Passenger Transport - February 8, 2013
Photos by Lloyd Dennis, RTA
BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor
The term “public transportation technology” covers a vast amount of ground, from advanced navigation systems to enhanced ways of providing customer information. The rapid pace of change means that public transit agencies and businesses must make plans far in advance to stay ahead of the coming changes.
Angela Miller, founder, ecology.IT, Oceanside, CA, who chairs the APTA Information Technology (IT) Committee and Emerging Technologies Subcommittee, spoke about the growing importance of buses and rail vehicles made out of composite materials such as carbon fiber or fiberglass. “Composite buses would meet safety and security standards but would also be much lighter than a traditional bus, which would mean saving fuel,” she explained.
“One of the biggest challenges facing the industry is going to be testing and certifying these new materials,” Miller continued, citing alternative fuels as well as composite bodies. “For example, if electric buses are going to enter the market, an agency can’t just put one or two of them in the field and call it a success. We need market penetration in a variety of climates and operational scenarios so we will know how the technology is going to work.” She also pointed to the importance of research and technology funding at all steps of development, saying: “If we don’t have the budget, we’re not going to innovate.”
Here are a few representative views from the current landscape in public transit.
New and innovative fuels are critical to effective and cost-efficient operation of a public transit system. (See related story.)
King County Metro Transit in Seattle has seen both environmental and economic benefits through the addition of electric-powered vehicles to its rideshare program.
Last year, King County Metro Transit Rideshare Operations in Seattle eliminated almost 50 million vehicle miles traveled and reduced more than 20,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide through its extensive public rideshare commuter van program (vanpool, vanshare, and metropool). For the past 15 months, the agency has operated a fleet of 20 all-electric, zero-emission Nissan Leaf sedans—the “Metropool” fleet—to help deliver a cleaner, greener commute to the region. Each sedan holds five people.
“Our Metropool purpose is threefold,” said Syd Pawlowski, King County Metro Rideshare Operations supervisor. “First, we wanted to test all-electric vehicles in an urban setting to find out how well they operate; second, to ascertain if these vehicles could be more economical to maintain; and third, we wanted to find out how our customers and the community could benefit from this program.”
Each Metropool vehicle saves more than 2,400 gallons of gas per month, nearly double what participants save from sharing the ride in a traditional vanpool. Each Metropool vehicle prevents 22 metric tons of greenhouse gases from entering the air each month, compared to 14 tons saved by sharing the ride in a vanpool.
The electric vehicles are just one component of King County Metro’s commuter van program. It also operates vanpools for five to 15 commuters who pay monthly fares, driven by a volunteer who rides for free, and VanShare, which connects commuters between their workplaces or homes and public transit hubs or terminals. In 2012 the program operated more than 1,280 vans in revenue service, providing more than 3.5 million passenger trips.
In Kent, OH, the Portage Area Regional Transportation Authority (PARTA) has gone in a different direction. While many public transportation agencies have experimented with biodiesel fuel, PARTA has incorporated bio-based engine products—renewable, recyclable, and biodegradable—throughout its 67-vehicle fleet.
Under Ohio’s Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, federal agencies working in the state are required to buy bio-based products to the maximum extent practicable. Frank Hairston, PARTA marketing director, explained that a manufacturer in Portage County supplies the product.
In addition to biodiesel in fuel, PARTA uses bio-based engine oil, gear oil, hydraulic fluid, fuel additive to clean carbon deposits, and penetrating fluid to aid in the removal of lugs attaching bus wheels to axles. This technology has led to a $50,000 savings in fuel and maintenance costs in the past year, as well as significantly reduced exhaust emissions.
Compressed natural gas (CNG) is a popular alternative fuel solution for public transit, and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) decided back in the 1980s to convert its fleet to CNG operation. The process began three decades ago with three vehicles powered by a Cummins L-10 engine and one early compressor, compared with today’s fleet of nearly 200 CNG-powered buses and vans and an in-house fueling station with five compressors.
Since beginning its conversion to CNG, The T has operated more than 100 million miles on the fuel and estimates a reduction to date of 1,500 tons of nitrous oxide and 12 tons of particulate matter.
Ron Anderson, assistant vice president of maintenance, has worked with The T’s fleet since the beginning of CNG implementation. “In the early days, it was a challenge retraining employees and finding experts to help troubleshoot. Today, The T seeks employees with automotive and electronics training needed for CNG technology,” he explained.
Because of Anderson’s extensive experience with CNG technology, he has been contacted by numerous public transit agencies, vendors, and manufacturers for information and to answer questions. He and Ruddell also established the Natural Gas Transit Coalition, which meets annually at the APTA Bus & Paratransit Conference, which will be held May 5-8 in Indianapolis.
Another public transit agency—the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) in Columbus—is currently transitioning its fleet from ultra-low sulfur diesel to CNG. Construction is underway on a CNG fueling station at the authority’s McKinley Operations facility which is scheduled to begin operations this spring.
COTA is preparing for the arrival of the first of 30 CNG buses. These buses will be integrated into the fleet’s rotation following the necessary vehicle maintenance training and certifications. The transition to a completely CNG fleet will be a 12-year process that will occur as the agency retires and replaces coaches and purchases new ones as part of its ongoing service expansion program. The transition will also require remodeling with upgrades for CNG at several COTA facilities, including a second fueling station at its Fields Avenue Fixed Route Bus Facility.
The CNG fleet will supplement six hybrid-electric passenger buses that joined the COTA fleet in 2010 and remain in service.
New Ideas in Fare Collection
“One place we have a lot of traction in technology today is in new, more open means of fare collection,” said the APTA IT Committee’s Miller. “We’re seeing the emergence of technology that will allow for more sophisticated mobile payments, using a mobile phone as the payment device. That’s going to drive a lot of things for the industry. First, it’s an easier, more seamless, quicker way of processing payments and getting people on board. It will also help public transit agencies better understand our passengers’ travel patterns. Mobile phone fare collection has a lot of promise for the industry.”
The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) in Salt Lake City is working with a consortium of Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile on a pilot project to test its ISIS Mobile Wallet app. By launching the app, users can enter a code, select a debit or credit card as a mode of payment, then tap the phone as if it were a contactless card. During the pilot period, ISIS users can ride free on UTA services.
“Rather than new technologies, we’re working with new applications of technology,” said UTA spokesman Gerry Carpenter. “Our current electronic fare system is an open system that accepts a variety of contactless credit and debit cards.”
He noted that future fare collection projects include a prepaid contactless card that can be purchased off site and research into a possible distance-based fare system based on phones equipped with Global Positioning Satellite software.
Another issue of importance to public transit agencies is effective customer service, specifically providing passengers with current information about routes and arrival times. Valley Metro in Phoenix has added NextRide—a real-time public transportation arrival information service that uses several electronic platforms—to its menu of passenger amenities.
NextRide allows users to access bus and light rail arrival information via SMS text, interactive voice response, or online.
