Passenger Transport - November 4, 2016
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Big News in the 'Big D'; Dallas' DART Opens Light Rail Extension

Several notable public transit-related events took place in Dallas recently, from the launch of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) light rail Blue Line Extension to an increase in the frequency of the Trinity Railway Express (TRE) (co-operated by the Fort Worth Transportation Authority and DART) and the 100th anniversary of the city’s Union Station. A summary follows.

DART Completes Rail System
With the opening of the three-mile Blue Line Extension and two new stations, DART marks the completion of the entire DART rail system with 93 miles of track and 64 stations.

“This extension goes to a part of our community that is in need of more transportation choices. Now a young person starting out in life can pursue a complete, high-quality college education without the burden of car ownership,” said DART President/Executive Director Gary Thomas.

The new line, with stations at Camp Wisdom and UNT-Dallas, connects an area known as the “Education Corridor” to downtown with service to UNT-Dallas, Paul Quinn College and Cedar Valley College.

Thomas also noted that the improved access to the region provided by the Blue Line Extension, along with enhanced crosstown bus service, “make this area more attractive to potential developers and residents.” Recent media reports state that Centurion American Development Group is planning a massive mixed-use project in the University Hills area that will include retail, townhomes and apartments.

“Southern Dallas is our city’s greatest opportunity for growth,” said Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, noting the inventory of land available for development. “This DART extension is a critical piece of the [city’s] GrowSouth vision as we continue to better serve the people of southern Dallas,” he added.

DART opened the first section of the Blue Line’s southern corridor with the opening of DART Rail in 1996, adding a three-mile extension in 1997. Nearly 20 years later, the extension project completes both the alignment and the entire rail network outlined in DART’s 1995 Transit System Plan—the nation’s longest electric light rail system.

TRE Increases Frequency
Trinity Railway Express (TRE) commuter rail, operated jointly by DART and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, recently introduced sweeping schedule changes to increase frequency and respond to customer requests for more regular train headways during peak hours.

TRE trains now operate on a 30-minute frequency during morning and evening rush hours and hourly during other weekday hours.

The agencies also announced that they will extend Friday and Saturday evening service an average of one to two hours to encourage travel for weekend activities, while Saturday service will begin between 5 and 6 a.m., an average of three hours earlier than previously, to accommodate early shift workers.

Union Station Marks Centennial
The city of Dallas commemorated the 100th anniversary of the opening of Union Station with ceremonies that included renaming the station in honor of Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and ranking member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee.

DART President/Executive Director Thomas, who spoke at the event, recognized Johnson’s influential role in the station’s development and for public transit in the city. “Without her, we would not have been able to build the transit network that connects at this hub. We would not have been able to build the system our region asked us to build.”

Thomas called the station “the passenger transportation hub for North Texas.”

Rail Drives Regional Growth
TOD near DART Rail stations is driving the North Texas economic boom with more than $7 billion in economic impact from new or planned construction within a quarter mile of rail stations, according to The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of Development near DART Stations 2014-2015, released Oct. 25 by the UNT Economics Research Group.

Researchers also determined that this activity in 2014-2015 generated more than 43,000 jobs resulting in nearly $3 billion in wages, salaries and benefits. A previous UNT study identified $5.3 billion in TOD near light rail stations between 1996-2013.

“DART, and the projects around it, will sustain our continued growth,” said researcher Michael Carroll. “This very rapid increase in investment and development activity around DART ­stations reflects the improvement in our regional economy. More important, this proves the wisdom of regional leaders in building a regional transit network like DART.”

The study also reports that TOD projects that are completed or under construction near DART stations have already generated $69 million in state and local tax revenue, while potential spending for planned or proposed developments could produce another $160 million in state and local taxes.

Find the report here.

DART Rail operator Antaeus Chandler opens a new three-mile section of light rail in the company of state, local and agency officials.


RTC Completes Flamingo Corridor Improvements; New Dedicated Bus Lanes, Shelters

The Regional Transportation Commission of Southern Nevada (RTC) marked the completion of the $46.4 million Flamingo Corridor improvement project along RTC’s busiest route at a community celebration Oct. 28 attended by FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers and two members of Congress.

More than 12,000 daily ­riders and 90,000 vehicles traverse the corridor, which connects to the resort corridor and the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

Flowers said the Flamingo Road project “will make a huge difference for the thousands of bus riders who depend on public transit with technology and design improvements that will help reduce delays and improve reliability.”

During the 17-month project, RTC implemented numerous measures to improve traffic flow and safety along the 14-mile arterial route, including dedicated bus and bike lanes, improved pedestrian crosswalks, upgraded traffic signals and intersections, more than 100 new bus shelters, locally produced metal sculptures in water-free median landscaping and sections of road repaving.

“This is an important project for not only those who live, work and play along the corridor but for everyone who travels it,” said RTC General Manager Tina Quigley. “Flamingo Road users now have enhancements in traffic flow, pedestrian safety, transit accessibility and upgraded landscaping—making travel for hundreds of thousands of people on this busy arterial easier, safer and more enjoyable.”

Clark County Commissioner and RTC Board Member Chris Giunchigliani applauded the role of community collaboration and P3s in the project.

Project funding came from a combination of federal, state and local contributions, including a $13.3 million TIGER grant and $8 million in fuel revenue indexing, through which RTC receives 10 cents per gallon of fuel to fund transportation projects.

Celebrating RTC’s Flamingo Corridor Improvements Project, from left: Rep. Cresent Hardy (R-NV), RTC GM Tina Quigley, FTA Acting Administrator Carolyn Flowers, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani, Bally’s Hotel Operations Director Chris Snow and Rep. Dina Titus (D-NV).


