Passenger Transport - June 28, 2013
APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy called for a federal authorization of $50 billion over six years for high-speed and intercity passenger rail when he testified June 27 before the Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“We know this committee recognizes the importance of transportation investment to the nation’s economic competitiveness and prosperity, Melaniphy said. “Expansion and improvement of our current intercity passenger rail system will require a commitment of federal, state, local, and private resources—a combination of funding and financing strategies that will not only pay for projects, but also speed their planning, design, and construction.”
During his testimony, Melaniphy stressed the importance of investing in “an integrated network of passenger rail services”—including high-speed rail, intercity rail, commuter rail, public transit, and intermodal connections—as the U.S. population grows by almost 150 million by 2050.
“We recognize the current fiscal pressures that the nation faces,” he said, “and the challenges that creates for Congress in providing financial resources and setting priorities within the federal budget. However, we believe that investments in infrastructure, including passenger rail, are among the highest-value investments the nation can make. These investments will provide benefits to the nation for the next hundred years.”
Melaniphy also addressed issues surrounding the implementation of positive train control by commuter railroads.
Rep. Jeff Denham (R-CA) chairs the subcommittee. Others who testified were FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo; Edward Hamberger, president and chief executive officer, Association of American Railroads; Mike Lewis, director, Rhode Island DOT, testifying on behalf of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials; and John P. Tolman, vice president and national legislative representative, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and Trainmen.
Photo by Steve Barrett
On June 27, appropriations committees in both the House and Senate approved Fiscal Year 2014 appropriations bills that include transportation funding. The DOT-Housing and Urban Development bills passed 28-20 in the House and 21-8 in the Senate.
The House appropriations bill provides $10.54 billion for FTA, compared with $10.72 billion in the Senate version.
The separate bills now go to the floor of their respective chambers.
Calgary Transit in Calgary, AB, is recovering after devastating floods last week left parts of the public transit system underwater.
As of June 27, one week after the agency’s 500 staff members were forced to evacuate the main operations, call, and security center, all of the agency’s bus lines and three of four light rail lines were back on line.
“We’re hopeful about reopening the last line on July 4, in time for the Calgary Stampede, which starts on July 5 and lasts for 10 days,” said Ron Collins, media relations director. “It’s our biggest event of the year, and our ridership really spikes. We carry many, many people during the Stampede,” he said.
As for the remaining closed light rail line, crews are in the process of replacing tracks, which Collins said resembled a roller coaster because of flooding.
He also noted that that crews pumped 28,500 cubic meters of water—that’s 28 million liters—out of a single tunnel in efforts to return a transit corridor to operation.
During the flood, Calgary Transit deployed dozens of buses to transport hundreds of evacuees to emergency centers as rising flood waters from the Elbow and Bow rivers inundated the core of downtown Calgary. “Our buses played a major role, along with police and fire, in evacuating people and getting them to higher, safer ground,” Collins said.
He also said evacuation was hampered by road conditions that “changed by the minute” as streets originally deemed accessible quickly became impassable. Calgary Transit is currently working with emergency services to return evacuees to their homes as more neighborhoods become accessible.
The agency is communicating with its customers via Twitter because the city is still without telephone service.
“We gained 4,000 new followers in 72 hours, and we’re getting a lot of good feedback from customers about keeping them informed,” Collins said. “The Calgary Transit family really pulled together, from operations to facilities to planning.
Photo courtesy of Calgary Transit
APTA filed a lawsuit June 25 in federal court seeking to halt frivolous patent infringement claims against public transit systems throughout the country by two foreign companies.
Over the last three years, Arrivalstar S.A., located in Luxembourg, and its affiliate, Melvino Technologies Limited, an offshore firm in the British Virgin Islands, have filed claims stating that they own or are the exclusive licensee of patents relating to arrival and status messaging systems for the transportation industry. Arrivalstar has made these claims, yet it appears it has never done research or developed technology or products related to the patents.
APTA, which is being represented by the Public Patent Foundation, is asking the United States District Court, Southern District of New York, to declare that its public transportation system members cannot be sued for patent infringement by ArrivalStar. The lawsuit states that ArrivalStar’s patents are invalid and unenforceable and that the claims cover ineligible subject matter. In addition, the lawsuit asserts that the 11th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits state and regional entities from being subject to such suits.
In its lawsuit, APTA states that ArrivalStar’s goal in filing each suit was not to seek a remedy for a legitimate claim, but rather to settle for an amount below the cost to each defendant to defend itself in court. At least 11 public transit systems have been subject to these harassment claims and decided to settle them rather than undertake expensive and time-consuming litigation, which would cost tens of millions of dollars.
“Our public transit systems have been improving the customer experience by providing real-time schedule and travel information to riders,” said James LaRusch, APTA chief counsel. “These systems, which are operating under severe financial constraints, are being saddled with these outrageous harassment claims that are a waste of time and money. This must be stopped.”
Also yesterday, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-IL), a member of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, sent a letter to Federal Trade Commission Chairwoman Edith Ramirez urging the agency to follow through with its proposal to launch an investigation into practices of “patent assertion entities” suing governmental agencies, transit systems included, over questionable claims of patent infringement.
“This type of litigation undercuts the purpose of the patent system and exploits the fact that public agencies are at a financial disadvantage,” said Lipinski, co-chair of the new Public Transportation Caucus. “These lawsuits only hurt taxpayers in my district and elsewhere who rely on a vital public service, especially when many transit agencies already are struggling in these tight financial times.”
The increase in patent infringement claims against public transit systems parallels claims on software and electronic processes in other industries. On June 4, the Obama Administration cracked down on these claims by issuing several executive orders and proposing congressional action “to protect innovators from frivolous legislation.”
For more details on the lawsuit, click here. The text of Lipinski’s letter to the FTC chairwoman can be found here.
President Obama announced on June 25 a sweeping package of policy measures to address global climate change, including a handful of actions targeted to transportation and infrastructure.
The measures in the president’s Climate Action Plan are clustered under three far-reaching goals: cut carbon pollution in America, prepare the U.S. for the impacts of climate change, and lead international efforts to address global climate change.
The plan breaks down each goal into specific steps and actions or proposals. Excerpts of those related to transportation and transportation infrastructure follow:
Cut Carbon Pollution In America
Building a 21st-Century Transportation Sector
* Increasing Fuel Economy Standards: In 2011, the administration finalized fuel economy standards for Model Year 2014-2018 for heavy-duty trucks, buses, and vans, which the administration says will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 270 million metric tons and save 530 million barrels of oil. In the second term, the administration will partner with industry leaders and others to develop post-2018 fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles to further reduce fuel consumption.
* Developing and Deploying Advanced Transportation Technologies: The administration will leverage public-private partnerships to deploy cleaner fuels in every transportation mode, and will continue to work to improve transportation options and lower costs.
Prepare the U.S. for the Impacts of Climate Change
Building Stronger, Safer Communities and Infrastructure
* Supporting Communities as They Prepare for Climate Impacts: Throughout 2013, FHWA is working with 19 state and regional partners and other federal agencies to assess local transportation infrastructure vulnerability.
* Boosting the Resilience of Buildings and Infrastructure: The president’s FY 2014 budget proposes $200 million through the Transportation Leadership Awards program for Climate Ready Infrastructure in communities that build enhanced preparedness into planning efforts and have either proposed or are ready to break ground on infrastructure projects, including public transit and rail.
* Rebuilding and Learning from Hurricane Sandy: FTA is dedicating $5.7 billion to four of the area’s most impacted public transit agencies, of which $1.3 billion will be allocated to locally prioritized projects to make the systems more resilient. FTA also will develop a competitive process for additional funding to identify and support larger, stand-alone resilience projects in the region.
Protecting Our Economy and Natural Resources
* Assessing Climate-Change Impacts in the U.S.: In spring 2014, the administration will release the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, highlighting new advances in climate-change impacts nationwide and on critical sectors of the economy, including transportation.