Since the launch of this service in August 2011 and its full implementation in February 2012, Valley Metro has reported receiving 1.9 million SMS text messages from customers requesting information. The use of this tool means that the agency’s Customer Service Department received 515,600 fewer calls during that period, resulting in shorter wait times for customers and the elimination of four full-time agent positions.
Passengers can use this service by texting or saying the unique stop identification number on the bus or rail stop/station sign to receive the next three arrival times. NextRide is also accessible on the Valley Metro website by typing in the stop ID number.
Implementing software systems that manage scheduling, operations, vehicle location, next vehicle arrival, fare collection, and incident management can be both expensive and difficult to expand when needed. Rob Ayers, president, Ayers Electronic Systems LLC, described how APTA’s Transit Communications Interface Profiles (TCIP), developed as part of the standards program, help public transit agencies save money and effort during this process.
Traditionally, an agency implementing new technologies would work with a proprietary interface that only works with a specific supplier, and pay for updates and adaptations to incorporate other uses. With the TCIP standard, public transit agencies would be able to work together with more cost-effective solutions and greater control over the evolution of the architecture of mission-critical business systems. This standard covers a wide array of public transit business activities, including scheduling, operations, vehicle location, next vehicle arrival, fare collection, and incident management.
“Transit agency leaders can do a great deal to bring about this change,” Ayers said. “Several agencies have taken the plunge and adopted standards-based interfaces in their procurements. These initial steps have been quite successful. The next step is for agencies to educate their technical folks about standards, and then to follow up with procurement documents that require the use of standards in projects where it makes sense.”
Perhaps the most visible changes in public transit technology can be found in the vehicles themselves—railcars and buses. The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is preparing to introduce its new 7000 series of railcars next year.
David Kubicek, deputy general manager, operations, for WMATA, noted that the new vehicles will have a different interior appearance from the current Metrorail car, such as stainless steel seats in a new ergonomic design; easy-to-clean flooring instead of carpet; and additional grab points for standing riders. To aid seniors and persons with disabilities, the new cars will mark the location of priority seating and wheelchairs with a different color of flooring.
“We want to make the trip as uneventful as possible: a seamless, positive experience for our customers,” he explained.
Of course, the changes in the new Metro cars are far more than skin deep. Instead of the current two-car sets, the new “quad cars” have a cab car at either end and two passenger-only cars with no cabs in the middle. This eliminates the cabs in half the cars in the fleet, allowing increased passenger room. And the cars are Ethernet-based, what Kubicek called “rolling computers, dependent upon electronics and well supported by the industry.”
Amenities in the new cars include a linear display screen that shows the current route and highlights the current and next stops; LCD screens that will show station descriptors and have a capability for video use in the future; and automated announcements rather than requiring operators to announce the next station. In addition, doors in the new cars are synchronized rather than operating individually. “If a door doesn’t close properly, the operator will be alerted as to its exact location,” Kubicek said.
And older transportation technologies can always benefit from new ideas. Electric light rail and streetcar systems can only operate properly with balance weight assemblies (BWA) to maintain proper tension of the overhead power wires, or catenary.
IMPulse NC worked with Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) in Hampton, VA, to test its automated Catenary Safety Monitoring System along HRT’s “The Tide” light rail line. This patent pending technology uses a magnetic linear sensor to allow for remote and constant BWA monitoring, saving time on monitoring and maintenance. If it detects a variance between actual and predicted positions, it automatically sends an alert that identifies the anomaly, including catastrophic wire failures such as a break or cut wire due to theft. All information is stored for maintenance records. It can operate with solar power or receive power directly from the overhead system line.
Jon McDonald, chair, APTA Research and Technology Committee, and vice president, practice leader-transit & rail, with Atkins in San Francisco, said: “Technology is a tool. Like all tools, technology is not a cure-all, but a catalyst to enable smart public transit providers to optimize their systems, gather information to make better decisions, improve their safety and security, and improve customer interaction and the experience that those customers have.”
He also noted: “Public transit has reached a tipping point when people no longer vote for it to get other people off the road, but vote for transit for themselves to use. As we get to this point, technology will play a pivotal role in delivering the transit that people want to use.”
Photo by Jessie Lin, Washington State DOT
The online entry screen for Valley Metro’s NextRide service, which also allows users to access bus and light rail arrival information via SMS text or interactive voice response.
By using public transportation in 2011, commuters in 498 U.S. urban areas saved 865 million hours of delay in congested traffic and 450 million gallons of gasoline, according to the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) 2012 Urban Mobility Report released Feb. 5. The report also noted that, without public transportation, the cost of congestion would have increased from $121 billion to $142 billion.
“The report demonstrates how important public transportation is, not only as one of the solutions to reducing traffic congestion, but also in reducing fuel use and travel delays,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “Mayors know that a city’s competitive position is enhanced by reducing congestion. Public transportation is a key tool in minimizing congestion.”
Melaniphy continued: “Everyone should support public transportation in their community since it offers many vital benefits. For example, by taking a bus or train instead of driving, people can save money, something that is on everyone’s minds as gas prices continue to rise. Not only does public transportation help people commute to work, the public transit industry offers good, American jobs.”
Of the areas studied, the top 10 in terms of hours of delay saved are New York-Newark, NY-NJ-CT; Chicago, IL-IN; Boston, MA-NH-RI; San Francisco-Oakland, CA; Washington, DC-VA-MD; Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA; Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD; Seattle; Miami; and Baltimore.
“This report serves as further evidence that Congress needs to find the funding mechanism to support a long-term surface transportation bill that will increase public transportation service and ensure that our infrastructure needs are met,” said Melaniphy. “As this report points out, traffic congestion will continue to increase. We need more public transportation, not less.”
Click here to access the report.
Guests at the celebration of the 100th anniversary of New York’s Grand Central Terminal are, from left, Thomas F. Prendergast, president, MTA New York City Transit; Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY); Fernando Ferrer, acting chairman, New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority; APTA Chair Flora Castillo, New Jersey Transit Corporation Board of Directors; Karen Rae, New York State deputy secretary of transportation; Joan McDonald, commissioner, New York State DOT; and James Weinstein, executive director, NJ Transit.
APTA recognized three longtime officials of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) at a reception in honor of their retirement. Holding their framed APTA proclamations are, left photo from left, John Horsley, retiring executive director; Jack Basso, chief operating officer; and Tony Kane, director of engineering and technical services. At right, incoming AASHTO Executive Director Bud Wright, left, joins APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy at the event.
Left photo: Photo by Ryan A. Cole, AASHTO
BY FRAN HOOPER, APTA Staff Advisor
The APTA Business Member Board of Governors met recently to discuss key issues facing the public transportation industry and develop a work program for their activities over the next two years. APTA Chair Flora Castillo and APTA President and CEO Michael P. Melaniphy welcomed the group of 100 members and speakers, reinforcing the importance of the private sector in public transit.
This theme was reiterated by Angela Iannuzziello, new chair of the APTA Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG). “This is an important meeting for APTA’s private sector in that it shapes the priority issues we will be pursuing for the next few years,” said Iannuzziello, AECOM vice president and leader of its Canadian transit practice within its Americas transportation business.
