Passenger Transport - February 7, 2014
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Biden, Foxx Greet New U.S.-Made Locomotive

Vice President Joe Biden, seated, and DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, left, get a tour from engineer Rick Stolnis at Philadelphia's 30th Street Station.
Photo by Tom Gralish, staff photographer, The Philadelphia Inquirer. Reprinted by permission.

Vice President Joe Biden, seated, and DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx, left spoke about the need for infrastructure investment at ceremonies Feb. 6 in Philadelphia to welcome Amtrak’s new Cities Sprinter electric locomotive.

“This locomotive represents a heck of a lot more than just getting from Point A to Point B,” Biden said. He pointed to the 69 companies in 23 states that contributed materials and technology to build the new vehicles, saying, “This is how we used to grow America.”

The locomotive, the first of 70 built in the U.S. by Siemens and its subcontractors, entered service Feb. 7 in Boston. It will operate on the Northeast Corridor.


Shuster Supports Vehicle Miles Traveled to Fund Next MAP-21

As Congressional leaders search for ways to develop a long-term federal transportation bill to replace MAP-21, which expires Sept. 30, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chair Bill Shuster (R-PA) said he supports a vehicle miles tax (VMT), among other user fees, to pay for a bill that would extend for at least five years. He also rejected the notion of raising the nation’s motor fuels tax (more commonly called the gasoline tax), which currently funds the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) and its Mass Transit Account.

“We don’t want a two-year bill, we want a five- or six-year bill,” Shuster said Feb. 4 at a Bloomberg Government infrastructure event in Washington, DC. Other funding methods Shuster supported include higher taxes on energy exploration and bringing back corporate profits earned overseas.

Officials have never considered a VMT at the federal level because of the difficulty of tracking the number of miles people drive, which is necessary to assess and collect the tax.

Revenue from the motor fuels tax, which has remained unchanged at 18.4 cents per gallon since 1993 and is not indexed to inflation, has declined since 2007 because of the down economy, a decline in miles driven, and an increase in cars that are more fuel-efficient. Raising the existing tax in an election year remains an issue, lawmakers from both parties say.

Proposals on the Table
Still, lawmakers in both houses of Congress have introduced bills to fund the transportation bill. In December Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucasus, proposed a bill that would increase the gas tax by 15 cents a gallon over three years.

Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, proposed in September replacing the motor fuels tax with a levy paid on oil at refineries. She and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA), the ranking Republican on the committee, are working on a joint bill but the two have not yet agreed on a method for increasing revenue.

The State of the HTF
The federal government might have to delay some payments to states before the fiscal year ends in September, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) said Feb. 4 in updating the financial status of the HTF.

The CBO’s new budget baseline projections show that the HTF has a deficit of $77 billion through 2019 and is short by $172 billion through 2024, even at current levels. The fund and its Mass Transit Account will not have enough funds to meet the federal government’s obligations starting in Fiscal Year 2015. Under current law, the HTF cannot incur negative balances and is not authorized to borrow funds.

Capital Metro Launches BRT in Austin, TX

The Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro) in Austin, TX, introduced service on its MetroRapid Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line on Jan. 27. The 43-station, 21-mile line is the first of two BRT routes; the second, with 34 additional stations, is scheduled to open later this year.

Once both routes are operational, they will share several stops through downtown ­Austin and near the University of Texas. The lines also connect with existing MetroRail and MetroBus stations.

“Our incredible team has accomplished so much ­during the past four years to introduce this convenient, premium service to Austin,” said Linda S. Watson, Capital Metro ­president and chief executive officer. “There’s a lot of great buzz about MetroRapid, and we’re excited to bring this new transit experience to our ­rapidly growing community.”

Almost 200 Capital Metro staff members and volunteers spent the first week of service at MetroRapid stations and on board vehicles, answering passenger questions, demonstrating the new mobile ticketing app, and helping riders plan their trips.

The stations are spaced up to one mile apart, in proximity to bus routes and two MetroRail stations. Features of each station include a canopy with lighting, a digital message board showing next vehicle arrival time, and additional signing and furnishings.

The agency operates only 60-foot-long articulated vehicles on the new route, enough to hold 101 passengers. The new buses offer three extra-wide doors, fully padded seats, extra headroom, higher ceilings, LED lighting, front racks that will hold up to three bicycles, and free Wi-Fi. Metro Rapid service will operate every 10-12 minutes during weekday peak periods, every 12-20 minutes other weekday times, and 20-30 minutes on weekends.

FTA has committed $38 million to Capital Metro for both MetroRapid lines—about 80 percent of the total $47.6 million project—through its Capital Investment (Small Starts) Grant Program. The remainder was funded by state and local sources.

The opening ceremonies featured tours of a MetroRapid bus, app demonstrations, and live music. 

Speakers and dignitaries at Capital Metro’s MetroRapid BRT launch celebration, from left: Capital Metro board members Chris Riley and John Langmore, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, Capital Metro President/CEO Linda S. Watson, Capital Metro Board Chair Mike Martinez, FTA Region 6 Regional Administrator Robert Patrick, and Capital Metro board member Norm Chafetz.

NCTD Opens San Luis Rey Transit Center

The North County Transit District (NCTD) opened its newest facility, the San Luis Rey Transit Center in Oceanside, CA, in ceremonies Feb. 1. BREEZE bus routes began serving the station the following day.

The public transit district partnered with the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) to construct the facility. Federal funds totaling $1.85 million, including $1.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, helped pay for construction, while NCTD and other local sources provided $850,000.

“The 12-bay transit center—with covered shelters, seating, restroom facilities, and a communications/security building—is a vast improvement over the interim facility. We are glad to be able to operate this secure and modern facility for the comfort of our passengers, and we are grateful to SANDAG for making it possible,” said San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn, NCTD board chair.

Five local and regional bus services will use the San Luis Rey facility. The new communications/security building anchors the mixed-use North River Village project, which combines residential and retail facilities and enhances pedestrian connections. 

Officials representing the NCTD Board of Directors, area city and county governments, and the San Diego Association of Governments, along with local celebrities, joined NCTD Executive Director Matthew Tucker, sixth from left, at the recent ribbon cutting for the agency’s San Luis Rey Transit Center.

Sierra Wireless to Acquire In Motion Technology

Sierra Wireless has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire In Motion Technology Inc. for $21 million. The transaction is expected to close in early March.

Sierra Wireless provides machine-to-machine (M2M) devices and cloud services that deliver intelligent wireless solutions. In Motion Technology’s mobile enterprise networks provide fleets in mission critical environments with a secure, managed end-to-end communications system.

Dean Rockwell, chief executive ­officer, In Motion Technology Inc., said: “We are excited to join the Sierra Wireless team and we look forward to being able to deliver even greater value to our customers with the expansion of our solutions offering and global footprint.”

“In Motion will strengthen our ­leadership position in M2M and broaden our enterprise solutions portfolio,” said Jason Cohenour, president and chief executive officer of Sierra Wireless. “The Sierra Wireless and In Motion businesses are highly complementary, and together will hold a unique competitive position.”

HNTB Report: Majority Wants Infrastructure Improvements

A majority of Americans want to see improvements to the nation’s transportation network and key infrastructure facilities, according to a new America THINKS survey from HNTB Corporation.

Nearly two out of three (65 percent) Americans surveyed fear a local infrastructure failure will occur within a year, while an overwhelming 95 percent stress the importance of rebuilding physical infrastructure in advance of natural disasters so it survives increasingly intense weather patterns.

Seventy percent of respondents said they would alter their travel patterns if local mobility were seamless, 57 percent said they would take public transit more often, and the same percentage said they would drive less. Sixty-six percent said they would be willing to pay more for at least one mode of transportation if it improved their travel experience.

HNTB noted that today’s U.S. infrastructure investments, approximately 2 percent of gross domestic product, have declined by 50 percent compared with 1960. Ninety-three percent  think that at least one U.S. transportation mode is in need of either innovation or repair: 26 percent of this group said U.S. rail systems are in need of innovation and 15 percent similarly cited bus systems. The figures for repair of these modes are 11 percent and 5 percent respectively.

“The United States has seen a period of immense economic growth and potential that has grown out of investments made in the nation’s transportation system over the last six decades. Today the returns on that investment are diminishing rapidly due to congestion, failing roads, bridges, and transit rails,” said Pete Rahn, HNTB leader national transportation practice. “Yet we haven’t found a compelling vision that will drive future state and federal investments and spur even more future growth.”

The survey, conducted by Kelton, used an e-mail invitation and online survey to poll a random nationwide sample of 1,152 Americans Sept. 26-Oct. 3, 2013.

