-cell technology to buses will result in a cleaner environment and quieter streets for everyone.”

“The transit industry must continue to be at the forefront of creating green jobs and establishing globally competitive technologies right here at home in the United States,” added FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff.

“As we move clean, fuel-efficient bus projects from the drawing board to the street, we move the nation closer to energy independence and a cleaner environment,” the administrator added.

Specific projects covered under the grants include improving fuel cell bus operation in cold climates; developing a smaller, less costly, and more durable fuel cell power system that will enable commercialization of U.S. fuel cell buses; and creating a lightweight, highly efficient bus that incorporates an improved hybrid-electric drive and enhanced bus design.

The purpose of the program is to facilitate the development of commercially viable fuel cell bus technologies and increase public acceptance of the fuel cell vehicles.

More information about the grant recipients can be found here.

‘Transit in Parks’ Funding Benefits Federal Sites

National parks, forests, and wildlife refuges in 24 states will receive a total of $27 million in federal grants for 47 public and alternative transportation projects through the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Paul S. Sarbanes Transit in Parks Program.

FTA will administer the funds to the U.S. National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and local partner communities. Projects receiving the grants range from a comprehensive transportation planning study for the Kauai National Wildlife Refuge Complex in Hawaii to the implementation of ferry service at Salem Maritime Historic Preserve in Massachusetts.

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood noted that the investment will benefit all visitors by increasing accessibility in these natural sites. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar added: “Connecting people to our parks, refuges, forests, and historic and cultural sites is one of the primary goals of President Obama’s America’s Great Outdoors initiative to establish a new conservation ethic for the 21st century. With these projects, we are opening the way for many more people to discover the beauty, history, and culture of America.”

Congress established this program, named in honor of the former senator from Maryland and administered by FTA in partnership with the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service, to enhance the protection of national parks and federal lands and increase the enjoyment of those visiting them. Funding for these grants will come primarily from Fiscal Year 2010 funds that had remained unallocated.

A complete list of projects and their descriptions can be found here.

 

Photo owned/taken by Directory of Kauai
The Hanalei National Wildlife Refuge in Kauai, HI, received transportation funding through the FTA program.

 

AC Transit Supports ‘Clean and Green’ Project for Area High School Girls

The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) in Oakland, CA, has joined with Girls Incorporated of Alameda County (Girls Inc.) to encourage high school girls to develop clean and green public transportation ideas.

Participants in the project, “Green Riders: Innovative Transportation Systems,” will consider fuel systems, bus technologies, and improved public transit access as a means toward the goals of increasing ridership and decreasing environmental impact. They also will conduct outreach programs for their peers and the larger community, advocating and engineering design solutions for the transit agency.

AC Transit employees will serve as professional role models to the girls, introducing them to careers that will help them develop innovations for a world facing environmental challenges.

“We are thrilled to be involved in providing experiences that expose young women to professional career tracks,” said AC Transit Interim General Manager Mary King. “I am particularly gratified that AC Transit is involved in this effort that develops young women for future leadership positions.”

The four-month collaborative project is part of the National Science Foundation-funded InnovaTE3 program, developed by the research development organization SRI; TERC, a group devoted to interesting students in science and math; and Girls Inc., to challenge high school girls to develop ecologically sustainable innovations such as green buildings and clean transportation solutions.

MBTA Driver’s Random Act of Kindness

When Ricardo Miranda, a bus operator with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) in Boston, saw a lone passenger awaiting an inbound bus on a cold Saturday morning in December as he drove the outbound route, he made an effort to reach out.

Miranda opened his window and invited the waiting man to board and ride with him to the terminus, where he would turn around and begin the inbound route. He was the only operator on that route at the time, and the passenger could have stayed in the cold for another half hour awaiting his return.

The passenger—John Bain, a college research administrator—thanked Miranda for his thoughtfulness. As far as the driver was concerned, he was, he said, just doing his job. Miranda, a 10-year MBTA employee, believes in being courteous—such as helping his riders board with strollers.

Bain was very appreciative of Miranda’s stopping. Sometime later in his day, he told his wife—Luisa Paiewonsky, highway administrator for Massachusetts DOT—what had happened.

After learning of the incident, MBTA General Manager Richard Davey visited Miranda and told him that he will receive a commendation for his thoughtfulness and courtesy on a winter morning.

“I am very proud to be part of the MBTA workforce and work with such a compassionate employee like Mr. Miranda,” Davey said. “Sometimes the smallest acts of kindness can make someone’s day, and Mr. Miranda did just that for a customer.”

Winter Wonderland on Board


Bus operating facility employees with Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County recently decorated several buses in the fleet with scenes evoking the joys of winter celebrations. While this vehicle hosts a snowman, another showcases a fireplace with a crackling fire and an external dusting of snow.