“Authorization and advocacy about the need for reliable funding is at the top of our list, but right behind it are the issues of making it easier for the private sector to invest in our industry; optimizing industry practices to ensure successful best-value competitive procurements with fair and reasonable risk sharing; and prioritizing investment in our human resources to ensure the future of our industry.” She also noted that business must have “a strong voice” in APTA’s activities and said a work program was developed at this meeting to “make that happen.”
In her remarks, APTA Chair Flora Castillo reiterated the importance of including private-sector voices in APTA’s advocacy initiatives. “We need to build an army of advocates to take the business message to elected officials to ensure that our industry remains healthy,” she said. She also pointed to the need to focus on developing the industry’s workforce, building on her yearlong theme, “It’s All About the People.”
“Our workforce is the lifeline of our industry,” she said, “and it is imperative that we act now to grow our future leaders. … Public transportation is a lifeline for our riders and we need to continue to reinforce the value of public transit in the lives of every American.”
The BMBG’s Annual Business Meeting, held this year in Florida, also featured sessions on building new relationships between public transit and equity markets and transportation funding and finance beyond MAP-21.
APTA President and CEO Michael P. Melaniphy called on the industry to develop new strategies for financing capital projects and building new relationships with the financial community.
Mike Schneider, HDR/Infraconsult, moderated a panel on new investment strategies that included Karen Hedlund, deputy administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration; Sonia McMillan investment manager, infrastructure, InfraRed Capital Partners; Ray DiPrinzio, senior vice president, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation; and Lowell Clary, president Clary Consultants, who discussed Florida’s private investments in transportation projects. Sharon Greene, Sharon Greene & Associates, also a co-chair of APTA’s Authorization Task Force, spoke about private investment provisions that will be needed in a new authorization bill.
Participants in a panel to discuss public transportation issues and projects in Florida were Lisa Bacot, executive director, Florida Public Transportation Association; Jack Stephens, deputy executive director, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority; Steven Myers, director, Lee County Transit; and Ysela Llort, director, Miami-Dade Transit.
The final session addressed the political environment in Washington, DC, and its impact on transportation funding, the diversity of financing opinions, and the importance of strengthening coalitions in advocacy efforts for reauthorization.
Moderator Ed Mortimer, URS Corporation, was joined by Sean O’Neill, director, congressional relations, infrastructure advancement, Associated General Contractors of America; Joung Lee, associate director, finance and business development, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO); Jeffrey Soth, assistant director, legislative and political affairs, International Union of Operating Engineers; and Brian Tynan, director, government relations, APTA. Lee explained AASHTO’s idea to create a new sales tax on motor fuels, among other ideas, to help overcome the deficit in the Transportation Trust Fund.
Panelists and other attendees emphasized the importance of business members advocating for public transportation in person with Congress and inviting them to visit their offices and plants. “Seeing the faces of their voters who are making the products that are used in public transportation—not just buses and railcars but also the filters and switches and motors—is a powerful message to elected officials,” Iannuzziello said, “as are those working in offices designing new bus and rail projects and creating new technology applications.”
She asked business members to keep APTA staff informed about their legislative outreach and said promoting such efforts would be a regular discussion at future meetings.
Photo by Huelon Harrison
On Feb. 4, DOT Secretary Ray LaHood announced the availability of $2 billion in grants through FTA to help protect, repair, reconstruct, and replace public transit equipment and facilities that suffered severe damage last year from Hurricane Sandy. These funds are the first installment of $10.9 billion appropriated to FTA through the Disaster Relief Appropriations Act of 2013, which President Obama signed into law Jan. 29.
“The $2 billion we’re making available now will reimburse transit agencies for extraordinary expenses incurred to protect workers and equipment before and after the hurricane hit, and support urgently needed repairs to seriously damaged transit systems and facilities in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and elsewhere,” LaHood said.
“The department has stepped up to address the worst transit disaster in U.S. history, which directly affected well over one-third of the nation’s transit,” said FTA Administrator Peter M. Rogoff. “We are pledged to distribute the emergency relief funding responsibly and as quickly as possible to ensure that transit riders have the reliable service they need and deserve—and lay a strong foundation to mitigate the impact of such disasters in the future.”
APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy said: “I commend the FTA for beginning so quickly the process of repairing damage done to public transit systems in the New York/New Jersey region. This is an example of the excellent work performed by FTA employees.”
The legislation appropriated a total of $10.9 billion to FTA’s new Emergency Relief Program, which was established under MAP-21. The funds will be awarded through the program on a rolling basis in the form of grants to public transit agencies, states, local governments, and other affected organizations.
Details on the program, including how to apply for the funds, are available from FTA. The Federal Register notice on the grants is here.
The Board of Directors of Cubic Corporation has named William W. Boyle chief executive officer.
Boyle, formerly the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, had also served as interim president and CEO since the passing of the company’s founder and former CEO, Walter J. Zable, in June 2012. He joined Cubic Corporation as chief financial officer in 1983 and has served as a company director since 1995.
Before going to Cubic, Boyle held financial management positions with General Electric, Occidental Petroleum, and the Wickes Corporation.
The board also named Bradley H. Feldmann to the newly created position of president and chief operating officer, promoted John D. (Jay) Thomas to Boyle’s former position as executive vice president and chief financial officer, and appointed Stephen O. Shewmaker, president of the company’s Transportation Systems segment, to the additional role as an executive vice president of the corporation.
Feldmann has been president of Cubic’s Defense Systems (CDS) segment since 2008. From 1989 to 1999, he held progressively responsible positions with CDS including senior vice president and chief operating officer. He also has worked for Comptek Research Inc., ManTech International Information Technology Group, U.S. Protect Corporation, and OMNIPLEX World Services Corporation.
Thomas has held a variety of corporate management positions with Cubic since 1980, serving most recently as senior vice president, finance and corporate development. He was vice president, finance, since 1994 and also vice president, corporate development, since 2008.
Shewmaker has been president of the companies comprising the Cubic Transportation Systems segment. He is a recognized international transit executive who has over 21 years of experience in the public transportation ticketing industry.
Volaris Group has announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, Trapeze Group, has signed an asset purchase agreement to acquire Mentor Engineering Inc.
Mentor Engineering provides fleet management hardware and mobile workforce management solutions for the public transportation demand-response market, as well as Intelligent Transportation Systems for smaller agencies. Trapeze offers enterprise solutions for public transit.
“We have teamed up with Mentor over the years on various projects and share many mutual customers,” said John Hines, president of Trapeze Group in North America. “The company has deep domain expertise in the public transport market and their hardware is considered to be best in class. We look forward to incorporating Mentor’s strengths and capabilities into the greater Trapeze offering.”
Gordon Howell, president, Mentor Engineering, added: “Becoming a part of Trapeze enables us to more fully provide integrated solutions to the benefit of our business, our customers, and the industry.”
Cubic Transportation Systems has announced its acquisition of NextBus Inc. from Webtech Wireless Inc. for a total consideration of $20.75 million (Cdn.), subject to the terms of the purchase agreement.
