Passenger Transport - July 21, 2017
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Caltrain Launches Electrification Project

California Gov. Jerry Brown, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Reps. Anna Eshoo and Jackie Speier (all D-CA), APTA Acting President & CEO Richard White and other transportation advocates and officials celebrated today's official ground breaking of the Caltrain Electrification Project.   

“Today marks the beginning of a faster, cleaner, better Caltrain, a Caltrain that will allow tens of thousands of people to travel throughout the Peninsula with ease,” said Chief Executive Officer Jim Hartnett at the July 21 event. “This project will deliver the innovative and cutting-edge transit system that our communities deserve.”

The project is being funded with a $647 million FTA Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) approved in May and matching funds from local, regional and state partners. FTA had delayed approving the FFGA in February and ultimately allocated $100 million toward the measure that Congress previously approved as part of the FY 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill signed into law in May 2017.

It will electrify the Caltrain corridor between San Francisco and San Jose and enable operation of high-performance electric trains that will deliver faster, more frequent service to help the system accommodate rapidly increasing ridership demand when it is completed in 2021.

Members of Congress attending the ground-breaking ceremony for the Caltrain Electrification Project, front row from left: Reps. Jackie Speier, Anna Eshoo and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
Photo courtesy of Caltrain



APTA: 'Devastating Cuts' in FY 2018 Budget; Resolution Would Phase Out CIG, Eliminate TIGER

APTA has issued a statement objecting to “devastating cuts” in key public transportation programs—including phasing out Capital Investment Grants (CIG) and eliminating the TIGER grant program—in the FY 2018 Budget Resolution released July 18 by the House Budget Committee.

“Public transportation infrastructure programs serve national interests and have strong bipartisan support,” said APTA Acting President & CEO Richard White. “The budget resolution proposes devastating cuts at a time when the federal government should be investing more, not less, in the nation’s transit and rail infrastructure.” He called the proposal “puzzling” because Congress recently rejected the CIG cuts twice.

In the first instance, Congress rejected CIG cuts, which were proposed by the Trump administration, when it fully funded the program at the level authorized under the FAST Act in the FY 2017 omnibus appropriation. In the second instance, the House Appropriations Committee pre-emptively rejected the proposal in the FY 2018 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development and Related Agencies appropriations bill it approved July 17, although it accepted a $549 million funding cut. (See below.)

Budget resolutions, if adopted by both the House and Senate, set top-line funding levels for the appropriations committees and outline legislative goals for the year. Even if the resolutions are approved, directives to phase out the CIG program would require subsequent congressional action.

Citing an analysis by APTA and the Economic Development Research Group, White said, “The proposal to halt the robust pipeline of these worthy and vetted projects would put 800,000 jobs at risk, including 502,000 construction and related jobs and an additional 300,000 longer term jobs associated with economic productivity, and would result in a possible loss of $90 billion in economic output.”

In 2015, both houses of Congress overwhelmingly supported passage of the FAST Act, which authorizes $2.3 billion annually, through 2020, for the CIG program. APTA emphasized that eliminating this program in the middle of the authorization period would pull the rug out from under communities that have spent local, state and federal resources advancing their projects through the CIG process with the expectation that Congress would fulfill its financial commitment.

Following consideration by the budget committee, the full House may take up the budget resolution at the end of July. Read the APTA statement here.

Other transit-related federal funding news follows.

House Appropriations Committee

The full House Appropriations Committee voted 31-20 on July 17 to approve the FY 2018 transportation funding bill. It is unclear when the bill will go to the House floor or whether it would go to the House as a stand-alone bill or as part of an omnibus appropriations measure.

Like the bill approved by the THUD subcommittee, the measure provides a total of $11.752 billion in FY 2018 for public transportation programs administered by the FTA. It fully funds FAST Act formula programs from the Mass Transit Account of the Highway Trust Fund at $9.733 billion and provides $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority under a separate authorization.

The bill funds the CIG general fund program at $1.753 billion, $549 million below the amount authorized under the FAST Act. APTA expressed concern in a statement and letters to subcommittee leaders regarding the fact that the CIG program was funded below the authorized level.

Under the CIG program, the bill sets specific funding levels for new starts, small starts and core capacity projects and provides $400 million for a joint public transportation and intercity passenger rail project intended for the Gateway Project. Separately, under FRA Federal State Partnerships for State of Good Repair Grants, the bill provides another $500 million, also intended for the Gateway Project.

While multiple amendments were offered during the markup, the committee approved only one, which reallocated $3 million from the office of the DOT secretary to the Saint Lawrence Seaway.

The committee rejected an amendment offered by THUD Subcommittee Ranking Member David Price (D-NC) that would have added $200 billion to infrastructure spending in FY 2018. The amendment included no offsetting cuts.