* Providing a Toolkit for Climate Resilience: Federal agencies will create a virtual climate resilience toolkit that centralizes access to tools, services, and best practices, including interactive sea-level rise maps and a calculator to aid post-Sandy rebuilding in New York and New Jersey.
For details, click here.
New Flyer Industries Inc. has announced its acquisition of North American Bus Industries Inc. (NABI) from an affiliate of Cerberus Capital Management L.P. for cash consideration of approximately $80 million, virtually all for the satisfaction of affiliate debt.
NABI was founded in 1992 and was known prior to October 1996 as American Ikarus; Cerberus acquired it in 2006. Its holdings include bus manufacturing operations in Anniston, AL, a parts distribution center in Delaware, OH, and a service center in Jurupa Valley, CA. The company also offers aftermarket parts from more than 200 different suppliers and support for public transit buses throughout North America.
The company plans to operate the NABI bus and NABI parts operations under the names NABI Bus LLC and NABI Parts LLC, respectively, within the New Flyer group of companies.
“We are excited about this opportunity,” said New Flyer President and Chief Executive Officer Paul Soubry, “and believe that the combination of our two companies provides for a broader portfolio of buses and aftermarket products and services to enhance our customer support for operators of transit buses in the U.S. and Canada. With this combination of New Flyer and NABI, we believe that our companies will be stronger and more stable together.”
Jim Marcotuli, NABI president and chief executive officer, added: “New Flyer is a world-class company and this acquisition will provide NABI with synergistic opportunities to achieve an even higher level of performance and success. The combined entity will be positioned to provide customers with an enhanced product offering and superior customer service.”
The combined entity will employ more than 3,000 people and will provide product support to more than 40,000 buses currently in operation in Canada and the U.S.
New Flyer has manufacturing facilities in Winnipeg, MB, and St. Cloud and Crookston, MN. It also operates a parts fabrication facility in Elkhart, IN, and parts distribution centers in Winnipeg; Brampton, ON; Erlanger, KY; and Fresno, CA.
Metro Transit in Minneapolis/St. Paul introduced the community to its newest service, the Metro Red Line, with public events June 22 at major stations and free rides through June 30 on the line and Minnesota Valley Transit Authority (MVTA) connecting bus routes.
The new Bus Rapid Transit line operates between Apple Valley, MN, and the Mall of America, with additional stops at 147th Street and 140th Street in Apple Valley and the Cedar Grove Station in Eagan. It meets up with Metro Blue Line light rail at the Mall of America.
The line’s vehicles operate on new bus-only shoulder lanes along Cedar Avenue and Highway 77. Amenities along the way include level boarding and real-time signs.
Local officials and project partners participated in a celebratory event at the Apple Valley Transit Station. Minnesota Twins mascot T.C. Bear visited that station, and the Minnesota Zoo provided opening-day activities and prizes for children at the Cedar Grove Station.
“This is just a great day for this community, and for our region, as we launch this new Metro Red Line,” said Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh at the Apple Valley program. “Collaboration works, and we’re so grateful to the many local partners who made this day possible.”
Funding for the project came from federal, state, and regional sources, the Counties Transit Improvement Board (CTIB), Dakota County, Apple Valley, and Lakeville.
The Metro Red Line is a collaborative effort of the Metropolitan Council, Dakota County and its regional railroad authority, MVTA, Metro Transit, CTIB, Minnesota DOT, the Mall of America, and the cities of Lakeville, Eagan, Apple Valley, and Bloomington, as well as local businesses in communities near the corridor.
Riders await the arrival of a southbound Metro Red Line bus June 22 at the Cedar Grove Station, one of five stops on Metro Transit's new Bus Rapid Transit service.
The boards of the Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) and Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) have joined the city of Arlington, TX, in approving an Interlocal Public Transit Service Agreement that will provide bus service between downtown Arlington and the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) CentrePort commuter rail station in Fort Worth. The T and DART jointly own and operate TRE.
The two-year pilot project would operate and manage an express bus service with connections via TRE to Fort Worth and Dallas. The stop in Arlington will serve the University of Texas at Arlington and the downtown area.
Arlington is among the largest U.S. metropolitan areas not served by public transportation.
“It was important for Arlington that both The T and DART be partners with their city because they wanted access to both sides of the Metroplex,” said Dick Ruddell, president of The T. “The T believes this is an important step forward for transit connectivity across the region and a great operation partnership between the two transit agencies and Arlington.”
DART will use its buses and operators for the route, along with providing fare collection and ridership tracking services. The T will be responsible for providing and maintaining the bus stop at its CentrePort Station. The T’s planners also took the lead in developing the route and recommending route detours as necessary due to traffic or construction—based in part on bus shuttles the agency operated between CentrePort and Arlington during the 2011 Super Bowl.
This wrapped bus will provide service between downtown Arlington, TX, and the Trinity Railway Express CentrePort Station.
Sound Transit broke ground June 24 on a permanent Sounder commuter rail station at Tukwila, WA. The new facility will replace a temporary structure at the site that Sounder passengers have used since 2000; the temporary station will remain open during construction.
When complete in 2014, the $46 million station will offer 390 parking spaces—almost double the number now available—as well as improved transit connections, storage for 76 bicycles, four electrical charging stations, passenger shelters, and public art.
Tukwila is the second most popular Sounder south line station on a commuter rail route that serves 10,000 riders a day. Voters approved the station as part of the 1996 Sound Move ballot measure, but Sound Transit delayed construction of a permanent facility to make sure it would work well with transportation and development plans in Tukwila and Renton.
Elements of the new facility will include two 600-foot-long platforms, two new passenger shelters, improvements to the underpass connecting the two platforms, and a bus transit area supporting better access to King County Metro Transit services. A plaza, upgraded walkways, and better lighting will improve pedestrian access to the station. Stormwater detention facilities and rain gardens will help manage stormwater runoff, which has been an issue at the temporary facility. A signature entryway art piece by artist Sheila Klein will welcome riders to the station.
Sun Metro in El Paso, TX, kicked off construction for the Sun Metro Brio, the region’s future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system, June 19 at the Glory Road Transfer Center. The service will operate with high-capacity vehicles operating in mixed traffic with controlled traffic signals, providing improved speed and reliability.
The Sun Metro Brio system will consist of four corridors: Mesa, Alameda, Dyer, and Montana. Construction of the first corridor, Mesa, is expected to be complete in about a year; it will include installation of 22 stations from the Downtown Transfer Center to the Westside Transfer Center.
Brio will operate with uniquely branded 60-foot articulated buses, operating at a frequency of 10 minutes during peak service and 15 minutes at off-peak times.
Passenger amenities will include free Wi-Fi at the stations and on board the vehicles, branded and landscaped stations located at one-mile intervals along the line, and improved pedestrian access at stations.
The total project cost for the Brio Mesa corridor is $27.1 million, $13.5 million of which is covered by FTA funds. The next corridor, Alameda—scheduled to open by spring 2015—is expected to cost about $35.5 million, with all funds coming from local sources.
The $35.7 million Dyer corridor is anticipated to be in operation by fall 2016, followed by the $43.3 million Montana corridor in fall 2017.
The New York State Senate has confirmed Thomas F. Prendergast as chairman and chief executive officer of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA). He has served in this position on an interim basis since Jan. 1.
Prendergast served for more than three years as president of MTA New York City Transit (NYC Transit) and six years as president of MTA Long Island Rail Road. He is also a member of the APTA Executive Committee.
Prendergast is a career public transit officer and former MTA executive who was appointed president of NYC Transit in 2009, while he was chief executive officer of TransLink in Vancouver, BC.
Long Beach Transit (LBT), Long Beach, CA, has named 25-year public transportation professional Kenneth McDonald as its new president/chief executive officer, effective Aug. 1.