The report is part of HNTB’s ­ongoing series of white papers. Details are avail­able here.

New and Interim Chief Executives Named

Four public transportation agencies have announced their new and interim chief executives.

Orseno, Metra
The Metra Board of Directors in Chicago has selected Donald A. ­Orseno as its next executive director/chief executive officer. He served in this position on an interim basis since August 2013.

Orseno has worked in the railroad industry for 40 years, beginning as a trainman for the Rock Island Railroad trainman.

He is the only commuter railroad representative on the 20-person Safety and Operations Management Committee of the Association of American Railroads. Orseno has served as president and vice president of the American Association of Railroad Superintendents and a member and past president of the Chicago Railroad Superintendents Association.

For APTA, he is a member of the Commuter Rail CEOs Subcommittee, and the Commuter Rail Committee, Legislative, and Research and Technology committees.

Stephens, SFRTA
The South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA) Governing Board in Pompano Beach has named Jack Stephens interim executive director. Stephens, the agency’s deputy executive director since 2003, will succeed Joseph Giulietti, who stepped down to become ­president of MTA Metro-North Railroad.

“We are fortunate to have a seasoned professional with more than 20 years of experience in the transportation industry, step in. With 10 of those years spent at the SFRTA, Jack already understands all facets of the authority,” said Governing Board Chair and Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven L. Abrams.

Prior to joining SFRTA, Stephens spent a dozen years associated with the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority.
For APTA, he serves on the Commuter Rail and Legislative committees.

Tulley, Trinity Railway Express
Tom Tulley has been named chief operating officer of Trinity Railway Express (TRE), the general manager position at the commuter rail system jointly owned and operated by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and Dallas Area Rapid Transit.

TRE has restructured this position to include the role of chief mechanical officer. Each of the previous posts oversaw overlapping functions of the railroad’s contract operator.

Tulley has worked since 2012 as chief of safety, regulatory compliance, risk reduction, and training for the North County Transit District, Oceanside, CA. From 1999-2012, he was passenger rail specialist for FRA Region 5 in Dallas, receiving FRA’s Bronze Superior Achievement Medal for Passenger Rail Initiatives. He also served in other jobs for FRA and, earlier, was director/senior manager of locomotive maintenance for Union Pacific Railroad.

McLean, Port Authority of Allegheny County
Pittsburgh’s Port Authority of Allegheny County has hired Ellen McLean, interim chief executive officer, to take on the job permanently effective Feb. 1.

McLean joined the Port Authority as chief finance officer in 2010. She also served six years as Chief Financial Officer of the city of Pittsburgh under Mayor Tom Murphy and as managing director of infrastructure Initiatives for the Urban Land Institute in ­Washington, DC.

“I’m very pleased to lead this agency and look forward to working to improve our transit system for this region,” she said. “This is a team effort and I’m thrilled to do this alongside a strong board of directors, an engaged union leadership, community partners, and support from public officials. Together we can make a very positive change in our public transportation system.”


Technology Trends in Public Transit

BY KATHERINE LEWIS, Special to Passenger Transport

Public transportation relies on technological advances. From the invention of the steam locomotive to the development of onboard data systems, technological breakthroughs have revolutionized the way public transportation operates for centuries.

Whether public transit technology adopters are promoting energy innovations, new customer apps, or better payment systems, they must balance the need to stay on the cutting edge with the requisite public funding and consumer adoption.

“Used correctly, technology empowers our customers with information, and that makes us a better product,” said John Flynn, chief information officer, Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) “We have to prioritize and we have to select projects that have the most value to our customers and ourselves. We are constantly triaging the number of projects and ideas people have based on our funding and how mature the technology is,” he said in comments that summarize the thinking of several officials contacted for this story.

Virtually all public transportation agencies and businesses are routinely exploring and implementing dozens of technological advances. A sampling of some technology initiatives follows in this article and several others.

When it comes to innovative technology, energy capture rivals any other current initiative in ­public transit.

Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) received a $900,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Energy Development Authority to develop an energy capture project in partnership with Viridity Energy, said SEPTA’s Erik Johanson, manager of strategic business planning. The project captures the energy from trains’ dynamic braking in a wayside battery and either sells that energy to the ­electrical grid or uses it to power other SEPTA trains.

“It’s like collected rainwater. We have ‘excess rainwater’—excess energy—that’s being created by braking trains,” explained SEPTA Chief Engineer Andrew Gillespie. “The next time the train needs to accelerate, we de-charge the battery before buying power.”

In January, the weekly revenue SEPTA earned from selling energy ranged from $3,239 to $22,226, depending on the weather and price of electricity. The ­project is capturing two megawatts of power a day on average. Project managers are experimenting with different algorithms for deciding when to enter the electricity market and when to store the energy, depending on the price of energy and the performance impacts. “There’s a balance here between energy reduction and financial revenue-based benefits,” said Johanson.

SEPTA is in the design phase of a second energy-capture project funded by a $1.4 million grant from FTA’s Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program. This project will mix a few innovative technologies, possibly a hybrid of a super capacitor and a lithium-ion battery.

“This is the next logical iteration of propulsion technology” after transitioning from friction braking to dynamic and regenerative braking, Johanson said. “We’ve gotten to a stage where it’s cost-effective. That we can make it work within the financial constraints of our authority and still provide energy benefits and financial sustainability is really exciting.”

SEPTA officials would like to continue propagating energy capture projects throughout the system, with an ultimate goal of 10 units. It’s a promising technology for the entire industry, Gillespie said. “As new systems are being built I think you’ll see this technology integrated with them as a standard, built into every substation to take advantage of this opportunity,” he said.

Los Angeles Metro dove into wayside energy capture several years ago, thanks to a $4.5 million federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant to implement flywheel technology at the Red Line’s MacArthur Park station. The project is about 12 to 18 months from being operational.

“We’re trying to capture all the waste energy as the train stops and try to actually capture all of that into an on-site regenerative system,” said Cris Liban, deputy executive officer for environmental compliance efforts. “As the train leaves the station, we’ll draw first from that system before we draw energy from the grid.”

A similar project for the agency’s Gold Line would capture energy in a flywheel system as the train slows down around a bend, but instead of being stored, the system would simply hold the energy for the same train or a subsequent one that needs to accelerate. A $2.5 million grant from the South Coast Air Quality Management District helped fund that project, which has a total cost of $3.1 million.

Separately, Los Angeles Metro is exploring flash technology for electric buses, in which the buses would carry smaller batteries that could be recharged more quickly multiple times along the line. Currently, the buses stop for two to five minutes in the middle of a trip to regenerate the energy used up to that point.

“It’s time saved,” Liban said. “The amount of time you charge the smaller battery of the bus is only as long as the bus is picking up passengers.”

New Flyer sees electrification as the natural next step for buses, with multiple possible solutions for battery size, life, and charging strategies. “That’s the largest propulsion change we’re seeing in the industry right now,” said Chris ­Stoddart, vice president of engineering services for New Flyer, based in ­Winnipeg, MB, Canada. (See related story about alternative fuels in this issue.)

Trends in Fare Collection
Several public transit agencies are deploying or exploring technological innovations in fare collection, with benefits accruing both to agencies and riders.

For example, CTA has already seen 80 percent of its riders adopt Ventra, a cashless regional payment system that went live in September, and it expects 100 percent use by the end of the year as the system is refined. Customers currently can use any debit or credit card, and CTA officials hope this year to begin testing near-field communications (NFC) to allow access through a gated system, like a smart card does. NFC is a set of standards for smartphones and similar devices to establish radio communication with each other by bringing them into proximity, usually no more than a few inches.

New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Agency (MTA) is also moving away from card-based fare payment, planning later this year to issue a request for proposals to replace and upgrade its existing farecard and payment system. Currently, MTA issues roughly 150 million magnetic-strip farecards each year and processes 8 million transactions a day.

The agency wants to replace the proprietary card-based system with an open architecture typology that relies on NFC chips in mobile phones and contactless chip credit cards issued by banks. A device reader at the turnstile (or bus) would recognize the customer’s credential and payment processing would be moved to a central location, with more computing power and greater ease of ­maintenance.

“We are waiting, frankly, for the market to catch up to us,” said Michael DeVitto, an MTA vice president and program executive, noting that mobile phone and card issuers are still working out the kinks in a contactless payment system. “We know we need to create a better system for our customers, one that they are expecting from a 21st-century transportation network.”