“Transit agencies and their communities worldwide are racing to utilize information more effectively—optimizing their resources and providing intelligent travel information to their riders,” said Steve Shewmaker, president, Cubic Transportation Systems. “Since 1996, NextBus has been a pioneer and a market and technology leader at the forefront of this trend. As part of the Cubic family, NextBus will have the additional resources and capabilities to expand more rapidly while adding further depth to our own NextCity vision, which emphasizes better utilization of information, wireless communications, and mobile devices as key technologies for the future of public transit.”
Michael Smith, general manager, NextBus, added: “Cubic’s global presence will enable NextBus to expand geographically and provide our clients with the next generation in advanced traveler information technologies.”
When APTA went to New Orleans for the 2011 Annual Meeting and EXPO, more than 300 attendees signed up to help the St. Bernard Project (SBP), a disaster recovery organization that partners closely with the United Way to rebuild houses for New Orleans families who could not return home years after Hurricane Katrina. One SBP worker who led an APTA team has now found a job in the public transportation industry.
Megan Madden joined SBP’s AmeriCorps Program after graduating from the College of Mount St. Joseph, having volunteered in New Orleans while in college. During her two terms as a site supervisor, she led a group of volunteers from Veolia Transportation who were attending the APTA meeting. Leaders from Veolia were so impressed by Madden’s passion and project management skills that they partnered with her to secure funding for additional SBP clients and ultimately offered her a job.
Madden is currently moving to North Carolina to take part in a nine-month training program with Veolia.
Hiram Walker, 75, of Oceanside, CA, a 33-year employee of FTA and its predecessor, the Urban Mass Transit Administration (UMTA), died Jan. 6.
Walker began his career with UMTA in 1971 and retired from FTA in 2005. He served in many roles including regional administrator in New York City, deputy associate administrator and associate administrator for program management, and regional administrator in Atlanta. He led FTA during the presidential transition in 2001 and continued serving as acting deputy administrator in 2001-2002.
He was closely involved in nearly all areas of UMTA and FTA work and helped establish many programs, championing one of the first electronic federal grant-making systems, and guiding agency project management and regional operations. He was also a mentor to many former and current FTA employees.
“All of us who worked with Hiram, both as his associates with the Federal Transit Administration and as partners with FTA in improving transit systems across the country, recall him with great respect and affection,” said Jerome C. Premo, executive vice president, AECOM. “Hiram was a professional in every sense of the word: fair, committed, hard-working, and good-humored. Hiram was a good fella!”
Prior to joining FTA,Walker completed the coursework for his Ph.D. in planning and was a Fulbright Scholar in South Korea. He was born and raised in Parkers Lake, KY.
Ann Linnertz of Arlington, VA, FTA associate administrator for administration since 2006, died Jan. 26 following a long fight against lung cancer.
Linnertz joined DOT in 1980 as a Presidential Management Intern at the Federal Highway Administration. In the early 1980s she served as an assistant to the administrator at FTA's predecessor agency, the Urban Mass Transportation Administration, and later in managerial roles in the office of the DOT secretary. She became FTA deputy associate administrator for administration in 2006 and was promoted to associate administrator the following year.
In addition to her extensive DOT experience, Linnertz served in senior roles at Amtrak, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
She had a bachelor’s degree in teaching from the State University of New York at Cortland and a master’s degree in public administration from the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University.
Dr. Jill Hough
Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute
Small Urban & Rural Transit Center
North Dakota State University
Chair, APTA Higher Education Subcommittee
How many people do you employ?
About 10, including students. We use graduate research assistants from either the master’s degree program in Transportation and Urban Systems or the Ph.D. in Transportation and Logistics.
How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I conducted my first research project in 1994, but I began focusing more of my time on public transit in 1999.
How long have you been an APTA member?
What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I came to understand the difference mobility makes in people’s lives. I realized that public transit is not only a means for moving people, but also an economic engine.
I became acquainted with public transit issues at my job, when I started working at the Upper Great Plains Transportation Institute in the early 1990s. Originally I worked on logistics and economic development projects, but later I was exposed to public transportation issues. After that, I earned my Ph.D. in Transportation Technology and Policy at the University of California at Davis.
I have been the director of the Small Urban & Rural Transit Center (SURTC) from the beginning: I wrote the proposal to develop the center and have served as its director since 2002.
SURTC reaches out to students at the university. We hire undergraduates to help with data entry and collecting information. I primarily work with graduate students in the classroom setting, and when they help conduct research, I also advise them on their thesis and dissertation work.
What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource – that helps you do your job?
I rely on the APTA Fact Book and other printed resources quite a lot. I send students to APTA’s website for a variety of educational resources.
I’ve also invited several APTA members to be guest lecturers and mentors for the public transit class. Our mentorship program brings students together, one on one, with public transit professionals who are or have worked as general managers. Some of them have moved into the private sector. Basically, the mentor and mentee work together for about an hour a week, usually by phone and e-mail since they’re most often in different locations. The interaction begins with a list of structured questions, but the participants can add others. The process centers around what the students learn in class, but the mentors also can describe how these lessons play out in real life.
Please explain why or how this has helped.
Making APTA’s educational resources available to students—especially for classroom use—helps them find the information they will need and gives them a place to look for it. I also direct them to other reports available through APTA, such as those produced by the Transit Cooperative Research Program.
What do you like most about your job?
I really enjoy the people I work with, both internally and externally. I like meeting a variety of people, helping them discover the meaning and value public transportation offers to society. And I appreciate that I’m helping to bring the next generation of public transit professionals into the field.
What is unique about your organization (what would readers be surprised to learn)?
The work we do spreads far beyond our local area and across the U.S. We conduct research, we can do nationwide studies, we offer training across the nation at remote locations (for example, principles of transit management, advanced transit management, ethics). I teach a course online. I’ve had students from Spain, Massachusetts, the District of Columbia. Our efforts reach well beyond North Dakota.
Make sure you see Jill Hough’s video, now that you've read this!
What are the three job elements you focus on the most (your primary responsibilities)?
I’m the accounting manager here at APTA. My primary responsibilities center around:
* Maintaining efficiency in the cash receipts area, i.e., ensuring that all types of funds (cash, credit cards, or wire transfers) we receive on a daily basis are recorded in our database in a timely fashion.
* Supervising APTA’s multi-state payroll functions to ensure that the payroll is processed accurately and on time. Most members of the APTA staff live in Maryland, Virginia, or the District of Columbia, but some maintain residency in other states.
* Handling the accounting side of APTA’s membership dues, registration fees, and subscriptions by ensuring that our member and subscriber payment records are accurately maintained in our database.
Do you have direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about the two most recent times you’ve helped out a member.
In my current position, I don’t often have direct contact with members, but whenever I do, it is always a pleasant experience.
For instance, I recently was in contact with a member who had provided us with incorrect payment information. After playing phone tag, we finally connected, I obtained the payment information, and our conversation switched to the awful weather we were having that day!