McDonald currently serves as assistant vice president of transit and rail systems with Parsons Brinckerhoff International, overseeing public transit programs and projects throughout the U.S. and Canada.
He is a former chief operating officer of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and worked for the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority for 20 years, ultimately as assistant general manager of operations.
“I am excited to come to Long Beach Transit, an agency that has a positive reputation in both the transit and within the community,” said McDonald. “I look forward to working with the great team of employees who have made Long Beach Transit theprogressive organization it is today. Together we will build on the past success of the organization and move forward to great achievements in the coming years.”
McDonald succeeds Laurence W. Jackson, who retired from LBT earlier this year following 38 years with the system.
Jarod Varner is joining the Central Arkansas Transit Authority (CATA), North Little Rock, as its executive director and general manager, effective July 15. He will succeed Betty Wineland, a 25-year CATA employee who is retiring.
Varner began his transit career with the Denton County Transportation Authority (DCTA), Lewisville, TX, in January 2005. He held a number of positions within the organization, most recently vice president of transit operations.
He is a graduate of the Leadership APTA Class of 2009 and also serves on the APTA Rail Transit CEOs Subcommittee. In 2011, he was named one of the “Top 40 Under 40” by Mass Transit magazine.
Forty-eight students representing 19 states came to Washington June 23-26 to participate in APTA’s third Youth Summit. APTA’s business members and the Business Member Board of Governors provided financial support for the summit.
Topics addressed during the summit include the environmental benefits of public transportation, how communities can prosper with increased public transit services, the role of local and federal policies in public transit, and career opportunities in the industry. At the end of the summit, student teams delivered small group presentations on topics including sustainability, technology, advocacy, and careers.
Summit participants took part in a Capitol Hill briefing and tour, presentations at DOT and meetings with senior officials, a tour of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Operations Control Center, a sustainability presentation and visit to Jacobs, a tour of the transportation exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, and an evening tour of the monuments.
The program also included on-campus workshops at Trinity Washington University, where summit programs were conducted, briefings, a presentation by APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy, and remarks from David Harris Jr., a graduate of the 2008 APTA Youth Summit and a 2013 graduate of Howard University.
Photo by Mitch Wood
Photo by Todd Parola, Todd Parola Photography
The Free Congress Foundation’s Center for Urban Policy and Transportation has released a report examining the economic benefits of investing in efficient metropolitan public transportation systems.
APTA sponsored the report, Transportation and the Economic Health and Attractiveness of Metropolitan Regions, written by Free Congress Senior Fellow Dr. Michael Bronzini.
The study considers the growing emphasis on walkable communities providing easy access to social and cultural amenities—and the important role of public transportation in meeting the needs of these communities’ residents. It points to the “broad array of social and economic benefits” spurred by public transit, including increased property values and cost savings by riders.
“Metropolitan transportation investment is needed to support urban revitalization,” the report states. “Shifting urban housing and travel choice patterns, the increasing difficulty of building new major urban highways, and increasing urban population density, mean that much new investment will be in public transportation systems.”
In the broader picture, the report shows how U.S. underinvestment in public transit leaves the nation at a global disadvantage while other countries increase their efforts. Businesses list public transportation access for employees among the qualities they seek when selecting new locations, and evidence shows that strong public transportation systems can bounce back faster following economic hard times.
The text of the report is available online.
FTA Deputy Administrator Therese McMillan and an expert panel commemorating the fourth anniversary of the Federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities will headline the 9th Annual Sustainability and Public Transportation Workshop, July 28-30 in San Francisco. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency and San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transportation District are host systems for the workshop.
The schedule features cutting-edge speakers and breakout groups presenting environmentally/energy-efficient, economically sound and socially responsible developments and practices to advance the role of public transportation in sustainability.
This year’s workshop will highlight performance measurement and tools for sustainability, and is an ideal meeting to discuss President Obama’s recently issued Climate Action Plan and its impact on public transportation.
This workshop is for general managers and senior staff, managers, and planners likely to implement sustainability in public transit agencies, suppliers, and consultants. For details, click here.
Photo: U.S. Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee
Lee Gibson, leaning in, executive director, Regional Transportation Commission of Washoe County, Reno, NV, and a member of the APTA Board of Directors, participated in a June 19 session of the Senate Democratic Steering and Outreach Committee on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure and plans for MAP-21 reauthorization. Gibson emphasized the need for sustainable but realistic federal funding sources, such as raising user fees to fully fund the Highway Trust Fund and the Mass Transit Account. He also suggested that the next transportation bill enhance local ability to leverage scarce resources by providing additional funding for the TIFIA credit assistance program and creating incentives for public-private partnerships. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), who attended the session, said: “I was so pleased to join with 20 other senators and many leaders from different sectors to discuss ways to improve our nation’s infrastructure. At a time when our economic recovery is most important, what better way to bring good-paying jobs to areas in critical need of construction and repair of bridges, roads, and highways. I thank Lee Gibson for joining this important meeting to bring to the table what is important in Nevada.”
Mentor. Dedicated. Pillar. Game Changer. Treasure.
So say some of the former students of legendary Indiana University Professor George M. Smerk, who will gather July 6 on the IU campus to celebrate the 80th birthday of the man many public transit industry leaders say launched their careers and transformed the public transportation industry.
“Dr. Smerk embodies the spirit of all that’s good in public transportation,” said APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy. “He instilled in us the belief that we in the industry do good things every day. We improve the quality of life for millions of people. What we do matters. This is noble work. He inspired us, and he inspired me to be where I am today.”
Smerk’s multi-faceted career in public transportation spans four decades and encompasses several layers: his impact on individual students and the industry, his research and scholarship, and his role as a longtime agency executive and board member. During interviews for this profile, industry leaders who studied under Smerk were uniformly expansive and appreciative—sharing anecdotes, recounting lessons learned, and describing his exacting standards.
Margarita Gagliardi, vice president of transit planning, Urban Engineers, described Smerk’s influence on her career and life. “On my ‘reverence scale,’ first is God, second is my mother, and third is Dr. Smerk,” she said. “That’s how much respect and admiration I have for him.”
Smerk’s 40-year career as an educator began in 1963, when he was an assistant professor of transportation at the University of Maryland. In 1966, he joined the faculty at Indiana University (where he previously earned his doctorate in business administration) as associate professor of transportation. In 1969, he was named a professor of transportation at IU’s Kelley School of Business and founded the university’s Institute for Urban Transportation. He retired from IU in 2003.
William Volk, managing director, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (CUMTD), Urbana, IL, said Smerk “opened the door to a pretty good career for me. I’ve been here [at CUMTD] for over 39 years. That’s the longest time in the industry of any general manager serving in one position. I’m forever grateful.”
Paul Ballard, chief executive officer, Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority, describes a similar experience, saying that Smerk helped him transition from student life to a career. “I was the first general manager of the transit system in Bloomington, which Dr. Smerk helped get started, at the age of 23. I hadn’t even graduated yet,” Ballard said. “His support and encouragement helped me every step of the way. This was a huge start for me.”
Melaniphy, who got his start in public transportation as a bus driver for the IU campus bus system (which Smerk helped create), remembered a lesson he learned in one of Smerk’s classroom lectures.
“I had my sandwiches, my drink, my radio all set up in the front of my bus,” Melaniphy said. “One day during class, he was talking about the importance of professionalism, and he mentioned one bus driver—who he didn’t name, of course—who was driving around campus in a Hawaiian shirt and had the front of his bus all cluttered up with sandwiches, drinks, and a radio. He never said my name, but I knew he was talking about me! The lesson, which I never forgot, was to be professional every day. Present yourself and your public transit company in a professional way. Take pride in your work.”