FY 2018 DHS Appropriations Bill

On July 18, the full House Appropriations Committee marked up the funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security with $90 million for the Transit Security Grant Program, up $2 million from FY 2017.

Additionally, Urban Area Security Initiative grants were funded at a level of $630 million, up $25 million from enacted levels for FY 2017. If there are any changes in the base bill from the markup, APTA will issue a Legislative Alert, which will be posted here.

New Ferry Operations Unveiled on Both Coasts

Governor Welcomes Kitsap's New Ferry Service
In advance of the launch of Kitsap Transit’s Fast Ferry service between Bremerton, WA, and Seattle, Gov. Jay Inslee and Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA) were on hand to help celebrate the resumption of ferry service in the region for the first time in more than 10 years.

Inslee referred to the new service and the new passenger-only ferry, the Rich Passage I, as “the heart of maritime innovation in Kitsap County” and “one of the highest-tech ferries ever invented. It’s going to travel at 38 to 40 knots through Rich ­Passage [a tidal strait in Puget Sound] with ­minimal wake.”

Kilmer’s remarks focused on the partnership among Kitsap Transit, civic leaders, businesses and taxpayers to make sure “all oars are in the water, rowing in the same direction” on the ferry project, and on the impact the new service will have on county residents. “Today is progress for every family in Kitsap County who can now travel faster and easier. Today is progress for every person who needs to get to work or to go visit a doctor … This is a big deal and it took amazing work by a whole lot of people,” he said.

Gov. Jay Inslee rings in Kitsap Transit’s new ferry service with Rep. Derek Kilmer during preliminary ceremonies.

Washington State Ferries had provided ferry service to Bremerton until 2003, when property owners sued the state over damage to beaches they blamed on the state’s large ferries. As a result of the lawsuit and subsequent direction by the state legislature, Kitsap Transit assumed a federal wake-research grant from the state, developed a prototype research vessel and organized county leaders to support the effort.

“We are very pleased so many people rode on the first day of passenger service,” said Kitsap Transit Executive Director John Clauson, who talked with riders on opening day. Clauson noted that the one-way ferry trip takes 30 minutes and the agency plans to add two more destinations in coming years.

The agency welcomed opening-day passengers with a selection of branded promotional gifts.

He also recognized other supporters of the ferry effort, including the Kitsap Transit board, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), former Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA), state legislators and community officials and boosters.

“We still have a lot of work to do,” he said, “but it’s worth taking a moment to pause and say, ‘We did it.’”

HRT Celebrates Launch of Newest River Ferry
With blasts of confetti cannons, Hampton Roads Transit (HRT), Hampton, VA, christened its newest Elizabeth River ferry (with a bottle of sparkling water), Elizabeth River Ferry IV, in July 14 ceremonies attended by dignitaries and area residents.

“The Elizabeth River Ferry is the most convenient, enjoyable way to go from downtown Norfolk to Olde Towne Portsmouth and beyond,” said HRT President and Chief Executive Officer William Harrell. “Today, we have carried more than 10 million tourists and commuters for the 10-minute trip across the main stem of the Elizabeth River.”

HRT operates three 150-passenger ferries on the river between Norfolk and Portsmouth, running every half hour with 15-minute peak service on summer weekends.

HRT officials and guests welcome the Elizabeth River Ferry IV’s maiden voyage with confetti, speeches and a christening with a bottle of sparkling water.

Ferry ridership has surged in the last few months with more than 67,000 riders in June, approximately 22,000 more than June of last year. HRT attributed the growth to good weather and the recent opening of Norfolk’s Waterside District. Also, the city of Portsmouth has approved money to revitalize its Portside open-air entertainment site, possibly with construction of a 5,000-square-foot pavilion.

HRT purchased the new ferry as part of a $7 million grant to eventually replace the entire four-boat fleet and upgrade the docks the vessels use, one of the agency’s initiatives to reduce operating costs and improve the customer experience.

In addition to improved fuel efficiency and a cleaner-running set of Volvo engines, the Elizabeth River Ferry IV has a “drive-by-wire” design that relies far more on electronics than its predecessors. It also allows faster loading and unloading than the older ferries in the fleet, with two hatches instead of one each on the port and starboard sides.

HRT also explained that the three existing ferries—constructed in 1982, 1986 and 1990—are becoming too expensive to maintain, requiring continuous structural and mechanical repairs to keep them in compliance with U.S. Coast Guard regulations.


Park City Kicks Off All-Electric Bus Route; Buses First Step to BRT Service

Battery-electric buses recently made their first appearance operating in regular service in Park City, UT, with the introduction of six 40-foot Proterra vehicles on Park City Transit’s 6.8-mile Electric Xpress route, which ultimately will become BRT.