Downstate Illinois Agencies Grapple with State Funding Impasse; Agencies Close as Funding Remains Unpaid

Many public transit agencies in downstate Illinois are facing the prospect of shutting down or scaling back operations as legally mandated state funding for Fiscal Year 2017 remains unpaid dating to July 1, when the fiscal year started.

The state is required to provide quarterly payments to public transit agencies from its Downstate Transportation Fund. Funding is derived by a portion of the state sales taxes collected in the service areas of each public transportation system, said Laura Calderon, executive director of the Illinois Public Transportation Agency (IPTA). The state currently owes more than $156 million to the fund, according to an IPTA statement.

“Downstate” agencies are those outside of the greater ­Chicago area. Some 56 rural and urban systems receive operating assistance through the fund, she said.

All the downstate agencies combined provided more than 41.5 million rides in FY16, ­Calderon noted. “Downstate particularly, the bulk of the riders are elderly, persons with disabilities and the low-income population who are relying on public transportation to get them to work, medical appointments and other critical services,” Calderon said. “Illinois cannot afford for transit systems to be shut down,” she added.

“Everybody is impacted,” said Karl Gnadt, managing director, Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District (MTD), “but the scale of that impact is different” from agency to agency.

Connect Transit
Among the agencies affected most severely is Connect Transit in Normal, IL, which will begin temporarily closing its facilities, closing operations and laying off up to 150 employees in January 2017. The state funds represent 65 percent of Connect Transit’s operating budget.

“We are still very hopeful that the state of Illinois will resolve this issue before the end of the year and that any service suspensions will be avoided,” said Andrew Johnson, Connect Transit general manager.

“It continues to be very important that our riders and our community come together and share their stories with state legislators so that they know how vital public transportation is to our community,” said Johnson, who is also president of the IPTA.

Connect Transit’s system includes 15 bus routes in the Bloomington and Normal areas and has an annual ridership of nearly 2.5 million.

Agency officials said they have notified all employees that Dec. 31 will be their final scheduled day of employment if the state funding is still unpaid, but will recall all employees when the state has issued payment and service resumes.

As for MTD, the state owes the agency $17 million, a figure that increases with every quarter, Gnadt said. His agency is somewhat protected by its funding structure, ability to levy property taxes, partnership with the University of Illinois and school districts and its line of credit with area banks.

“We have other funds and sources of revenue,” he said, “and so we can ‘float’ ourselves a bit longer.” He said he’ll have to consider temporary cost-cutting measures in April or May if the funds remain unpaid.

Gnadt said because MTD is a 24/7 operation, instead of a complete shutdown, they would consider scaling back operations by reducing late night or Sunday service.

“We’re just looking at a longer horizon,” he said. “I’m very hopeful we can resolve this situation.”

At the Rock Island County Metropolitan Mass Transit District (MetroLink) in Moline, General Manager Jeff Nelson said, “Public transit in downstate Illinois is a crucial component that keeps the Illinois economy moving in a positive direction. It is critical the state of Illinois continues to support these systems that provide over 40 million trips annually to commuters, students, young professionals, seniors and those who need access to health care. I am hopeful the state will work quickly to avoid any reduction of the vital public transit service that so many rely on.”

Officials said MetroLink will be able to provide full service through mid-December.

Go West Transit
Ketra Russell, director of Go West Transit in Macomb, said the impasse has had no immediate impact on its service. She explained that partnerships with other entities, including Western Illinois University, have allowed the agency “to float along” for the time being.

She added that the system will examine its federal funding this month before deciding on future actions on Dec. 1. If the state funding situation has not changed by then, she said, Go West Transit might need to “implement bare-bones operation” beginning Jan. 1.

Federal funding is also delayed, Calderon said. “Federal contracts for FY17, administered by the state, have been delayed for more than three months,” she said in an IPTA statement. “As a result, rural transit systems have not been receiving their federal funds either, placing an even bigger financial hardship on these agencies.”

A spokesperson for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner referred Passenger Transport to the state comptroller’s office, which did not respond with a comment.

VRT in Boise Opens Downtown Station; Part of Mixed-Use Project

Valley Regional Transit (VRT), Meridian, ID, recently opened Main Street Station in downtown Boise, part of a new mixed-use development that also includes commercial and university space.

VRT Executive Director Kelli Badesheim explained that the new facility, with eight underground bus bays and four street-level bays, replaces the previous four-block-long “transit mall” where buses lined up in dedicated lanes. The underground station also includes a customer service office, bike storage and other rider amenities.

Badesheim explained that the station is incorporated into the design of a nine-story building that opened the same day. The building houses an international software company, the computer science department of Boise State University and the Boise Convention and Visitors Bureau. Grand opening ceremonies for the development included a ribbon cutting and a block party.

Badesheim said riders quickly acclimated to the new facility. “People acted as if that’s how they’ve always gone from one bay to the other,” she said. “They were excited to see the new facilities, but everybody had the sense that this was the way it’s always been.”

VRT passengers board a bus at an underground bay on opening day of the agency’s Main Street Station in downtown Boise.


SEPTA Employees Strike in Philadelphia; Authority Reopens Major Artery

More than 4,700 members of Transport Workers Union Local 234 employed in the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (SEPTA) City Transit Division went on strike at midnight Nov. 1 in Philadelphia, affecting about 400,000 daily riders.

As Passenger Transport went to press, the strike shut down all SEPTA service within the city limits except for Regional Rail, including other rail services, bus routes and trolley routes.

