°F We should be hitting 90 degrees today. Hear what this means for Maeve, a curator at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden.

US DOT Fines American for Undisclosed Voucher Fees

Monday, February 28, 2011

UPDATED: With response from American Airlines

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The U.S. Department of Transportation fined American Airlines $90,000 Monday for charging passengers undisclosed voucher fees. Airlines routinely offer free flight vouchers as an incentive to give up a seats on oversold flights. A DOT investigation found that American was not telling passengers about restrictions, including a $30 ticketing fee, on the use of those flight vouchers.

This is the first time the DOT has issued a fine on an airline for failing to disclose fees.

“When passengers volunteer to give up their seat on an oversold flight, they are entitled to be fully compensated – not to find out later that they’re getting $30 less,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  “Passengers deserve to be treated fairly when they fly, and especially when they’ve volunteered to give up their seat because the airline overbooked their flight.”

In a statement the DOT explained the rules for "bumping" and vouchers this way: "an airline must first seek volunteers willing to give up their seat on an oversold flight before bumping passengers involuntarily.  The carrier may offer any type or amount of compensation agreed to by the volunteer, in contrast to involuntary bumping situations, where DOT rules require airlines to pay passengers cash compensation in most cases."

An investigation by the DOT’s Aviation Enforcement Office found that American offered travel vouchers valued at specific dollar amounts as compensation for voluntary bumping.  However, when awarding the vouchers, the DOT found, American did not tell passengers about a ticketing fee required to redeem the vouchers, nor that the vouchers could not be redeemed on the carrier’s internet site.

The DOT stresses that the process for redeeming oversales flight vouchers remains more cumbersome and complicated than purchasing a ticket or redeeming other flight vouchers.

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TN Moving Stories: Automakers Struggle To Win 20-Somethings, Britain's HSR Woes, and Navigating by iPad

Monday, February 28, 2011

Automakers struggle to market cars to the younger generation. (NPR)

Joan McDonald --Gov. Cuomo's choice to head the New York State Department of Transportation -- is scheduled to go before lawmakers today in Albany, talking budget and transpo funding. (Wall Street Journal)

High-speed rail in Britain has had cross-party support, but it's now facing opposition on environmental grounds. (Telegraph)

Navigating by Apple: the FAA is allowing some pilots to use iPads instead of paper charts. (Autopia)

Turf battle: the FAA and the NTSB are sparring over who has access to safety data. (Wall Street Journal)

MetroCard vandals are becoming more aggressive in some parts of New York. (NY Post)

The NY Daily News's Pete Donohue writes: "The MTA is paying hired-gun lawyers more than $540 an hour to deny token booth clerks earning $18 an hour a modest raise."

If Karsan wins NY's "Taxi of Tomorrow" competition, will they assemble part of the vehicle in Brooklyn? (Brooklyn Paper)

The National Journal debates Rick Scott's rejection of high-speed rail in Florida.

New York City is eyeing ways to maximize parking meter revenue. (NY Daily News)

More than $4 million in federal funds is ready to fuel passenger train service across New Hampshire. But legislation proposing to disband the N.H. Rail Transit Authority has stalled the effort. (Nashua Telegraph)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Washington State has reached an agreement with the DOT over high-speed rail funds. A new report says improving transit in outer boroughs is key to NYC's job growth. And Houston's bicyclists and pedestrians win a small victory.

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Back of the Bus Airing Sunday in Phoenix, Houston, Monday in Little Rock

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sunday, February 27, KJZZ Phoenix, 91.5, at 3 pm. KUHF, 88.7 Houston, 7 pm

Monday, Feb. 28, at 7 p.m. on KUAR, 89.1, Little Rock, Arkansas

Sunday, March 6 on WXXI, Rochester, NY:at 10 p.m. on AM 1370/FM-HD 91.5-2.

Friday, March 11, on Minnesota Public Radio at noon.

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Washington State, DOT, Others Ink Agreement on High Speed Rail

Saturday, February 26, 2011

At least something is going right for Ray LaHood...

US DOT released the following today:

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Statement on High-Speed Rail Agreement in Washington State

Washington, DC – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood issued the following statement today:

“President Obama's historic investments in a national high-speed rail network will enable America to win the future by creating construction and manufacturing jobs today and laying the foundation for future economic growth. By building safe, reliable and energy-efficient passenger rail corridors we will be able to help small businesses thrive and move people and goods more quickly than ever before. I am thrilled to congratulate the State of Washington, BNSF, and Amtrak for their contributions to the agreement signed today by the Federal Railroad Administration and Washington DOT that will make $590 million available for work to begin on significant improvements to the popular Cascades corridor, which connects Eugene, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.   Thanks to the hard work, dedication, and flexibility of all parties involved in the negotiations, this agreement will immediately put Washingtonians to work in good paying jobs, significantly improve rail service for commuters and travelers, and preserve the world-class freight rail system America has today.”