The buses were funded through a $3.9 million FTA Low or No Emission (Low-No) Program grant.

Blake Fonnesbeck, Park City transit and public works ­director, said at the unveiling of the buses, “We are over a year ahead of our implementation goals. This is due to such strong partnerships between stakeholders helping to bring this from paper to passengers.”

The free bus service operates every 10 minutes, seven days a week, on a limited-stop route connecting two transit centers. Passengers also will be able to make regional connections on the Park City/Salt Lake City Connect bus through a partnership with Summit County and the Utah Transit Authority in Salt Lake City.

Darren Davis, Park City transit manager, said the agency will introduce BRT service once buses can use roadside shoulders and public transit bus signal priority units are installed. This will allow buses to navigate high-volume traffic roads more quickly than a personal vehicle. Davis added, “Our goal is to get community buy-in, making transit and BRT part of an everyday routine and to educate visitors that transit is a better option.”

The Proterra buses can undergo five-minute charges with overhead charging stations at both transit hubs. Passenger amenities include seat back USB power outlets, system-wide free Wi-Fi, oversized windows and special seating. The exterior bus wrap design, created by Utah artist Dave Titensor of Titan Design, showcases road and mountain bicyclists, skiers, snowboarders and other winter athletes.

The introduction of all-electric buses is just one component of Park City’s goal for its operations to be net-zero carbon and powered by 100 percent renewable electricity by 2022.

Park City Transit and Public Works Director Blake Fonnesbeck spoke at ceremonies to unveil Park City Transit’s six Electric Xpress buses from Proterra.

TOD Housing Opens Adjacent to Sound Transit Station

At recent ceremonies marked with a lion dance performance and Somali youth dancers, Mercy Housing Northwest, a Seattle-based nonprofit organization that provides affordable, accessible housing for residents with special needs, opened a 108-unit TOD facility located across the street from the Sound Transit Othello light rail station.

“Finding housing that you can afford can be a real challenge,” King County Executive and Sound Transit board member Dow Constantine said at the event. “Mercy Othello Plaza shows how we can leverage the region’s investment in high-capacity transit by building affordable housing near Link light rail stations. Transit-oriented development is a big part of the region’s light rail vision.”

Sound Transit Board Chair and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers said, “Mercy Othello Plaza serves as a great example of how transit-oriented developments can transform communities throughout the region.”

Sound Transit Chief Executive Officer Peter Rogoff called the project “a superb example of TOD partnerships that create livable, walkable communities by providing affordable housing near light rail stations. Every day, families living at this facility enjoy the benefit of using a reliable, convenient transit system to get to work, run errands and ride to weekend events without the hassle and expense of driving.”

Two and a half years ago, Sound Transit sold a portion of the land it acquired for station construction to Mercy Housing Northwest through a competitive application process. The agency and the city used city grant funds to accelerate the offering schedule for the site’s development.

Mercy Othello Plaza is Sound Transit’s second TOD project along its first light rail segment and its third affordable housing project to open in the region. Future developments are in ­preliminary stages.

Dow Constantine spoke to residents at opening ceremonies for Mercy Othello Plaza, a TOD affordable housing facility located across the street from a Sound Transit light rail station.


STA's West Plains Facility Will Improve Connectivity

As Passenger Transport went to press, the Spokane (WA) Transit Authority (STA) prepared to break ground July 19 for the West Plains Transit Center, a facility to provide better service to residents by creating stronger connectivity between two cities in the region.

“Demand for the region’s public services is forecasted to grow in the next two decades,” said E. Susan Meyer, STA chief executive officer. “The STA Moving Forward Plan, which includes the West Plains Transit Center, was designed by the community and approved by voters to meet the needs of future commuters.”

The first phase of the transit center project is scheduled to open in fall 2018, and will include a 200-space park-and-ride lot. It is located near an exit on the most centrally located interstate highway among the three cities in the region: 6.5 miles to Medical Lake, 8.2 miles to Cheney and 5.6 miles to Airway Heights. The main transfer station in downtown Spokane is 9.2 miles from the new facility.

The transit center will allow for a direct connection between Medical Lake and Cheney; in the past, residents of these cities had to backtrack and transfer in downtown Spokane to travel between them. A second phase of the project, planned for completion in 2020, will include connections to Airway Heights.

“This project is a response to the needs the community identified,” Meyer said. “There is no question that the West Plains Transit Center will be an important connection hub and economic driver in the region.”

“STA Moving Forward” is the agency’s 10-year plan funded by Proposition 1, approved by voters in November 2016 to maintain, improve and expand public transit as the region grows. New revenue from local sales tax increases—one-tenth of 1 percent effective April 1, 2017, and a second one-tenth beginning April 1, 2019—will allow STA to grow service by 25 percent throughout the region, the first significant service expansion since the agency’s creation in 1981.

