Passenger Transport - January 13, 2012
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NEWS HEADLINES

2012: State of the Public Transportation Industry

By MICHAEL P. MELANIPHY, APTA President & CEO

As I look at the public transportation industry, I must say we have a lot to make us proud. Despite the economic downturn and the financial challenges that so many of you have had to confront, you have nonetheless succeeded in delivering high quality service and products for the traveling public. I admire your creativity and resiliency in these challenging economic times, and I am very proud to be working with all of you.

The success of APTA’s EXPO last October shows the strength of our growing industry. We had almost 15,000 attendees and nearly 800 exhibitors—the highest number ever! Thanks to everyone who helped make EXPO 2011 a huge success.

As we now focus on 2012, we will continue to focus on improving and expanding public transportation across the nation. Our daily work is meaningful in so many ways—first and foremost as mobility managers. Public transportation is vital to the lives of millions of Americans. Demographics show that people of all ages, all incomes, and all walks of life utilize public transportation for daily activities. Whether it is to commute to work, attend college, go to a doctor’s office, or travel to the airport, public transportation offers an attractive alternative to driving.

Support for Public Transit
What is significant is that more people now understand the importance of public transportation. The image of public transportation has positively changed and that is thanks not only to your good work, but also to your support of APTA’s programs that put public transportation on the map. Twelve years ago, (PT)2  [Public Transportation Partnership for Tomorrow] was launched and five years ago it was changed to RCA (Research, Communications, and Advocacy). Through promoting APTA research in national media stories, advertising, and grassroots efforts, public transportation is now part of the national dialogue. And through APTA’s ongoing legislative education process, with help from all of you, we are at the table when Congress and the Administration work on transportation issues.

More and more people—in all areas of the country—are supporting and using public transportation. Yet, it wasn’t that long ago that southwestern communities such as Dallas, Phoenix, and Salt Lake City were considered car-centric cities where public transportation would not thrive. However, what we have seen is not just the emergence of public transportation in these and other cities, but the public’s acceptance and desire for additional services.

Every year, local and state public transportation ballot initiatives are voted on. In 2011, public transit ballot initiatives passed by a whopping 79 percent and since 2000, transit-oriented ballot measures have passed by a resounding 73 percent. Americans believe in public transportation and want to invest in it—both Democrats and Republicans alike!

However, that isn’t to say that it has been a smooth path. There’s still a lot of work to be done this year and in the years ahead. According to the 2009 American Housing Survey conducted by the U.S. Census, nearly half of all American households have no access to public transportation. As a country we need to invest more in public transportation so that millions more Americans have access to public transit services.

Investment in Public Transit
Additionally, it is crucial that our country invest in our overall transportation infrastructure, not just for the future, but to maintain our current systems in a state of good repair. According to the Federal Transit Administration, $78 billion is needed to address existing public transit infrastructure needs. Assuming a 3.53 percent annual growth in ridership, a total of $60 billion is needed annually for capital needs. We need a much greater investment in public transportation infrastructure—not only to update the current backlog, but to meet the growing public demand, and to ensure safety.

Unfortunately, the current level of funding from the federal government does not even begin to address our infrastructure needs. On top of that, the economic recession has hit many system budgets hard. Since the economic downturn in the fall of 2008, many public transit systems have been negatively affected by stagnant or declining state and local revenue. With less revenue from local and state taxes and less revenue from fares, many public transit systems have had to cut service, raise fares or do both. The economic recession impacted our private sector members as well. A survey of APTA business members indicated that 74 percent of the respondents had incurred flat or declining business in the private sector in 2010. Of those reporting a decrease in business, the average decrease was 25 percent.

However, there are signs that the economy improved in 2011. What is particularly striking to me is that despite severe financial challenges, public transit ridership rose three quarters in a row in 2011—for the first time in three years. Perhaps public transportation, as a lagging indicator, is showing that the economy is starting to come back—nearly 60 percent of the trips on public transportation are taken for work commutes. The ridership increases may very well be a barometer that a more positive economic climate is emerging. We need to be ready for the demand that will occur as employment figures rise.

However, it’s not just the short term trends that we should be concerned about. Many long-term trends are in our favor and support our call for Congress to quickly enact a long-term, well-funded, multi-year surface transportation bill. The public transportation industry is poised to start new projects as soon as funding is available. We are ready NOW! The longer we wait for federal legislation to pass, the more costly it will be to update our infrastructure, build new projects, manufacture new vehicles, and create new jobs.

Passing federal legislation in 2012 must be the number one priority of the industry. Short-term extensions are stifling our industry, both public and private sectors, and they are not a sustainable solution. We need to plan for the future to maintain and expand public transportation in the years to come.

We continue to be disappointed that Congress is not adequately investing in our country’s infrastructure needs. However, we are very appreciative of the access that we do have on the Hill to our nation’s federal leaders. They meet with us, listen to us, and overall, we have bipartisan support. In fact, our industry is one of the few that enjoys bipartisan support.

We need to put the pressure on this year and tell our federal representatives how urgent it is to pass the surface transportation authorization bill. Our communities need it NOW. Our businesses need it NOW. Our country needs it NOW. We are ready NOW to solve present problems and build for the future—a future in which a growing population will need a greatly expanded, multimodal public transportation network.

We don’t need a crystal ball to see into the future. By 2050, 100 million more Americans will be living in this nation. The most recent Texas Transportation Institute congestion report clearly showed that traffic congestion continues to be a serious problem. We can’t build our way out of congestion; we need more public transportation, including high-speed rail, to reduce congestion, strengthen our economy and ensure our global competitiveness.

A growing population and increased congestion are not the only long term trends that are driving future demand for public transportation. One trend is that more and more people—of all ages—are moving back to urban areas. Transit-oriented development is revitalizing our communities, as residents in urban areas seek a lifestyle with easy public transit access. Some of the biggest supporters of public transportation are young people (Generations X and Y) who not only like public transportation, but are also concerned about the environment and take a bus or train to reduce their carbon footprint. Amazingly, driving a car is no longer a must do for younger people. Some recent statistics show that in 1978, 86 percent of 18-year-olds had driving licenses, but in 2008, only 68 percent of 18-year-olds had driving licenses.

It’s not just the younger generations that are pushing for better public transportation. Our country’s population is aging as people are living longer. Public transportation needs to be available to older Americans who choose not to drive or cannot drive any longer.

Technology is taking public transportation to the next level. Technology is demystifying and transforming the rider experience. For example, with the popularity of mobile communication devices, public transportation schedules are available in numerous ways. No one has to wonder when the next bus or train will arrive. And staying connected with one’s mobile device is an easy thing to do as a rider on public transit. Fare payment will be seamless. Technology is going to transform our industry from being local mobility managers to being regional mobility managers.

Last, but not least, investment in public transportation not only provides access to jobs, but it is itself a proven job creator. Every $1 billion invested in public transportation creates and supports 36,000 jobs. And finally, the public transportation industry is a $55 billion industry supporting 1.9 million jobs.

We have to make sure that those jobs are filled as the baby boomer generation retires. We must tap the diversity, passion, creativity and ideas of employees at all levels. Workforce development is a top priority for 2012 and the years to come if we are going to succeed in fulfilling the future demand for public transportation services.

I congratulate all of our members and partners for all your hard work in improving public transportation, even as the economic recession forced tough decisions. Now, as we look ahead together, it is time to recommit to a vision of expanded public transportation that will give our country what is important: good, green jobs, a strong and competitive economy, and a better quality of life. APTA is so fortunate to have very talented, dedicated and hard-working members, partners, and staff who are committed to advancing public transportation. We are ready NOW to move forward. Working together, there’s no doubt in my mind that we will succeed.

Taking a Forward Look: Industry Experts Contribute Views, Raise Questions

BY SUSAN R. PAISNER, Senior Managing Editor

As Olympian Jackie Joyner-Kersee said: “It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret.”

A cross-section of APTA members interviewed for this issue reflected that thought, time and again. And in terms of looking ahead, nearly all of them identified authorization of a long-term multimodal surface transportation bill as the top issue for the industry in the coming year.