Perry Maull, operations manager of the Indiana University Campus Bus Service, described a lifelong lesson he learned as a “Smerkie,” the nickname many former students call themselves: “He taught us to do our homework. Preparation is the key to getting things done.”
Smerk was a consummate professional, said Martin Sennett, general manager, Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation, Lafayette, IN. “If you went to central casting to find the quintessential professor, it would be George Smerk. He wore a tweed jacket with leather patches on the elbow, and often a sweater vest—even in 80 or 90 degree weather; a tie or bow tie; and always had a pipe. I’m not sure he ever lit it in class, but it was always there.”
Stephen Bland, principal, TransforMotion, said Smerk set high standards in other ways as well. “I remember turning in my first writing assignment. I thought it was definitely A material. I got the paper back with a C on it. I got the C because I spelled ‘buses’ with two Ss. He told me it was an A paper, and he was pretty sure I would eventually get an A in his class. However, he would not tolerate bad spelling or bad grammar—especially when it came to transit words. To this day, I cringe when I see anyone spell buses ‘busses’!”
Ahead of the Curve
One lasting lesson Gagliardi recalled is Smerk’s forward-looking commitment to customers.
“One of the most important things he did was show us how to walk in the transit customers’ shoes—how to understand the issues from their perspective—issues like frequency, quality, safety,” she said. “Those kinds of things were not in textbooks. But he also taught us to have a sense of responsibility from a financial perspective.”
In addition, she said, “the buzzwords now—like sustainability and energy conservation—he was teaching us that in the early 1970s.”
Smerk also believed that public transportation represented a “high level of public service,” according to Ballard, an idea Volk and Sennett describe as “institutionalizing” public transit organizations. “He encouraged us to make public transportation as important as police, fire, and public works—to make it a necessary part of communities and people’s lives,” Volk said. “Dr. Smerk saw public transit in a much different way—especially at the peak of the car industry in the 1960s and 1970s.”
As an educator, Smerk had an influence that far exceeded his one-on-one contact with students and the physical confines of his classroom. Sennett described Smerk’s “ripple effect” as an educator: “He got so many of us interested in going into public transportation. Then we got other people interested in the industry. That’s the ripple effect of a great teacher. You never know how big or how far out the ripples go.”
Bland agreed: “I am quite certain that he is the sole reason that dozens of very accomplished professionals are now in public transit and not some other endeavor.”
What’s more, Volk said, Smerk was an unabashed advocate of public transit. “He was one of the few academicians who wholeheartedly supported public transportation. He was something of an ‘outlier’ in that regard,” Volk said, noting that Smerk could be “somewhat irreverent” and candid.
An Industry Icon
Smerk’s academic contributions to public transportation tell only part of his story. He served as the Indiana governor’s representative on the board of the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District from 1977 to 2007, was active in the Indiana Transportation Association and served as its executive director from 1986-1987, and worked with the Transportation Research Board and many of its committees. He was named the university’s director of transportation in 1992.
He was a frequent speaker and presenter at APTA conferences and meetings and, in 2006, a group of his former students created the George M. Smerk Scholarship with the American Public Transportation Foundation.
Smerk is the author or co-author of six landmark books on urban mass transportation, public transit management, and the federal role in public transportation, and is one of the editors of the Encyclopedia of North American Railroads.
“He did more than teach transportation; he helped create it. We’ve all had teachers who didn’t know what they were talking about. That’s not George Smerk,” Sennett said.
But perhaps inspiration is George Smerk’s most enduring legacy. Maull said, “His influence on me spans everything that I am.”
More than 100 U.S. public transportation systems and businesses participated in the 8th National Dump the Pump Day, sponsored by APTA in partnership with the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council. This national public awareness day encourages people to save money by parking their cars and using public transportation instead.
Here are a few examples of public transit agencies sharing the message of how their customers can help their communities, their pocketbooks, and the earth by stepping out of their cars.
Public transportation agencies in Chicago, including the Regional Transportation Authority, Chicago Transit Authority, Metra commuter rail, and Pace Suburban Bus, celebrated National Dump the Pump Day with an event featuring a local radio personality and raffle giveaways.
In Yuma, AZ, the Yuma County Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority provided free rides on all its routes on Dump the Pump Day. The agency recently restructured its service, which covers the cities of Yuma, San Luis, Somerton, Foothills, Wellton, Cocopah, Fort Yuma, Winterhaven, El Centro, and Gadsden.
Public transportation agencies serving the Puget Sound region partnered on Dump the Pump Day to host a lunchtime information fair at Seattle’s Westlake Park. Participating organizations were Sound Transit, King County Metro Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit, Intercity Transit, Washington State Ferries, Commute Seattle, and the city of Seattle. Guests at the event met with personal trip planners and purchased or reloaded ORCA regional farecards at a new mobile customer service terminal. Sound Transit, in partnership with the non-profit Undriving™ organization, invited participants to get personalized, unofficial ID-size “Undriver License” cards listing their favorite alternative ways to travel.
Intercity Transit in Olympia, WA, also is holding three “Drive Less! Save Cash” information fairs this summer as part of its ongoing Dump the Pump efforts. These community events feature music, food vendors, and customized trip planners to help commuters plan their trips by bus, vanpool, carpool, bicycle, or on foot.
The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, Tampa, FL, joined the Florida Public Transportation Association, Florida DOT, and other agencies to promote Dump the Pump Day for older Americans at the Town ’N Country Senior Center in Tampa. Florida’s Safe Mobility for Life Coalition has identified Hillsborough County as one of the Top 10 Priority Counties in the state based on five-year average crash frequencies for aging road users age 65 and older. Participants at the senior center event learned about available public transit services and then walked to the closest bus stop to ride the HART system to a local destination.
In St. Louis, Metro employee ambassadors greeted travelers at several of the system’s public transit hubs during the morning commute on Dump the Pump Day, thanking them and handing out Dump the Pump bookmarks. That afternoon, a local radio personality rode MetroLink light rail, giving away prizes donated by Citizens for Modern Transit.
Public transit agencies in South Florida—Palm Tran, Broward County Transit, Miami-Dade Transit, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority/Tri-Rail, South Florida Commuter Services, and Florida DOT—invited their riders to take a pledge to use public transportation on Dump the Pump Day. Individuals who registered at a website were eligible to win a free monthly pass on their local service.
The Orange County Transportation Authority, Orange, CA, devoted an entire week to Dump the Pump activities. Riders who pledged to use public transportation instead of driving solo could receive a one-day OCTA pass or Metrolink commuter rail trip ticket. OCTA also held a photo contest linked to its website; the photo entry with the most votes will win a prize for the photographer and will be featured by OCTA.
The Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) invited teams of four to eight people to compete in its first-ever “Dump the Pump Dash” Scavenger Hunt. Competitors used MARTA to travel from one site to the next, deciphering riddles, locating places, finding items, and taking photos.
The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA), Riverside, CA, distributed free one-day passes at locations throughout its service area in advance of Dump the Pump Day. On June 20, the officially designated Dump the Pump Day, RTA rewarded some of its riders with seven-day passes and Starbucks gift cards.
Oxy Gene, the clean air superhero mascot of Community Transit in Snohomish County, WA, spread the word about Dump the Pump Day, June 20, during a regional event at Seattle's Westlake Park.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus invited visitors to tie-dye T-shirts while learning about the importance of public transportation during its lunchtime “Dump the Pump” event in the downtown Arena District. The agency partnered with a radio station and numerous local advocacy and transportation organizations in the event.
Officials of SunLine Transit Agency, Thousand Palms, CA, observed Dump the Pump Day with the symbolic disposal of a gas pump handle in a trash bin. From left are SunLine Board Chairman Robert Spiegel, Special Projects Coordinator Tommy Edwards, Director of Operations Polo del Toro, and board member Eduardo Garcia.
The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission (PRTC), Woodbridge, VA, has received a second grant from the Potomac Health Foundation that will allow the agency to continue providing eligible residents of eastern Prince William County, VA, with non-emergency medical transportation.