MTA plans to phase in the new system so customers aren’t stranded at the agency’s 3,500 subway turnstiles or nearly 6,000 buses. Agency officials would like to leverage the existing payments infrastructure as much as possible, although eventually they will likely issue some device for customers who won’t use mobile phones, credit or debit cards, or prepaid cards to pay their fares. MTA is doing its part to speed along mobile phone adoption, offering wireless voice and data access in 36 of its 277 underground subway stations.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) has moved entirely away from cards to mobile ticketing, with a multimodal, multi-agency app called GoPass that riders have already downloaded nearly 100,000 times since its September launch, and which has passed $1.2 million in sales.

Because DART is a pass-oriented, proof of payment (gated) system, it’s easier for conductors and operators to visually verify a pass on someone’s smartphone than to wait for an electronic verification.

“In effect you turn everybody’s individual personal smartphone into their own personal ticket vending machine instead of us having to deploy them,” said David Leininger, DART’s chief financial officer. Leininger noted that Dallas has a 60 percent rate of smartphone use, with disproportionately larger penetration among lower-income populations. “It’s the transit agency that likes tap and go. It’s the customer that likes app and go,” he said. “They like an all-in-one app where you can ticket, do trip planning, get events and offers, and see ‘where’s my bus?’ ”

GoPass cost $500,000 to launch, with approximately another $100,000 to advertise the product, he said. DART has worked with retail partners and event organizers to package transit passes with event tickets or other offers, in addition to helping with crowd control by limiting the number of tickets, such as in the shuttles to the NCAA Final Four game.

“We have had a really successful deployment, but it was really a result of the interest and cooperation of our workforce, our bus operators,” he said. “They became a thousand-man-and-woman sales force.”

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) in St. Petersburg, FL, aims to implement a single smartcard system throughout the Tampa Bay area within a year, said Chief Executive Officer Brad Miller—also chair of APTA’s Bus and Paratransit CEOs Committee—who eventually sees the industry moving to a system like the one at CTA. “Someday soon you will no longer need a separate card or ticket to ride a bus. You’ll be able to use a credit card or your electronic wallet on your phone, or something like that. That’s very exciting,” Miller said.

Communication Technology
At the Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) in Grand Rapids, MI, APTA Chair Peter Varga, its president and chief executive officer, sees technology as vital for public transit to stay relevant to a younger generation and to support a growing economy.

“The younger population focuses on different ways of using information and getting data,” said Varga, who recently deployed a system for customers to get next bus information by text.

The agency is also exploring smartcards and mobile ticketing simultaneously. In the future, vehicle monitoring will be useful to maintenance. And making Wi-Fi available throughout the agency’s BRT (scheduled to launch this summer) is a top priority.

“Young people don’t want to pay for Internet and they’re screaming for Wi-Fi. That’s our growing client base, so we want to make sure they’re happy,” he said. “They’re making different choices for different trips every day.”

Many public transit agencies are ­making Wi-Fi available to riders onboard, including PSTA, which is ­currently testing free Wi-Fi on all of its buses, Miller said. “You can certainly text and ride and you can make your time much more valuable on the bus by doing that. That’s a pretty neat technology,” he said.

CTA recently issued a request for proposals to upgrade to 4G from its current 2G wireless distributed antenna system, which was the first in the U.S. in 2005. The agency already has bus and train tracking systems that cover 100 percent of the transit network, so customers can learn when the next two trains or buses will arrive at their stop by Internet, smartphone, text message, and displays at the stations or bus stops. In the next 18 months, the agency will add digital signs to 150 more bus shelters.

As Global Positioning Satellite technology and sensors are being loaded onto buses and train cars, public transit is increasingly moving toward the fabled “Internet of things,” a concept that describes uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like (networked) structure. In the case of public transit, it refers to a network in which machines communicate with each other and self-correct without the need for human ­intervention.

“Inside a state-of-the-art ­Bombardier train, you will get 10 to 15 intelligent systems: entertainment systems, passenger information systems, up to multimedia, publicity, news, weather, diagnostics, and control,” said Mikel Doucet, product director for Bombardier, based in Montreal.

As a result, train operators can instantly correct operational problems, customers can learn when trains are arriving, and predictive maintenance becomes easier, among many other innovations.

For instance, as intelligent railcars feed reams of data into central operations, it becomes easier to predict events with a high degree of likelihood—for example, that a certain door will require maintenance in a certain period of time. In this “integrated ecosystem of technology,” dashboards and tablets replace reams of paper and heavy binders throughout a system, from the operations center to the maintenance shop and garage.

“You get a better profile of the passengers; you know what they want in terms of services and experience,” Doucet said. For instance, an intelligent train could calculate and signal which cars have the most available seats and push that information to boarding passengers’ mobile devices.

Of course, with smart trains and buses producing and gathering huge amounts of data, the challenge for public transit becomes how to use that information strategically as part of an Intelligent Transportation System (ITS). Avail Technologies, based in State College, PA, streamlines the data elements provided to public transit systems to support such data analysis.

“Transit is looking for data to be easier to use and portable,” said Dorsey E. Houtz, Avail’s president and chief executive. “Transit agencies today are looking for an ITS system that can go with them, that’s portable.”

The intelligent buses driving around the streets are really mobile data centers, with 250,000 to 450,000 pieces of equipment worth up to $20,000, feeding back information that can be used for planning, maintenance, operations, and customer information, he said. “It’s all about pushing the data out to the customers today and trying to enhance the rider’s experience,” Houtz added.

By providing QR codes or numbers to text for information about the next bus arriving at a stop, public transit systems can greatly reduce phone calls to customer service while dramatically increasing rider satisfaction. In an intelligent transit system, bus operators receive their route information instantly upon walking into the depot, via a wireless device. They can conduct a pre-shift inspection of the bus with the camera in a mobile phone. Other buses are feeding information about traffic delays into the system, so the route may even shift without a need for human intervention.

Technology Enhances Security
Many public transit systems nationwide use driving simulators to help reduce accidents, train rookie drivers, and provider refresher training for experienced drivers. At StarMetro in Tallahassee, FL, for example, driving simulators help the agency expand its workforce and help new drivers gain the special skills required for bus driving.

“We are surrounded by nothing but rural communities, which makes it a real challenge to hire folks with a commercial driving license,” said Ivan ­Maldonado, StarMetro director.

Not only do the simulators give new hires valuable practice before they hit the road, they can be tailored to give refresher training to experienced drivers, said Rosemary Bosby, safety and training specialist.

StarMetro also implemented motor data terminals for paratransit operators with GPS. “For a small transit system in Florida, we probably could compete with any other transit system in the nation with the quality of work, efficiency of services, and customer service—as well as how our staff feel about themselves,” ­Maldonado said.

As for larger systems, CTA considers next-bus information a safety feature as well as a convenience, allowing customers to stay indoors—protected from the weather or possible criminal activity—until just before a bus arrives. More than 3,500 security cameras at rail stations have contributed to a 40 percent drop in crime in stations and on platforms since 2011. Chicago police officers use the agency’s security footage to identify suspects through facial recognition software. The next phase is to overhaul 1,000 New Flyer buses to allow automatic wireless download of the video when buses enter the depot, said CTA’s Flynn.

Alternative Fuels Surging Ahead in Bus Marketplace; Industry Devising Ways to Power Buses, from CNG to Electric to Biofuel

BY SUSAN BERLIN, Senior Editor

Once bus engines meant diesel power. Alternative fuels were considered impractical and expensive. But that is changing dramatically. Alternatively-fueled vehicles account for more than 40 percent of ­current U.S. public transit fleets, and 59.7 percent of new buses operate with alternative fuels.

As of 2011, according to APTA’s 2013 Public Transportation Fact Book, diesel-powered buses still lead the sector with 63.5 percent of the U.S. market, but public transit systems are investing in other fueling technologies. (The 2011 data are the most recent available.)

Natural gas (compressed or liquefied) engines power 18.6 percent of buses, hybrid-electric buses account for 8.8 percent, and 8.2 percent use other alternative fuels. While pure electric-powered buses make up just 0.1 percent of the U.S. fleet, they are in the market to stay.

Here are a few examples of public transit agencies investing in alternative fuel technologies.

Los Angeles Metro retired its last diesel bus in 2011. At the time, the agency’s clean-air bus fleet consisted of 2,221 vehicles powered by compressed natural gas (CNG), six gasoline-electric hybrids, and one all-electric bus.
John Drayton, Metro’s vehicle acquisition manager, explained that the effort began in 1988, when the agency (then the Southern California Rapid Transit District) purchased its first 10 CNG buses as part of “a variety of alter­native fuels and technologies including methanol, ethanol, and CNG engines, among others.”

In 1993, the agency’s board of directors adopted an “Alternative Fuel Initiative” that directed staff to purchase only non-diesel buses; CNG has been the fuel of choice since 1995.