Other key elements included having a comprehensive vision of the future; taking advantage of new technologies; mentoring and ushering in a new generation of industry leaders; developing standards as a flexible, not fixed, tool; and making sustainability a key operational function.

These individuals represent public transit systems and businesses, and a number of them have worked in both—so their forward-looking views reflect decades’ worth of lessons learned.

What Is the Biggest Issue Facing the Industry in 2012?
The overwhelming response to this question was money. “Most importantly it’s authorization. That’s number one and number two and number three,” said Patrick J. Scully, chief commercial officer, Daimler Buses North America, and second vice chair, APTA Business Member Board of Governors. “Making sure we have a viable long-term funding mechanism is absolutely critical to us,” he added.

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) General Manager Joseph M. Casey in Philadelphia was more succinct. “Funding, funding, and funding,” he said, calling it the number one issue facing public transit agencies across the country. He added that “the big question mark is, the next time the cost of gas goes up, resulting in an increased demand for public transit services, will there be financial resources to address that demand?”

“The big issue is always money—for crumbling infrastructure and new cars—that’s the bottom line. Authorization ensures that money continues to flow to public transportation,” said Robin M. Reitzes, deputy city attorney, City & County of San Francisco, and incoming chair, APTA Legal Affairs Committee.

Patrick A. Nowakowski, executive director, Dulles Rail Project, Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and co-chair, APTA Procurement Steering Committee, stated that “getting a new transportation bill passed would be at the top of any list anyone would put together.”

But they and others agree that, while a good authorization bill is critically needed, it’s really just the beginning step. “We always start out with funding,” said Ronald L. Barnes, senior advisor, North America, Steer Davies Gleave North America Inc., and chair, APTA Mobility Management Committee, “but I think our issues are going to be even broader. Building partnerships and greater collaboration—those are our challenges.”

With fewer dollars, how do public transit systems maintain and operate what they currently have, particularly at a time when its reach continues to expand—and still innovate?

Susannah Kerr Adler, vice president/national director-transportation facilities, URS Corporation, and vice chair, APTA Sustainability Committee, noted that “we all need to approach this with peripheral vision and we can’t afford to focus on just our area of expertise— whether operating a system or building a bus—but we have to look at the broader issues and be able to connect the dots.”

How Should the Industry Approach This Issue?
In these uncertain financial times, Matthew O. Tucker, executive director, North County Transit District, Oceanside, CA, and chair, APTA Safety Coordinating Council, stressed the need to “look into other areas to tap in revenue opportunities, whether that be advertising revenue or looking at other public-private partnerships that may yield opportunities.” He continued: “We have made significant amounts of adjustments in 2008 and 2009. We renegotiated all of our contracts—and I do mean all. We transitioned our bus operations to the private sector. We changed our business model for delivering paratransit service, and we refocused our business model to increase revenue and become more of a contracts management agency.”

For San Diego, said Claire Spielberg, chief operating officer, transit services, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, and chair, APTA Bus Operations Committee, “the issue is trying to cope with increased ridership with short budgets. You have increased revenue, but if it doesn’t really pay for the ride, you’re going to be struggling.”

A recent APTA report, “Impacts of the Recession on Public Transportation Agencies,” supported this point, finding that 71 percent of responding public transit systems saw flat or decreased local and/or regional funding and 83 percent saw flat or decreased state funding. Further, nearly 80 percent of these agencies had already implemented fare increases or service cuts in 2010 or were considering them for the future.

“I think we’re learning to be better managers because we really have to sharpen our skills and be certain we’re getting the best return on investment as far as what we’re spending on labor, supplies, and services,” said Donna DeMartino, general manager/chief executive officer, San Joaquin Regional Transit District, Stockton, CA, and chair, APTA Bus & Paratransit CEOs Committee.

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) faces its own challenge: simultaneously rebuilding the infrastructure of its aging system while also eliminating what was initially a close to $300 million deficit.

“We are going to right the fiscal ship of CTA one way or another,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool. This includes working closely with its labor partners as they renegotiate all the contracts while continuing to find other efficiencies in service improvements.

“In Des Moines, we have been working on a lot of long-range planning and those sorts of initiatives,” said Elizabeth Presutti, general manager, Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority-DART. “And as we start to look further and further out, it gets cloudy: how do you plan when there’s no increase in revenue in the foreseeable future and the expenses keep growing?”

Reitzes suggested the possibility of issuing bonds or implementing some kind of impact fees. “There are all sorts of ways to be creative to increase revenue that vary from state to state,” she said. “That’s one way that agencies will be under the gun to explore.”
     
What is the Role of Technology?
Respondents agreed generally that technology advancements offer opportunities for systems and businesses to operate both better and smarter.

Rick Ramacier, general manager, Central Contra Costa Transit Authority, Concord, CA, and chair, APTA Access Committee, gave an example from his system: “We’re finishing off a long-term project where we revamped all the bus technology to be able to capture every rider, what fare type they are. We can now do bus stop-by bus stop-rider analysis.”

Kerr Adler suggested a wider approach to using new technologies: “We need to look at them in a broad manner, and also look at what other industries are doing and see if there are some innovative ways to apply those to what we are doing—or perhaps even bundling some of the these technologies with non-transit organizations. For instance, if someone is planning a trip, what are the choices? Timing of bus and rail? Walking? Traffic patterns, so that riders can have a choice of—according to their priorities—do they need to drive, is it easier to walk or bike? If the riders take a train, when does it arrive? When does the bus that travels to the rider’s home to the train arrive? The idea is to bundle them together in web-based technology to enable people to make the most effective choices.”

Dulles’ Nowakowski emphasized the rapid rate of change in technology, citing communication systems as an example. “You need to establish something that will last a certain number of years in the future because you can’t keep replacing that every year,” he said, and suggested focusing on ascertaining “what is the backbone system, and how can we create that with the ability to update it?”

Integrating new technology is another important issue for the year ahead, said Spielberg: “The rollout is quite costly but the benefits can be very, very good.”

Social media is an important trend, said Scully. “We’ve got to be paying attention to this because the users are both today’s and tomorrow’s customers,” he explained. “Whether it’s information that our operators use or fare collection data or passenger counters—these kinds of information systems that are in public transportation vehicles these days offer a wealth of information. That’s the frontier.”
     
Where Does Safety Fit In?
Speaking candidly about the role funding plays in safety, Ramacier worried that safety might be an area people “skimp” on if funding is reduced.

“I would bundle safety into security and emergency preparedness,” said Kerr Adler, adding: “You need to think of these things at whatever the stage of the project or program you’re engaged with.”

Promoting the safety culture is an integral part of how Des Moines/DART does business. “It is always right at the top of things. We’re more attuned to it than we’ve ever been before,” said Presutti. Spielberg echoed that thought: “Safety is really a function of your operation.” As did DeMartino: “Over the last couple of years there has been a lot of national attention to transit safety, so I can speak for our agency—we really appreciated having an APTA safety peer review. And it’s important to the public: they need to have confidence in our services that we will operate safely and reliably.”

Tucker said he believes that 2012 will be another year the industry continues to make safety its top priority. “APTA’s Safety Coordinating Council, as well as a task force, will help lead the way in advancing safety initiatives,” he added.

Spielberg noted that all her agency’s buses are camera-equipped, which has resulted in at least one-third of all customer complaints against drivers being rejected—because the videos show the driver operating appropriately. “I don’t know how we operated without them,” she said.

In Chicago, CTA put up several thousand cameras (and added 50 more transit police officers) as part of its focus on safety—“our number one issue coming in”, said Claypool. One video let CTA deliver evidence that led to a murder suspect’s arrest; others have provided major leads to violent offenders. This videotaping effort, Claypool noted, now acts as a deterrent in the system “because criminals know they will be watched.” All this, he added, increases the customers’ sense of security.
 
Workforce Development: ‘Sustainability’ of the Industry?
Kerr Adler called the effort to find and bring along the next generation of workers and leaders the “sustainability of the industry.” Ramacier termed workforce development “a critical area,” adding: “Transit should be the kind of place where someone with a great skill set can come in. It shouldn’t be that you’re either in transit for 30 years or you’re not. We need to broaden our reach.”