Other STA Moving Forward improvements scheduled for this year include the expansion of later night Saturday service, new regional routes and increased frequency of certain routes.

A schematic drawing shows the relative positions of the cities served by STA’s West Plains Transit Center.

VIA Opens Upgraded Transfer Area

As part of its ongoing investment in enhanced passenger amenities throughout its service area, VIA Metropolitan Transit in San Antonio, TX, held a ceremonial grand opening and community celebration July 19 for the newly renovated Five Points Transfer Area.

“The unique design of the Five Points Transfer Area was inspired by the high ridership that the stop has historically experienced,” said VIA President/Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey C. Arndt. “The dramatic transformation of this site makes it an inviting environment for VIA’s customers and offers a convenient connection to the San Pedro Creek.”

The site, previously an underused lot, connects almost 1,000 daily passengers to six west and northbound routes. VIA has transformed it into an oasis of trees and native plants, featuring updated shelters, a bicycle parking and repair station, digital bus arrival information and free Wi-Fi.

An illuminated, 18-foot-tall branded pylon marks the entrance to the transfer area. “The Guardians of Five Points,” a ceramic sculpture installation by San Antonio artist Diana Kersey, provides an eye-catching landmark for the neighborhood gateway.

“The Guardians of Five Points,” an art installation at VIA’s Five Points Transfer Area.

FRA Releases Two Passenger Rail Documents

FRA has released a final rule to set up a pilot program for competitive selection of rail passenger service providers (which FRA calls “eligible petitioners”) to operate up to three long-distance routes currently operated by Amtrak.

The text of the final rule, which goes into effect Sept. 5, appeared in the July 7 Federal Register, available here.

This program is part of the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, Title XI of the FAST Act.

In addition, the rule addresses FRA’s execution of a contract with the winning bidder to provide intercity passenger rail service over the described routes, along with an operating subsidy, subject to federal grant conditions and performance standards that might be required by the office of the DOT secretary.

For more information, contact FRA officials Brandon White, 202-493-1327, or Zeb Schorr, 202-493-6072.

In related news, FRA has released the NEC FUTURE Record of Decision (ROD), prepared in compliance with the National Environmental Policy Act, to identify a corridor-wide approach to improve the Northeast Corridor (NEC) by expanding the role of passenger rail service. Find the text of the ROD, appendices and other information here.

New CEO Named: Cormier, Lochner

Lochner, a nationwide transportation engineering firm based in Chicago, has promoted Jeanne Cormier to chief executive officer following the retirement of Jim Bishop. Cormier, a Lochner employee for almost 30 years, has served as chief operations officer since 2016.

Cormier began her career with Lochner in its Connecticut construction engineering and inspection practice, eventually leading the firm’s total practice in the state. In 2007, former Lochner Chief Executive Officer Larry Thomas named her regional team leader for the northeast region. She served 2013-2016 as the firm’s director of strategic growth and joined the board of directors in 2014.


Aug. 31 Deadline for Coalition Grant Applications

APTA invites public transit professionals, including members of the National Alliance of Public Transportation Advocates (NAPTA), to apply through Aug. 31 for grants available through the Local Coalition Grant Program.

Projects should focus on grassroots advocacy efforts that can help achieve specific state and local public transportation goals. With the ongoing uncertainty over the future of federal spending on public transit infrastructure, APTA encourages projects that protect federal surface transportation programs or other additional revenue support at the federal level.

A local coalition can apply directly for the funds, provided it has a letter of support from the general manager of the local APTA member transit agency(ies) and is a NAPTA member, and a public transit system may apply on behalf of a coalition.

More information is available here or by contacting Zach Smith.

Sundaram Joins APTA Staff

APTA recently welcomed Narayana Sundaram as director of engineering and commuter rail operations, with responsibilities for managing many of APTA’s Passenger Rail Equipment Safety Standards (PRESS) commuter rail standards working groups and the Commuter Rail Committee, leading state of good repair infrastructure maintenance efforts and serving as the association’s lead on engineering topics on the rail side of technical services.

Sundaram joins APTA after 13 years with ENSCO Inc., where he most recently was business area manager for vehicle and track interaction consulting services. He has a master of science degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland and a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Walchand College in India.

Just in Time for Summer Vacation: Take Transit, Save $810 in July

Individuals who ride public transportation instead of driving for their daily commute can save, on average, more than $810 per month, according to APTA’s July Transit Savings Report, with an annual savings computed at $9,719 for a person who switches his or her commute by car to taking public transportation.

These savings are based on the cost of commuting by public transportation compared to the cost of owning and driving a vehicle. These costs include the July 13 national average gas price ($2.26 per gallon, as reported by AAA) and the national unreserved monthly parking rate.