CNG was not Metro’s first choice for fueling a bus fleet, however. In 1992, the agency invested in 333 methanol-­powered buses, which Drayton said “proved not well suited to heavy-duty operations like ours.”

Drayton cited both economic and environmental benefits to CNG. “In addition to being a very clean fuel and engine, CNG is currently about 60 percent cheaper than diesel on a cost-per-mile basis,” he explained. “To put it simply, CNG gas is cheap, abundant, and clean. We’re literally saving tens of millions of dollars running on CNG. We also are running some of the cleanest engines in the world.”

But Metro isn’t stopping there. “We are actively looking at further reducing our fleet emissions, and are looking at what is being called ‘near-zero’ as well as ‘zero-emission’ buses,” he said, and the agency is investigating next-generation CNG technology that could be substantially cleaner than current engines.

The Role of Hybrids
Another growing bus technology is hybrid-electric power. The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD) in Illinois purchased its first nine hybrid buses in 2009 and now operates 55, or 54 percent of the total fleet.

Jane Sullivan, the agency’s sustainability and transportation planner, noted that—in addition to their lower fuel usage and decreased emissions compared with traditional diesel buses—diesel-electric hybrids can easily be incorporated into an existing fleet.

“Other alternative fuel options require installation of new fueling and maintenance infrastructure that is not required for diesel-electric hybrids,” she said. “Diesel-electric hybrids made sense for MTD because we planned on a gradual change and did not want the burden of investing in new infrastructure that is only used for the new vehicles.”

Sullivan reported that the hybrid buses have helped MTD see a 25 percent reduction in fuel consumption and a decline in noise pollution by about half. In addition, she said, “Diesel-electric hybrids travel 5.5 times as many miles before they need a transmission fluid change, and 1.4 times as many miles before they need a filter change. This results in time, money, and material savings for our maintenance department.”

Amy Snyder, MTD communications specialist, described the promotional effort that went into the launch of the new vehicles. “We wanted to educate the community about the benefits of the hybrid technology, as well as getting everyone excited about the new buses,” she said. To that end, MTD wrapped the exteriors of the hybrid buses in green and yellow, distinct from the fleet’s usual blue and red “swooshes,” and distributed information about the hybrids at community events.

“Early in 2010, less than a year after the new hybrids arrived, we hired a marketing/branding firm to produce a ‘green’ promotional campaign . . . with the tagline, ‘A lot of people talk about going green. MTD’s been quietly doing it’,” Snyder said.

Another agency that operates hybrid-electric buses, King County Metro Transit in Seattle, is working closely with BAE Systems on its newest vehicles. BAE is providing its HybriDrive Series-E propulsion technology to New Flyer, which is building the buses for the agency.

Shelby Cohen, communications manager for BAE Systems, explained that this technology allows a bus to enter a stop with its engine off and to board and disembark passengers with no idling of the engine or carbon emissions. This provides both less vehicle noise and a reduction in fuel consumption.

She said: “The HybriDrive Series propulsion system uses a smaller diesel engine to spin the generator in order to produce electricity, which then is used by an electric motor to propel the bus. When the bus is headed downhill, our system produces electricity through a process called regenerative breaking; that energy is stored in a battery pack and then used when needed to propel the bus.”

Electric and Hydrogen Options
Battery-powered electric buses are another technology gaining attention among public transit agencies. VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio, TX, initiated service in February 2013 with three electric buses from Proterra, funded with a $5 million grant from the federal Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) program.

The agency’s Arc service operates the electric buses on downtown circulator routes. They recharge at the Robert Thompson Transit Station at the Alamodome, receiving energy generated either by solar panels installed as part of the project or by wind farms in West Texas and on the Texas coast as part of VIA’s Windtricity agreement with CPS Energy.

In addition to the Arc service, VIA operates both CNG vehicles and hybrid buses.

In Cleveland, the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) partnered with the NASA Glenn Research Center and the Ohio Aerospace Institute to install Ohio’s first hydrogen fueling station using electrolysis.

“NASA proposed purchasing the equipment and installing it at an RTA bus garage,” said Jerome Masek, RTA publications manager. “Our role was to lease a hydrogen fuel cell bus and operate and maintain the bus and fueling equipment.”

The pilot project ended in 2013 and reported “great feedback from operators and mechanics,” Masek said. He noted that RTA had wanted to continue the project, but the company that leased the vehicle changed ownership and terminated the agency’s lease.

Public outreach surrounding the hydrogen vehicle focused on emphasizing the safety of hydrogen fuel. RTA held two public presentations showing that hydrogen is no more or less dangerous than other flammable fuels, but that it also dilutes quickly into the air in case of a leak. “After the initial push-back, RTA received only positive feedback,” Masek added.

As for the future, “We continue to research and test new products that are better for our customers and environment,” he said. “Although hydrogen was not the current solution, RTA learned an immense amount for a potential new project. As hydrogen technology continues to advance, it will allow transit authorities to provide a more sustainable solution for fueling requirements.”

Biofuels and Propane
Another increasingly popular alternative fuel is biodiesel, made from crops such as soy or corn, or from recycled cooking oil. LYNX in Orlando, FL, has seen positive environmental and other benefits since it introduced the fuel to its 280-bus fleet in 2009 as part of a “B-20” blend: 20 percent biodiesel and 80 percent traditional diesel.

LYNX Chief Executive Officer John Lewis Jr. explained that the agency not only uses biodiesel, it owns its own blending facility. “We can create custom blends, increase the ratio of biodiesel to diesel for testing,” he explained. “This also will help us if we experience a fuel disruption. It gives us flexibility in operation.”

He noted that LYNX became interested in biodiesel after former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist called for a 10 percent reduction in greenhouse gas levels in the state. “We effectively lowered carbon dioxide emissions by 26 percent in a year,” Lewis said. “In addition, LYNX became less dependent on imported fuels while supporting agricultural markets in the state.”

Lewis also said the agency reviews the benefits of biodiesel every year to make sure it remains “the right fueling source for us.”

Some public transit systems are moving in an entirely new direction, fueling their paratransit vehicles with propane. The Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) in Flint, MI, currently leads the way with 74 of the vehicles in service and another 14 expected by this summer, all powered by ROUSH CleanTech technologies.

Lynn McLean, MTA director of maintenance, vehicles, facilities, and fixed route operations, explained that trucks have used propane power since the 1970s, but the fuel was vulnerable to extremes of temperature until ROUSH developed a method of injecting the fuel directly into the cylinders (similar to the gasoline fuel injection process in cars).

“Acceptance of propane technology is like a snowball rolling downhill,” McLean said, mentioning several other transit agencies that either have added propane-powered vehicles to their fleets or plan to do so in the near future. “I think we’re going to see a lot more propane use in the transit field.” He said propane comes mostly from domestic sources, burns clean, extends engine life, and requires no special fueling facilities. Also, unlike diesel engines in paratransit vehicles, propane engines are quiet.

Another benefit to implementing propane use, according to McLean, is that the ROUSH engine has undergone testing at the Altoona Bus Research and Testing Center, making it eligible for FTA funding. In fact, he said, he leased one of MTA’s first two propane vehicles back to ROUSH for the testing process.


As part of a pilot project, the NASA Glenn Research Center purchased Ohio's first hydrogen fueling station using electrolysis and installed it at a Greater Cleveland RTA bus garage.

LYNX has used biodiesel to fuel its buses since 2009 and maintains its own blending facility. 


The Technology of Positive Train Control: A Review of Top-Level Challenges

One of the most significant technological challenges facing rail systems is the implementation of Positive Train Control (PTC), which has been described as a “system of systems” that requires long-range strategic planning, highly advanced engineering, and extensive integration with existing systems of all types.

Passenger Transport recently posed two questions to Robert G. Ayers, president, Ayers Electronic Systems, a member of the APTA Research and Technology Committee, and Lou Sanders, APTA’s director-operations and technical services, to get their perspectives on the state of PTC technology and the challenges it represents. Their comments follow.

PT: Please share your assessment of the current technological obstacles and opportunities related to PTC, particularly in terms of its critical segments such as back office, locomotive, and wayside.

Robert Ayers: In the communications area, there continue to be issues with obtaining timely FCC approval for the required 220 Base station sites. Additionally, the allocation of spectrum in the 220 band continues to be an area of contention.

In the back office, it has been a challenge to develop servers that can provide interoperable messaging on one side and custom integration with each railroad’s dispatch and back office environment. Additionally, most railroads require modifications to their dispatching system to accommodate PTC.

On the locomotive, integration with existing onboard systems such as various types of electronic braking systems, energy management systems, and locomotive computer feeds (e.g. LIG, LSI) provides challenges. There are a wide variety of locomotive environments, even within a single large railroad, that need to be accommodated.