“We must develop a transit workforce for the future that mirrors the skills we need across the board,” said Casey.

“I think we have some very talented people coming into this industry,” said Barnes. “I think about the students coming out of our colleges and into our industry, and what they are bringing is phenomenal. I am excited about what the American Public Transportation Foundation is doing, acting as the “seed’ for making that happen—and building on that.”

Where Do Standards … Stand in 2012?
APTA has more than 200 standards and industry-recommended practices posted at www.apta.com. These cover an array of topics including improving safety/security, sharing risk across the entire industry, and providing common procurement specifications.

Several members noted that standards, while critically important, must take into account that ultimately they are about people—and people, as Ramacier noted, “don’t fit into standard boxes.” He gave the example of a service being operated that carries 10 people per hour, but the standard says it should be 20. He said such a service could be discontinued because it didn’t meet the standard, and that he disagreed with that approach. “There’s no mandate to serve them except it’s the right thing to do,” he said.

DeMartino said she believes developing and using standards will both provide untapped opportunities and save money “because it helps us really hone in on the best products.” Spielberg also noted the practical aspect: “Creating standards will save everybody a lot of resources in the long run, so manufacturers won’t be making 100 types of the same thing.”

Sustainability Is Greening, Plus …?
What will be the role of sustainability in this coming year? Ramacier is pleased that the perspective has broadened beyond just the vehicle “to all the things we do, whether it’s green buildings or green practices.”

DeMartino credited environmental sustainability systems management training in helping her agency identify and address environment aspects that reduce cost and pollution, such as reducing bus idling to decrease fuel use and examining how the agency disposes of electronic equipment.

San Diego offers another example. “I have ‘only’ 13 diesel buses left out of a fleet of 500,” said Spielberg, with just one depot remaining that cannot provide natural gas, and a master plan is in place to fix that. And the system in Des Moines broke ground in the spring for a LEED-designed transfer transit facility—and hopes to achieve platinum certification for it.

SEPTA’s Casey said: “It’s hand in hand—being more environmentally friendly also has a financial benefit.”

Some Final Thoughts
All these topics, said Nowakowski, “always fall under the mantra of ‘continuous improvement,’ because there’s never a finish line.”

Reitzes described public transportation as “a public necessity like providing gas or electricity. It should be looked at as having equal importance of any other public utility.” She and others, including Presutti, stressed the necessity of making sure industry leaders have a clear message and impart it, frequently.

Scully gets the last word(s): “We are at an important time in our business: new leadership at APTA, a very critical situation in funding, we have elections occurring. I think this year will really set the stage for the next five-year time frame. For everybody in the industry, being active with APTA and their elected officials; making sure we get the best possible funding mechanism for public transportation; and making sure that public transportation is at the forefront of city, state, and federal agendas is what we all should be striving to achieve.”

Legislative Issues Facing The Next Congress

BY ROBERT HEALY, APTA Vice President-Government Affairs

Following one of the more tumultuous years in Washington, DC, in recent memory, APTA members will need to maintain their strong and effective advocacy in order to advance the industry’s legislative agenda in 2012!

The election cycle of 2010 produced a more conservative Congress in 2011, with a greater focus on reducing the federal deficit and federal spending generally. While APTA and its coalition partners pushed for passage of a well funded, multimodal, long-term surface transportation bill, Congress spent the early part of the year completing appropriations bills for the federal fiscal year that had begun six months earlier and much of the summer fighting over legislation that tied an increase in the debt limit on government borrowing to long-term deficit reduction.

Congress finally provided a six-month extension of public transit and highway authorizing law two weeks before the expiration of the existing law, and it was mid-November before the annual appropriations bill for the federal fiscal year that began in October was passed and enacted into law. The annual public transit funding bill that was finally passed provided a modest increase over prior year transit funding, in contrast to the early draft House proposal that would have cut transit and other surface transportation programs by nearly 35 percent.

When Congress returns in mid-January, its focus will immediately turn to revisiting the temporary extension of the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance, and Medicaid payment bill that was passed on Dec. 23, 2011, and is set to expire on Feb. 29. That bill will hopefully provide an opportunity for Congress to restore the transit commute benefit tax to the same level now provided for parking, as well as the tax credit refund that transit agencies had previously received for use of natural gas. Both of these transit favorable tax provisions expired on Dec. 31 and were not included in the two-month payroll tax extension passed before adjournment.

In advocating for equity in the commuter tax benefit, APTA has argued that federal tax policy should not favor one mode over another, and that the tax incentive for use of natural gas is one of the best ways to reduce our nation’s dependence on imported foreign oil.

Meanwhile, both houses of Congress are expected to continue the effort to advance a multi-year surface transportation bill before the most recent extension expires on March 31. While APTA has advocated for a six-year authorization bill that more than doubles the existing federal investment in public transit and creates a new $50 billion high-speed intercity passenger rail program, Congress is struggling just to raise funds for a program that provides modest increases in just the transit and highway programs.

In the Senate, the Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee has approved a highway title that would extend the current highway programs at current funding, plus inflation, through the end of Fiscal Year 2013. The Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee is expected to mark up the transit title of the bill soon after Congress returns in January. The Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee is also working on portions of the bill dealing with railroads, including provisions relating to positive train control on the nation’s commuter railroads. The Banking Committee title of the bill is also expected to authorize a program through FY 2013, like the highway title approved by the EPW Committee. Separately, the Senate Finance Committee needs to approve its title of the bill providing an estimated $14 billion needed to ensure the solvency of the Highway Trust Fund through the end of FY 2013.

In the House, the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is expected to act on its version of the authorization bill soon after Congress returns as well. The House leadership has talked about a five-year authorization bill that would preserve current funding levels for transit and highways and be funded in part with new revenues from expanded domestic oil exploration and drilling leasing fees. The House bill is expected to include provisions related to positive train control, but it is not expected to include substantial funding for high-speed intercity passenger rail.

After both houses of Congress complete action on surface transportation bills, those bills will need to go to a House/Senate conference committee to resolve differences before a single bill can be approved by each house and sent to the president for his signature, hopefully before the current extension expires at the end of March.

Separately, the president will submit his budget proposal for FY 2013 in early February, which will start the process where the House and Senate develop FY 2013 budget resolutions, each of which ultimately guides the development of annual appropriations bills.

While all of this is occurring in Washington, the election season will be in full swing. Republican primaries and caucuses will be held throughout the winter and spring, and the Democratic and Republican conventions during the summer will produce presidential candidates from both parties. The volatility of recent elections is likely to be repeated and congressional campaign committees from both houses of Congress are expected to compete fiercely for the majority in each body.

With automatic sequestration cuts set to be imposed at the start of calendar year 2013 under last year’s deficit reduction supercommittee, Congress is likely to revisit the tax and spending debate in an effort to minimize those automatic cuts, either during the regular session or a lame duck session after the November elections.

Whatever the outcome on all of these issues, one thing is for sure. APTA members and other advocates for public transportation, including high-speed passenger rail, will need to reach out regularly to every member of the House and Senate to make an effective case for adequate investment in the nation’s infrastructure. Our effort must begin in January, including APTA’s Legislative Conference in Washington, DC, in March, and continue throughout the year, with constant contact at the district level as well as within the halls of Congress. Investment in our public transportation infrastructure will serve the nation for years to come; it will create and provide an important link to jobs, and it is the right thing to do.

Introducing Two New Columns!

As part of APTA President & CEO Michael P. Melaniphy's vision to broaden the outreach of the association, Passenger Transport is pleased to announce two new recurring columns.  One will profile APTA members and the other will introduce you to APTA staff.  Look on our web site as well to learn more about them, via video.  As always, we welcome your feedback and participation!

Sacramento Opens Light Rail Station; Will Serve Future Line

The Sacramento Regional Transit District (RT) opened its newest light rail station, located on 8th Street between H and I streets in downtown Sacramento, CA, on Jan. 9.