APTA also lists the top 20 cities with the highest public transit ridership, ranked in order of their transit savings based on the purchase of a monthly public transit pass. Find this information at APTA’s Facebook page.

APTA Announces Q1 Ridership

Ridership on all public transit modes, except for light and commuter rail services, experienced a downward tick in the first quarter of 2017 compared to the same time last year, according to APTA’s most recent ridership report and analysis.

Many public transit agencies attribute the decrease to an uptick in auto travel and ongoing low gas prices.

Even if a small number of transit riders choose instead to drive, those may have an outsized effect on the change in public transit ridership as measured in unlinked trips, according to APTA.

The analysis added that riders most likely to switch from public transit to cars often have longer or slower trips, multiple transfers or other factors that can detract from ease or convenience.

One transit rider with a long, multitransfer commute who switches to driving would show up as multiple lost unlinked trips, as compared to a rider with a short trip with no transfers, APTA added.

In addition, many public transit agencies have not yet fully recovered from service cutbacks due to the recent recession.

Find more ridership details here.


'Hop to It' for Fares Across Portland Region

For the first time, residents of the Portland, OR-Vancouver, WA area can use a single fare collection system, the Hop Fastpass™, for all public transit modes and systems throughout the region.

The new electronic fare payment system, which entered service July 17, provides seamless connections among Portland’s Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (TriMet) buses, light rail and commuter rail; the Portland Streetcar; and buses and Vine BRT operated by C-TRAN in Vancouver. Coming soon, riders will be able to pay for their trips with a contactless bank card or smartphone with a mobile wallet connected to a bank card.

“The benefits of this new fare system will be far reaching, bringing more efficiency to TriMet and providing important benefits for our riders, including saving money the more they ride,” said TriMet General Manager Neil McFarlane. “We are thankful for our partnership with C-TRAN and Portland Streetcar to make this regional fare system a reality.”

C-TRAN Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer Shawn M. Donaghy said, “Our Hop beta testers expressed excitement about how easy the card is to use, how quickly it enables them to board the bus and how it helps them keep track of their transit use. With this next generation of electronic fare, our customers will benefit from multiple ways to pay. The Hop card is helping to ­redefine regional transportation, and we could not have had better partners than TriMet and the Portland Streetcar.”

Portland Streetcar Executive Director Dan Power added, “Hop Fastpass is the type of investment in convenience our riders expect and deserve from the system.”

The fare program entered service after five months of beta testing with riders throughout the service area. Reloadable Hop cards are on sale at select supermarkets and a mobile app is available through the Apple App Store and Google Play.

The agencies’ partners included INIT Innovations in Transportation Inc., which already provided operations control and real-time passenger information systems to two of the partner agencies. INIT’s back-end processing software serves as the core intelligence for the account-based Hop Fastpass system.

Exploring Career Tracks for Rail Engineers

What does it take to integrate the workforce needs of passenger rail with the curricula of leading college engineering programs? Michael Loehr, center, global practice leader, transit and rail, track and civil, CH2M, discussed some technical aspects of engineering-related careers in passenger rail (among other topics) during the biennial Passenger Rail Engineering Education Symposium (p-REES) conducted at the Los Angeles Trade-Technical College in Los Angeles. APTA Chair Doran J. Barnes and LA Metro CEO Phillip Washington offered remarks that encouraged attending college professors and faculty to keep transit’s workforce needs in mind when developing courses. The three-day program was funded by APTA’s business members and held in partnership with the American Railway and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA).

AECOM to Acquire Construction Firm

AECOM has announced an agreement to acquire Shimmick Construction, a civil construction firm based in Oakland, CA, with the acquisition expected to close in AECOM’s fiscal fourth quarter.

The enterprise value of the acquisition is $175 million. The addition will provide AECOM with civil construction capabilities across the western U.S., which is set to benefit from several years of expected growth from nearly $180 billion of recently approved ballot measures.

“As momentum across our Americas infrastructure markets builds, enhancing our construction capabilities is a critical next step to ensure we best capitalize on the tremendous opportunities in front of us,” said Michael S. Burke, AECOM’s chairman and chief executive officer.

(Re)Power Up: Rep. Waters, CCW Help Launch ZEPS Buses

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), fourth from right, and Complete Coach Works (CCW) President Dale Carson, far left, were on hand to help celebrate the ribbon cutting and deployment of five CCW Zero Emission Propulsion System (ZEPS) battery electric buses delivered to GTrans, Gardena, CA. “Not only do these repowered buses provide a cleaner, quieter ride for customers in the community, but the project itself helps reduce emissions and energy costs and advances a new technology in the transit industry,” Waters said at the ceremony, also attended by city officials. “This project is CCW’s largest ZEPS technology deployment in California and is part of our commitment to transportation solutions for zero-emission vehicles covering all major groups and mass transit needs,” Carson said.