Regional Rail lines operate between the suburbs and downtown and through downtown, with stops at downtown-located stations. Because of the strike, SEPTA added extra Regional Rail runs to increase frequency and asked customers to be alert to crowding at Center City stations, located in downtown.

All suburban bus routes are scheduled to operate on regular schedules, as is the paratransit service, CCT Connect.

SEPTA Ambassadors were stationed at Center City stations to answer travel questions and help customers.

In a statement released the morning of Nov. 1, SEPTA stated, “SEPTA negotiators stand ready and willing to continue bargaining, and the authority urges Mr. [TWU President Willie] Brown and TWU leadership to return to the bargaining table to negotiate an agreement that will end a severely disruptive work stoppage.”

According to the statement, SEPTA hopes to reach a tentative agreement with the union before Election Day, Nov. 8, adding, “If we foresee an agreement will not come to pass, SEPTA intends to seek to enjoin the strike for November 8th to ensure that the strike does not prevent any voters from getting to the polls and exercising their right to vote.”

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney issued a statement calling for the two sides to continue working to reach a resolution, saying, “Tens of thousands of Philadelphians rely on the buses, trolleys and subways, so it is vital for everyone that this situation be resolved as quickly as possible.” Published reports said the sides were expected to resume negotiations.

SEPTA serves Philadelphia and suburbs in Delaware, Montgomery, Bucks and Chester counties and is the nation’s sixth largest public transit system by ridership.

Authority Reopens Critical Transit Artery
About a week before the strike, SEPTA unveiled the Crum Creek Viaduct, which originally opened in 1895 and became part of SEPTA’s Media/Elwyn rail line in 1983, ensuring that the line would continue to provide service. (Media/Elwyn is a Regional Rail line and so continues to operate during the strike.)

More than three decades after SEPTA acquired the viaduct from Conrail, it required replacement to ensure safe and efficient rail service for the nearly 11,000 daily riders.

SEPTA Board Chairman Pasquale T. Deon Sr. said the agency was only able to complete the work with dedicated funding from state Act 89. The legislation, passed in 2013, provides a stable source of funding for transportation improvements statewide. It has allowed SEPTA to launch dozens of long-needed capital improvement projects throughout the system.

“Less than three years ago, SEPTA was faced with the possibility of discontinuing Media/Elwyn Line service due to a lack of capital funding to address our critical infrastructure needs along this line,” said SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel. “With funding made possible by Act 89, we were able to address critical infrastructure projects on this line, create and support jobs and ensure that this major transportation artery will continue to serve the Delaware County community and the region.”

The accelerated construction design-build project replaced the bridge on the existing rail alignment using outside contractors and innovative contracting and construction processes. SEPTA closed the viaduct, located between two stations, for 11 weeks this summer; during that time, workers constructed the new bridge around the old one, then removed the old bridge and slid the new one into place. The authority operated shuttle buses around the construction site while this was going on.

The new viaduct, designed to last 100 years, is a 735-foot-long steel and concrete structure comprising five long spans, four piers and two abutments that replaced 17 simply supported steel spans.

SEPTA also used Act 89 funds for additional improvements along the rail line. 

PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards and SEPTA General Manager Jeffrey Knueppel under the newly rebuilt Crum Creek Viaduct holding a lacing bar from the original 1895 structure.


CATA's 'Multimodal Gateway' Fulfills a Regional Vision

The Capital Area Multimodal Gateway in East Lansing, MI, recently opened by the Capital Area Transportation Authority (CATA) marks the culmination of a regional partnership among the agency, the city and Michigan State University, along with funding support from FTA and Michigan DOT, according to CATA Chief Executive Officer/Executive Director Sandy Draggoo.

“This facility represents the shared regional vision and dedicated persistence of many. Together, this Gateway became a reality,” Draggoo said at grand opening ceremonies and a day-long open house for the multimodal facility.

In addition to CATA fixed-route and demand-response bus service, the regional hub provides connections to Amtrak, intercity bus and taxis. It offers increased parking, enhanced safety both inside and outside, separate boarding and deboarding areas for buses and trains, covered bicycle parking amenities, enhanced pedestrian walkways and a weatherproof waiting area for patrons open around the clock.

Funding for the project came from a $6.28 million FTA Bus and Bus Facilities Program Livability Initiative grant, along with a commitment from the university to lease the gateway property.

CATA CEO/Executive Director Sandy Draggoo spoke at opening ceremonies for the Capital Area Multimodal Gateway.


SANDAG Breaks Ground for $2 B Mid-Coast Trolley

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) launched construction of the $2.1 billion Mid-Coast Trolley—the culmination of more than two decades of work to expand regional light rail service in the area—with a recent event attended by local and federal officials and several thousand guests.

SANDAG Chair and San Diego County Board of Supervisors Chair Ron Roberts called the event “a historic day for San Diego transit,” noting that the new line will serve “the second downtown of our region—the University City area, where we have some of the densest clusters of employers and jobs.”

The project, funded in part with a $1.04 billion federal Full Funding Grant Agreement, will extend the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System’s (MTS) existing Blue Line by 11 miles north of the city’s Old Town, adding nine new stations serving parks, beach areas, the VA Medical Center, UC San Diego, business clusters and a one million square foot shopping mall. Planners estimate that the trolley will provide more than 20,000 new trips every weekday when it enters service in 2021.

SANDAG will oversee the construction of the project and administer the local sales tax that matches the federal contribution. MTS will operate the line once it is complete.