Additional background on the agreement:

‪As part of the President’s long-term vision to give 80% of Americans access to high-speed rail in the next 25 years, this initial $590 million in funding for high-speed and intercity passenger rail will create more than 6,000 direct and indirect jobs in the Washington region.  And thanks to the performance standards included in this agreement, travelers will benefit from two additional daily roundtrips between Seattle and Portland, a 10 minute reduction in travel time, and reliability improvements of up to 88%.  With the signing of this agreement, 5 of the 6 high-speed rail corridors that require coordination with freight railroads now have a signed agreement in place. The Department of Transportation will build on this momentum to realize President Obama’s vision of a national high-speed rail system that will allow American workers to out-build, out-innovate, and out-compete the rest of the world.


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Report Says Improving Outer Borough Bus Service Is Key To NYC Job Growth

Saturday, February 26, 2011

(New York, NY - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The outer boroughs of New York City are creating jobs, but the newly employed might have some trouble commuting: New York's bus service has not kept pace with employment growth. Those are claims in a report just released by the Center for an Urban Future, a think tank in Lower Manhattan.

The report says that over the past two decades, the number of outer borough residents commuting from borough to borough or within their borough has been increasing much faster than the number who make the more traditional trip into Manhattan's business districts. Because the subways are generally oriented toward moving riders to and from Manhattan, many outer borough residents with outer borough jobs take the bus.

The report's author, David Giles, says the outer borough bus system is straining under the weight of 60 percent more riders since 1990.

"Despite the fact that transit ridership patterns have been shifting, with more people working in the boroughs, the MTA and NYC Department of Transportation have not made the investments necessary to keep up with these trends," he writes.

The study, called "Behind the Curb," concludes that "the biggest losers in all this have been New York City’s working poor."

The report goes on to say that New York has the slowest bus speeds in the country. Not surprisingly, outer borough bus riders have the longest median commutes.

But the outer boroughs are where New York's new jobs are. Giles says Manhattan had a net loss of 109,029 jobs between 2000 and 2009. But during the same period, the outer boroughs saw employment gains:  Staten Island with 4,045 jobs (a 4.6 percent increase); Queens  with 11,584 jobs (2.4 percent); the Bronx with 16,557 jobs (7.7 percent); and Brooklyn with 35,010 jobs (7.9 percent).

Those jobs were mostly produced by the health care and education sectors. But other large employers--like the new Hunts Point Market in the Bronx with 20,000 employees and JFK Airport in Queens with 50,000 employees--complain that it’s getting harder for their employees in the boroughs to reach work because, in part, the buses are getting more crowded. Additionally, as new employers spread out, some of them are far from existing bus lines.

The Center recommends the city speed up the roll-out of Select Bus Service--buses with dedicated lanes and, in some cities, technology to move faster by keeping lights in their favor. It also calls for the state to commit to a dedicated revenue stream for the MTA, something transit advocates have been saying for years.

Listen to the report's author, David Giles, discuss his findings on WNYC Radio.

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Small Victory for Houston Cyclists, Pedestrians

Friday, February 25, 2011

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF) Cyclists in the Houston area won a small victory Friday. At its monthly meeting the Transportation Policy Council, decided to postpone a vote on a proposal to stall several bike and pedestrian projects.

[Listen to the KUHF audio version of this story]

The decision comes after more than thirty people showed up at the meeting to voice their concern.  Barbara Jusiak was one of them. “I ride my bicycle to and from the Texas Medical Center every day. And I believe that the ability to cycle safely and to get around on foot is very important to quality of life in a city.”

The Transportation Policy Council allocates money for transportation projects throughout the greater Houston region. The proposal in question has to do with how the TPC will divvy up $345 million dollars that’s coming from two parts of a federally funded program.

Alan Clark is the director of transportation and planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council. He calls this particular funding the flexible part of the program. “Because although they are highway dollars, they can be used in some cases to support funding for transit, pedestrian, bicycle-type facilities,” he says.

Clark says what’s also unique is that the TPC has control over how the money is used, as opposed to that decision being made in Austin or Washington. If the proposal is approved, $12.8 million dollars that’s planned for transit, bikeway, and walkability projects would possibly be stalled one or more years. That would mean 78 percent of the pot would go to roads and freight rail while just over 11 percent would be spent on building bikeways, sidewalks, and other initiatives that would take people out of their cars. Matthew Reisdorf is a father of two.