Participants in PRTC’s Wheels-to-Wellness program receive refillable payment cards for a limited number of monthly health-related trips in taxis and wheelchair-accessible commercial vehicles. Health-related trips include visits to hospitals, therapists, pharmacies, and other medical establishments.
The Wheels-to-Wellness payment card will cover up to $25 per one-way trip for those using cabs and up to $50 per one-way trip for those who require wheelchair-accessible non-emergency transportation.
Karen Mills, project manager, noted that the program has already helped customers in the region. For example, it allows a woman on a fixed income who requires dialysis three times a week to save $75 per week in transportation costs.
PRTC created Wheels-to-Wellness after it and the Prince William Area Agency on Aging conducted a mobility management plan in 2011 to examine the challenges confronting older Americans, persons with disabilities, and those in low-income households. One recommendation was to augment PRTC’s existing transit services with a transportation voucher program to make taxis more affordable for health-related trips.
The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX, recently received the CEO Cancer Gold Standard Award from the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, recognizing the agency’s commitment to the health of its employees, contractors, and their families.
The honor primarily goes to healthcare and pharmaceutical companies. Capital Metro is unique as a public transit agency to receive recognition.
Capital Metro has established programs to reduce cancer risk by prohibiting tobacco use at the workplace, encouraging physical activity, promoting healthy nutrition, and providing access to quality care. The agency began its wellness efforts 10 years ago and was named Central Texas’ Healthiest Employer in 2012 by the Austin Business Journal.
“We’re always looking for ways to encourage healthy habits,” said Capital Metro President/Chief Executive Officer Linda S. Watson. “We’re honored to receive this special distinction, and I’m proud of the steps our wellness and risk management teams have taken to create a culture of wellness at Capital Metro.”
In addition to the obvious benefits to the agency’s employees, wellness initiatives have also helped curb healthcare costs. For every dollar invested in the program, Capital Metro receives a return of nearly $3 in healthcare savings, along with a reduction in employee absenteeism.
Photo by Patrick Cashin, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
“Sky Reflector-Net,” a reflective metal sculpture, will be at the heart of MTA New York City Transit’s Fulton Center in Lower Manhattan when the facility opens next year. The new station will provide improved connections for riders of 10 subway lines, bringing together six existing subway stations. Artist James Carpenter created the 79-foot-high mesh of aluminum panels and glass prisms, set in a stainless steel tracery, to fit inside the conical dome of the structure. It will reflect daylight into mezzanines, passageways, and throughout the station. The $2.1 million sculpture is the largest single work ever commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Arts for Transit and Urban Design program.
Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) opened its new Emergency Training Center in ceremonies June 12. John Pistole, administrator, Transportation Security Administration, joined Massachusetts DOT Secretary and Chief Executive Officer Richard A. Davey, MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan, and MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott for the event.
MBTA constructed the state-of-the-art facility in former streetcar tunnels, funded with a $10 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. It provides advanced training, exercise, and simulation capabilities in a realistic tunnel environment.
“The opening of this facility represents years of work in a true sense of partnership between our agencies and the Department of Homeland Security,” Davey said. “As we know all too well, saving lives in an emergency always comes back to training, and I am looking forward to seeing many brave first responders receive vital training here at our facility.”
Although plans for the center predate the April 15 bombing at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, the incident was on the mind of many speakers at the dedication. MBTA expects the facility to provide additional resources to its police and emergency workers.
The new center consists of multiple training areas, each dedicated to different public transit modes or response functions, including heavy rail, light rail, bus, power, evacuation, and both law enforcement and fire response. Full-size decommissioned bus and rail vehicles and a control room that can simulate advanced audio and visual effects add to the realism of the programs the facility will offer.
MBTA explained that the facility will enhance its ability to prepare for emergencies more realistically, frequently, and with fewer service or cost impacts. Through partnerships with the public transit system, agencies throughout the region and the country also will be able to use the training center.
The space now occupied by the Emergency Training Center began in 1917 as an underground streetcar station; it closed two years later after being made redundant. In the years since, the abandoned space has seen a variety of uses, including growing mushrooms, material storage, and testing station accessibility enhancements. In 2009, MBTA officials began exploring the feasibility of converting the space into a state-of-the-art training facility.
Participants in opening ceremonies for the MBTA Emergency Training Center, from left: MBTA General Manager Beverly A. Scott, MassDOT Secretary Richard A. Davey, MBTA Transit Police Chief Paul MacMillan, TSA Administrator John S. Pistole, and MBTA Deputy Transit Police Chief Lewis Best.
Photo by Patrick Cashin, Metropolitan Transportation Authority
The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) commemorated the end of training for eight police dogs in ceremonies June 14 at Grand Central Station. The dogs and their partners immediately entered active duty. The MTA Police Department’s Canine Unit, one of the largest in the country, has 50 dogs in active duty patrolling MTA Long Island Rail Road, MTA Metro-North Railroad, and MTA Staten Island Railway stations, tracks, and facilities.
Whether it's created by students in local schools or as part of a community project, art promoting public transportation is a proven way to bring awareness and involvement to the riding public. Here are a few examples.
In Fort Worth
The Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T) turned 10 buses in its fleet into moving canvases to showcase the art of Fort Worth Independent School District (FWISD) students who won the agency’s annual “Expressions That Move You” contest.
The artwork of each of the 10 winners—selected from more than 80 entries—will remain on the side of one of The T’s buses through August. Buses rotate routes so each student’s art may be seen in several areas throughout Fort Worth.
The program is a partnership of The T and FWISD to provide additional enrichment. Award recipients included four winners in the kindergarten through elementary school category and three winners each from the middle and high school categories. One winner in each category received a Grand Prize.
In Snohomish County, WA
Community Transit, Snohomish County, WA, recently honored nine elementary school students for their first-, second-, and third-place entries in the School Transit Education Program (STEP) Coloring Contest. The agency’s superhero, Oxy Gene—defender of truth, justice, and really clean air—hosted ice cream parties for the winners’ entire classes.
The agency will display the first-place drawings this summer inside 25 buses traveling throughout the county. Recipients of second and third places received 34-inch x 17-inch poster printouts of their art and were also recognized at their schools.
About 80 first-grade students at Quil Ceda/Tulalip Elementary School on the Tulalip Reservation and 120 first- and third-grade students from St. Mary Magdalen School in Everett submitted drawings for the contest based on two themes: first grade, “Be your own superhero, help Oxy Gene fight pollution,” and third grade, “Community Transit; connecting people and places.”
In Los Angeles
Los Angeles Metro recently introduced a new series of tours, “Metro Art Moves_DTLA,” designed to increase public transit ridership through volunteer docent and artist-led experiences of the Metro system. The tours introduce riders to Metro’s collection of more than 300 artworks while presenting its services highlighting destinations served by rail and bus.
The new tours of art in downtown Los Angeles stations build on Metro’s existing docent-led tour model by adding artists to co-lead the tours. The docents lead discussions, offering facts about the artworks, and the artists prompt ways of engaging with the Metro system through contemplative exercises, such as speaking secret words into a special voice-activated artwork at Union Station.
Cincinnati Metro is partnering with ArtWorks, a Cincinnati nonprofit that employs and trains local youth and talent to create art and community impact, to turn 12 of the agency’s bus shelters into public art this summer.
Art with a literature theme will decorate shelters located near the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. Metro and ArtWorks reached out to the community with a simple online survey of what books should be used as art inspiration.
Six ArtWorks youth apprentices from the greater Cincinnati area, ages 14-21, will work under the direction of project manager Ryan Little and teaching artist Brandon Parker to create art to be installed in the shelters later this summer.
Photo courtesy of Los Angeles Metro
Award-winning artwork by fourth-grader Julissa Sandoval now appears on a Fort Worth Transportation Authority bus.