On another occasion, a representative of a member organization was having trouble locating her main contact and ended up calling me—because my name is first on the list of our employee directory. Suffice it to say, I located the individual she was trying to reach and provided the names of a few more employees who could also offer assistance with her questions.
Some years ago, when APTA was administering a contract with the Women’s Transportation Seminar, I participated in a meeting in Minneapolis. I worked in registration, which gave me an opportunity to interact with members.
What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?
Of the many programs I’ve worked on over the years, one specific initiative I’m particularly proud of being a part of what was the former President’s Advisory Committee (PAC), for which I was a staff representative. The committee was responsible for initiating a number of staff benefits, including the very popular compressed work schedule APTA has offered in summer and maternity/paternity leave.
How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here?
I landed at APTA by what some now refer to as the old-fashioned way—the newspaper classifieds! After having worked with other smaller organizations, I was looking for not-for–profit companies that offered interesting and challenging work and APTA fit the bill perfectly. I have been here now for 13 years!
Have you held other jobs in the public transportation industry (besides working at APTA)?
What professional affiliations do you have?
None at present.
Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
I am a bit of an audiophile! Whenever I get a chance, I love to tinker with different configurations and components in my home theater to achieve optimum sound (if there ever is such a thing!). I especially enjoy jazz and world music.
Make sure you see Nigel Andrews' video, now that you've read this!
Public transportation agencies are on the cutting edge of investment in and adoption of innovative clean technologies and fuels while moving away from diesel-fueled buses and other long-standing technologies. That was the finding of Transit on the Cutting Edge of Clean Technology, an APTA report issued in late 2012.
In fact, the report states that clean fuel technological advances in public transit vehicles are significantly ahead of those used in personal automobiles.
For instance, the percentage of buses powered by alternative fuels in the U.S. rose from 2 percent in 1992 to 36 percent in 2011; the percent of cars powered by alternative fuels was only 3.2 percent in 2011.
“With U.S. greenhouse gases from transportation sources of all modes representing 28 percent of total U.S. emissions, it is important public transportation lead the way with innovative investments,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “But it is not just good for the environment. Public transit systems that operate more efficiently can reduce operating costs.”
The industry has accomplished these gains by employing key technologies such as electric vehicles, new advances in battery technologies, diesel-electric hybrids, regenerative braking and energy storage, and the use of alternative fuels such as biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cells. A brief summary of the report’s findings follows.
Electric and Hybrid Vehicles
Public transit agencies long have been in the forefront of incorporating hybrid buses into their fleets, including both diesel-electric and gasoline-electric hybrids. (See related story.)
According to the Transit Cooperative Research Program, a research arm for public transit funded by FTA and administered in part by APTA and the Transportation Research Board (TRB), diesel-electric hybrid buses are between 14 percent and 48 percent more fuel-efficient than conventional diesel buses, plus they significantly reduce tailpipe emissions. APTA’s 2011 Public Transportation Vehicle Database reports that hybrids account for about 17 percent of the new buses on order by public transit agencies.
Some agencies use all-electric vehicles. All heavy rail and nearly all light rail, trolleybuses, and commuter rail self-propelled cars are powered by electricity, while only a small percentage of buses and commuter rail locomotives are all-electric vehicles. Public transit agencies have been at the forefront of adopting plug-in hybrid technology as well, although the use of plug-in hybrids is still far from widespread.
Regenerative Braking and Energy Storage
Rail operators have used propulsion motor regenerative breaking technologies for many decades to capture breaking energy of their vehicles. A significant challenge in doing so, however, is that there is a limit to the amount of energy than can be stored within the power distribution system, thereby causing a portion of such electrical energy to be wasted as heat.
Consequently, in recent years public transportation agencies have focused more attention on coupling regenerative braking technologies with added energy storage devices (batteries, electro-chemical capacitors, and flywheels, for example) so the regenerated energy can be stored, used, or sold back to the grid for future use. Energy storage devices can be located either on board the vehicle or alongside the tracks, each providing certain advantages.
APTA and the Electric Power Research Institute formed a consortium of public transit agencies, representatives of the electric power industry, Sandia National Laboratory, and other interested parties to help the industry assess the potential of wayside energy storage and the implications for the coming smart-grid revolution.
Through a TRB grant, APTA directed a study to understand the benefits and applicability of wayside energy storage systems. The published report identified four primary functions of wayside systems that when used together could save energy and reduce energy costs for rail transit agencies: capture of regenerative braking energy, reduction of peak power demands, improvement in propulsion power quality and reduction of voltage sag, and use of wayside energy storage systems as replacements for electric utility power substations, saving on the cost of such substations.
Work continues to evaluate demonstration programs at participating transit agencies while new initiatives are beginning to examine on-board energy storage charging technologies.
Many public transit agencies are in the process of transitioning from traditional diesel fuel to alternative fuels including biofuels, natural gas, and hydrogen fuel cells.
* Biofuels. As of 2011, biodiesel fueled about 8 percent of buses (up from about 6.5 percent a few years previously) and about 5.5 percent of demand-response vehicles. According to APTA’s database, biodiesel vehicles account for about 7 percent of new buses and more than 14 percent of new demand-response vehicles on order by public transit agencies.
* Natural gas. Use of natural gas (compressed natural gas or CNG, liquefied natural gas of LNG, or blends) in public transit bus fleets started gaining ground in the late 1990s, growing from 2.8 percent of buses in 1996 to 18.6 percent by 2011. More than 40 North American public transit agencies now use buses powered by CNG or a CNG blend. As of late 2012, at least seven agencies were using buses powered by LNG. CNG and CNG-blend buses account for about one-third of the new buses on order by transit agencies, according to APTA’s database.
* Hydrogen fuel cells. Several U.S. public transit agencies use buses or other vehicles powered by hydrogen fuel cells, most built within the past few years. For example, AC Transit in Oakland, CA, is integrating 12 hydrogen fuel cell buses into its 680-bus fleet and, in April 2012, unveiled a large-scale, publicly accessible hydrogen production and dispensing station.
A wide array of federal, state, and local policies, programs, and initiatives have facilitated these advances, ranging from the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. MAP-21, the surface transportation authorization law that expires on Sept. 30, 2014, includes a “deployment” program focused on low- and zero-emission public transit vehicles, providing grants for purchasing such vehicles and rehabilitating existing facilities to accommodate them.
“These policies should be maintained and expanded to enable public transit agencies to continue their leadership in transforming their fleets to clean fuel technologies that lead the way for the rest of the nation,” Melaniphy said.
The full report is available online.
The report that is the basis for this article was compiled from several sources, including APTA’s Public Transportation Fact Books and Public Transportation Vehicle Databases, DOT and FTA reports, the Department of Energy and the Energy Information Administration, TCRP, TRB, transit agency reports, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, and national newspapers and trade magazines, among others.
Special to Passenger Transport
Technological advances help create more efficient buses, railcars, and vans; reduce carbon emissions; save money and time; boost productivity; and improve scheduling and rider communications, but the Capital Metro Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX, also uses technology as the centerpiece of its employee wellness program.