The 8th & H/County Center Station, adjacent to the Sacramento County Administration Center, joins the 7th & I/County Center Station on the Gold Line and is one of two stations on the future Green Line, scheduled to begin this spring.

The shelter design of the new station complements the brickwork of the older county building at 7th and I streets while also referencing the bare concrete and bronze aluminum storefront of the newer county building along 8th Street.

“I am excited to be a part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony as we commemorate yet another milestone for RT,” said Rep. Doris O. Matsui (D-CA), who addressed the event. “Together, the Green Line and the future intermodal station are critical for Sacramento to have a complete transit system that is interconnected and works for all.”

 

Photo by Riverview Media Photography, Tia Gemmell
 
Rep. Doris O. Matsui (D-CA) addresses opening ceremonies for the Sacramento Regional Transit District’s (RT) new 8th & H/County Center light rail station in Sacramento, CA. Seated are, from left, RT Board Chair Don Nottoli; board member Steve Cohn; Sacramento City Councilmember Rob Fong; RT General Manager/Chief Executive Officer Mike Wiley; board member Phil Serna; and state Assemblymember Roger Dickinson
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MTI Studies Multimodal Operations in Atlanta

The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) has published a report that uses a study of Atlanta’s multimodal, multi-destination transit network to recommend improvements that may help increase overall ridership. Understanding Transit Ridership Demand for a Multi-Destination, Multi-Modal Transit Network in an American Metropolitan Area addresses the particular needs of those who travel primarily by rail or primarily by bus and makes recommendations to further integrate and improve both modes.

“Increasing evidence shows that multi-destination transit systems are far more effective in attracting passengers and more efficient in using resources to carry each passenger than are central business district (CBD)-focused systems,” said Gregory Thompson, Ph.D., one of the authors. “At the same time, some evidence shows that multi-destination transit systems appeal largely to transit-dependent riders—also called captive riders—whose demand for transit service appears to be highly elastic with respect to shortening transit travel time between origin and destination. Our research shows that there are important service planning strategies that transit agencies can adopt that attract both types of riders to a multi-destination network, by providing more direct connections between origins and destinations.”

According to MTI, Atlanta offered a good setting because its public transportation system includes both buses, which primarily serve transit-dependent riders, and rail, which has more choice passengers. Despite socio-economic differences between these rider groups, the research shows that they all value many of the same attributes of transit service quality, such as shorter access and egress times and more direct trips.

The complete report, including methodologies, models, and other findings, is available for free download.

Report: BRT Will Lead to Improved Air Quality

The implementation of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will provide quantifiable public health benefits and cost savings through improved air quality for a transit corridor of the congested city of Dhaka, Bangladesh, according to a study conducted by Abt Associates, Bethesda, MD, for the Asian Development Bank.

According to the study, the better air quality resulting from BRT would lead to 798 fewer premature deaths for adults over age 30 and 55 fewer premature deaths for children under age 5, while the number of cases of chronic bronchitis in adults over age 25 would drop by more than 800. Abt also found that the BRT project would yield to monetized benefits of $116 million by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and enhancing health outcomes.

To conduct the study, Abt Associates measured changes in emissions of air pollutants and greenhouse gases; air quality, with a focus on fine particulate matter; and health outcomes. Researchers applied tools and methods from its Environmental Benefits Mapping and Analysis Program, a state-of the-art environmental and health impacts and benefits assessment model designed for the Environmental Protection Agency to estimate benefits associated with air pollution reduction strategies.

For more information about the report, click here.

TCRP Program Names New Ambassadors

The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Dissemination Program recently selected 18 new individuals to serve as Ambassadors for the program during the 2012-2014 term. These industry professionals will travel to various areas of the country to enhance the understanding, acceptance, and use of TCRP-sponsored research products.

With impressive backgrounds in public transit operations, management, planning, safety, community relations, and mobility, these individuals were selected from a competitive pool of candidates across the U.S.

Class members include:

* Stephen Anderson, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail, Pompano Beach, FL;
* Tamika Bell, Broward County Transit, Pompano Beach, FL;
* Roscoe Brown, Indianapolis Public Transportation Corporation, Indianapolis, IN;
* Jack Chalabian, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA);
* Diane Corral-Lopez, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority;
* Monica Ellington, Dallas Area Rapid Transit;
* Inez Evans, Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority/Cincinnati Metro;
* Christopher Pangilinan, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency;
* Tiffany Pannell, Central Ohio Transit Authority, Columbus, OH;
* Ramond Robinson, Charlotte Area Transit System, Charlotte, NC;
* Maria-Teresa Roman, CTA;
* Sandip Sen, Fort Worth Transportation Authority, Fort Worth, TX;
* Jacqueline Sheader, Centre Area Transportation Authority, State College, PA;
* Carol Thomas, TRANSFORT, City of Fort Collins, CO;
* Karen Walton, First Transit/Sioux Area Metro, Sioux Falls, SD;
* David White, Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority;
* Emille Williams, Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, Philadelphia; and
* Waiching Wong, District DOT, Washington, DC.

Each ambassador is expected to volunteer for at least two to three different industry-related venues a year to promote and disseminate TCRP reports and products

TCRP was established in 1992 to serve as one of the principal means by which the transit industry can develop innovative, near-term solutions to industry needs and demands. The dissemination effort of TCRP, as managed by APTA, ensures that program-related reports and products reach appropriate industry audiences and interested individuals. As a result of this effort, the TCRP Ambassador Program was developed to expand outreach efforts and is a joint effort between APTA, the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), Federal Transit Administration, and TCRP. COMTO manages the ambassador program and seeks to continue expanding its outreach.

For more information about the TCRP Dissemination Program, please visit the web site. For more information about the TCRP Ambassador Program, please visit the COMTO web site.

DeCroce Dies; Major Supporter of NJ Transit

New Jersey Assembly Minority Leader Alex DeCroce, 75, died Jan. 9 in the New Jersey Statehouse in Trenton immediately following the final voting session of the 214th Legislature. DeCroce represented Morris County for 23 years.

“Alex DeCroce was a true public servant, a wonderful human being, and one of New Jersey’s foremost experts on public transportation,” said James Weinstein, executive director, New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit). “His legacy is not only marked by the extensive and fitting bipartisan praise in recognition of both his professionalism and human decency, but also his understanding of—and commitment to—our state’s public transportation system, one of the best in the entire nation.”

A statement released by NJ Transit recognized DeCroce’s role in supporting Hudson-Bergen Light Rail, the River LINE, and MidTOWN DIRECT rail service. He also was instrumental in reauthorizing the New Jersey Transportation Trust Fund, which supports equipment purchases, facility upgrades, and infrastructure improvements.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie called DeCroce, a former chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, “a leader in this body [the State Assembly] on transportation issues.”

2012: THE YEAR AHEAD

New Transit Capital Projects Opening in 2012

BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Public transportation agencies throughout North America are engaged in providing more mobility choices for riders in 2012.  Here are a few examples of rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) service expansions coming soon—and when they plan to enter service.

Spring
Pittsburgh’s Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to open the North Shore Connector in March. This 1.2-mile light rail link runs from Gateway Center to Allegheny Station, extending light rail service from downtown Pittsburgh into the city’s growing North Shore area, operating through twin tunnels underneath the Allegheny River.

The project includes two new stations, North Side and Allegheny, and reconstruction of the Gateway Station. The North Shore is home to destinations including PNC Park, Heinz Field, the Carnegie Science Center, the Andy Warhol Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh.

Miami-Dade Transit is preparing for the spring opening of Miami Airport Link, a 2.4-mile elevated Metrorail extension that will connect Earlington Heights Station to Miami Intermodal Center Station, adjacent to Miami International Airport.

Los Angeles Metro will introduce service this spring on the first 6.5 miles of Expo Line light rail, from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City.

“We’re working out the technical glitches as we look to open in the spring,” said Marc Littmann, deputy executive officer, public relations. “We’ve expanded the testing program in preparation for opening, and we’re making process.”

In addition: in Boston, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority’s 4.5-mile Fitchburg Line commuter rail extension to Wachusett, and the Sacramento Regional Transit District’s Green Line, a 1-mile light rail route connecting downtown to the River District.