On the wayside, PTC necessitates additional testing after any change is made to a wayside location. PTC brings new requirements to rapidly report minor changes to the wayside and to incorporate those changes into the track files. Additionally, the volume of wayside locations that require new installations or upgrades is very high. Finally, changes made to the wayside at subdivision boundaries and at diamonds have more implications as data must be updated for all affected subdivisions.

Lou Sanders: Commuter railroads have been confronted with special challenges in spectrum acquisition due to lack of funding and inexperience on the part of smaller operations. Commuter railroads present a range of applications, including:

* Setting up independent networks to accommodate PTC operations;
* Integrating with host networks;
* Internal integration with existing communications systems; and
* Cab cars in addition to locomotives operating in push pull service.

Ayers: Each railroad that has its own track will need to develop, validate, maintain, and configuration manage Track Files (sometimes called “subdiv files”), which specify the track, grade, curvature, signal switches, permanent speed restrictions, and so on that are necessary for PTC operations. Developing and maintaining these data with the requisite accuracy is a much more significant challenge than many people in the industry envisioned.

Configuration management of the very large datasets required to support PTC is a long-term challenge. Historically different departments in the railroads maintained their own datasets that met the business needs of the departments; however, PTC requires data­sets to be integrated across engineering, technology, and operating organizations. PTC also requires that data be updated and distributed within a much shorter timeframe than has ever been the case in the past.

Sanders: Some commuter railroads have IT management infrastructure, but smaller operations do not. This poses difficulties in maintaining software configuration for communications and back-office systems.

Organizational Issues
Ayers: In organizations that are first starting to deal with PTC, there is a ­tendency for each person to see the problem from a perspective that is based on their background. This is true both for railroad employees and consultants.

Effective PTC implementation requires a horizontal “system” view of the railroad, and relatively few people are currently able to bring this perspective.

The need for management to have a crosscutting view of the railroad ­business may lead to structural changes in many railroads.

Sanders: Commuter railroads may have bits and pieces, but not necessarily coherent organizations to address PTC requirements. New patterns of communications with tenants and hosts may challenge some existing organizations.

PT: What are the strategic issues? What trends should agency and business member leaders be aware of as discussions of PTC’s role in public transportation evolve?

Next Generation Dispatch Systems
Ayers: Current PTC implementations are connecting conventional dispatch computers to PTC to allow operations to continue on the railroads with minimal changes to operating practices. Once the intensive effort to deploy PTC is completed, it is likely that railroads will take a new look at how dispatching is performed with an eye to more efficient and safer operations.

Currently dark territory authorities are read to crews by dispatchers, and read back by the crew prior to making the authorities “active.” This process is labor-intensive and error-prone. Future dispatch systems could eliminate this process and allow crews to operate solely on authorities delivered digitally by PTC.

Future dispatch systems could take advantage of real-time location information from PTC and could implement moving block operations where the dispatch system automatically “rolls up” authority behind a train and allows another train to follow it more closely than is possible currently.

Sanders: Commuter rail schedules are more elaborate than freights and operate in more confined areas. This adds complexity to scheduling, and it increases communications and data requirements to support operations.

Integration with New Sensors
Ayers: New sensor systems are on the drawing board that will provide predictive broken rail detection, replace track circuits, and provide more precision train location. Eventually, the integration of these sensors with PTC will provide opportunities to improve safety and lower operating costs.


Meet Nathaniel Ford Sr.!

Nathaniel Ford Sr.
Chief Executive Officer
Jacksonville Transportation Authority, Jacksonville, FL
Member, Mid-Sized Operations and Waterborne Transit Operations committees; Past Secretary/Treasurer, APTA Board of Directors, Executive Committee, and American Public Transportation Foundation; Former Vice Chair-Management and Finance

How many people are employed at your agency?
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) has about 850 employees. Although we are one of the country’s mid-size authorities, we have a huge area to cover. Jacksonville has the largest land mass of any city in the U.S. We operate nearly 200 buses and trolleys and 26 community shuttles on approximately 34 routes, as well as an automated people-mover.

How long have you worked in the public transportation industry?
I have worked in the transportation industry for more than 32 years. I have worked at all levels and learned every aspect of the business—starting on the ground floor as a train conductor for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York. ­During my career, I have been a CEO for a combined 12 years, first at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, then the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and now JTA, where I recently celebrated my first anniversary.

How long have you been an APTA member?
I became active with APTA 20 years ago.

What drew you to a career in public transportation?
Transportation is in my blood. My father started in this industry at the New York MTA. Watching him go to work every day and reach the highest levels in his field was an ­inspiration to me. My father is, was, and always will be my role model, so I really followed in his footsteps and haven’t looked back because transportation is such an exciting, multifaceted field. It is also rewarding to provide a vital service to people who rely on public transportation to get where they need to go.

Transportation is always changing. When I first started decades ago, the primary goal was to transport daily commuters on buses and trains quickly, safely, and affordably. Today those factors are still important, but we have enhanced our scope to attract choice riders—people who might take ­public transit occasionally to a sports event or concert and Baby Boomers and Millennials who want an alter­native to driving their cars. Transit executives also help stimulate economic development by forming public-private partnerships to build transit-oriented developments.

What have you found to be the most valuable APTA benefit or resource? Which one helps you do your job?
One of the most rewarding aspects of being an APTA member is the partnerships I have formed and the friendships I have made with colleagues. Getting feedback from my peers about best practices, sharing knowledge, and exchanging ideas with other industry leaders is invaluable.

The professional networking—locally, nationally, and internationally—identifying solutions to challenges facing transportation agencies, and having a collective voice to advocate for public transit at a national level are an immense help to me as a transportation executive.

What do you like most about your job?
I like the challenge and opportunity of being able to take a good transportation system to the next level to make it a leader in the region. It’s like buying a house. If you buy a beautiful turnkey mansion it might be nice to live in, but there’s nowhere to go from there except, perhaps, to buy a bigger mansion. But if you buy a modest, well-designed home and want to expand, you have room to grow and something to work toward that you can put your signature style on. That’s what I think of the JTA.

The JTA is in a great position to expand its focus, its purpose, and its scope, and I find that exciting. That’s what I like most about my job.

What is unique about your agency? What would readers be surprised to learn?
I believe readers would be surprised to learn that we began as the Jacksonville Expressway Authority in 1955. The authority was established by the Florida legislature and the focus was limited to highways, bridges, and tolls. A few other interesting facts:

* The JTA wasn’t established until 1971, when the expressway authority merged with several private bus companies.

* JTA is still responsible for roads and bridges, one of a few public transit ­agencies in the country with that purview.

* The JTA is expanding its focus and is laying the foundation to support a regional transportation system.

* The JTA has launched or is preparing to launch several innovative programs, including TransPortal, a federally funded, one-call, one-click program that will provide real-time information about transportation options in the 12-county region, and First Coast Flyer, our new BRT program that we’re planning to implement in 2015. 

Make sure you see Nathaniel Ford Sr.’s video, now that you've read this!


Meet Mariela Garcia-Colberg!

Mariela Garcia-Colberg
Program Manager-International Programs
Member Services Department

What are the job elements you focus on the most—your primary responsibilities?

I make sure that APTA ­members have all the information they need about what is happening internationally.

I arrange for international speakers to participate in APTA meetings and put together the International Showcase at EXPO. I also run free virtual trade missions or webinars that let our members know what’s happening in specific countries.

To be as well informed as possible about public transit around the world, I build relationships with my counterparts at DOT and its modal administrations, and make connections with commercial attachés at foreign embassies in Washington and at U.S. embassies around the world. I organize embassy roundtables four times a year to share information about APTA and invite embassy staff members to our meetings. It is also an opportunity to let embassy staff know they can bring delegations from their countries to visit APTA.

Do you have direct contact with APTA members? If so, please talk about recent times you’ve helped out a member.

As staff advisor to the Business Member International Business Development Subcommittee, I provide outreach to committee members with information about international procurement, conferences and events.

I’m also in touch with transit systems; they are my partners when it comes to showing international delegations U.S. best practices. When international delegations come to APTA, I invite both business members and transit systems to make presentations. I help them network.

What initiatives, projects, or programs have you worked on at APTA that you have taken particular pride in completing?

We’ve had several international delegations at the APTA offices in the past few months: China, Northern Ireland, Argentina, and Israel. Each visit is unique. I thoroughly enjoy ­putting the presentations together, inviting our guest agencies, and getting to know the delegation members.

APTA has memorandums of understanding with eight international partners that let us work together on some of the common challenges of the industry.

How did you “land” at APTA? How long have you worked here?