The initial basis of Capital Metro’s wellness program is the Tri-Fit Polar body assessment system, which records health and fitness assessments for tracking the health of the agency’s employees. Using these assessments, the wellness staff can create customized exercise and nutrition programs for each employee.
The program is administered by the system’s wellness department and managed by MediFit Corporate Services, a national wellness company. About 60 percent of Capital Metro’s 1,300 employees are actively engaged in one or more of the programs offered by the department.
It’s an investment that pays big dividends, Capital Metro officials said, not the least of which is addressing some of the chronic health-related issues associated with public transit employment, including obesity. These ailments often exact a heavy toll in human cost and financial expense (sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars), have a detrimental effect on health insurance claims, and drive up the costs associated with absenteeism and lost productivity. In many cases, they can prevent an operator from securing or renewing a commercial driver’s license.
By implementing the Tri-Fit Polar program, Capital Metro has been able to significantly reduce its health care costs, improve absenteeism rates, and achieve a return of $2.43 for each $1 invested over the last several years.
The program’s assessment phase has three main steps. The first requires participants to complete a full “health risk appraisal” that takes into account factors related to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, nutrition, stress, depression, and anxiety. Participants then perform a series of tests, including body mass index, blood pressure, hip-to-waist ratio, body weight, girth measurements, and body fat. Physical tests complete the assessment process by measuring cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, and upper-body, lower-body, and core strength.
At the end of the assessment, each employee receives a report that shows his or her current health and fitness levels, recommends training and nutrition programs, and allows the employee to track improvements.
All biometric data are confidential, officials, say, and data are only stored in the Tri-Fit computer, not online. Further, the agency keeps all member files in a locked cabinet.
Each employee is also issued a heart rate monitor watch, which coordinates with the system to record workout duration and calories burned, among other metrics. Data from the watches are downloaded into the Tri-Fit to record improvement. Employees are re-tested every three months to monitor changes in their health.
System officials noted that the most challenging aspect of developing the Tri-Fit program was, and still is, ensuring that all participants continue with the training and nutrition programs prescribed by the wellness staff.
Capital Metro’s wellness program has been recognized by the Centers for Disease Control, American Cancer Society, and the Texas Department of State Health Services as a model program for improving employee health and lowering the costs associated with preventable diseases. In 2012, Capital Metro was named “Austin’s Healthiest Employer” by the Austin Business Journal.
Photos by Tim Kelly, Capital Metro
Health fitness specialist Abraham Acosta coaches Capital Metro operator John Lopez through a customized fitness plan.
Special to Passenger Transport
Everyone knows that practice makes perfect, but practicing under the right conditions can be a challenge for bus and rail operators. Increasingly, public transportation systems are turning to technology for answers.
These days, public transit operators are as likely to step into a box that looks as if it belongs in a video arcade as they are to sit in a training classroom or even get behind the wheel in real-road conditions. Training simulators are not new, but emerging technologies have allowed them to provide increasingly lifelike conditions.
For example, the Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) in Urbana, IL, began using two FAAC Inc. simulators in its training in 2010. “It’s taken two years, but I believe the training simulators were fully integrated into MTD’s training program at the start of 2012,” said Jim Dhom, MTD’s safety and training director.
Dhom and his trainers use these advanced, computerized training systems to simulate driving challenges without suffering real-life consequences. MTD representatives worked with the manufacturer to create a world that replicates some conditions specific to its service area, such as narrow campus streets, tricky one-way roads in the downtown area, flurries of pedestrians, and growing numbers of bicyclists.
“When I started in this position in 2004, people in their first year of employment accounted for 35 percent of our total accidents,” Dhom said. “In 2012, that number went down to 10 percent.” Total accidents also declined 26 percent in 2012 compared to 2011, he added.
“The germ of the idea was actually more safety-oriented than sustainability-oriented. The sustainability side of it was more of a happy coincidence—though it ended up being a fairly prominent aspect,” said Karl Gnadt, MTD’s director of market development.
“We’re saving resources with these exercises, but we’re also better preparing new people before we up the ante,” said Dhom. “When they make a mistake, we can play it back for them. You can’t do that in a bus.”
Dhom and his trainers learned to write scripted exercises of their own in addition to using scripts supplied by FAAC. New employees use the simulators to perform pre-trip inspections, road training, and mirror setup, and to learn pivot points, turn radius, and bus controls. MTD procedure requires that trainees go through six bus preparation exercises before stepping inside a real bus. As trainees progress in the program, they must respond to a mechanical problem and adjust to extreme weather. Finally, near the end of training, they must handle a customer service exercise.
MTD also uses the simulators to conduct annual operator reviews and individual accident reviews, and is considering using them as a pre-employment tool to screen job candidates for basic driving and listening skills.
The simulators do have a few drawbacks. Some trainees experience motion sickness, nausea, and headache. Dhom and his trainers watch trainees for negative reactions—perspiration, belching, and irregular breathing—and limit the exercises to 10 to 15 minutes, keep the training room at 68 degrees, and make sure they always have ginger ale on hand.
“We’ve found that exercises with lots of turns and frequent mirror use can make things worse,” Dhom said. “Usually older people are the most affected.”
Dhom recommended the training simulators to other public transit agencies, but advised that the technology demands human support: “You need staff that are comfortable with technology and have some computer expertise. Dedicated staff people are needed to fully utilize the technology.”
Photo: Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District
BY JONATHAN McDONALD, Vice President, Practice Leader-Transit & Rail, Atkins, San Francisco, CA; GRAHAM STROUD, Product Director, Atkins, London, U.K.; and and NAVIL SHETTY, Director and Technical Chair for Asset Management, Atkins, London, U.K.
How many times have we seen projects go forward ill-conceived, hatched out of political expediency or a desire not to lose funding? With the plethora of challenges such as increasing demand, a deteriorating asset base, and funding constraints, can public transportation agencies really afford this anymore?
To fix the problem, those with responsibility for transport assets need to make informed choices concerning where to invest and must be able to justify those choices to stakeholders and funders.
Increasingly in the last year, we’ve seen growing recognition of the value of asset management to asset-intensive transport operations in the U.S. Some agencies have been working toward improvements that will help them approach these activities more effectively.
Federally, we also see this reinforced in the MAP-21 surface transportation authorization law, which emphasizes asset management and a requirement on public transit agencies to evolve asset management plans.
This increased emphasis is being reflected internationally with the progression toward publication of the forthcoming ISO 55001 standard, currently in draft and undergoing review by representatives from around the world. Internationally, best practice in asset management is already well defined and reflected through documents such as the British Standards Institution’s PAS 55. Both recognize that asset management is not just about maintenance, nor is it just about the latest database or information technology.
Ultimately, asset management is about a complete way of working for an organization to manage its business in an integrated, efficient, and sustainable way—policy, objectives, plans, and the people, processes, and systems needed, altogether, to drive them.