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Scott Wavering on High Speed Rail

Friday, February 25, 2011

(Orlando, Florida -- Mark Simpson, WMFE) It looks like there may still be life in Florida's High Speed Rail Project. We've posted the announcements and public statements all day long, from the DOT, Gov. Rick Scott, and others. At the end of a day that saw several meetings, public pronouncements and back door negotiations, here's where the Tampa-Orlando bullet train stands.

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has agreed to give Florida one more week to come up with a way to build the proposed rail line before the DOT reallocates the $2.4 billion in federal funds allocated to the project. Governor Rick Scott says he is willing to listen.

Today was supposed to be the deadline imposed by the US Department of Transportation for Florida to come with a plan to work around Governor Rick Scott's refusal of federal money for high Speed Rail.

Governor Scott met with LaHood in Washington D.C. and asked for more information on the proposed Florida High Speed Rail line.

Scott refused the money last week citing concerns about the state's financial liability if the project did not generate enough money to cover its estimated $2.6 billion dollar cost.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and US DOT lawyers have been working on a legal workaround since the Governor's refusal and may yet arrive at a solution.

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BREAKING: The Undead? LaHood Says FL Governor Scott Asked for, Was Granted, Another Week on High Speed Rail

Friday, February 25, 2011

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Statement on High-Speed Rail in Florida

WASHINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today issued the following statement on high-speed rail in Florida:

“This morning I met with Governor Rick Scott to discuss the high speed rail project that will create jobs and economic development for the entire state of Florida. He asked me for additional information about the state’s role in this project, the responsibilities of the Florida Department of Transportation, as well as how the state would be protected from liability. I have decided to give Governor Scott additional time to review the agreement crafted by local officials from Orlando, Tampa, Lakeland and Miami, and to consult with his staff at the state Department of Transportation. He has committed to making a final decision by the end of next week. I feel we owe it to the people of Florida, who have been working to bring high speed rail to their state for the last 20 years, to go the extra mile.”

Here's Senator Bill Nelson's comment:

"I am grateful the governor has agreed to receive the facts on how the state will have no financial responsibility in high-speed rail.  I’m especially grateful to Secretary [ Ray ] LaHood for giving Florida at least one more week before our money goes to another state.  Hopefully, this will be enough time for people of good intentions to put Florida’s interests first.  There is too much at stake for us not to try everything we can. ”

Scroll down in our blog to see how unhappy both LaHood , Nelson and others were yesterday.

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More Criticism Rains down on Scott from FL Officials for Killing High Speed Rail

Friday, February 25, 2011

This just in from Democratic Congresswoman Corrine Brown:



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:  February 25th, 2011

Congresswoman Brown:  Rick Scott Puts Florida Jobs on High Speed Train to California

(Washington, DC) Congresswoman Brown delivered the following statement:

"Today is a very sad day for the state of Florida.  As the Ranking Member of the House Railroad subcommittee, I am more than disappointed in the Florida's governor's decision to return $2.4 billion in funding for a high speed rail system.  Just yesterday, Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica and I attended a previously scheduled listening tour to obtain input from Americans nationwide on the upcoming six year Surface Transportation Reauthorization bill.  The hearing, which was jointly held with Senator Barbara Boxer and attended by several Members of the California congressional delegation, was widely attended and attracted a great deal of interest in the Los Angeles area.  Sadly, I must admit that many of the California delegation members thanked Congressman Mica and me profusely for the high speed rail money Florida Governor Scott is about to hand over to their state.  It was extremely painful for me to hear these types of remarks, as well as to physically be, ironically, in California at the same time our governor is working hard to give away over $2 billion in high speed rail funding destined for our state.

Unfortunately, Florida's governor is much more interested in politics than in creating jobs or improving the transportation system for Florida residents.  And his decision will not do anything to bring down Florida's 12% unemployment rate. 

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Does The Spoke and Hub Transit System Still Work?

Friday, February 25, 2011

Transit systems in New York, Chicago, and many other cities were designed a hundred years ago to get people in and out of downtowns, where most of the employment was.  A new report from the Center for and Urban Future in New York suggests that's outdated, and that many people now live and work in the boroughs outside Manhattan.   Click here for Brian Lehrer's interview with study author David Giles.

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Billings-bound Megaload Waiting For Weather To Clear

Friday, February 25, 2011

(Helena, MT-Jackie Yamanaka,  YPR) – Winter weather has delayed the megaloads being trucked from the Port of Lewiston, Idaho to a refinery in Billings, Montana.