I was a program manager for the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) in Arlington. A consultant with whom I was working told me that APTA was looking to fill its international position and ­suggested I apply.

My first day at APTA was Sept. 28, 2013—during the Annual Meeting in Chicago! I was immediately immersed in the APTA world. I wasn’t expecting to meet so many people at one time in such a busy environment. KellyAnne Gallagher introduced me to transit agency CEOs and business members, and I attended meetings of the Business Member Board of Governors committees. It was a really intense experience.

Have you held other jobs in the public transportation industry?

I first became interested in ­public transit in 2007 when, as a corporate and real estate attorney, I attended a workshop on light rail in San Juan, Puerto Rico. That day I decided I wanted to study urban planning, so I applied to the University of Maryland, entering the doctoral program in the fall of 2008. In 2011 I decided not to finish my Ph.D., but soon became a federal grants administrator and program manager for NVTC. My work for the agency introduced me to many transit issues in the Washington metropolitan area, and I learned a lot. My passion for transit was ignited and I knew I had found a career I would enjoy.

What professional affiliations do you have?

Women’s Transportation Seminar, District of Columbia Bar Association, American Planning Association.

Could you tell us something about yourself that might surprise us?

I’m a native of Puerto Rico who came to St. Louis at age 18 to attend Washington University. I spoke only Spanish then; I could read and write English but didn’t speak it, so people thought I was shy. It took me awhile to become brave enough to speak. My father is an attorney and, after getting my bachelor’s degree at Washington University and a master of social work degree from Boston College, I went to law school back in Puerto Rico. After almost 10 years, I decided I needed a new career—and entered the urban planning doctoral program at the University of Maryland.

My multicultural, bilingual background has made me very open-minded and aware of both the similarities and differences among people. It also makes me patient when working with other people.

Make sure you see Mariela Garcia-Colberg’s video, now that you've read this!


Seahawks Victory Parade Sets Records for Puget Sound Transit Agencies

Public transportation agencies throughout Puget Sound experienced record ridership Feb. 5, when an estimated 700,000 Seahawks fans—more than the population of Seattle—made their way downtown to celebrate the new Super Bowl champions. The combined parade and rally was described as the largest event in the history of the Pacific Northwest.

Revelers packed inbound buses, trains, ferries, and water taxis starting early in the morning continuing until the evening. Bus operators placed additional vehicles on the street—some loaned from neighboring systems—and rail and water services operated more frequently than usual that day.

The day was the busiest ever for Sound Transit, which provided about 200,000 rides on its rail and bus routes, compared with average weekday ridership of about 105,000. For the first time, Link light rail deployed four-car trains to accommodate the crowds, and both Link and Sounder commuter rail provided additional runs.

King County Metro Transit and Sound Transit jointly operated about 1,200 buses, including at least 85 additional buses that made 300-plus extra trips. Bus drivers reported hundreds of full buses—about 20 times as many as a typical weekday—and Metro’s website had double to triple its usual traffic.

Community Transit in Snohomish County and Pierce Transit in Tacoma also provided additional trips into and out of Seattle both agencies reporting capacity loads and long lines.

Kitsap Transit in Bremerton ran standing room only loads on buses serving the Bremerton and Bainbridge Island ferry terminals and the on-foot ferry serving Bremerton. The agency used its largest buses to handle the crowds, and it operated three additional buses in the evening.

Intercity Transit in Olympia reported full express buses to Seattle, beginning with the first trip at 4:12 a.m. The agency also experienced standing rides throughout the day on routes connecting to other transit services.

Tri-Rail Marks 25th Anniversary

More than 250 past and present members of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (SFRTA)/Tri-Rail’s Governing Board, business and community leaders, and elected officials participated in recent ceremonies commemorating the 25th anniversary of Tri-Rail commuter rail in Pompano Beach, FL.

In her remarks, Therese McMillan, FTA deputy administrator, looked back at Tri-Rail’s launch on Jan. 9, 1989, when “a commuter rail line was not the obvious solution” to ease traffic congestion during construction on I-95.

“Tri-Rail was meant to be a temporary diversion until people could get back into their cars where they belonged,” she said. “But a funny thing happened on the way to the carpool lane: people liked Tri-Rail. They liked not sitting in traffic. They liked saving money.”

McMillan pointed out that in the years since the line opened, commuter rail has become “one of the key solutions cities consider as they grapple with congestion and growth. At the FTA, we’re proud to have worked shoulder to shoulder with you to make Tri-Rail a success.”

The celebration also was among the last major events for SFRTA Executive Director Joseph Giulietti, who is leaving the agency after 15 years to become president of MTA Metro-North Railroad.

Tri-Rail has carried more than 70 million passengers since its inception and now averages more than 15,000 riders a day.

Departing SFRTA Executive Director Joseph Giulietti with former board members Wendy Larsen, left, and Lori Parrish.

Reports Show Dallas Light Rail Is Catalyst for Economic Development

Reports released by Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) demonstrate that the agency’s investment in light rail has led to extensive growth in the regional economy, including the creation of 54,000 jobs between 2003 and 2013, as well as increased value of property located near DART stations.

DART released the University of North Texas reports, Through Recession and Recovery: Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Capital and Operating Spending by ­Dallas Area Rapid Transit and Developmental Impacts of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit Light Rail System, at a recent board meeting.

“These studies are evidence that transit transforms communities and can change the lives of the people who live in them. An investment in transit is an investment in people,” said DART President/Executive Director and ­former APTA Chair Gary Thomas.

Primary findings from the reports include:

* Investment in DART Rail between 2003 and 2013 yielded $7.4 billion for the regional economy, including new jobs that produced an additional $3.3 billion in salaries, wages, and benefits;

* More than $5.3 billion has been invested in transit-oriented development (TOD) near DART Rail stations since the light rail system opened in 1996;

* Developments located near DART stations are significantly more valuable than similar projects not located near public transit ($1.5 billion in value compared with $600 million). This produces greater property tax revenues for service area cities with these projects ($36 million compared with $14 million); and

* Rents for developments near DART Rail stations are an average of 14 percent higher than comparable properties.

Between 2003 and 2013, DART grew its light rail network from 44 miles and 34 stations to 85 miles and 61 stations, becoming the longest light rail system in the country.

Through Recession and Recovery shows that capital spending on the system was almost $5.63 billion, or $4.7 billion in inflation-adjusted 2013 dollars, and the expansion generated $7.4 billion in direct, indirect, and induced regional economic activity—or a 157 percent return on investment.

The TOD study, which examined developments located within one-quarter mile of a DART Rail station, found that the station area outperformed those in comparable control locations in each of five major property types. Of those completed projects, more than $751 million are multifamily residential developments, office developments total $224 million, retail developments are worth $393 million, and industrial and single-family properties also were more plentiful near rail stations.

Both of DART’s economic impact reports are available here.

AIA Honors Washington’s Metro

The American Institute of Architects (AIA) recently selected the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s Metrorail system to receive the 2014 AIA Twenty-five Year Award.

This honor recognizes architectural design of enduring significance, which has stood the test of time by embodying architectural excellence for 25 to 35 years.

AIA will present the award in June at its national convention in Chicago, home city of Metro’s architect, the late Harry Weese, FAIA.

The system contains 86 stations—underground, at-grade, and elevated—on five lines covering 106 miles. Common elements in Metro stations include escalators from street level in circular tunnels, mezzanine platforms with fare gates, and station platforms below high vaulted ceilings designed with rectangular coffers.

Report: Ridership Triples on LA Metro’s Expo Light Rail Line

Residents of Los Angeles who live near a station on Los Angeles Metro’s Exposition Light Rail Line dramatically reduced the number of miles they drove and tripled their rail ridership after the new rail line opened last year, according to a recent study conducted by the University of Southern California.

Specifically, the study reports that city residents who live within one-half mile of the new stations traveled 10 to 12 fewer miles daily by car—a 40 percent decrease—after the new rail line opened. These residents also tripled their rate of rail travel, from an average of one daily rail trip per household before the Expo Line opened to almost three daily household rail trips after it opened, according to the report.

Among the report’s other findings:

* Residents living near Expo Line stations produced about 30 percent less carbon emissions from their vehicles after the opening of the rail line than did residents living farther from the stations;

* Those living near the Expo Line stations who were the least physically active before the line’s opening increased their moderate or vigorous physical activity by eight to 10 minutes per day, as compared to those living farther away; and

* The impact of the Expo Line on driving and rail ridership was largest near stations with more bus lines and on streets with fewer t­raffic lanes.

Average daily ridership on the Expo Line numbered 27,603 people in October, up from 21,382 a year earlier.

The text of the report is available online.