High-Speed Rail Will Be Our Generation's Legacy

BY RAY LaHOOD, Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation

This column originally appeared Dec. 19, 2010, in the Orlando Sentinel, Orlando, FL.

It is difficult to imagine what America would be like without its interstate highway system. For decades, our state-of-the-art roadways have been the world’s envy—and rightfully so. They deliver products of agriculture and industry to market. They link people with schools, jobs, family, and health care.

America’s highways will remain a crucial component of our national transportation network well into the future. But we can no longer rely exclusively on roads as a strategy for economic growth over the long term. That is why the Obama administration has begun the heavy lifting of building a national high-speed-rail system that will spur economic development and job creation along its corridors.

For years, we have watched other countries pass us by as they build faster trains. Indeed, the benefits of high-speed rail are tough to ignore. It will seamlessly integrate large metropolitan communities and economies through a safe, convenient, and reliable transportation alternative. It will ease congestion on our roads and at our airports. It will reduce our reliance on oil as well as our carbon emissions. And it will provide a much-needed boost to America’s hard-hit manufacturing sector during a time of economic struggle.

Since the president proposed his vision for high-speed rail last year [2009], enthusiasm around the country has been overwhelming. To date, states have submitted applications for $64 billion—more than six times the amount of money available.

Interest in the program has come from the public and private sectors—from state governments, rail advocates, workers, environmentalists, and a broad spectrum of businesses eager to help get America’s high-speed-rail industry moving. In fact, last fall, 30 foreign and domestic rail manufacturers committed to employing American workers and locating or expanding their base of operations in the U.S. if selected for high-speed-rail contracts. And the administration’s 100 percent Buy America requirement is sure to generate a powerful ripple effect as manufacturers buy supplies and as workers earn and spend their paychecks.

Recently, some naysayers have argued that we are moving too slowly. Others contend that states are laying track in the wrong places. Two governors-elect declined to move forward on projects that their predecessors initiated.

The fact is this kind of monumental endeavor must take place in a deliberate, thoughtful manner. As with interstates during the 1950s, we have neither drawn every single route on the map nor reached final agreements on every single financing arrangement. Few states are in a position to quickly spend billions of dollars without detailed planning. Building a nationwide network of high-speed rail lines is not as simple as repaving a road. This is hard work.

Nevertheless, signs of progress are clear. In Vermont and Maine, workers are installing track that was manufactured in Columbia City, IN. Other states, such as North Carolina and Illinois, are laying groundwork for major construction in 2011. Florida is poised to become one of the first states with a true high-speed-rail line. And President Obama has committed to creating or improving 4,000 miles of track as part of his plan for America’s next major six-year transportation legislation.

The reality is that we cannot build our high-speed-rail network overnight. This sort of undertaking requires leaders of all parties and persuasions to come together. It requires states to work in concert. And it requires Congress and the administration to maintain focus and commitment.

By staying on track with President Obama’s vision, modern, high-speed passenger service could connect 80 percent of Americans and restore the United States’ economic competitiveness.

When we look to America’s past, it can be easy to forget that America was never predestined to have the world’s best highways. Progress only became possible because generations before us dreamed big and built big—because they imagined, invested and sacrificed for the infrastructure on which we rely to this day.

Like our parents and grandparents, we, too, must exercise the foresight and courage to invest in the most important infrastructure projects of our time. If we work together, a national high-speed-rail network can and will be our generation’s legacy.

Standards Announced; Posted for Public Comment from Jan. 3 to Feb. 1

APTA’s Standards Development Program has announced the posting of 10 documents for public comment between Jan. 3 and Feb. 1.

The public comment period for recommended practices, white papers, and standards is the industry’s chance to participate in the consensus-based process established by APTA and provide comments. To access the documents, visit the “News Updates” section of the APTA web site and click the link titled “APTA Standards Development Program Public Comment.”

The documents up for review are:

Procurement Standards—Contract Risk Allocation: Recommended Practice for Payment Procedures; Recommended Practice for Managing Risks in Contracts Involving Transit; and Recommended Practice for Professional Liability.

Procurement Standards—Technology Procurement: Creating a Business Case for Transit Information Technology Projects and Procurements with Information Technology Components; Recommended Practice for Negotiating Information Technology Contracts; White Paper: Glossary of Technology Terms; and White Paper: Technology Abbreviations and Acronyms.

Bus Standards—In Plant Inspection: Recommended Practice for In-Plant Inspection for Bus Procurements.

Sustainability—Urban Design: Recommended Practice on Why Design Matters for Transit.

Security—Risk Management: Recommended Practice on Conducting Background Investigations.

More information about the standards is available from Saahir Brewington.