Industry Briefs

Safe Places’ on NCRTD Buses — The North Central Regional Transit District, Espanola, NM, recently added its fleet of “Blue Buses” to the national “Safe Place” program, partnering with Taos-based DreamTree Project to transport youth escaping from dangerous situations to the nearest stop where they can find professional help. Once a minor notifies a driver that he or she needs help, the driver will alert the dispatch center, which in turn will initiate steps to transport the minor to a ­DreamTree/Safe Place representative.

Burning Calories, Sharing Bikes — Participants in the Regional Trans­por­tation Commission of Southern Nevada’s (RTC) Bike Share program burned more than one million calories during the program’s first six months, logging more than 25,000 miles in more than 8,000 trips over 4,000 hours of time. RTC provides 180 bikes at 21 strategically placed ­stations in downtown Las Vegas.

Partnership for L.A. ­Community Market — Los Angeles Metro is partnering with city, county and neighborhood organizations to open a community market for street vendors outside the portal to the Westlake/MacArthur Metro Red/Purple Line Station. The one-year pilot project is designed to allow street vending while minimizing disorder and transforming the station plaza into an inviting community environment.

CTA Expands Digital Information — The Chicago Transit Authority has begun a two-year project to add 130 new digital advertising displays throughout its rail system and upgrade 159 of its 283 existing displays. This change will generate new revenue for CTA at no cost through the agency’s contract with an advertising broker.

VIA’s Game-Changing App — Users of VIA Metropolitan Transit’s goMobile app in San Antonio, TX, can purchase fares electronically and activate them when they are ready to ride, reducing the need for cash and transfer cards. The free app also includes a trip-planning feature with bus arrival information to help riders plan more easily and accurately.

Solar Lighting at OCTA Bus Shelters — Urban Solar entered into a three-year contract to supply solar lighting systems to Orange County (CA) Transportation Authority (OCTA) bus shelters. OCTA previously installed more than 100 of its PV Stops in 2012.

Ann Arbor Facility Earns LEED Gold — The Ann Arbor Area (MI) Transportation Authority has achieved LEED Gold certification for its Blake Transit Center, which opened in 2014. The building’s sustainable elements include the use of local and renewable materials, high-efficiency heating and lighting systems and recycling of stormwater for “gray water” purposes such as flushing toilets.


Fuel Costs Matter to Public Transit Systems' Bottom Lines; Expert Examines Short- and Long-term Effects of Fuel Costs

Special to Passenger Transport

Principal, Linwood Capital, LLC
Minneapolis, MN

Compared with other public entities, public transportation is a fuel-intensive industry and therefore the cost of energy used to operate vehicles is a major budget item.

During the past 10 years, fuel prices have been variable and volatile. When prices go up, a public transit agency’s budget can be exceeded or reserves depleted.

On the other hand, when prices decline, the opposite is true. Over the past three years, diesel prices are down 53 percent. Will fuel prices remain low or will they rise again?

The main drivers of the price of ­diesel are:

Inventory levels: When supplies are higher, prices are lower;

The value of the U.S. dollar: When the dollar is weak, it takes more dollars to purchase a barrel of oil; and

Speculation: More speculation means higher prices.

For most of 2011-2014, diesel prices were averaging more than $2.50 per gallon but reached highs of about $3.25. These price increases were mainly due to the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) constraining supply and high levels of speculation in petroleum markets.

During this time, U.S. shale production (fracking/horizontal drilling) grew rapidly, causing more reserves at a time when OPEC was limiting supply to support price. OPEC had two choices: Continue to constrain supply to sustain price, or to produce more, drive prices lower and stop the growth of U.S. shale production.

In late 2014, OPEC chose the latter. From then until January 2016, inventories ballooned, speculation plummeted, the U.S. dollar surged and investment in developing new oil resources, i.e., the oil rig count, dried up. As a result, diesel prices decreased from $2.98 to $0.87 per gallon. This decline had OPEC’s desired effect—to decrease U.S. shale drilling and production. U.S. crude production decreased by 1 million barrels per day, and the number of drilling rigs in the U.S. fell from 1,600 in October 2014 to about 300 in May 2016.

In early 2016, prices began to increase again in keeping with OPEC’s plan. These increases also caused U.S. shale production to grow, thereby causing a market surplus to continue. The world was still producing 1 ­million-2 million barrels per day more than was being consumed, keeping prices low, a setback for OPEC.

In November 2016, OPEC and other oil-producing nations curtailed their daily production of crude by 1.8 million barrels per day (roughly 2 percent of global consumption). As expected, prices increased—which was good for OPEC—and also good for American shale producers who increased output.