Vice President, Canada National Transit Market Sector Lead
Member, APTA Board of Directors Executive Committee
Member, Diversity Council
Chair, Business Members Board of Governors
How many people do you employ/how many people at your business?
AECOM employs 45,000 people worldwide—14,000 are in North America. About 29 percent are in transportation—1,000 in Canada and 2,000 in the U.S. We do a lot of transportation work in North America.
How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I’ve been around for over 30 years. I started in this industry in 1979.
How long have you been an APTA member?
I’ve been a member for almost 20 years! About 18 years ago, when I was attending an APTA conference, a previous APTA vice president said “You have to become a member.” I got hooked!
AECOM has been an APTA member for 45 years. The company’s long-standing membership is one reason I’m at AECOM. We share the same belief in giving back to the industry. It’s an important component of our corporate culture and of my own commitment.
I currently serve as chair of the Business Members Board of Governors (BMBG)—it’s the first time a Canadian has served as chair. I’m quite proud to serve as chair. As such, I represent all transit suppliers and support organizations. We provide a very important voice to APTA by representing the private sector.
The BMBG deals with issues of particular concern to the supply side of transit, such as procurement practices. We help communicate business interests by looking at how we can collectively improve the processes for the benefit of both agencies and businesses and find the “win-win” in these complex issues. Another issue near and dear to my heart is how will public transportation continue to be funded and financed. We’ve begun to see new, emerging financing partnerships and models. This should be of great interest to businesses and agencies alike for the ultimate benefit of our users.
What drew you to a career in public transportation?
I started working as a civil engineer, designing highways for the government. Because of some project work, I was really fascinated by how people got around. In 1990, I started my own transportation planning company. Everyone told me this stand-alone company wouldn’t succeed. But we focused successfully on the planning aspects of transit and traffic and network planning.
What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource—which one helps you do your job? Please explain why or how this has helped.
One of the benefits I value most is the networking in the APTA community. It really helped me develop my business in the U.S. But the growing networks have been very important to me throughout my career. They have given me the ability to talk and connect with peers and colleagues across the country. It’s absolutely invaluable.
What do you like most about your job?
Everything! I like everything. My role in business development gives me an opportunity to connect with clients on a regular basis to talk about opportunities and to look at what direction the industry is headed in—to explore all areas that are important to our clients and get to know them, inside and out.
What is unique about your business—what would readers be surprised to learn?
I work with a great bunch of people. Beyond that, one thing I think others would find unique is that AECOM has been named one of the world’s most ethical companies for the last two consecutive years by the Ethisphere Institute, an international think-tank dedicated to best practices in business ethics, corporate social responsibility, and sustainability. We’re very proud of that designation. AECOM’s commitment to business ethics and corporate social responsibility is an important part of our whole operations—our everyday work. The company has been very successful in instilling these values throughout the whole organization. I’m quite proud to be part of that.
Communications and Marketing Department
What are the three job elements you focus on the most—your primary responsibilities
I do overall communications support for our advocacy efforts, which are targeted to the Capitol Hill audience and the general public.
Specifically, I manage the association’s Research, Communications, and Advocacy program (RCA). In this program I promote new research produced by APTA’s Policy Department. We leverage this research to promote the benefits—and the importance—of funding public transportation. I also focus on conducting proactive public relations and advertising outreach that showcases our legislative efforts. In addition, l put together special events targeted to Hill and national audiences that focus on issues related to our advocacy program. I also manage advertising, special events, public relations, and our social media outreach, which includes the public transportation Facebook, Twitter, and blog.
Do you have direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about the two most recent times you’ve helped out a member.
We involve our members in many of our advocacy communication efforts. One recent effort came during the APTA Rail Conference: We held a nationwide press conference that focused on a new APTA survey, conducted by the Mineta Transportation Institute, which showed that 74 percent of the general public supports increased funding for public transit. APTA Chair Flora Castillo and SEPTA General Manager Joe Casey participated in that event. On an annual basis, we conduct a media radio tour during the APTA Legislative Conference where we involve 25 or more general managers. They highlight the importance of federal funding to their systems and discuss their local ridership numbers.
What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?
I worked in conjunction with the Policy Department to develop the Transit Savings Report. We release that report on a monthly basis to educate individuals on how much they can save if they take public transportation and live with one less car. It has been used in a number of different venues. I’m particularly proud of that because it’s been used by policymakers on Capitol Hill, the U.S. Census Bureau, and the Mineta Institute.
How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here? Have you held other jobs in the public transportation industry (besides working at APTA)?
I’ve been here since 2007. I worked in other modes of transportation: the American Trucking Association, the American Automobile Association. It just seemed natural to work here because of my belief in multimodalism. I’m a strong believer in public transit, and that’s why it’s great to be able to work on something in line with my core values in regards to where this country should be going.
What professional affiliations do you have?
I participate in workshops and other webinars with the Public Relations Society of America, the American Society of Association Executives, and we work collaboratively with a number of transportation advocacy groups in town such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Americans for Transportation Mobility group.
Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?
I participated in a media interview that went viral. When I was working for AAA, I was discussing the latest gas prices with an MSNBC anchor. During the interview, a guy behind me started washing the window, and the crew and the anchor thought it was hilarious. The video wound up being shown on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown, the Today Show, and even Jay Leno’s Tonight Show. It just kind of had a life of its own, and it happened accidentally.
Make sure you see Mantill Williams' video, now that you've read this!
BY BRUCE KATZ, Vice President and Director, and JENNIFER BRADLEY, Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, The Brookings Institution
A revolution is stirring in America. Like all great revolutions, this one starts with a simple but profound truth: Cities and metropolitan areas are the engines of economic prosperity and social transformation in the United States. Our nation’s top 100 metropolitan areas sit on only 12 percent of the nation’s land mass but are home to two thirds of our population and generate 75 percent of our national GDP. Metros dominate because they embody concentration and agglomeration—networks of innovative firms, talented workers, risk-taking entrepreneurs, and supportive institutions and associations that cluster together in metropolitan areas and coproduce economic performance and progress. There is, in essence, no American (or Chinese or German or Brazilian) economy; rather, a national economy is a network of metropolitan economies.
Cities and metropolitan areas are also on the frontlines of America’s demographic change. America’s population—and its workforce—will be much more diverse in the future than at present, and soon no single race or ethnic group will be the nation’s majority. Many of our metros are already living that future. In fact, every major demographic trend that the United States is experiencing—rapid growth, increasing diversity, an aging demographic—is happening at a faster pace, a greater scale, and a higher level of intensity in our major metropolitan areas.
In traditional political-science textbooks, the United States is portrayed neatly as a hierarchical structure—the federal government and the states on top, the cities and metropolitan areas on the bottom. The feds and the states are the adults in the system, setting direction; the cities and metropolitan areas are the children, waiting for their allowance.
But in fact, cities and metropolitan areas are on their own. The cavalry is not coming. Mired in partisan division and rancor, the federal government appears incapable of taking bold action to restructure our economy and grapple with changing demography and rising inequality. With each illustration of partisan gridlock and each indication of federal, and also state, unreliability, metros are becoming more ambitious in their design, more assertive in their advocacy, more expansive in their reach and remit.
The metro revolution reflects the maturing of U.S. cities and metros in terms of capacity and focus. For 50 years, metropolitan areas relied on their biggest single investor—the federal government—to finance infrastructure, housing, innovation, and human capital. They have dutifully competed for federal grants and aligned their visions and strategies to the federal focus du jour. Now cities and metros are driving the conversation, making transformative investments in the public goods that undergird private investment and growth. Networks of metropolitan leaders—not just mayors and council members but civic, corporate, philanthropic, educational and labor leaders—are innovating on the big stuff. That includes: the commercialization of innovation; support for advanced manufacturing, export promotion, and foreign direct investment; the public-private financing of advanced transport and energy infrastructure; upgrading the education and skills of a diversifying workforce; and forging strong relationships with trading partners in mature and rising economies alike.