Megaloads are giant trucks that have been described as “heavier than the Statue of Liberty, nearly as long as a football field, wider than the roads that they’re actually traveling on, and three stories high.”

A so-called megaload of refinery equipment bound for a ConocoPhillips refinery in Billings is just east of the Idaho-Montana border, poised to make a circuitous 500-odd mile trip from the Lolo National Forest, and winding up to Roy, before making its way back down to a refinery near Billings.

Since about mid-February, one load has been waiting near Lolo Hot Springs near the ID-MT border.  The plan is to move all of the loads together to lessen disruptions.

The delay, however, is giving people time to get a first hand look at the loads.

Idaho residents Heather Rebal and Jason Meyer stopped at the pullout to get a first-hand look at the coke drum shipment.

“I think it’s cool,” says Rebal. “I’d like to see it going down the road.”

This load is half of a 300-ton coke drum. It’s about three-stories high and 226-feet long.  Delays are limited to 15 minutes for traffic.  Meyer says that wouldn’t bother him.

“It would be slow, but you gotta do what you gotta do,” he says. “How else are they going to get it there?”

Montana Department of Transportation Director Jim Lynch says he’s impressed with how ConocoPhillips and its transport contractor Emmert International are handling the shipments.

Lynch says moving such large loads are not new for Montana.

“We permit a lot of megaloads,” he says.  “This is not the first megaload that has been permitted or that the Montana public has seen. I don’t want to make the Montana public think this is something that has never happened in Montana. It happens on a regular basis.”

But some Montana residents would like to change that. Earlier this month one legislator introduced a bill that would have required special-use permits for megaloads. It's not expected, though, that the legislature will take action on it.

Lynch says once the entire load is consolidated the shipment will be escorted by the Montana Highway Patrol and representatives of his agency to make sure the transport is taking place according to the conditions of the permit.

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No Deal: Florida High Speed Rail Lost in Space

Friday, February 25, 2011

Florida Governor Rick Scott at the Port of Jacksonville in January 2011. Scott has said he supports investments in ports and highways. But not high speed rail. (Flickr image by JAXPORT)

[UPDATE: On Friday morning, Governor Scott asked USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood for another week to consider the proposal for an interlocal entity, the potential compromise described below.]

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation) Florida Governor Rick Scott will make no formal announcement about his final decision to kill the Tampa-to-Orlando high speed rail line, his spokesperson told the Tampa Tribune. It seems that the people of Florida and the nation will have to settle for a brief interview Scott gave to a local Fox News affiliate. “I’m not convinced that project is a good project," he said. "There’s a significant risk of cost overruns for construction. Historically that’s what’s happened with those projects.”

Neither the reporter, Derrol Nail, nor the Governor seemed to appreciate the irony that these remarks were delivered at the Kennedy Space Center, where Discovery departed on its final mission yesterday. NASA's shuttle program, a rather expensive mode of transportation enjoyed by only a few, has nevertheless brought great economic development to the region, and the winding down of the shuttle program will mean layoffs: United Space Alliance, for instance, has announced that 548 workers at Kennedy will lose their jobs come April.

Constructing America’s first high speed rail line in Florida, while not as difficult as building a space station, would more than make up for that dip in employment. Senator Nelson, who was also on hand at the launch, told Fox that the Governor “has made a mistake that’s going to cost people 24,000 jobs in the immediate future.” The Senator’s official statement yesterday pulled no punches. Nelson called the Governor’s decision to reject $2.4 Billion in federal high speed rail funds “pitiful,” “a monumental mistake,” and “hasty and ill-informed.”

Scott’s spokesperson held firm, insisting that “the governor remained principled in his position in protecting Florida taxpayers.” And indeed, principle appeared to play a larger role than practicality.

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TN Moving Stories: WTC Transit Hub Costs Bloom, NY Goes After Cabbies Who Refuse Outer Boro Fares, and Another Toyota Recall

Friday, February 25, 2011

The cost of the transit center at the new World Trade Center site has ballooned to $3.4 billion -- a figure once deemed "simply unacceptable" by the Port Authority. (New York Times)

An Illinois congressman who voted to eliminate funding for an Amtrak line sounds like he hopes to get the chance to reconsider. (WQAD)

WNYC looks at the differing accounts of how the NYPD and the MTA coordinated efforts to capture an accused stabber on a subway train earlier this month.