Since OPEC’s plan went into effect, U.S. oil production has increased by over 600,000 barrels per day, effectively erasing one-third of OPEC’s price gains with no end in sight.

Currently, prices are low because of large and growing inventories, low speculation, a daily market surplus, a strong dollar and weak demand growth. Should any of these change, prices will increase.

The futures market for diesel fuel allows future costs to be locked in by contract. These prices can be different from today’s pump price. Since inventories are large, current futures prices are higher than spot prices representing the cost of fuel storage. Markets are expecting prices to be higher in the future as demand increases, the surplus returns to balance and inventories shrink.

How far can prices move? The market tells us that except for extreme circumstances, the uncertainty of diesel fuel prices is approximately +/- $0.50 per gallon about one year into the future. Many public transit agencies hedge the cost of their diesel fuel by using a variety of tools. If the fuel budget can be brought down closer to the more certain cost created by hedging, the savings can be used for other productive actions.

What’s Next?

As the economist Adam Smith pointed out in his Wealth of Nations (1776), commodities cannot sell in the long term for much more than their marginal cost of production.

As petroleum prices were very high from 2011-2014, the marginal cost to produce a barrel of oil was estimated to be about $80 per barrel—which is fine when it can be sold for $100.

As prices plummeted, however, American shale producers learned to produce much more cheaply such that the marginal cost of production is now about $50-$60 per barrel.

This means that for the time being (barring any supply shocks, etc.) it is highly unlikely that the price of oil will exceed $60 per barrel. Global economic growth and the petroleum demand that accompanies it will eventually solve the problem.

Fracking may not be able to keep up longer term since new wells deplete quickly and sustained production is a function of a high level of sustained drilling unlike traditional wells. The problem is that all current investment is going to fracking and not to traditional oil production. As fracking increases, marginal costs will increase.

Since expansion of traditional production will have been somewhat neglected, there may be a supply squeeze, giving OPEC more opportunities to drive up prices. The big questions are whether the daily production from fracking will be limited by higher costs or by other factors like transportation and whether traditional production will be able to pick up the slack after a longer period of underinvestment.

OPEC’s goal is higher prices for petroleum. But as prices rise, there is more incentive to increase shale production.
For the public transit industry, if you think prices will increase on average over the next three years, then this could be a good time to hedge.


Ticket to Ride: One Rider's View of a City and its Public Transit System

Grand Rapids, MI

A rider of The Rapid set out to experience every route in the system’s bus network and write about his travels for the system’s blog. Here’s a brief look at what he’s discovered about his city and public transit system so far.

In the last few years, my wife and I have done a lot of traveling around the U.S. While it’s always fun to visit the major attractions, I’ve found myself more drawn to the mundane places. The places where people live their daily lives. The streets they walk down to work, the restaurants they stop at for lunch, and the shops where they buy their groceries. I like to imagine what it would be like to really live there.

Even when we return home to Grand Rapids, I enjoy visiting neighborhoods and walking down streets I’m not familiar with, exploring the city that we live in with fresh eyes and getting a feel for the different neighborhoods. … For me, it helps build a sense of community and connection to a place but it’s important to get outside that bubble. There is so much more to our city to explore!

While I’ve lived in Grand Rapids for 15 years, I haven’t really utilized the bus system. … I realized that there was an entire system of transportation I had never explored in my own city! Routes I’d never been on. Ways to see the city I’d never experienced.

So I made it a goal for 2017 to ride every route of The Rapid, at least once. … I thought it would make me a better citizen, and enable me to see our city from a different perspective. I also thought it would be a fun way to see different neighborhoods and businesses I’m not as familiar with…. So far, it’s been a fun experience. I’d like to share a few insights from my travels.

Letting Go

One of the most pleasant things about riding the bus so far, for me, has been giving up control. When I travel around town, typically I’m riding my bike, walking or driving. Basically, I’m the one doing the traveling. I’m paying attention, I’m trying to be safe, I’m trying to avoid broken glass and over-friendly dogs. There is a constant level of focus on my surroundings that I need to sustain. When I first sat down on the bus, I experienced a feeling of panic! I didn’t know what to do. There was nothing I had to do. I just got to sit and, after I realized that the driver wasn’t going to ask me to drive the bus or to be on the lookout for potholes, I relaxed. It was glorious. I didn’t realize how much of my mind space during traveling is focused on the act of the traveling.

Riding the bus, I could fill my mind with other things. I thought about the book I had been reading, conversations I had at work, I took the time to notice the buildings, streets and people I saw out the window. I almost could have fallen asleep.