‘Be a Safety Hero’ with OCTA

The Orange County Trans­portation Authority (OCTA) in Orange, CA, conducted its “Be a Safety Hero!” program at its website during January.

The program includes four brief bus safety videos—designed to educate both new and experienced riders about bus safety—and a quiz following each video. Each week through Jan. 31, the agency randomly selected one of the quiz responses and awarded the winner a 30-day bus pass.

The videos, created by the OCTA ­Digital Communications team, present bus safety in boarding, riding, r­iding with special needs, and exiting. They can be viewed here.

SamTrans Rolls Out Service Changes

The San Mateo County Transit District, which oversees SamTrans in San Carlos, CA, recently introduced a comprehensive set of service changes as a result of a two-year study that will change nearly every route in the bus system to improve frequency and reliability and make schedules more customer-friendly.

The SamTrans Service Plan (SSP) sets the agency on a path to improve efficiency, grow ridership, and increase reliability by doing “more of what works, less of what doesn’t, and trying new things,” agency officials said.

To lay the groundwork for the changes, SamTrans conducted an extensive community outreach campaign, which yielded more than 1,200 comments from dozens of public meetings.

“The SamTrans route network is undergoing one of the most extensive overhauls in the agency’s 38-year history,” said Michael J. Scanlon, general manager and chief executive officer. “It was a long process, with hours upon hours of outreach and involvement by riders and community members, to bring us to this point.

“But it was well worth it to ensure we heard from as many people, cities, businesses, and organizations as possible. This will lay the foundation for the next decade of SamTrans growth,” Scanlon added.

One key recommendation of the plan is for SamTrans to collaborate with the nearby communities of San Carlos and Pacifica to identify transportation gaps and develop creative solutions, including fixed route schedules, demand-based service, and “dial-a-ride” service.

BART Opens Renovated Station Plaza

The San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) recently opened a renovated southwest street-level plaza at its 24th Street/Mission Station in San Francisco. BART worked with partners including the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, San Francisco County Transportation Authority, and the city of San Francisco to modernize and redesign the plaza into an open space for community-oriented activities. Design elements in the $4.2 million project include new lighting, new pavement, and freshly planted trees and vines.

CUTC Honors Diridon’s Achievements

The Council of University Transportation Centers (CUTC) recently honored Rod Diridon Sr., executive director, Mineta National Transit Research Consortium and Mineta Transportation Institute, San Jose, CA, with its 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award.

Diridon was APTA chair in 1993-94 and headed CUTC in 2007.

The award recognizes his role in support of public transportation in the Silicon Valley as a member and six-time chair of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

Diridon is also the only person to have chaired the San Francisco Bay Area’s three regional governments—the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Bay Area Air Quality Management District, and Association of Bay Area Governments—and was a 10-year member and chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

GO Transit Orders Railcars from Bombardier

Metrolinx, the agency that administers GO Transit in Toronto, has ordered 65 new bi-level coaches from Bombardier with two options for an additional 75 coaches. The total investment for the order, including options, is $481 million (Cdn.).

GO Transit has operated the Bombardier bi-level coaches since 1978. The railcars in this order will be manufactured in Thunder Bay, ON, and will be delivered between June 2016 and July 2017, bringing the size of the GO Transit fleet to 743 coaches in service.


Nominations Open for Bus and Rail Safety Excellence Awards

APTA is currently accepting nominations for the 2014 Bus and Rail Safety & Security Excellence Awards through March 1 for bus and April 1 for rail. This year marks the centennial of the public transit safety awards program through APTA and its predecessor organizations.

Nominated agencies that receive the top honor in each category will receive recognition at the APTA Bus and Rail conferences as industry leaders that have implemented industry-leading, innovative safety and security practices.

The nominations process for public transit agencies is as follows:

* Find a successful program/project to highlight. It should have achieved organizational safety, security, or emergency preparedness objectives. Possible areas of interest could include training, hazard identification, accident/incident analysis, information technology applications, industrial/workplace safety, internal safety campaigns, or public relations/outreach.

* Visit the bus awards website or the rail awards website to see the detailed nomination instructions and evaluation criteria. Successful nominations address each of the four criteria listed—effectiveness, benefit level, innovation, and transferability—and provide adequate supporting data.

* Access and fill out the online submission form at the above websites, then attach the written nomination along with supporting materials.

More information is available from Mike Smith.

Seeking Presentations for Annual Meeting & EXPO 2014

APTA has opened a call for ­presentations for the 2014 APTA Annual Meeting & EXPO, Oct. 12-15 at the ­Hilton Americas–George F. Brown ­Convention Center in Houston, TX.

Abstracts—due to APTA by March 6—may address fresh, innovative, ­cutting-edge ideas, case studies, and best practices that will motivate participants beyond the conference. The topic areas feature policy, management, workforce development, planning, finance, sustainability, capital programs, legislative and regulatory activities, procurement, and bus technical maintenance.

This call for presentations is open only to APTA members.

To access materials related to the call for presentation, click here.

For additional questions regarding educational content or abstract questions, contact Cheryl Pyatt.

CEO Roundtable at BMBG Annual Meeting

Several public transit agency general managers participated in the CEOs Roundtable at the recent annual meeting of the Business Member Board of Governors (BMBG), where they discussed critical issues facing agencies and shared updates of current initiatives. Participants were, from left, Matthew Tucker, executive director, North County Transit District, Oceanside, CA; Darrell Johnson, chief executive officer, Orange County Transportation Agency, Orange, CA; Steve Banta, chief executive officer, Valley Metro, Phoenix, AZ; roundtable moderator Angela Iannuzziello, BMBG chair, and vice president, Canada National Transit Market Sector Lead, AECOM, Toronto, ON, Canada; Kenneth McDonald, president/chief executive officer, Long Beach Transit, CA; Paul Jablonski, chief executive officer, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, CA; APTA President & CEO Michael Melaniphy; and Patrick J. Scully, executive vice president, sales and marketing, Motor Coach Industries Inc. At other sessions, meeting participants discussed a variety of issues, notably workforce development and the need across the industry to have a steady stream of entry-level engineers, and reaching members of Congress about the importance of a multi-year transportation bill, with a focus on reaching transportation allies and those who aren’t traditional supporters of public transit.

NTI, TCRP Schedule Webinar

The National Transit Institute, in cooperation with the Transportation Cooperative Research Program (TCRP), will conduct a webinar Feb. 19 focusing on TCRP Report 162, Building a Sustainable Workforce in the Public Transit Industry.

The 90-minute webinar begins at 2 p.m. Eastern time.

The webinar will provide an overview of the report, which provides a guidebook addressing contemporary issues in workforce development including recruitment, retention, training, professional capacity building, and public transportation image management. Registration is free, but interested persons must register here to receive the login information.

More information is available from Ginny Stern, NTI program coordinator.

New Publications from TCRP

The Transportation Research Board (TRB) recently released the following Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) publications:

Legal Research Digest-44: Legal Issues in Public Transit Emergency Planning and Operation. This digest synthesizes and assesses laws, regulations, and guidance from the public transit and homeland security industries as a means to help transit agencies better understand their legal responsibilities with respect to emergency planning and operational issues. One goal of the report is to help transit systems remain in compliance with emergency planning and operations requirements and guidance.

Research Results Digest-108: Synthesis of Information Related to Transit Problems. This report is a digest of the progress and status of TCRP Project J-7, for which TRB is conducting the research.

TCRP Annual Report of Progress 2013. This report provides background and an overview of the program, status of each of TCRP’s projects, and a summary of some of the program’s accomplishments.

To access these publications, click here.

APTA in February

APTA’s calendar for February shows the many facets of public transportation, offers interesting data points about the value of public transit, and tracks key APTA events. Here’s what’s on tap for February:

The photo: This month’s photo features workers for the Denver Regional Transportation District (RTD) on the job at the East Line construction site at the Denver International Airport. The photo is provided courtesy of the Denver RTD.

The factoid: Did you know? For every $1 billion invested in public transportation, 36,000 jobs are created or supported.

The events: Feb. 23-25: Legal Affairs Seminar, Palm Springs, CA; Feb. 23-26: Marketing & Communications Workshop, New Orleans.


Automated Vehicles: What’s the Impact on Public Transit?

BY DENIS EIRIKIS, Clear Light Communications

As you read this, the entire transportation industry—from automakers to heavy freight lines and public transit systems—is facing a coming revolution: automated vehicle (AV) technology, which is likely to change everything from the size and shape of vehicles to the purpose and function of mobility.

For public transportation, the challenges posed by AV technology center on timing, service, and resources:

* How should long-range transit plans—those that are 10 or 12 years out—accommodate automated vehicles, especially when these vehicles are in their engineering and design infancy?