Event participants included MTS Chief Executive Officer Paul Jablonski and Chair Harry Mathis, Reps. Scott Peters (D-CA) and Susan Davis (D-CA), FTA Region 9 Deputy Regional Administrator Edward Carranza Jr. and UC San Diego Vice Chancellor Gary Matthews.

Construction is expected to produce more than 14,000 jobs, and SANDAG officials predict the trolley will have an estimated $116 million annual economic impact on the region by taking cars off the road, reducing parking needs and increasing access to jobs. The Mid-Coast corridor supports more than 325,000 jobs.

The ground-breaking cele­bration was made possible by the project contractor, a joint venture of Stacy & Witbeck Inc., Skanska USA and Herzog Contracting Corporation—and other sponsors including PGH Wong Engineering Inc., Parsons Brinckerhoff, HDR, T.Y. Lin International, Jacobs Engineering and Modern Railway Systems.

Crowds gathered for ground-breaking ceremonies and a community event to celebrate SANDAG’s Mid-Coast Trolley.


WMATA Proposes 'Reality Check' FY18 Budget

Officials of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) recently proposed an austere operating budget that calls for downsizing the workforce by 1,000 positions, cutting some employee healthcare costs, outsourcing some functions, raising fares and scaling back service to align with current ridership in an attempt to control the agency’s major expenses while it continues its SafeTrack program to improve rail safety and reliability.

As Passenger Transport went to press, the Washington Post published an editorial calling for a federal takeover of the agency, which Board Chair Jack Evans subsequently echoed. APTA and Passenger Transport will monitor this development as it unfolds.

General Manager/CEO Paul ­Wiedefeld was scheduled to propose the $1.8 billion budget to the Board of Directors Finance Committee.

“Metro has to face reality when it comes to what the region says it can afford and direct those resources to best serve the riders we have today,” he said. “This plan has Metro doing everything in our power to get major expense ­categories under control while improving safety and making the trains run on time.”

The budget fully funds key safety improvements. Some details follow:

Metro proposes to save $50 million through management and labor actions, increase contributions from WMATA’s financial stakeholders (an additional $47 million from the District of Columbia, $44 million from Maryland and $39 million from Virginia) and raise fares to generate $21 million, among other strategies. While reducing its reliance on federal grant funds by $35 million, the operating budget assumes $60 million of grant funding for eligible maintenance expenses.

The agency forecasts a decline in ridership by more than 20 percent from 2009 levels and is proposing to reduce rail service frequency and eliminate about a dozen low-ridership bus routes.

“The most difficult part of this plan is the impact for Metro customers and employees,” Wiedefeld said. “Tough choices are required to balance the operating budget.”

Next, agency officials will ask the Board of Directors at its December meeting to approve a public hearing and other online and community outreach, which would begin in late January. The final budget requires full board approval by March to take effect July 1, 2017.

SafeTrack is an accelerated work plan to address safety and ­reliability recommendations for the Metrorail ­system with “safety surges” involving periodic shutdowns and service cutbacks. In October 2015, DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx directed FTA to assume temporary safety oversight of WMATA’s Metrorail system, the nation’s second busiest heavy rail system.

WMATA’s New P3-Funded Route
In other WMATA news, the agency launched a new bus service from Alexandria, VA, to National Harbor, MD, a retail and hotel center and a soon-to-open casino on the Potomac River.

The new route was funded through a public private partnership with ­Maryland DOT, the city of Alexandria, Fairfax County, VA, and the National Harbor developer, Peterson Companies.

The route across the rebuilt Woodrow Wilson Bridge will run as a nine-month pilot. Agency and jurisdiction officials project an annual ridership of 230,000.

WMATA General Manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld, at podium, recently unveiled the agency’s new bus route between Alexandria, VA, and National Harbor, MD, a shopping and tourist destination. Joining him were officials from the route’s P3 funders, including Maryland DOT, the city of Alexandria and Fairfax County, VA, and executives from the Peterson Companies.

Photo by Larry Levine, WMATA


VTA Tunnel Will Connect with Caltrain Station

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), San Jose, CA, broke ground Nov. 1 for a $14 million tunnel extension project that will connect the Santa Clara VTA station to a Caltrain platform.

The project will add 80 feet to an existing pedestrian and bicycle tunnel underneath three Union Pacific tracks, leading to a 250-foot open air walkway, which will provide access to the San Jose Earthquakes major league soccer team’s Avaya Stadium, business centers and other commercial and entertainment spots.

VTA General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Nuria Fernandez said the extension “is going to open up a whole new mode of transportation that people in our valley didn’t have access to before, connecting people just by building an 80-foot tunnel under the tracks.”

Santa Clara County Supervisor and VTA Board Member Ken Yeager, who also attended, said that in seven years the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District will also connect to the Santa Clara Caltrain Station, increasing its importance as a transportation hub.

VTA expects to complete the extension by summer 2017.

Remembering John Neff, Longtime APTA Colleague

APTA is saddened to announce that John Neff died Nov. 2. A senior policy researcher, Neff had served APTA and its predecessor organizations for 42 years.

APTA Acting President & CEO Richard White said, “John not only had a passion for research and data, but also a commitment to the truth. His analyses and high standards made APTA a better organization and helped our members educate policymakers, the media, and community leaders on the value of public transportation. He will be missed not just by his colleagues, but by our industry.”

A celebration of life ceremony will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 12, at the Mary Graydon Center on the American University campus in Washington, DC. The family has requested no flowers. More details will be forthcoming.

CTA and Cubs Score!