Gimme Shelter
On one of my trips, there was a light drizzle when I left a bar to return home. As I stood at the stop getting damp, a fellow passenger informed me that the bus was running late. He had used his phone to check. He suggested that we’d be better off taking a different route back to Central Station [The Rapid’s main hub] and we moved to the intersecting street to wait for a different bus. As we stood outside, the drizzle turned to rain and I realized that nowhere at this intersection was a bus shelter. We moved to the awning of a closed business and waited for the bus to arrive. When the bus arrived, our trip didn’t end as we had another connection to catch to get back to Central Station. This time there was a shelter and other passengers chatted while we waited.

In retrospect, it probably would have been better to just wait for the original bus. The late arrival of the bus, the rain, lack of shelter and waiting gave me the feeling of being a bit exposed and out of my comfort zone. However, the willingness of the fellow passengers to share information and converse to pass the time made the unanticipated journey enjoyable.

Lesson learned: Bring an umbrella and a friendly smile!

Date Night
My wife and I rode the bus to Tillman’s [a local restaurant] with plans to go to a different bar for drinks afterward. Now the bus might not be most people’s idea of a romantic mode of transportation; however, we didn’t have to worry about parking, driving our car after drinking or taking an Uber home. We could just enjoy each other’s company, which makes it a very romantic mode of date transportation.

Also, because the DASH [the city’s free downtown circulator] doesn’t run on Saturday nights, we had to walk a little farther and enjoyed a stroll over the river. Date night bonus!

Puzzuoli has lived in Grand Rapids since 2002. This “Commentary” combines two of his blog entries. Reprinted and excerpted with permission from The Rapid. Find this blog here.

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

JACKSONVILLE, FL—Nathaniel P. Ford Sr., APTA vice chair and chief executive officer of the Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA), has received the Thomas G. Neusom Founders Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO).

This award honors transportation executives and policymakers responsible for the direction and operation of their agency and who, through their COMTO affiliation, have made outstanding contributions toward the growth and development of people of color in the industry and have given outstanding service and leadership to the organization.

Also, COMTO honored Christopher Macklin, JTA’s Disadvantaged Business Enterprise/diversity specialist, with its Emerging Leader Award.

MISSISSAUGA, ONTARIO—Trapeze Group announced the appointment of Paul Comfort as a vice president of business development with Trapeze NA. Comfort most recently was administrator and chief executive officer of the Maryland Transit Administration in Baltimore and formerly served on numerous APTA committees.

WASHINGTON, DC—Jennifer ­Kalczuk has joined AlphaVu LLC, a data analysis firm working with corporations, issue-based advocacy groups, public transit and infrastructure organizations, trade associations and members of Congress.

Kalczuk joins AlphaVu after 18 years as external relations manager for The Rapid in Grand Rapids, MI. She is immediate past chair of the APTA Marketing and Communications Committee and a former member of the APTA Board of Directors. For the past four years, she has been president of the Michigan ­Public Transit Association.

SAN BERNARDINO, CA—Loma Linda Council Member Ron Dailey has succeeded Rancho Cucamonga Council Member Sam ­Spagnolo as chair of the Omnitrans Board of Directors and Redlands Council Member Pat Gilbreath was elected vice chair of the board. Both will serve two-year terms.

Dailey joined the Omnitrans board in 2010, the same year he was first elected to the Loma Linda City Council. He is dean of the School of Dentistry at Loma Linda University.

Gilbreath was on the board from 2000-2007, chairing it from 2005-2007, and returned in 2014. She was first elected to the Redlands City Council in 1993.

Also, Omnitrans announced the hiring of Trischelle Baysden to lead its new rail department as the agency prepares to launch Arrow passenger rail service in 2020, connecting Redlands and San Bernardino. Her 25 years of experience in rail operations began with Burlington Northern Santa Fe and include nine years with Metrolink commuter rail in Los Angeles.

STEVENSVILLE, MD—Stertil-Koni has promoted Hans Herrera to service manager from service technician, a position he held since 2015. Before joining the company, Herrera worked in the automotive industry for more than five years and taught college-level automotive classes.

DAYTON, OH—The Greater ­Dayton Regional Transit Authority (RTA) has named Chris Cole, the current chief maintenance officer, to the newly-created position of chief operating officer. He joined the agency in 2015 as deputy chief maintenance officer and has more than 25 years of public service experience, including more than 15 years with the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus, where he ultimately was director of transportation.

RTA also announced the promotion of Tim Harrington from IT project manager to management information systems manager. Before joining the agency about a year ago, Harrington spent 13 years as director of the Information Technology Department for the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority in Cincinnati.

Harrington succeeds Hank Trimble, who will remain at the agency as deputy manager until he retires later this year.

SAN CARLOS, CA—Cheryl Brinkman, chair of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) Board of Directors, has joined the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board representing SFMTA. The joint powers board is the governing body of Caltrain commuter rail.