* What do public transit officials at small- and mid-size agencies need to know to accurately predict how driverless vehicles will affect their fleets, their workforce, and their service?

* How is the extensive global supply chain adapting?

* What will AVs mean for paratransit?

* Perhaps most importantly, what’s the impact on the “big three” resources of people, time, and money?

At this point in the evolution of automated vehicle technology, there are more questions than answers, except for one fact: Automated vehicles are coming, and coming fast. The new industry is advancing so ­rapidly that some experts predict it will change fixed route transit as dramatically as Model Ts changed the horse and buggy.

Dozens of business books have been written about paradigm shifts, exploring in part the theory that the longer individuals have been engaged in an industry, the less able they are to acknowledge change. At the November 2013 Automated Vehicle Summit in Florida, one long-time public transit veteran—so used to the way transit has operated for the past 30 years—expressed the wishful logic that since George Jetson’s flying cars never materialized, neither will driverless public transit. He might want to reconsider: The first wave of driverless transit vehicles has hit the market.

Induct, a robust French technology company, has just launched a robotic driverless electric shuttle called Navia. It carries eight passengers, travels 12.5 miles per hour, and costs around $250,000 per unit. Induct’s North American Director Corey Clothier said, “Navia has been designed to complement conventional transport—public or private—by taking care of the ‘last mile’ and the first. In addition to Europe and Asia, we’re working on deployments on multiple college campuses, medical campuses, theme parks, planned communities, and city centers here in the United States.”

The Center for Urban Transportation Research (CUTR) at the University of South Florida has just launched the Automated Vehicle Institute @ CUTR for which I served as interim managing director. The new institute recognizes automated vehicles as a “disruptive technology” with the potential to be as transformational as the Internet, changing the way industries conduct business, reshuffling the world’s economy, creating new business models and, unfortunately, leaving some traditional business models in the dust.

Several market forces are accelerating the development and roll out of AV technology. Here are just a few:

Young people are falling out of love with the automobile. In the effort to drive sales to Millennials, automakers worldwide are packing new cars with as much technology as possible, including the functionality of what DOT’s National Highway ­Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) calls Full Self-Driving Automation (Level 4). In 2013 policy guidelines, NHTSA defines these vehicles as those “designed to perform all safety-­critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip” during which the driver might provide destination or navigation input “but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip.”

Many AV experts predict that drivers will subscribe to transportation services rather than own cars, and urban centers will ban human drivers in favor of networked driverless taxies, vans, and buses that provide door-to-door service.

Steven Bayless, senior director with the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, suggests that HOV lanes may become driverless lanes. “Managed lanes could also potentially provide a proving ground for more automation and cooperative concepts such as vehicle or truck platooning.”

The economics of vanpools is increasingly unsustainable. “There were 10,633 vanpools in the U.S. in 2010, and these expensive vans sat idly parked an average of 22.9 hours each day,” said Phil Winters, program director of CUTR’s director of transportation demand management, citing figures from the National Transit Database.

Nevada has approved regulations that spell out requirements for companies that want to test driverless cars, and California has passed legislation that requires its Department of Motor Vehicles to draft regulations for autonomous vehicles by January 2015.

Google’s self-driving cars have already logged more than half a million miles on U.S. roadways.

Fully automated and connected vehicles will double existing road capacity because transportation planners and engineers can allow for narrower lanes, increased speed, and shorter safe following distances among vehicles.

Impact on Public Transit
Understanding and adopting AV technology can deliver huge dividends for public transit in two important ways.

First, such knowledge can prevent costly missteps and false starts. In a recent interview, Paul Godsmark, co-founder and chief technology officer at the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre (CAVCOE), said, “Agencies are currently committing billions of dollars to infrastructure-intensive transit schemes that will not be operational until the 2020s, and yet their business models and amenity value could be undermined by AVs before they are even finished being built.”

Second, agencies that are nimble and quick to understand the opportunities can take the lead on new service and operational models. CUTR Executive Director Jason Bittner sums up his advice to public transit this way: “Transit as we know it—large buses serving dense corridors with little flexibility—is unlikely to exist in 20 years. Public transportation operators should seriously consider the business model that an automated fleet of smaller vehicles would provide.”

Denis Eirikis is co-owner and president of Clear Light Communications. He served as a consultant to the Florida Public Transportation Association, for which he devised the IM4Transit campaign, and he is a consultant on many other transportation initiatives.

This “Commentary” section features different points of view from various sources to enhance readers’ broad awareness of themes and views that affect public transportation.


Who’s Doing What in the Industry

Philip R. Hale
TAMPA, FL—Philip R. Hale, chief executive officer of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority since 2011, has announced his plans to step down effective May 2.

Hale joined the agency in 2008 as chief of maintenance and facilities. For APTA, he serves on the Bus and Paratransit CEOs, Bus Operations, Bus Technical Maintenance, Legislative, and Mid-Size Operations committees and the Rail Transit CEOs Subcommittee.

Chin Lai
WASHINGTON, DC—Chin Lai has joined the Washington office of Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB) as a senior project controls manager.

Lai has almost 30 years of program management experience with major capital improvement and infrastructure rehabilitation projects. Prior to joining PB, he was a director with responsibility for construction management services at a Maryland consulting firm. Previously, he served as manager of project controls and manager of project finance at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

Joel Keller, Thomas Blalock
OAKLAND, CA—Joel Keller has been elected president of the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) Board of Directors. This is his third term as board president since he was first elected to the board in 1994.

Keller retired as a probation manager for Contra Costa County in 2003 and as a chief deputy probation officer for Solano County in 2008. He eas elected mayor of Antioch, CA, in 1984 and re-elected in 1988 and 1992.

Thomas Blalock, a BART board member since 1994, was elected board vice president. He also served as vice president in 1999 and president in 2000 and 2008-2009.

Takis Salpeas, Steven A. LaRocco
PASADENA, CA—Parsons announced the promotions of Takis Salpeas as global rail & transit systems director and Steven A. LaRocco to Salpeas’ previous position, senior vice president and rail & transit systems division manager.

Salpeas joined the firm in 2006 after working in senior management for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District, and Philadelphia’s Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority. He has more than 30 years of infrastructure experience in both the public and private sectors.

LaRocco, a Parsons employee since 1995, has more than 35 years of experience managing major rail transit projects. Before joining the company, he worked for MTA Long Island Rail Road in positions of increasing responsibility over 23 years.

Mike Suarez, Steve Polzin, Eddie Vance
TAMPA, FL—The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) board elected Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez as its chair for 2014. Steve Polzin was re-elected vice chairman and Temple Terrace Councilman Eddie Vance was elected secretary.

Suarez has been a HART board member since April 2011 and served as board secretary since 2012.

Steve Whaley, Joe Rudolph, Don Manfredi, Derek Whaley, Phillip Mailey
LIVONIA, MI--ROUSH Clean Tech announced the hiring of five business development executives.

Steve Whaley has a background in launching new technologies. He spent the past seven years coordinating turnkey alternative fuel solutions for vehicle technology, refueling infrastructure, and competitive fuel pricing for private and public fleets.

Joe Rudolph integrated a propane autogas program for Indiana DOT before joining ROUSH, where he will concentrate on fleet analysis and sales in the telecommunications and transit industries.

Don Manfredi has spent 20 years in automotive manufacturing in positions including global business development, operations management, application engineering, and sales.

Derek Whaley has experience in the propane autogas field from previous employment at two propane distribution companies. He will focus on the public sector, including school districts and municipalities.

Phillip Mailey has nine years of commercial fleet sales expertise. Formerly with General Motors, he has worked in the automotive field for three decades.

Shawn Nelson, Jeffrey Lalloway, Tom Tait
ORANGE, CA—The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) Board of Directors selected Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson as its new chairman, succeeding Greg Winterbottom. Nelson previously served as vice chairman.

Nelson, a board member since 2010, is an attorney with more than a decade of political experience since being elected to the Fullerton City Council in 2002. He served as mayor of Fullerton in 2004-2005 and 2006-2007. He was elected to the Orange County Board of Supervisors in 2010 and currently serves as its chairman.

Succeeding Nelson as vice chairman is Jeffrey Lalloway, a member of the Irvine City Council. He joined the OCTA board in January 2013.

Also joining the board is Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait, a member of the Anaheim City Council since November 2010 and previously from 1995-2004.

Colin Skipper
DENVER, CA—CH2M HILL has named Colin Skipper vice president and global oil and gas market sector leader within the firm’s Ports & Maritime Group, based in Swindon, UK.

Skipper has more than 25 years of experience in the planning and execution of engineering and environmental studies in support of major oil and gas, power, and petrochemical projects worldwide.