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) and the Cubs scored big time in recent days as the Cubs won its first World Series in 108 years and CTA carried thousands of enthusiastic fans to and from Wrigley Field. CTA revived one of its “classics” for the Fall Classic with this historic train—restored inside and out with its original markings, signs celebrating the season and slogans from legendary Chicago sportscasters Harry Caray and Jack Brickhouse. The railcars (built in 1976-1978) are part of CTA’s Heritage Fleet, a new program to preserve the agency’s historic vehicles. For more details, click here.  In anticipation of the Nov. 4 victory parade and rally, both CTA and Metra scheduled additional service to transport fans into and through downtown Chicago, and Pace Suburban Bus warned of possible route changes inside the city.

Photo courtesy of CTA

New CEOs, Interim Named

Santoro, NJ Transit

New Jersey Transit Corporation (NJ Transit) has named Steven Santoro, an agency employee since 2000, its executive director.

Most recently, Santoro served nine years as assistant executive director of capital planning and programs where he directed the startup and implementation of a $2 billion Superstorm Sandy repair and resiliency program. Previously, he managed design, construction, commissioning and startup of Hudson-Bergen Light Rail and River Line passenger rail.
Prior to joining NJ Transit, Santoro served in leadership roles over his 25-year career with Raytheon Infrastructure Incorporated and Gibbs Hill Incorporated in New York City. He is a designated transit system member director on the APTA Board of Directors and a member of several APTA committees.

Gannon, King County Metro

King County Metro Transit in Seattle has named Interim General Manager Rob Gannon to the position on a permanent basis.
Gannon had served as Metro’s deputy general manager since 2013 when he was named interim executive director following the departure of Kevin Desmond to head TransLink in Vancouver, BC. Previously, he was human resources manager for King County DOT and oversaw budget and labor relations at the University of Montana.

He is a member of the APTA Board of Directors and the Bus & Paratransit CEOs Committee.

Murthy, Interim, HART (Honolulu)

The Board of Directors of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART) named Krishniah Murthy as the authority’s interim executive director and chief executive officer, effective Dec. 5.

He replaces Acting Executive Director Mike Formby, who took the top post when Dan Grabauskas, former executive director, previously stepped down.

Murthy, a 40-year veteran of the public transit industry, is an award-winning engineer and the former executive director for transit project delivery at Los Angeles Metro. He also managed light and heavy rail projects in San Diego, Phoenix, Dallas/Fort Worth and Atlanta. He retired in 2014 and founded Murthy Consulting Services.

APTA Hosts Azerbaijani Professional

As part of the U.S. Department of State Professional Fellows Program (PFP) APTA is hosting for four weeks a professional from Azerbaijan, Emil Ahmadov, who serves as the leading advisor at the Ministry of Transport of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

Ahmadov is studying U.S. transportation practices that can be applied in Azerbaijan. He gave a presentation to APTA staff focused on ways his country is working to turn its capital city, Baku, into a transportation hub for the region.

He spoke about effective measures to develop the transportation and communication infrastructure to expand opportunities for passenger and cargo transportation via the “North-South” and "East-West" transport corridors in Azerbaijan. He also outlined current developments in public transportation in the country, including underground rail, buses and taxis, the introduction and use of new technologies and improvements needed to existing infrastructure.

Photo by Mitchell Wood

Peak Experience: Riding the Rails in Autumn

Amtrak's Capitol Limited, which starts in Washington, DC, rounds a curve in Mance, PA, amid fall foliage. The Capitol Limited follows the historic B&O line through the Potomac Valley, past historic Harpers Ferry, WV, and the Allegheny Mountains and Pittsburgh. It then crosses into Ohio, travels north to Cleveland, cuts through Indiana and ends in the heart of Chicago.

Photo courtesy of Amtrak


High-Speed and Intercity Rail Committee

High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Committee
Chair: Anna M. Barry, deputy commissioner, Connecticut DOT
APTA Staff Advisor: Art Guzzetti, vice president, policy
367 members | Find details here

What is the committee’s role for APTA and the industry as a whole?

In general, the committee advocates for and advances high-speed and intercity passenger rail in the industry and with APTA. Building on the leadership of the ­previous chair, Peter Gertler, the committee has three specific roles:

First is to define what we do—and what we can do—for the industry. In this regard, the committee serves as a thought leader. We’re a bit different from other APTA “mode committees” in that most members aren’t operators specifically. That said, Connecticut DOT (a member) and some other state DOTs (some of which are also members) will be in the future.

Second, we strive to communicate with our APTA colleagues, the industry and the general public to educate them about high-speed and intercity passenger rail.

And third, we’re working to strengthen partnerships and reach out to organizations in the U.S. and worldwide, like the World Congress on High-Speed Rail.

What are the committee’s priorities for the year?

Right now, we’re working on the annual program, the ­High Performance Intercity Passenger Rail Policy Forum, on Nov. 30. We’re assembling panels and getting speakers to address the mode’s interests and challenges, which are especially important as we find ­ourselves on the edge of implementing several projects.

We’re also working on our ROI study, where we assess and explain the mode’s positive economic impact on the industry and on local and state governments.

We publish our newsletter, Speedlines, which Vice Chair Al Engel handles. It reports on the mode’s issues, challenges and opportunities. [Readers can find it here.]

We’re continuing to work with APTA’s Legislative Committee to expand our ability to advocate for and build on rail’s appropriations in the FAST Act, the first major surface transportation authorization bill to include a substantial rail title.

And finally, we are continuing to plan sessions at some of APTA’s biggest meetings.

How does the committee engage members in those priorities?

The committee is very active—our meetings are always scheduled on Sundays at 8 a.m., but they’re well attended! Members are committed, active and follow through to help get things done. An interesting note: The committee is second in size only to the ­Legislative Committee.