About 400 organizations worldwide, including Transport for London, have already adopted PAS 55. Public transit organizations have reported significant cost reductions and performance improvements when applying good asset management approaches. The adoption of such approaches also provides stakeholders with confidence by demonstrating a good control over the business.
Asset management provides a focus on managing risks and recognizing the complete lifecycle of the assets. Risk can be controlled and compliance with legal requirements assured, perhaps through renewing assets early or by revising maintenance arrangements to prolong nominal life and defer significant capital expenditure—all in a justified way.
Following political expediency and responding to the loudest voice are not a sustainable way to act, but one that’s tough to ignore. Organizations need some structure and a demonstrable approach to support the counter view—decisions aligned to clear objectives made by those who know how to run a transportation operation and who are directly accountable for the outcomes and consequences of those decisions. Of course, the politician might come up with the right answer too.
So, asset management is about getting the most from the assets. More specifically, it’s about:
* Coordinating activities to realize value, with a focus on the organizational outcomes;
* Aligning and relating asset decisions, actions, and performance measures to the core objectives for the business;
* Creating effective, fact-based plans to prioritize all interventions and investments and do the best thing at the best time;
* Marshaling knowledge about the assets and how they contribute to delivering the required outcomes;
* Understanding the costs, risks and performance needs and how these interact; and
* Revisiting how things are done in the spirit of engagement and continual improvement.
This process is not easy. Scoping a framework and implementing asset-management improvement activities (often also introducing some new or revised information technology) typically involves significant change and impacts many parts of an organization.
The process needs to be carefully managed. While this improvement may be reviewing, challenging, and possibly changing the fundamentals of an organization’s business model, it should never be forgotten that it is about people—whether the chairman or a trackman—and the processes and tools they are given to do their job.
Approaches should be relevant, effective, and understandable. It is important never to lose sight of the functional values of a transportation system, like safety.
Special to Passenger Transport
In winter, the top level at the Detroit Transportation Corporation’s People Mover station at Joe Louis Arena is buried under ice and snow. Come spring, however, the station roof will turn into an environmental “superhero” as its 6,000 square feet sprout, creating an urban meadow that yields a range of green benefits.
The station’s technologically advanced “green roof” will lower emissions, reduce airborne pollutants and greenhouse gases, provide acoustic buffering, produce oxygen, and help beautify the surrounding community. Green roofs also deflect solar radiation and reduce the energy demands of roof surfaces and building structures, combining to combat the Urban Heat Island effect, which occurs when thermally loaded cityscapes are significantly warmer than their surrounding regions.
The green roof, the first of its kind for the Detroit People Mover system, has been maintenance free after its first year of operation, 2009. The ground cover includes 12 species of plants that are naturally resistant to weed encroachment, wind uplift, and surface erosion. It all grows on a custom-designed product called XeroFlor, which incorporates several layers that retain water, provide drainage, and create a root barrier. Ballast along the roof perimeter maintains the vegetation borders and prevents ponding on the surface.
Planning the layout was key to the success of the project. Full coverage was extremely important, as was selecting a contractor who had experience with the product and its installation, understood Michigan’s four-season weather variables, and could accommodate the challenges of an urban setting.
The green roof also provides insulation, a significant structural benefit in a location like Detroit that experiences wide swings in temperatures. The ground cover prevents heat and cold from penetrating the building.
Photo: Detroit Transportation Corporation
Plan to participate in APTA’s 38th Annual Legislative Conference, March 10-12 at the JW Marriott Hotel in Washington, D.C. The conference program, updated daily as details are finalized, can be found under the Meetings and Conferences section of the APTA website.
Rep. Bill Shuster (R-PA), incoming chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, will speak about his plans for the committee during the March 12 Breakfast with Members of Congress. Shuster has already expressed interest in issues of importance to APTA members, including federal passenger and freight rail safety program reauthorizations, oversight of MAP-21 implementation, preparing for the next federal surface transportation authorization process, and addressing Highway Trust Fund financing issues.
A March 11 panel session will bring together Bud Wright, the new executive director of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; Steve Sandherr, chief executive officer, Associated General Contractors; Deron Lovaas, director, federal transportation policy, Energy and Transportation Program, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Colin Peppard, transportation legislative assistant to Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). They will discuss financing for federal surface transportation programs.
Additional speakers include DOT, FTA, and Federal Railroad Administration representatives, as well as members of the House and Senate.
The March 10 Opening General Session will feature A.B. Stoddard, associate editor and columnist for The Hill, and John Feehery, columnist for The Hill, political commentator, and president of Quinn Gillespie Communications. They will provide an overview of the issues that Congress and the administration will face this year.
The conference schedule also includes two new sessions. The first will examine Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act and Rail Safety Improvement Act authorizations and related rail issues, with a concurrent session on funding and finance proposals.
The next transportation authorization bill expires Sept. 30, 2014. APTA’s Authorization Task Force and Legislative Committee will meet to develop recommendations for next year’s rewrite of the bill that will determine how and where funds will be distributed under the federal program. APTA also is developing comments on MAP-21 implementation, advocating with congressional offices for the completion of the Fiscal Year 2013 appropriations bills, and making the case for dedicated public transit and high-speed rail funding in deficit and debt legislation that Congress develops this year.
To register for the APTA Legislative Conference, click here.
On Feb. 1, APTA unveiled the online Veteran and Military Family Resource Center to strengthen the connections between public transit systems and military communities via job fairs, industry-wide hiring goals, and information.
The website highlights public transit agency initiatives for veterans, features links to veterans’ job fairs nationwide and federal hiring programs, and serves as a clearinghouse for news and articles, reports, statistics, market research, and other resources for the veteran and military community. It also features links to websites of other veteran-related programs and a discussion forum for interested parties to communicate and engage with others about veteran-related issues.
“With more than 300,000 military personnel leaving the service every year, veterans face many challenges in transitioning to civilian life,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “Public transportation connects veterans with work, education, health care, and other important services. APTA is delighted to recognize and support transit agencies as they reach out to veterans and their families.”
The website is one of many recommendations proposed by the APTA Military/Transit Cooperative Task Force established in 2012.
APTA encourages its members to link to this website to make it available to veterans and their families.
The Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) focuses on issues significant to the public transit industry, with emphasis on developing near-term applied research solutions to a variety of industry problems involving facilities, vehicles, equipment, service concepts, operations, policy, planning, human resources, maintenance, and administrative practices. TCRP is a unique undertaking for anyone interested in public transportation.
TCRP has published an abundance of reports and products in the area of technology that may be of interest to APTA members, and best of all, they are free. Sample reports include Assessment of Hybrid-Electric Transit Bus Technology; Determining Training for New Technologies: A Decision Game and Facilitation Guide; and Deployment of Mobile Device Technology for Real-Time Transit Information.
For more information, click here. Users can also sign up for a web notification e-mail alert to receive future reports on a given subject.
BY NEAL PEIRCE
WASHINGTON—We’re in a new age of celebrating America’s cities, no longer disparaging and fleeing them as we did through the suburban-expansion era.
But who are the cities really for?