What is happening in the United States today is rooted in timeless and quintessential American values and is uniquely aligned with the disruptive nature of this young century and the manner and places in which people live. We are living in a disruptive moment that extols collaboration, rewards customization, demands differentiation, and champions integrated thinking to match and master the complexities of modern economies and societies. The metropolitan revolution is like our era: crowd-sourced rather than close-sourced, entrepreneurial rather than bureaucratic, networked rather than hierarchical.
The contrast between the federal and state governments and metropolitan networks is stark. The federal government and the states are present oriented. They govern, administer, and legislate in two-year cycles, aligned more with the timeline of political elections than with social or market dynamics. By contrast, the new metropolitan leadership is intensely focused on the future right. They think in the long term, act in the short run.
The federal and state governments, at their core, establish laws and promulgate rules. In so doing, they reflect the curse of the 20th-century Weberian state: highly specialized, overly legalistic, prescriptive rather than permissive, process oriented rather than outcome directed. Cities and metropolitan areas, by contrast, are action-oriented. They reward innovation, imagination, and pushing boundaries. . . .
The federal and state governments have a cartoon version of the economy, focusing on atomistic firms and workers and silver-bullet tax and regulatory solutions. Cities and metros, by contrast, blend the ecosystem and the enterprise. They focus not just on a singular transaction, firm, or solution but rather on building effective structures, institutions, intermediaries, and platforms to give dozens of entrepreneurs and firms what they need: skilled talent, strategic capital, stable governance, reliable rules, functioning infrastructure, collective branding, and marketing.
The federal and state governments create cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all solutions that frustrate rather than serve. They spread resources in a way that dilutes return on investment and diminishes public confidence in public action. Cities and metropolitan areas are, by contrast, aligned and attuned to the differentiated nature of their economies. They build on their distinctive strengths, buttress and leverage their specific assets, attributes, and advantages. . . .
The federal government, driven by ideological division and partisan rancor, will not heal itself any time soon. The states are political artifices, not natural markets. Metropolitan pragmatism, metropolitan power, and metropolitan potential will fix our broken politics and restore our fragile economy.
The Metropolitan Revolution: How Cities and Metros Are Fixing Our Broken Politics and Fragile Economy. © 2013 The Brookings Institution. Used with permission of the Brookings Institution.
BY KATHERINE LEWIS, Special to Passenger Transport
In recent years, the largest U.S. public transit systems have begun releasing their schedule, fare, station, real-time vehicle location, and other data to the public in easy-to-use open digital formats. Using that open data, third-party developers have created a bonanza of new mobile and web applications for customers—everything from a signal that a specific bus stop is approaching to a multimodal trip planner that integrates bus, train, and bike.
“Open data is one of the biggest and most important innovations in public transportation in over 30 years. It is a key component in improved service for customers,” said Chuck Kamp, general manager of Metro Transit in Madison, WI. The agency credited its open data program for achieving a 40-year ridership record in 2011.
But the innovation potential of open source data brings with it associated challenges, not the least of which are cost and developing a sound process for releasing data and maintaining oversight of its use. Any public transit system interested in jumping on the bandwagon of open data—or expanding existing open data programs—could learn valuable lessons from the experiences of other agencies making the transition.
“You want to be in a position where you’re giving information, you’re supporting ideas, and you’re encouraging creativity,” said Ron Hopkins, assistant general manager of operations for Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA), which collects 1.5 million data points each month to measure on-time performance. “The concern was, how do we manage all that?”
What Is Open Data?
At its simplest, the term open data refers to information that is publicly available either from a government agency, a private company, or a community--supported resource such as OpenStreetMap.
For public transit, the term includes information about train and bus schedules, fares, station locations, ferry or trolley schedules and interchanges, bike share locations, and even turnstile usage or logo design specifications. While all this information may be available in numerous places, the key is putting it into formats that are easy for software developers to access and use on an ongoing basis—and for transit agencies to incorporate in their published application programming interface (API).
More than 200 agencies release data in the General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS) format, initially developed around 2005 by Google in partnership with Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet). The format’s widespread adoption in recent years has stimulated tremendous innovation in open data use.
“GTFS has been a huge part of making data more available, not just to the public, but also other systems,” said Tim Quinn, executive vice president for RouteMatch Software in Atlanta. “That’s been a game changer over the past two to three years.”
The next frontier is GTFS-realtime, a feed specification that incorporates the real-time location of trains, buses, and other vehicles. Fewer than a dozen transit agencies have advanced to using GTFS-realtime, including New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and TriMet.
“Real time is a little more difficult because it typically does require some type of infrastructure—tracking hardware and software on the vehicles themselves,” said Sean Barbeau, principal mobile software architect for research and development at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida (USF).
The Power of Open Data
Many public transportation agencies are already tapping into the potential of open data.
The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority won a 2011 APTA Award for Innovation for its Open Data Initiative, which allows third parties to use the agency’s data to develop dozens of apps at no cost to the agency. The apps improve the rider experience by delivering real-time -information on schedules, locations, and other conditions.
New York’s MTA first released GTFS formatted raw data in January 2010 when the agency redesigned its website. Previously, MTA had mailed compact discs to developers on a quarterly basis, a cumbersome process that reached only a segment of the possible users.
“They were beating down our door, trying to access data they could find online in PDF files or ways that were useful for our customers, but not easily parsable and manipulatable in a digital way,” said MTA spokesperson Aaron Donovan.
“We want a lot of apps to be out there. They help our customers navigate the system. We’re in the business of providing a service and it helps us to do that,” Donovan said.
In addition to developing in-house apps—like the Weekender app displaying weekend service changes and track work—MTA sponsors contests and hackathons to stimulate developer interest. The second app contest, known as MTA App Quest, offers $50,000 in prizes and began with a hackathon the first weekend in May. MTA collects all the known apps on its website.
As a result, New York public transit riders can use multimodal trip planners to go from train to ferry and from subway to bus, taxi, or foot; find real-time bus and subway information; and even discover commissioned artworks within the subway system.
In the Minneapolis/St. Paul region, the move to open data has facilitated real-time trip planning across several public transit systems despite a variety of agencies and vendors managing different pieces, said RouteMatch’s Quinn.
RouteMatch provides fixed route computer automated dispatching/automated vehicle location (CAD/AVL) in real time for the Minnesota Valley Transit Authority in Burnsville, MN, while -Trapeze provides CAD/AVL for Metro Transit, serving the Twin Cities. Because both vendors are writing to the same open API, the systems will easily interoperate.
“In the old days, it would be a systems integration issue that wouldn’t have happened from a competitive business perspective,” Quinn said.
In Portland, TriMet customers can use apps to find the nearest bus stop, access real-time arrival information, and even create a strobe light to alert drivers to stop after dark. Another app, called iNap, lets a passenger daydream or snooze during the trip but alerts the person when the specific stop is nearing—also handy for visually impaired riders.
“I can’t justify developer resources to develop something like this and keep it up to date and maintained on all these different platforms,” said Bibiana McHugh, TriMet’s geographic information systems (GIS) manager, about the iNap app. “It’s something that’s very useful. It’s not something that a transit agency could really develop.”
TriMet does develop certain core apps, such as a multimodal trip planner and schedules, to ensure delivery of key customer information. Otherwise, third-party changes might disrupt service, such as Apple dropping Google Transit from the new iPhone operating system.
For their apps to be posted on the TriMet app page, developers must meet three requirements, McHugh said: They must use the developer resources, use the terms of agreement correctly, and create an app that works as advertised.
“We don’t want them getting data and information from someone else,” she said. “They can scrape your site for schedule information—and that’s when bad information starts getting out to the customers because those links break and they’re no longer current.”