Please describe how your committee encourages young professionals to participate in its work.

The composition of the committee leans toward senior colleagues, so we recognize how important it is to reach out to young professionals. In fact, we have some younger professionals who serve in leadership positions by chairing various subcommittees.

But we’re still eager to find and engage “young blood” in the committee, and so we are redoubling our efforts to recruit members. There’s certainly plenty to do! We believe the cause is interesting and exciting to the next generation, so we have that advantage as we maximize their energy and interest.

Please share how an individual’s service on this committee can add value to his or her career.

High-speed and intercity passenger rail is on the cutting edge of public transportation, with frequent developments of interest to anyone who wants to get involved in this burgeoning mode.

Also, the committee represents a great opportunity for young professionals to work with senior leaders from the public and the private sides. It’s an ideal way to learn from them, work with them and build networks. We also work closely with other APTA committees like Commuter Rail CEOs, so that’s a great way to get involved across the rail industry.

Please describe the committee’s work to advance the goals in APTA’s ­strategic plan (safety and security, resource advocacy, workforce development, ­demographic shifts and technological innovation).

Although the committee’s priorities aren’t specifically tied to these strategic goals, our interests certainly intersect with all of them. We’ve touched on a few in this profile, from resource advocacy to demographic shifts, but the committee addresses them all in one way or another. In the coming year, one of our major goals will be to align our work plan with APTA’s strategic plan.


Florida DOT to Fund HART's Autonomous Circulator

Florida DOT is providing the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (HART) in Tampa with up to $1 million in state funding for one of the first U.S. projects involving an autonomous vehicle—a circulator service that would connect a public transit center with downtown, operating on a low-speed, controlled-access transitway and complementing local bus service.

The funding, $500,000 for each of the next two years, will allow HART to take the first step in a major technology project and, working with third-party providers, to bring autonomous vehicle technology to the Tampa Bay region. Funding for a third year will depend on the success of the program.

This project is part of HART’s larger vision to bring innovative technology to the region while diversifying its array of service options.

HART plans an industry day later in November coinciding with the fourth Annual Florida Automated Vehicles Summit in downtown Tampa.

Siemens to Provide LRVs for Twin Cities Extension

The Metropolitan Council, which oversees Metro Transit in Minneapolis/St. Paul, recently entered into a $118 million contract with Siemens to provide 27 new light rail vehicles (LRV) that will operate on the planned Southwest Light Rail Transit Project (SWLRT) from downtown Minneapolis through neighboring communities when the line enters service in 2021.

The company provided vehicles for the existing Green Line five years ago; the new vehicles will be improved versions of the same model, including accessibility upgrades, and will be compatible with the existing 59-car fleet. Siemens will manufacture the LRVs at its Sacramento, CA, plant, with the first vehicle scheduled for delivery in 2019.

The council stated that awarding and executing the contract now will allow for cost savings by avoiding cost escalation for materials, and it allows for the nearly two years needed to design, produce and deliver the vehicles in time to do several months of testing before revenue service starts. This action, called a Limited Notice to Proceed, authorizes Siemens to begin engineering the updates for the LRVs; FTA will match the cost incurred in summer 2017 after it issues the Full Funding Grant Agreement, its commitment to pay half the total cost of the project.

NC Members of Congress Tour CATS

Rep. Alma Adams (D-NC) recently invited her colleague Rep. David Price (D-NC), ranking member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies, on a tour of the Charlotte Area Transit System. “Charlotte is a national leader in transportation and infrastructure development,” said Adams, whose district includes Charlotte. “Congressman Price and I are committed to ensuring our state continues to receive crucial federal funds that will boost our local economy and diminish the carbon footprint created by so many cars on the road.” Price, whose district includes Raleigh, said, “The federal government must invest in more of these projects to create good jobs and build a smarter transportation future.” Adams and Price also met with city officials to discuss transportation funding and opportunities.

Photo courtesy of the office of Rep. Alma Adams

Foothill Expands Fleet with CCW Buses

Foothill Transit, West Covina, CA, has received the first of 30 articulated buses following their rehabilitation by Complete Coach Works, Riverside, CA. “The Silver Streak has a 45-mile route that crosses the length of our service area to connect to the second largest city in the nation,” said Doran Barnes, executive director of Foothill Transit and APTA chair. “The refurbishment of the articulated buses used exclusively on that route is essential to maintaining safety and ride quality for our customers. The feedback is positive and we look forward to completing the rest of the fleet.” The contract includes repowering the 60-foot-long buses with cleaner burning engines, replacing or repairing cooling and transmission systems, renovating suspension systems and repainting the buses to match the agency’s new logo and color scheme.

GoTriangle's Hurricane Relief Efforts

GoTriangle in Research Triangle Park, NC, recently reached out to families affected by Hurricane Matthew and the subsequent flooding in four North Carolina counties, delivering food and other supplies donated by the community. The agency and its partners ultimately filled three buses and two vans with cleaning supplies, toiletries, paper products, canned and dried foods, baby supplies and nutritional drinks. “We want to sincerely thank our amazing partners and generous community for your tremendous outpouring of support,” said GoTriangle General Manager Jeff Mann at an event attended by agency employees and its relief-effort partners. “Because of you there are many families in eastern North Carolina who will have food and other critical supplies immediately.”