Summer
Also in Los Angeles, Metro will extend BRT service on the Metro Orange Line in the summer, adding four miles and four new stations to the line between the Canoga Station and the Chatsworth Metrolink Station.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) is preparing to open portions of two light rail lines in 2012. The Orange Line will launch service on two segments this year: Phase 1, 5.4 miles from Bachman Station to Irving Convention Center Station, will open July 30, while the 3.9-mile second phase, from Irving Convention Center Station to Belt Line Station, opens Dec. 3. The ultimate goal of the line is Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport.

Other projects due to enter service during the summer: the Regional Transit Authority’s Union Passenger Terminal/Loyola Avenue Corridor, a 1-mile streetcar line in New Orleans, and MTA New York City Transit’s Nostrand/Rogers Avenues BRT, 9.3 miles from the Williamsburg Bridge to Sheepshead Bay in Brooklyn.

Fall
This fall, the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) will initiate BRT service on the Jeffery Corridor from 67th Street to 83rd Street.

This pilot project incorporates dedicated bus lanes, running northbound during the morning rush and southbound for evening rush; standardized stations at half-mile intervals; and transit signal priority for BRT vehicles.

In addition: the 1.8-mile light rail Northeast Line Extension in Calgary, AB; Monterey-Salinas Transit’s Monterey Jazz, a 6.75-mile BRT route connecting Sand City to downtown Monterey, CA; and the Eastside Streetcar Loop in Portland, OR, which travels 3.3 miles from the Pearl District to the Riverfront District.

Winter
On Dec. 3, DART will launch service on a 4.5-mile extension to the Blue Line between downtown Garland and downtown Rowlett, TX.

Sound Transit in Seattle is preparing to extend its Sounder commuter rail line by an additional eight miles late this year. The new Lakewood Extension will operate from Tacoma Dome to Lakewood Station.

“We’re very thrilled, as is the city of Lakewood. The residents have been waiting for this extension for several years,” said Kimberly Reason, media relations specialist, Sound Transit. “This has been long in the making—and we’re excited about extending commuter rail further south, because we have many people who want to use our line.”

In December, Montréal’s Agence metropolitaine de transport (AMT) will initiate service on Train de l’Est, a 32-mile commuter rail line connecting downtown Montréal and Mascouche with 11 new stations. AMT estimates that the new rail line—which fills a current gap in regional infrastructure—will carry 5,500 passengers during an average weekday peak period.

Late in 2012, the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) in Burnsville, MN, will launch service on the state’s first BRT service, using standard 40-foot buses to cover 16 miles from Bloomington to Lakeville via Eagan and Apple Valley.

Rather than establishing dedicated lanes, said MVTA Customer Relations Manager Robin Selvig, “in Minnesota we operate with bus-only shoulders. Construction workers have been reinforcing the shoulders in preparation for the new service.”

Selvig explained that MVTA currently operates both all-day local and peak period express service along the Cedar Avenue corridor. The BRT route is expected to operate on a 15-minute headway for 18-20 hours a day, seven days a week.

Looking Ahead: More APTA Members Contribute Opinions

Jonathan H. McDonald
Western Division, Rail Systems Director
HNTB Corporation
Chair, APTA Research and Technology Committee

A cautionary note on investments in transportation: it needs to be made to work. A recent Brookings study found that current public transit investments in the U.S. could deliver only 7 percent of the workforce to jobs in 45 minutes or less. As 5 percent of the workforce uses public transit, we will need to figure out how to make both our current investment and new investments work for the other 95 percent of the population.

In 2012, our leadership will be faced with many decisions and choices on which direction to take the economy. Some of you may even play significant roles in these decisions. Although I am probably preaching to the choir, a vote for transportation is a vote for prosperity for all Americans.

For those in the industry, we need new ways to do business. We can no longer think of carrying 1.7 percent of the 1.3 billion trips American take per day as satisfactory. We need to be able to deliver safe, secure, reliable, and available transportation to the 99 percent for each of their 4.2 trips each per day. As if that wasn’t a challenge, we need to do this without the traditional sources of financing. Deep pocket government is no longer viable. We need to develop new sources of efficiencies in building and operating transit; and we need new partnerships with business and industry to capitalize on the economic gains transportation provides.

Lastly, we need to build trust by showing and proving we can do this. Trust in government is at an all time low. Transparency and proven success is paramount in building this trust. Without this all our efforts are lost.

Joshua J. Goldman
Director of Business Development
Proterra Inc.
Co-Vice Chair, APTA Clean Propulsion & Support Technology Committee

I want to come from the perspective of a new bus manufacturer with a revolutionary electric bus project. From our perspective, the biggest issue facing everyone is maximizing capital investments to reduce near term and long-term operating costs.

Which is why authorization of a long-term multimodal surface transportation bill is right now at the heart of our whole industry.

By capital I’m talking both in terms of rolling stock itself—buses, trains, infrastructure—and also human and financial capital. So in terms of the infrastructure and rolling stock, that’s really where we are looking to the federal government for a long-term, well funded surface transportation authorization bill. It will give security both to public transit agencies in long-term capital investment plans as well as to manufacturers and private investment firms, with them knowing there is stability in our customer’s financing.

Along those lines, we think there are secondary things to our electric bus interest that state and local governments can do. They can continue to move this industry past demonstrations and into full commercialization, with the benefit being reduced operating costs and vehicle emissions, all of which create an economic and environmentally sustainable future.

Gerald R. Hanas
General Manager
Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District
Chair, APTA Commuter Rail Committee

In the case of commuter railroads in particular, the marquee issue is going to be positive train control. It’s going to require the dedication of a large part of our capital budget and a focus on the integration of the equipment into the system. It’s a huge undertaking and it will be front-and-center on everyone’s desk for the next couple of years.

Certainly coming out of the recession, there is the issue of properties being able to service their operating budgets and not burn capital reserves to maintain the deficits. I think there’s a renewed emphasis on increasing ridership and generating more revenue—and with that comes a challenge to market and find creative ways to handle passengers and collect fares in the most efficient manner possible.

Rick Cain
Administrator
Central Oklahoma Transportation & Parking Authority
Vice Chair, APTA Bus & Paratransit CEOs Committee

Nationwide it’s enacting a long-term transportation bill so we know what kind of funding is going to be out there so we can do our long-term planning. Especially when you think in terms of it taking 15-18 months for the purchase of buses, we’re already planning what we’re going to be doing in 2014. That’s why we need to know what’s going to be out there—what we can count on—so we can meet our needs.

My second issue would be local—and that is trying to get the business community in support of public transportation. We don’t have a dedicated funding source, so we’re competing for funding with police and fire and public works. We have really focused on promoting the visibility of public transit to the public. But with so many competing interests for the available money, however, we really need the public to raise this awareness among our public sector decision makers that transportation must be a key priority.

Jill Hough, Ph.D.
Program Director, Small Urban & Rural Transit Center
Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute
North Dakota State University
Chair, APTA Higher Education Subcommittee

Doing more with less will be an ongoing requirement for the public transportation community in 2012. To meet the demands of that requirement, we cannot shortchange education and training. In times of tight budgets, these critical items may look like easy costs to cut, but the long-term implications of doing so can be devastating.

Knowledge is the tool that will help you and your staff members do more with less. Investing in education and training will give them (and you!) better tools to be more efficient and more effective in the jobs they do and, ultimately, in the mission of your organization.

Be mindful to select the most appropriate educational and training opportunities. Creating greater efficiencies will come from a greater understanding of the issues and responsibilities we face.

In the New Year, make a vow to increase your knowledge, understanding, and education. How do you do this? I suggest the following: read Passenger Transport; review the APTA web site; and identify the University Transportation Center that serves your region (click here) and ask for help finding the best resources for you.

Look for training opportunities that will increase your efficiency and, if at all possible, enroll in a college course that will address your needs. NDSU offers a certificate program in transportation and participates in a national consortium of universities to offer a transportation leadership program for professionals.

Consider all these options to improve your knowledge. You’ll be happy you did.