If public transit agencies release data in the GTFS format and want rider apps like those in New York or Portland, they should contact developers to ask them to add another city. It’s often an easy matter to expand geographically, once the app is already created and user tested.
Best Practices to Use; Pitfalls to Avoid
Indeed, leaning on the open data work of other public transit agencies is a clear best practice for systems just getting into the area, rather than forcing them to reinvent the wheel. A Google group of public transit developers regularly shares information, ideas, and code.
When TriMet developed a timetable publisher, the agency released the source code to the public. SEPTA happily adopted the code for some internal uses and is eager to “pay it forward” by releasing source code to an iPhone app in development, said Mike Zaleski, director of emerging and specialty technology.
SEPTA benefits from the goodwill and interest of the developer community and has sponsored two hackathons to promote the development of transit apps. A third hackathon is coming up at the end of the summer.
Developing strong relationships with the local software community and universities has also worked well for -Madison Metro. The agency began its open data program because undergraduates at the University of Wisconsin asked for better data access. Once public transit officials satisfied concerns about the data’s accuracy and whether the apps would be maintained, they launched the current open data program. It’s now spreading beyond public transit to other departments, said Mick Rusch, transit marketing and customer service manager.
“The city of Madison is really embracing open data and one of the main reasons is the benefits we saw in the transit department,” Rusch said. “Our advice would be to do your best to work with the developers ahead of time. Tell them your concerns and make sure to impress upon them the needs of your riders and the need for it to be accurate.”
After all, third-party developers aren’t public transit employees or vendors, so system employees need excellent communication and a shared understanding of the goals and considerations in public transit if the project is to succeed. One of the students who developed a Madison Metro app continues to maintain it even though he’s been hired by Google and moved to California, Rusch said.
“It’s about fostering relationships with these people because they don’t work for you directly and you’re not purchasing a service from them,” he said.
For some public transit agencies, the cost of creating the information that developers want is the biggest challenge. The Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA), Birmingham, AL, is in the midst of upgrading its 117 buses to include annunciators and automatic passenger counters—equipment that will create the data needed to begin to track passenger loads and bus movement.
BJCTA Executive Director Ann August has set a goal of reducing current one-hour headways to 15 or 30 minutes. Then the agency will be able to start giving information on the time of the next bus on electronic signs and for riders to access via smartphones.
“One of the most important things is to have the vision. Number two is to ensure that you have a system that you can get good clean data out of,” she said. “That way, when you’re moving forward to get the apps, you can provide efficient service.”
What the Future Holds
Over the horizon, developers are playing around with a range of innovative ideas. In Madison, the university is experimenting with tablets on buses for customer use or kiosks at transfer points to display real-time information and help with trip planning.
At USF, developers created a trip planner that integrates public transit, biking, walking, driving, and the campus shuttle. “That’s a huge project that I think is going to see huge adoption in the future,” Barbeau said.
Similarly, an app called Rome2Rio tells users how to cross continents and oceans via a combination of airplanes, rail, and bus, and the Parkio app incorporates rideshare, vanpool, and corporate shuttles. Mapnificent helps people find the closest location in a desired category, such as the most quickly accessed museum or restaurant that is in the middle point of two friends’ current locations.
Another important new frontier is open data for internal use by public transit systems. Imagine being able to produce a new timetable with a few clicks of a button or using a free and openly available trip planner analyst to weigh decisions around new route service.
Even getting the dispatch system and scheduling system to easily interoperate would be a huge step forward, said Rob Ayers, president of Ayers Electronic Systems, a transit systems integrator focusing on standards-based solutions, based in Richmond, VA.
“You have some pretty large and complex data sets that are exchanged within business units within an agency,” Ayers said. “A goldmine for the future is to standardize that data and reduce the cost of managing that data.”
An APTA standard that promotes interoperability among public transit system components also provides benefits to third parties wishing to provide services to the agencies and its customers.
APTA created the Transit Communications Interface Profiles (TCIP) to enhance communication among all public transportation internal and external business systems such as computer-aided dispatch/automatic vehicle location technology, automated fare systems, and geographic information systems. This standard defines data interchange among these components of public transit management systems.
Any agency can make its data available in TCIP format—available for free download—and any third-party entity in compliance with the format can create apps with that data: for example, real-time notification of vehicle location along a route.
The primary benefit of TCIP is that it allows organizations to define data elements without starting from scratch, then forward the interface and the information to a vendor who can develop the final application. Without following this standard, suppliers create their own interfaces, which may not work well together and could become outdated.
TCIP provides standardized building blocks from which a public transit agency can specify the information exchange across an interface. The standard is thorough, incorporating 397 individual data elements. It also provides a road map for users, allowing them to choose custom options to meet specific needs, and includes user-friendly tools to assist agencies in implementing the standard.
The National Transit Institute offers a two-day course designed to teach public transit professionals how to interpret and use the TCIP standard, as well as a half-day introductory course. APTA is currently working with the DOT Joint Programs Office preparing interactive training modules.
David A. Wolf
OAKLAND, CA—AC Transit announced the appointment of David A. Wolf as general counsel. He succeeds Kenneth C. Scheidig, who retired from the agency in December 2010 and has been serving as interim -general counsel since November 2012.
Wolf joined the agency in December 2012. He has more than 25 years of experience in the practice of law. As an attorney for the Judicial Council of California, Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), in San Francisco, he was a senior labor relations negotiator and legal counsel providing advice to -California superior courts and the AOC.
Joseph Sais, Michael D. Jones
NEW YORK, NY—SYSTRA announced the promotion of Joseph Sais, P.E., to executive vice president. He formerly was the firm’s national construction and program management practice lead.
Sais has more than 40 years of senior-level managerial experience in public transit and railroad operations, maintenance, and engineering. Prior to joining SYSTRA, Sais was an MTA Long Island Rail Road employee for more than 33 years.
SYSTRA also named Michael D. Jones as vice president, human resources.
Jones comes to SYSTRA from Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), where he served most recently as senior manager, labor relations. His earlier jobs with DART include benefits manager and manager, human resource information.
He is a graduate of the Leadership APTA Class of 2012. He also serves on APTA’s Human Resources Committee, Labor Relations Subcommittee, Leadership APTA Committee, Legislative Committee, and Workforce Development Subcommittee.
CINCINNATI, OH—Ashley McNamara, director of marketing for First Transit, was recognized recently by Xavier University’s Williams College of Business as one of its “Young Alums” for its Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award.
The honor recognizes graduates who embody Jesuit ideals and have been committed to the growth or betterment of the community, achieving outstanding accomplishments, or demonstrating industry or community leadership. McNamara’s particular category was for professionals age 35 or younger.
McNamara graduated from Xavier in 2006 with a BSBA in marketing and serves as a member of the Xavier University Executive Mentor Advisory Board. She has been with First Transit for six and a half years, and has held the -position of marketing manager for five and a half of those years.
John King, Derrick Breun
LOMBARD, IL—Veolia Transportation has announced the appointment of two area vice presidents: John King, Northeast Transit Region, and Derrick Breun, Southeast Region.
King has been general manager for Veolia’s contract in Prince George’s County, MD, since 2006. Before joining the company, he worked in various management roles for Greyhound Lines in Boston, Buffalo, and Chicago. He will be based in Veolia’s Baltimore office.
Breun currently serves as chief operating officer for Veolia’s contract with the Regional Transit Authority of New Orleans, a position he has held since 2008. From 2006 to 2008, he was general manager for Veolia’s public transit system in Jefferson Parish, LA.
CINCINNATI, OH—Cincinnati Metro has promoted Shawn Donaghy to director of transit operations, managing the delivery of fixed route service to the community.
Donaghy has more than 16 years of experience in transportation. He has worked for Metro since September 2010, most recently as assistant director of transit operations. He previously worked as senior operations manager at CEVA Logistics.