Celebrating More Service in Phoenix

Officials and community members gathered Oct. 24 at Central Station in Phoenix for a public event to commemorate the launch of the city’s historic bus service improvements. The $17 million service improvements include adding three hours of daily service to Phoenix local bus service and Dial-a-Ride, as well as increasing local frequency to off-peak and weekend routes to 30 minutes or less. Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (with red tie) is standing in front of the Phoenix logo on the bus, next to Phoenix Councilwoman Theda Williams (blue sweater), also the chair of the Valley Metro Regional Public Transportation Authority (RPTA) board, and former U.S. Rep. Ed Pastor (D-AZ), chair of Phoenix’s Citizens Transportation Commission. At right are Phoenix Vice Mayor Kate Gallego (red jacket/black dress) and Maria Hyatt (gray jacket), director of the Phoenix Public Transit Department. See more news here about the opening.

CFTE Post-Election Webinar: Nov. 15

With this year’s historic number of public transit-related measures and level of financial investment on the Nov. 8 ballot, the Center for Transportation Excellence (CFTE) has scheduled an hour-long webinar, 2016 Transit Election Trends, Nov. 15, 2-3 p.m. Eastern time.

Speakers during the webinar will discuss trends in campaigning and advocating for public transit at the local level as they examine the result of votes across the nation.

To register, click here.

FTA Schedules Triennial Review Workshops

FTA has scheduled a series of Triennial Review workshops through December to help grantees prepare for reviews by looking at statutory and program requirements and providing procedural guides and other supporting materials.

FTA Triennial Review contractors conduct the workshops, which are open to transit agency representatives; additional contractors, who may attend to keep their information up to date and meet grantee personnel before reviews; and FTA Regional Office staff, who may clarify grantee questions when necessary.

The Triennial Review, mandated by Congress in 1982, is one of FTA’s tools to examine grantee performance and adherence to current requirements and policies. The review also gives FTA an opportunity to provide technical assistance on its requirements and helps FTA report to the DOT secretary, Congress, oversight agencies and the public transit community on the Urbanized Area Formula Program.

Find the Comprehensive Review Guide for FY 2017 and workshop dates, locations and registration information here.

FTA Plans State Management Review Workshops

FTA will present a series of State Management Review workshops for public transit agencies through December.

The workshops will assist public transit agency grantees in preparing for State Management Reviews by reviewing statutory and program requirements and providing grantees with training materials, procedural guides and other supporting materials.

The State Management Review is a comprehensive oversight review of transit agency grantees that assesses management practices and implementation of several federal programs to ensure that grantees’ programs meet program objectives and are administered in accordance with federal law and FTA requirements. The process covers these programs:

•    Metropolitan Planning and State Planning and Research Programs (49 U.S.C. 5305),
•    Capital Investment Program (49 U.S.C. 5309),
•    Elderly Individuals and Individuals with Disabilities Program (49 U.S.C. 5310),
•    Non-urbanized Area Formula Program (49 U.S.C. 5311),
•    Job Access and Reverse Commute Program (49 U.S.C. 5316),
•    New Freedom Program (49 U.S.C. 5317), and
•    American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).

For workshop dates, locations and registration information, click here. Find the Comprehensive Review Guide for Fiscal Year 2017 here.


How Corporate Cash Can Save America's Infrastructure: Rebuilding Through Repatriation


With an onerous and outdated U.S. tax code keeping American corporations from repatriating the more than $2 trillion they hold overseas, S&P Global is proposing a deal in which companies can take advantage of a limited tax holiday in return for investing a percentage of the earnings they bring home in U.S. infrastructure.

The program would give companies a window of time in which to repatriate funds at a zero tax rate, if they invest 15 percent of the money to repair and refurbish the roads, bridges, water systems and rail networks that the American Society of Civil Engineers grades a ‘D+’. (Note that the final determination of a tax rate—zero or otherwise—as well as what investments would qualify, is a debate we’ll leave to lawmakers. …)

S&P Global sees this as a strong first step toward a long-term, sustainable fix to the U.S. corporate-tax regime that would help reduce cash hoarding outside the U.S., with American companies deferring paying taxes by not bringing back cash from lower-tax countries. In short, this proposal would kick-start more comprehensive tax reform and inject desperately needed funds into the infrastructure of the world’s biggest economy. …

If American companies repatriated just half of the untaxed income they hold overseas, that would pour $150 billion into infrastructure investment—and repatriation of just one-quarter of the total would mean a windfall of $75 billion that would go directly into repair and refurbishment of our crumbling bridges and dangerously outdated water systems. This, in turn, would have far-reaching beneficial effects on U.S. productivity and growth. …

Additionally, this injection of funds would create roughly 307,000 infrastructure-related jobs in the first two years. Aside from the near-term boost, the country’s productive capacity and output would also likely increase once the infrastructure is built and absorbed into the economy—which means the investment would likely add jobs long after the initial effects have subsided. Naturally, any increase in employment leads to more tax revenue for the federal government, acting as a further offset to the taxes that would be “lost” under our plan … .

Why—and How—It Would Work
[T]he universe of more than 2,000 U.S. nonfinancial corporate borrowers we rate alone reported holding a record $1.84 trillion in cash and liquid investments at the end of last year. And while many companies don’t report their holdings by region, we found that the top 15 that do disclose this information increased their cash balances by 14 percent, or $88 billion—with cash held outside the U.S. accounting for essentially the entirety, at $87 billion.

These 15 companies now hold 83 percent of their cash overseas—a significant increase from less than 70 percent in 2011. … We believe most companies never intended to have such large cash piles parked overseas, and that, if given the choice, many would prefer to repatriate cash, invest in the U.S. and limit their debt. …

Finally, we think the opportunity to reap a return on investment in such assets as infrastructure bonds, rather than “lose” the money through taxation, is a substantial enticement—especially since infrastructure bonds generally enjoy lower default rates and higher yields than similarly rated corporate debt. In other words, the opportunity to bring home $100 million and wind up with $105 million a few years later may be too good to pass up.