Are they for waves of young professionals drawn to glitter and opportunities? Or for America’s seniors, seeking community, support, activity in their twilight years?
Yes on both counts.
But what about families with pre- and school-age children—especially as schools improve? Are the cities for them too?
The answer also needs to be an emphatic “yes.” Because the very future of cities depends heavily on drawing young, child-rearing families.
This theme—the value of truly multigenerational cities—was embraced by a group of liberally oriented city leaders, the “Mayors Innovation Project,” meeting in Washington shortly before Inauguration Day.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt of Chapel Hill, NC, said most people of his university town seem to be in their 20s or 80s—thus “missing the middle.” And that crimps economic opportunity because of a serious lack of investors or workers.
By contrast, Mayor Joseph Curtatone of Somerville, MA, boasted of his city, a close neighbor to Boston, as “multigenerational”—“the most densely populated city in New England.” Somerville is highly livable, he noted, with a wide range of housing units, lots of little squares and centers, high transit availability and strong civic engagement. Plus 32 percent of Somerville’s population is between the ages of 25 and 34—the biggest share of this highly productive age group in Massachusetts.
More typical of today’s America is the Atlanta region, which spent decades developing spread-out suburbs. But the original homeowners, now “empty-nesters” reaching senior years and driving less (or not at all), have needs that profit-oriented subdivision developers never provided. For example: nearby medical and social services, libraries and social centers, people-friendly parks, farmers markets, and safe, walkable, and bikeable environments.
The Atlanta Regional Commission, the mayors’ meeting was told, is trying to popularize the idea of lifelong communities. It even sponsored a “charrette” with 1,500 people discussing ways to encourage new housing options, add sidewalks and make pedestrian crossing of fast superhighways less perilous.
But are these just local issues? Not so, the mayors were told by Mildred Warner of Cornell University. For decades, she said, American communities were designed as if only people with cars mattered. Today’s imperative, she said: to design our cities, our entire economies, as if every age group matters, including both children and “aging baby boomers who do not wish to be shuffled off to enclaves of only older adults.”
The formula seems a win-win. Both New York City and Charlotte, NC, for example, have experimented with school buses used in the middle of the day to take seniors shopping. Many communities now encourage senior tutoring of youth, enriching life for both. In Ithaca, NY, a Head Start program is permanently housed in a retirement community.
Denser, less car-focused suburbs and towns with multigenerational living can also be encouraged by promoting three- and four-bedroom houses and apartments for growing families along with “accessory units”—so-called mother-in-law housing in converted garages and other small residences tucked into home lots. Exaggerated fears of rowdy students pouring into such units, or less on-street parking, or imperiled housing values often trigger “NIMBY” opposition. We all too easily champion our American patriotism but deny opportunity to others, from striving families to young learners to returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans.
And then there is raw economics. Towns make a mistake when they focus heavily on attracting a single group such as young professionals, Warner warned the mayors. Instead, she argued, families with young children represent the true “Big Money”—that an average family spends a quarter million dollars raising a child, with three-fourths of that money supporting housing, health care, child care and other needs that create jobs and bolster the local economy.
The sad irony is that the federal government, with its huge defense and growing outlays for Social Security and Medicare, is paying precious little attention to children and families. The idea seems to be that these are a state and local responsibility. Locally, some cities, preoccupied with their tax base, even try to zone out families with school-age children.
Warner’s multigenerational case is that today’s America is “underinvesting in children—asking parents at the start of life, often with very low-paying wages, to pay for everyone else.” (A top example: significant deductions from their paychecks for Social Security and Medicare.) The message to the rest of us, says Warner: “Invest in young kids, if you hope there’ll be someone to be your senior nurse or buy your house.”
The mayors couldn’t miss the message: It’s to go for mixed use, a place for seniors, and especially quality housing and schools for young families. Because ultimately, local futures are our national future.
Contact Neal Peirce.
© 2013, The Washington Post Writers Group
David W. Tripp
ST. CLOUD, MN—David W. Tripp, longtime executive director of St. Cloud Metro Bus, has announced that he will retire effective April 26.
Tripp has worked for the agency for 33 years. During his tenure as executive director, Metro Bus grew from a small three-city transit system to an urban system serving the cities of St. Cloud, Sartell, Sauk Rapids, and Waite Park with fixed route, dial-a-ride, university, and Northstar Link commuter bus services.
FARIBAULT, MN—ABC Companies has named David Beagle vice president of service operations.
Beagle joined Holland America Line of Seattle in 1978 and served in several posts including director of operations and general manager-Gray Line of Seattle. From 2000 to 2009, he was the company’s vice president-transportation division.
In 2009, he founded Beagle Consulting, offering consulting services to motorcoach operators, motorcoach manufacturers, and passenger rail tour operators. He was instrumental in the planning and development of ABC Companies’ service facility in Redwood City, CA.
Jeff McKay, Paul C. Smedberg, David Snyder
ARLINGTON, VA—The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) elected Jeff McKay, Fairfax County, its chairman; Paul C. Smedberg, city of Alexandria, vice chairman; and David Snyder, city of Falls Church, secretary/treasurer.
The following NVTC board members will represent Virginia on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board of Directors: principals, Catherine Hudgins and James W. Dyke, and alternates, Mary Hynes and William Euille.
These board members will serve on the Virginia Railway Express Operations Board: principals, Sharon Bulova, John Cook, Chris Zimmerman, and Smedberg; alternatives, McKay, Jay Fisette, and Tim Lovain.
Representing NVTC on the Virginia Transit Association Board of Directors are principals Zimmerman, Euille, and Executive Director Rick Taube, and alternatives McKay and Hynes.
SAN ANTONIO, TX—Alva Carrasco, assistant director of transportation for Montebello Bus Lines, Montebello, CA, since 2009, has joined VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio as vice president of transportation.
Carrasco has been in the public transportation industry for 19 years. Prior to Montebello Bus Lines, she served as transit operations manager for Los Angeles Metro and a program manager and administrative supervisor for Santa Monica’s Big Blue Bus. She is a graduate of the Leadership APTA Class of 2002.
Garold B. (Gary) Adams, Michael W. (Mike) Johnson
PASADENA, CA—Parsons Transportation Group Inc. (PTG), a primary business unit of Parsons Corporation, has named Garold B. (Gary) Adams to the newly created position of global operations director, and Michael W. (Mike) Johnson to Adams’ former post, executive vice president and global business development manager.
Adams joined Parsons in 1991 and has served in posts including senior vice president and manager of the Road & Highway Division, manager of PTG’s Transportation Operations sector, manager of the Road & Highway Division’s Western United States sector, and manager for PTG’s Southern California operations.
Since coming to Parsons in 1989, Johnson has worked in a succession of positions with increasing responsibilities. His most recent position was senior vice president, strategy development and implementation.
CINCINNATI, OH—Tim Young has joined FirstGroup America as senior vice president of human resources and labor relations.
Young most recently was vice president of human resources at Duro Bag Manufacturing Company. Prior to that, he held various human resources leadership positions for the Sara Lee Corporation, where he worked for 20 years.