David Vozzolo
Vice President
HDR Engineering Inc.
Vice Chair, APTA Policy and Planning Committee

The continued uncertainty of the federal capital investment program for public transportation and funding levels presents a key issue and challenge for project sponsors planning and delivering transit infrastructure projects.

A reliable timetable for authorization of the surface transportation program is uncertain, and release of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) proposed rule for New Starts and Small Starts has been forthcoming for some time now. It is difficult to envision any Congressional movement in DC as we get mired in the “crazy season” of presidential politics.

As a result, it has become increasingly challenging for many potential New Starts and Small Starts projects to make realistic plans for specific federal discretionary funds as part of a capital and operating financial plan.

More and more project sponsors are now taking a serious look at fully funding projects with local, state, and private sector dollars, minimizing or completely avoiding dependence on federal sources.

With no definite information about federal funding commitments or schedules, public transit agencies are less and less inclined to rely on the federal dollar.

DOT and FTA, specifically Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff, deserve great credit for trying to address this challenge and help move projects along with funding and expedited processes.

To end on a positive note, perhaps the renewed reliance on non-federal funding sources will ultimately lead to stronger local, state, and private sector commitment and leveraging. Truly innovative solutions come about when the traditional sources are no longer available or reliable.

Jeffrey A. Nelson
General Manager
Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District (MetroLink)
Chair, APTA Legislative Committee

Probably the most prevalent issue is authorization—and most significant on the federal agenda side. On the local side, we’re very excited with growth in ridership and great opportunities to continue that growth in our industry—to play that critical role in delivering people to and from work.

There is a fiscal uncertainty that is in Washington and many states on the capital reinvestment in our transit infrastructure. We’re hopeful legislators will find ways to continue those investments.

Locally, we’re very involved in a joint development on several public-private partnership (PPP) projects—I see that as the mode of the future. Also, the whole evolution of transit-oriented development (TOD)—moving transit back into the communities—has been very successful—and it’s brought transit to the forefront again, with developers wanting to develop projects.

There is no question PPPs and TOD will continue to grow, and not just in the large cities—we’re seeing a trend toward the mid-size and smaller cities as well.

Transit’s role in sustainability is pretty significant as well—and will continue to be—using alternative fuels and building sustainable facilities.

What CATS Is Doing To Keep Moving Forward In 2012

BY CAROLYN FLOWERS, Chief Executive Officer, Charlotte Area Transit System, Charlotte, NC

The passage by Congress of federal surface transportation authorization legislation in 2012 will be crucial for all public transportation agencies as we plan for the future. Long-term funding is essential to maintaining current service and infrastructure as well as developing commuting options.

All public transit leaders need to rally the support of their local, state, and congressional leaders to keep this legislation in the forefront as we strive to create growing, sustainable, and livable communities. However, while we await authorization and work through these tough economic times, agencies must not sit still and wait for things to get better on their own.

The Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) has continued forging ahead despite seeing local sales tax receipts diminish to 2005 levels. We continue to look for efficiencies and processes that will bring greater productivity despite a decrease in our funding.

The proposed LYNX Blue Line Extension (BLE) is a good example of this. In 2011, CATS staff made project changes to the BLE to reduce the cost of the light rail project by approximately 20 percent. We reviewed all aspects of the line, including how to accommodate initial ridership demand and provide flexibility in the future. By shortening the project, CATS kept key project elements that will ensure a high-quality cross-county system, reliable service, and safe and secure operations.

The BLE received a Record of Decision by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in December 2011 and we expect to enter Final Design on this project in May 2012. The state already has announced its intent to fund 25 percent of the BLE project cost.

CATS is awaiting a signed State Full Funding Grant Agreement this year, as well as a federal Full Funding Grant Agreement from FTA.

We were also fortunate to receive an $18 million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery III grant from DOT for capacity enhancements along the LYNX Blue Line. It will allow CATS to increase capacity for current and future ridership growth by lengthening existing platforms on the light rail line and adding power upgrades to accommodate three-car trains.

With less money to invest in the transit system, CATS looked at finding new sources of revenue and innovative ways to finance projects—such as private-public partnerships. One such established partnership is the Charlotte Transportation Center in Uptown Charlotte, owned and maintained by Bank of America, with CATS running central bus and rail operations at the location.

The most recent innovative financing strategy for CATS is the proposed Red Line Regional Rail Project. This is a regional economic development initiative that could significantly improve the movement of both goods and passengers along a 25-mile section of track running south from Mooresville to Charlotte, with potential future extension north from Mooresville to Statesville, NC.

The full cost of the project is proposed to be funded through a partnership including the state of North Carolina, 25 percent; CATS, 25 percent; and seven jurisdictions along this corridor, including the city of Charlotte; towns of Mooresville, Davidson, Cornelius, and Huntersville; and Iredell and Mecklenburg counties, 50 percent.

The local share of funding is envisioned to come from a combination of value capture mechanisms. Value capture funding uses development-generated revenue streams to fund public infrastructure.

The Red Line Task Force has collaborated with the business and development communities to identify several value capture revenue streams that will be targeted for use as a result of unique value created by improvements to the corridor. The seven local entities are now reviewing the plan; each hopes to make a decision on their involvement in the next six months.

CATS is also generating additional revenue with the reintroduction of advertising on the outside of its vehicles, for the first time in 10 years. Ads returned to the vehicles in July 2011 and, in just 45 days after starting the new advertising revenue program, Titan Outdoor secured advertising contracts exceeding the first-year revenue guarantee of $562,500. In October the Metropolitan Transit Commission voted to expand advertising to all CATS vehicles due to the success of the program.

Implementing new revenue sources and finding internal efficiencies have allowed CATS to maintain its core services for customers and to develop its transit plans for the future as the Charlotte area continues to thrive and grow. We will continue on this forward path in 2012.

Transit Construction Cost Index Tracks Trends

BY DR. KUMUDU GUNASEKERA and BRAD SHIP, Strategic Consulting Group, Parsons Brinckerhoff, Washington, DC

Now that changing cost trends—alternation between rapid escalation and decline in unit costs—for public transportation construction projects have returned to a more normal pattern, public transit agencies likely will not be able to count on industry unit costs as a means to control their budgets. This is a change from the recent past, when agencies and other public-sector sponsors of such investments could stretch available funds further as a result of the unit cost deflation that ensued just after the global financial crisis in the autumn of 2008.

For example, in early 2011 the City and County of Honolulu reported its rail project contracts awarded in the first few months of this past year were $165 million under the project budget. Although a procurement process based on “best value” (as opposed to low-bid) led to the award of both contracts, unit cost deflation in the construction industry also played a major factor.

In the coming year, public transit agencies will have to rely on other techniques to control costs, such as accelerating the project development process through the use of alternative project delivery methods and better management of environmental reviews.

Cost Index
Parsons Brinckerhoff’s (PB) Strategic Consulting Group has developed a cost index that specifically tracks unit costs in public transportation infrastructure projects. This measure—the PB Transit Construction Cost Index (PB TCCI)—has increased by approximately 6.1 index points or 4.4 percent in 2011 (i.e., year to date, as of November). During this period, steel prices increased 12 percent; other material costs, 5.5 percent; labor costs, 4.7 percent; and equipment costs, 3.7 percent. Other component prices increased less than 2.5 percent.

The November 2011 PB TCCI value is 4.5 percent higher than in July 2010.
     
A Return to ‘Normal’
The charts accompanying this article show that public transportation construction unit costs have returned to levels seen prior to the severe financial crisis and ensuing acceleration of the economic downturn. This, of course, can be explained by the drop in demand in the construction sector as many commercial and residential projects had to be delayed or canceled. Now that the recovery in the economy as a whole has begun to take hold, construction unit costs have increased; those for public transportation are no different.

The PB TCCI comprises the following cost components: steel mill products, ready-mixed concrete, machinery and equipment, construction labor, and other materials. Because vehicle acquisition is not a part of all transit capital projects and not a true construction cost, costs for rolling stock have been excluded from the index.
     