As for ensuring that the companies that repatriate funds do, in fact, commit a percentage for infrastructure, it would clearly be imprudent for the federal government to rely on a company’s promise to do so. … In perhaps the simplest example, a company would buy infrastructure bonds issued by state and local governments within a specified time—say, one year—in the amount of at least 15 percent of the repatriated funds (in accordance with clearly delineated tax and repatriation policies and procedures that will be determined by legislation). …

Under our proposal, qualifying investments would be mandated for companies to benefit from the zero tax rate on repatriated earnings. If companies bring back the cash but fail to make the necessary investments, they would be required to pay their share of federal and state taxes as applicable, plus penalties. Whether companies use domestic or repatriated cash to invest isn’t an issue as long as there is an investment of at least 15 percent of the amount of repatriated cash, with the company holding the investment for a specified period—e.g., two years.

S&P Global understands that this proposal may draw criticism from those who suggest that further pressure from overseas tax authorities could force American companies to repatriate funds whether or not they are afforded any sort of tax holiday. … Further, some may argue that a zero rate on repatriated funds would deprive the U.S. Treasury of tens (perhaps hundreds) of billions of dollars in tax revenue that the government itself could then spend on infrastructure or other projects.

[O]ur proposal offsets the perceived loss to the federal government by diminishing the need to spend public money on infrastructure construction and repair—thus freeing up tax revenue for other needs. We also highlight the fact that many companies holding cash overseas typically pay a repatriation rate far below the statutory corporate tax rate and that they have shown little desire thus far to bring overseas earnings home. At the same time, we acknowledge the idea that companies could come to expect periodic tax holidays and would continue to park overseas earnings outside the U.S. until the next opportunity arises. In this light, S&P Global stresses that this proposal represents just the first measure in a more wide-ranging overhaul of the current tax code. …

Our proposal differs substantially from the 2004 tax holiday, in which American companies repatriated an estimated $362 billion at a statutory tax rate of 5.25 percent, primarily because it guarantees that firms will make desperately needed investments in U.S. infrastructure rather than bring back funds almost exclusively for the purposes of shareholder-friendly actions, and mergers and acquisitions. … Not that we don’t expect any of this type of spending to occur, but the prospect of pouring potentially hundreds of billions of dollars into infrastructure—thus relieving the federal government of some of the burden to do so—is worth it.

Based on a white paper from Standard & Poor’s Global Inc. Bovino is U.S. chief economist, S&P Global Ratings; Gold is vice president, strategic relations, S&P Global; and Joshi is senior director and accounting officer, S&P Global Ratings. Go here for the report. Copyright © 2016 S&P Global Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted and excerpted with permission.

"Commentary" features points of view from various sources to enhance readers' broad awareness of themes that affect public transportation.


Who's Doing What in the Industry

Editor's Note: This version of the story does not include graphics that appear in the print edition. To see these graphics, click here.

Babbitt, McDonald Transit President, Retires
FORT WORTH, TX—Robert (Bob) Babbitt, president of McDonald Transit since 2002, announced his retirement effective Oct. 31. He will work as a consultant to help ensure a smooth transition to new leadership.

Babbitt joined McDonald Transit in 1977 as a management intern and worked his way up in both operating and administrative positions including general manager of the Abilene Transit System, manager of administration for Fort Worth Transportation Authority and a decade as executive director of the ­Nashville Metropolitan Transit Authority. He was appointed chief financial officer of McDonald Transit in 1981. When McDonald Transit entered into an agreement with RATP Dev America in 2009, Babbitt led the firm’s recapitalization and modernization of the company’s technology. He is a member of numerous APTA committees.

Ken Fischer, senior vice president of business development, will serve as interim president while the company carries out a search for a successor. He has 37 years of public transit experience.

SAGINAW, MI—Glenn Steffens, site manager for Saginaw Transit Authority Regional Services (STARS), is overseeing operations at the system after longtime General Manager Sylvester Payne stepped down.

TAMPA, FL—Katharine Eagan, chief executive officer of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority, was named 2016 Business Woman of the Year in the Economic Development category by the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

The annual award celebrates women who have made a notable impact on their communities.

Eagan, who joined HART in 2014 as chief operating officer, has 19 years experience in transportation. She has also worked for the Maryland Transit Administration, Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the city of San Angelo, TX.

LOS ANGELES—Macy Neshati, senior vice president of BYD Heavy Industries, has been named to a two-year term on the Transit Research Analysis Committee of the Transportation Research Board. He will help assess future public transportation needs that could benefit from federal investment and advise FTA on federal research programs. Neshati has more than 35 years of transportation experience.

JACKSONVILLE, FL—The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) has appointed Carter R. Rohan vice president of construction and capital programs management.

Rohan has more than 37 years of experience in architecture, engineering, program and construction management. He joins JTA from Parsons International Ltd., where he served as vice president and project director of the Riyadh Metro Transit Consultants Joint Venture in Saudi Arabia and worked in Qatar. He was formerly a deputy executive director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.

HARTFORD, CT—First Transit has named Cindy Jones assistant general manager for procurement and capital projects for Connecticut Transit in Hartford, responsible for purchasing, capital planning and capital projects management for the Hartford, New Haven and Stamford divisions of the state-owned public transit system.

NORFOLK, VA—Jamie Jackson has joined Hampton Roads Transit (HRT) as director of transit development. She comes to HRT after serving as deputy executive director for the Williamsburg Area (VA) Transit Authority.