Older Transit Riders Are Subject of Webinar on Transportation Needs

APTA has scheduled a free, hour-long webinar on “Funding the Public Transportation Needs of an Aging Population” for Wednesday, March 9, at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

The program will examine ways that public transportation agencies can prepare for the increasing demand for their services resulting from the growing number of older Americans.

Topics will include improvements to vehicles, planning, operations, rider information, and outreach; more and more targeted, flexible services; and universal design.

Also, David Koffman of Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates will describe the funding needs report he helped to prepare under the Transit Cooperative Research Program, comparing the capital and operating costs for 2010, 2020, and 2030, and explaining how transit agencies can use spreadsheets to make localized needs and funding projections.

To register for the webinar, click here.

Plan to Attend TransITech 2011 in Conjunction with Fare Workshop

APTA has announced that it is holding its 2011 TransITech Conference, March 29-31 at the Hilton Miami Downtown in Miami, FL, at the same time and location as the APTA Fare Collection Workshop.

The conference schedule will offer joint sessions of interest to attendees of both events, as well as a shared exhibit showcase.

This year’s TransITech will provide a mix of session types, including both presentations and roundtable discussions, with an enhanced focus on information technology (IT)-specific and innovative technologies to balance with the previous emphasis on transit-focused and Intelligent Transportation Systems technologies.

APTA invites submittals for both presentations and roundtable discussions on topics including:
• Transit Core Business Applications;
• CyberSecurity;
• Cloud Computing, Service-Oriented Architecture, Software as a Service;
• Struggling IT Shops – How to Do More with Less;
• Maintaining a State of Good Repair for IT Infrastructure;
• Innovative Financing Strategies for IT Projects and Capital Investments;
• Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards;
• Building the Data Center of the Future;
• Hosting and Managed Services;
• Transitioning from Legacy Computer-Aided Dispatch and Automatic Vehicle Location Systems;
• Transit Key Performance Indicators and Dashboards; and
• Effective Procurement, Volume Buying, Cooperative Contracting.

Additional information on TransITech 2011 is available online.

Capital Metro Mural Highlights Tobacco-Free Wellness

As part of its year-long effort to create a tobacco-free workplace, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX, has dedicated a mural adjacent to the east entrance of the agency’s headquarters—an outdoor break area formerly used as a space for employee smoking.

The seven-foot by 12-foot mural by Austin artist Raúl Valdez, “Do It for the Children,” incorporates themes of family activity, positive outlook, Austin culture, and wellness.

Capital Metro said it considers the mural a gift to its employees and the community it serves, and cites its goal of incorporating public art at its facilities and on vehicles.

“I hope employees and visitors to Capital Metro are inspired by the creative vision Raúl Valdez expressed in his mural. We are transforming Capital Metro, literally and figuratively,” said Linda S. Watson, president/chief executive officer of the agency.

 

Unveiling the mural are, from left, Philip Huang, medical director for the city of Austin; Capital Metro President/Chief Executive Officer Linda S. Watson; and artist Raúl Valdez.

 

New York Subway Stations Activate Public Address ‘Countdown Clocks’

MTA New York City Transit (NYC Transit) has activated “countdown clocks” in 100 subway stations along its numbered subway lines, exceeding its original goal of having 75 stations online by the end of 2010. A similar project is underway to activate informational signs along the lettered lines.

The countdown clocks, formally called Public Address/Customer Information Screens (PA/CIS), provide up-to-the-minute next train information that takes the guesswork out of how long the wait time will be. NYC Transit began implementation of the screens on the L Canarsie Line in 2007 and ultimately plans to install them in 152 stations along the numbered lines in the Bronx, Manhattan, and Brooklyn.

The information distributed through the PA/CIS system originates from NYC Transit’s Rail Control Center. From there, customer service agents provide subway riders with up-to-date service status either as audio, visual, or synchronized audio and visual information.

“For years, transit riders in other cities around the world have been looking at digital signs to know when the next bus or train is coming,” said Jay H. Walder, chairman and chief executive officer of New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “But in New York, we were left peering down a subway platform looking for headlights. We’re changing that and improving our customers’ experience one station at a time.”

Gannett Fleming Marks 95 Years

Gannett Fleming is celebrating 95 years of operation—since its founding in 1915. Today it is an international, ISO 9001:2008 Certified company that employs more than 2,100 planners, engineers, designers, information technology specialists, program managers, construction managers, and other professionals.

The firm’s Transit & Rail Practice has worked extensively with public transportation agencies on the development of systems including the Detroit People Mover, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s Market Street Elevated rail line in Philadelphia, and the Port Authority Transit Corporation’s Lindenwold Line in Lindenwold, NJ. Current projects are underway in Richmond, VA; Pittsburgh; Dallas; and New Mexico.