Average Public Transit Construction Costs
The resulting indices represent average transit construction costs for the nation as a whole. Cost inflation for specific regions, capital programs, and projects will vary from this index depending on project types and work mix, as well as the regional or local construction market (including local contractor and material supplier markets) and contractor margins, which are lower during construction downturns.

Cliff Henke, senior analyst, PB, Arcadia, CA, also contributed to this story.     

Chart 1                    

 

 

Chart 2 

Transit Construction Cost Index Components

 

 

 

APTA MEMBER PROFILE

Meet John Lewis!

John M. Lewis Jr.
Chief Executive Officer
LYNX-Central Florida Regional Transportation Authority
Orlando, FL

How many people do you employ?
Just over 1,100 people.

How long have you worked in the industry?
I have worked in the transportation field for 20 years, with the past 11 years in public transportation.

How long have you been an APTA member? 7 years

What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I’ve always had an affinity for transportation policy, first working for Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) as a legislative aide. I started out in operations for the Maryland Department of Transportation working on the highway side, where I was staff director for the Inter County Connector project. I then began working in policy, where I was project manager for the highway sound barrier policy. This was the first time we implemented outreach to communities that were advocating and asking for sound walls. That really was my first real taste of the impact of transportation infrastructure on communities from an operations standpoint.

But even with accomplishments at the state level, I was looking for more immediate impacts, so transit operations was my goal.

The first month I was in operations, we had wheels literally falling off our vehicles—that was crisis under fire. I had been looking for more excitement, more action—and I got it!

From the very beginning, it’s always been about infrastructure and transportation for me.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource – that helps you do your job?
I like the ability to pick up a phone or shoot an e-mail and get a quick response on what’s going on at the federal level. APTA is just a one-stop shop where you can get everything and anything you need.

Please explain why or how this has helped.
At the federal level, that helps in terms of long-term planning, particularly from a financial standpoint. Our really getting a handle on what federal aid is available and what the funding levels are for public transit are going to be absolutely essential.

Just last week, for example, prior to holding discussions with our local elected officials and board members about the importance of extending the commuter tax benefit, I was able to go to APTA’s web site and pull down the most recent information—the status of the legislation. As a result, my board and those officials will be contacting their congressional delegation members to support the extension.

What do you like most about your job?
I love that it’s a hands-on, day-to-day operation. I get to measure my performance and the performance of my agency each and every day in terms of—Did we do our job? Did we deliver people safety, effectively, and efficiently? I love that I have the ability to evaluate that on a daily basis—and do it better the next day!

What is unique about your agency/business?
There is actually more to the central Florida region than the theme parks! We provide service to over 2,500 square miles in three counties—besides just International Drive.

Make sure you see John's video, now that you've read this!

MEET THE APTA STAFF

Meet John Neff!

John Neff
APTA Senior Policy Researcher
Policy

What are the three job elements you focus on the most (your primary responsibilities)?
I find information our members need: in other words, I perform research. I analyze information and put it into useful packages and formats to answer questions from a range of people, including members, APTA staff, and “outsiders” such as academics and investment decision makers. I also perform analyses of funding options for the Legislative Committee. Last, I have been the APTA liaison for several Transit Cooperative Research Program projects, helping to make sure they provide information useful to the industry.

Do you have any direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about the two most recent times you’ve helped out a member.
Yes. I provide information they can’t find. A couple of recent examples are members asking when specific provisions of funding laws were enacted—and where to find analyses of why ridership goes up or down.

What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?
Publications – I’d divide them into two groups. One I do by myself, and the others I do as a member of the team. The ones I do by myself that I am most proud of are:

* Public Transportation Investment Background Data.
This is the newest of the reports I am working on. It puts together all of the data investment firms typically ask for before they decide to make an investment in a public transit agency or manufacturer. I update this several times a year.

* APTA Primer on SAFETEA-LU Transit Funding Provisions.
This document, which I update regularly, describes federal funding programs, with a legislative history, and details the funding from each program over time.

* Profile of Public Transportation Passenger Demographics and Travel Characteristics Reported in On-Board Surveys. This is the most analytical report I have ever done since it combines data from 150 agency on-board surveys conducted in diverse formats into a standard format.

My favorite group effort is the Fact Book and its appendices. Over the past three years we have expanded it from an annual summary of transit data to a set of reports—both in book format and spreadsheet formats—that provide, in an historical tabular format, nearly every piece of information published in the Fact Book since 1944, as well as an annual set of comparative tables that allow Fact Book data to be used to determine peer groups. Further, we are in the process of making every Fact Book APTA has published available online.

What gives me particular satisfaction is when I see something I have written quoted on an APTA member’s web site.

How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here?
I have been here 37 years—the longest of any APTA employee. I got here by answering a Washington Post ad for someone who could do statistics. I answered from Illinois, where I was in grad school: they called on Wednesday, I interviewed on Thursday, and started work on Friday. Incidentally, I was the last person hired by the American Transit Association, because two weeks later ATA merged with the Institute for Rapid Transit to become APTA.

Have you held other jobs in the public transportation industry (besides working at APTA)?
I served in the U.S. Coast Guard, which became part of DOT shortly after I started there. After serving on an icebreaker, I was a Marine Inspection Officer, examining merchant vessels in the port of St. Louis to ensure they conform with safety regulations.

What professional affiliations do you have?
Association of American Geographers, American Library Association.

Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
Two things. I met my wife playing co-ed soccer. I was a goalkeeper and she was a fullback. And when I was in high school, I ushered for the St. Louis Cardinals.

Make sure you see John's video, now that you've read this!


 

 

AROUND THE INDUSTRY

Valley Metro Celebrates Arizona’s Centennial with Special Passes

In recognition of the 100th anniversary of Arizona achieving statehood in 2012, Valley Metro in Phoenix released its 2012 Commemorative Arizona Centennial Transit Pass this month at an event at Central Station featuring cowboys on horseback.

Before buses and light rail came to Phoenix, area residents rode horses and walked to get to their destinations. The city’s first public transit service, mule-drawn streetcars, entered service in 1887.

As a reminder of days gone by, actors in Old West costumes—and a horse, Concho—greeted passengers and local media and distributed 500 keepsake commemorative all-day transit passes good for fares on both Valley Metro buses and METRO light rail.

“While offering a modern, multimodal transit system in 2012 to serve the valley, we have a rich transit history that dates back to the late 1800s with horse-pulled coaches,” said METRO Chief Executive Officer Steve Banta. “During this time of Arizona’s centennial, we are paying respect to our history and providing a commemorative keepsake that we hope our riders enjoy.”


Caption

 

Costumed members of the Arizona Gunfighters acting troupe meet the public and the press outside Central Station in Phoenix, where they distributed keepsake commemorative transit passes. 

 

  

 

 


 

DASH Makes City of Alexandria’s 10 Environmental Achievements of 2011

Because of its purchase of hybrid vehicles in 2011, the Alexandria Transit Company (DASH) in Alexandria, VA, has earned recognition from the city’s Department of Transportation & Environmental Services, Office of Environmental Quality, for one of the city’s top 10 environmental achievements during the year.

DASH will replace the oldest vehicles in its fleet with the seven 35-foot hybrid buses and three 40-foot hybrid buses it bought in 2011. The five 30-foot hybrid trolleys, purchased by the city, will enter service in April 2012, when DASH begins operating the free King Street Trolley that connects the King Street Metrorail Station with the Alexandria waterfront.

The hybrid vehicles will operate on an environmentally-friendly mix of ultra-low-sulfur diesel and electricity. DASH purchased the buses primarily with Commonwealth of Virginia State Urban Funds, also partnering with the city and receiving an Environmental Protection Agency grant that funds the difference—approximately $200,000 per bus—in the cost between the hybrid technology and a conventional diesel-powered engine. The city used American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds for the hybrid trolleys.

Other achievements in the city’s top 10 include the upcoming closure of a utility company’s electricity generating station on the Potomac River; use of green construction processes and implementation of a green building policy; and the city’s national recognition as a Silver-Level Walk Friendly Community by the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center.

Maryland MTA Extends Program for Customers to ‘Rate Your Ride’

The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) in Baltimore began administering the “Rate Your Ride” program on Jan. 9.

The Central Maryland Transportation Alliance created the program in September 2010 and operated it on a pilot basis until October 2011, receiving more than 6,500 responses.

This program allows public transportation riders to give instant feedback on the quality of their ride, using a text-message-based questionnaire. Rider responses have led to service improvements on several bus routes and provided lessons about how agencies can best use this type of data.

“Our thanks go out to the Transportation Alliance for starting the Rate Your Ride program and for giving us an opportunity, not only to participate from its inception, but also to continue it into the future,” said MTA Administrator Ralign T. Wells. “We see a great deal of potential in this platform for customer feedback as a tool both for making service improvements and for keeping the lines of communications open with our customers and community stakeholders.”

The agency is incorporating the data submitted through Rate Your Ride into its current set of performance metrics to help identify trends and make better decisions about prioritizing service adjustments.

COTA Names Park-and-Ride Facility for 38-Year Agency Employee

The Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) in Columbus recently renamed its park-and-ride facility in Reynoldsburg, OH, in honor of longtime agency employee Jim Hutcherson. Reynoldsburg Mayor Brad McCloud and COTA President/Chief Executive Officer Bill Lhota participated in the program to rededicate the facility as the “James M. Hutcherson Reynoldsburg Park and Ride.”

Hutcherson retired from COTA in 2011 after a 38-year career with the system, serving in positions ranging from bus operator, street and radio supervisor, and superintendent of street operations to senior service analyst in the planning department.

“Jim is well loved among his peers,” said Lhota. “He … is already greatly missed as a member of our team at COTA. Jim’s expertise and connections proved integral to the improvement of COTA’s business operations and successful service expansion.”

Along with renaming the park-and-ride facility, COTA implemented renovations including repairing broken curbs and sidewalks; repaving and striping the parking lot; installing a high-capacity passenger shelter, bike rack, and ramps to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act: and replacing drains and grates.


 

 

COTA employees honor Jim Hutcherson (10th from left, wearing cap) by renaming a park-and-ride facility in his honor. At far left is COTA President/CEO Bill Lhota.

 

 

IndyGo Repurposes Bush Stadium Seats at Indianapolis Bus Stops

IndyGo in Indianapolis has joined with the People for Urban Progress (PUP)—a non-profit organization that promotes and advances public transit, environmental awareness, and urban design—to enhance some public transportation stops throughout Indianapolis with refurbished seats from Bush Stadium.

“When PUP wanted to meet with us about improving transit stops in the community, the conversation led to the possibility of using Bush Stadium seats and the excitement levels just escalated,” said Samantha Cross, director of business development for IndyGo.

Once the seats are removed from the stadium, they will undergo restoration before becoming available for the PUPstops program and for individual purchase.

The plan for future installations includes four to five additional placements at stops this spring. Requests for sponsorships at bus stops will be accepted around the same time.

“We hope to make this sponsorship process as user friendly as possible, but there’s a planning process for enhancing stops, so installations will not happen overnight,” said Cross. “We are still working on the logistics of sponsorship fees and agreements, so we hope to launch the program when we install the next round of seats in the spring of 2012.”

Bush Stadium is a historic baseball facility erected in 1931, which has hosted a variety of baseball leagues, the Pan American Games, and dirt track racing. The orange and yellow stadium seats date from the 1970s.


 

 

The yellow seats (far right) at an IndyGo bus stop were reclaimed from Bush Stadium and renovated before being made available to People for Urban Progress for the PUPstops program.

 

 

COMMENTARY

The Recession Squeeze on Buses and Trains

BY ELEANOR RANDOLPH

 Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared Jan. 1, 2012, in the Sunday Observer column of The New York Times.

For the average American driver, the time wasted in traffic jams has more than doubled in 30 years. The best way of easing that gridlock—not to mention saving gas, curbing pollution and finally finishing that novel—is public transit.

Yet, as more Americans are sensibly leaving their cars at home and opting for the bus or train, mass transit is in deep financial trouble. “We are going over the cliff,” Elliot Sander, chairman of the Regional Plan Association, said recently. “We will be back where we were in the 1970s and 1980s, where the older systems across the country are literally falling apart.”

That alarm is not an idle one. But it comes with one piece of good news: the number of trips taken annually on public transit is now more than 10 billion and rising, compared with 7.8 billion trips in 1995, outstripping population growth and the number of miles traveled on streets and highways.

Ridership, which dipped during the recession in 2009, is rising again as more baby boomer retirees take buses and high gas prices push more people to try the thriftier option. Even some cities in areas dominated by cars—like Dallas and Salt Lake City—have expanded their public transit systems.

The problem is, financing for mass transit has not kept pace as cash-strapped state and local governments limit their support. The federal government, which provides only about 17 percent of financing for transit systems, should be doing a lot more, particularly since nearly 60 percent of rides are related to work, with commuters from every income level.

Of the 18.4 cents per gallon federal gas tax, only 2.86 cents goes to public transit and almost all of the rest is reserved for highways. Although Congress has increased transit support in recent years, it is still too stingy to maintain stable services in many areas. The Federal Transit Administration has estimated that to bring all of the nation’s networks up to good repair—not expanding them, but mostly fixing what’s already there — would take more than $78 billion.

Meanwhile, systems are relying more on fares or state and local money. Many have had to cut back services, increase fares, raise local taxes, lay off workers, borrow to meet operating costs and put off replacing old vehicles. The chart below shows how 16 large transit agencies coped with dwindling resources.

In Chicago, the Transit Authority has seen a huge drop in local funding, largely derived from sales taxes that plunged with the recession. Transit officials borrowed more than $550 million in a four-year period starting in 2008 to pay day-to-day expenses—a desperate and costly move. And even with fare increases, in 2010 bus service was cut 18 percent and rail service 9 percent.

In Atlanta, Beverly Scott, general manager of the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, said that her agency faced “massive, draconian, horrifying” budget gaps in 2009. It consolidated bus routes and cut train service. That means more crowding and longer waits, even with higher fares. In Boston ridership is up, but so is debt; last year, virtually every dollar paid by riders went to debt service. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York, by far the nation’s biggest, managed to balance its budget, but has also cut services and raised fares for three years.

The budget pain comes at a time when more people are finally realizing that public transit is a better deal than driving. The question is how we turn that into a broader cultural shift.

The president of the American Public Transportation Association, Michael Melaniphy, predicts that more commuters will reach a choking point and say: “I can’t sit in this car any longer and waste any more time.” On a bus, you can text friends legally. On a train, you can keep your eyes on a Kindle. As riders leave their cars, Congress should reward all of us by financing first-rate public transportation that saves gas, tempers, time and the environment.
     
Eleanor Randolph is a member of The New York Times Editorial Board.


 

PEOPLE ON THE MOVE

Abra Horne, Timothy White
NEW YORK, NY—Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) announced the appointments of Abra Horne as a senior supervising planner in the Orlando office and Timothy White as a senior supervising engineer in the Honolulu office, serving as manager of safety and security for the general engineering consultant on the Honolulu High-Capacity Transit Corridor Project.

Horne has 20 years of experience managing complex corridor and policy studies. She has collaborated with transit and roadway engineers, Federal Transit Administration staff, Federal Highway Administration staff, communities, metropolitan planning organizations, and transit agencies to advance multimodal projects from conceptual analysis and environmental documentation to design and implementation.

White is a Certified Safety Professional with more than 31 years of experience as an environmental health and safety professional. He comes to PB after 23 years with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, where he was executive director of safety, manager of system safety programs, and an environmental safety officer.

Neil Dubord
VANCOUVER, BC—The Transit Police Board of TransLink selected Neil Dubord, a 25-year veteran of the Edmonton (AB) Police Service, as the new chief officer for the 167-officer force that patrols metropolitan Vancouver’s transit system. He will be sworn in Feb. 1.

Dubord currently serves as deputy chief of Edmonton’s Community Policing Bureau. He was named the best overall recruit in his training class in 1986 and graduated as a constable in Edmonton’s downtown section, with promotions to sergeant in 1999, staff sergeant in 2003, inspector in 2007, superintendent in 2009, and deputy chief in 2010.