NY's Taxi and Limousine Commission wants to stiffen fines for cabbies who refuse to make outer borough trips. (WNYC)

SF's BART owned up to their decision to illegally fire their general manager --then rescind that firing -- but her fate as head of the transit district remains unclear. (San Francisco Chronicle)

Denver may have to refund $1.2 million in parking tickets after an investigation showed that they were issued by non-authorized agents. (Denver Daily News)

Toyota is recalling over 2 million vehicles for carpet and floor-mat flaws that could jam gas pedals. (Bloomberg)

Los Angeles's historic Union Station will be purchased by the LA County Metropolitan Transportation Authority for $75 million under a deal that will clear the way for the expansion of transit operations and new development on the property. (Los Angeles Times)

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Florida's high-speed rail project is dead again -- which enrages -- and disappoints -- some politicians.

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Florida Governor's Decision Disappoints -- and Enrages

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) He's made no official announcement, but Florida Governor Rick Scott's decision not to hand over authority for high speed rail to another entity, thereby killing the project, is drawing a loud response. (And of this writing, officials said that even US Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood hasn't been formally notified). Earlier today the governor told a local Fox News affiliate: "I'm very thankful that the federal government cares about our infrastructure" and "I'm not convinced this project is a good project." And bipartisan denunciations condemning his refusal to move forward with high-speed rail are rolling in.

Senator Bill Nelson, who spent the last week trying to change Scott's mind, called the governor's decision a "monumental mistake" and added "I think..the governor in rejecting the project may even be exceeding his constitutional authority."

His scathing statement continues: "I am disappointed and – quite frankly – think it pitiful that Scott would turn down $2.4 billion in allocated funding for high-speed rail in the nation’s fourth largest state.  Such a decision will cost Florida 24,000 new jobs and will obstruct economic growth along the I-4 corridor, and eventually all the way from Orlando to Miami." (His full -- and lengthy -- statement can be found in a link at the end of this post.)

Meanwhile, Congressman John Mica - the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and a member of Scott's own party --was more measured. His statement that said: “The Governor has made his decision to not pursue the Florida passenger rail project. I understand his concerns with the overall project, which would incur certain risks. I have done all that I can to salvage the project to this point and present what I consider to be a viable alternative plan that places the risk with the private sector and protects the taxpayers. I feel confident the 21-mile segment from the Orlando Airport to the Convention Center and Disney World can be a feasible and profitable transportation link for Florida. While the Governor’s action will terminate the project at this time, it is my intention to work to salvage millions of dollars already expended and years of study on the critically important link from the Orlando Airport to our tourist area. I intend to reassess the project and work with local partners to continue seeking a federal and local solution in building this infrastructure project.”

You can read Senator Nelson's full statement below.

Bill Nelson statement pdf

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BREAKING: Florida High Speed Rail, like ARC Tunnel, Dead Again

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  UPDATED WITH US DOT COMMENTS: Republican Florida Governor Rick Scott is sticking to his decision to kill the Tampa to Orlando high speed rail.

Scott's decision is a major setback to President Obama's goal, put forward in his state of the union, to link eighty percent of Americans to high speed rail within 25 years.

In an unusually sharply worded statement, U.S. Department of Transportation spokeswoman Olivia Alair said “The U.S. Department of Transportation has addressed every legitimate concern Governor Scott has raised with respect to plans to connect Florida through high-speed rail. We have repeatedly and clearly told Governor Scott and his staff that Florida would not bear financial or legal liabilities for the project, and that there is strong private sector interest in taking on the risk associated with building and operating high-speed rail in the state.”

Last week Scott abruptly announced he would be pulling the plug on the $2.7 billion rail line, the first true high speed rail in the U.S.   The Tampa to Orlando line, which was also to stop at Disney World, was to have been complete in just four years -- by 2015.  Scott said Florida's $280 million investment carried too much risk, and that he would return $2.4 billion to the federal government.

But a day after Scott's decision,

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Mayor-Elect Rahm Emanuel Seen As Pro-Bike, Pro-Transit

Thursday, February 24, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) Chicago -- America's third largest city -- is getting a cyclist Mayor. And one who's interested in transit funding,  large-scale bike-share, car-share, and the nitty gritty of bike lane design. (And one who has some atoning to do for something he neglected to say -- but you'll have to read to the end of the post to find out what.)

We've already written about Rahm Emanuel's transportation plan, which he put forward as a candidate.

But now we've got some fresh details that shed light on what he'll likely do as Mayor of Chicago. About a month ago, Emanuel met with a group of transportation advocates and environmentalists to be briefed on transit and transportation issues. The meeting, according to those present, lasted a full hour.

This kind of meeting seems to have laundered Emanuel from a former White House Chief of staff reviled by Republicans for pushing health care, an energy bill, and an $800 billion economic stimulus package -- and by the left for the way he pushed those things -- to an energetic young Mayor with a bunch of new ideas overwhelmingly supported by Chicago voters.

"Everybody knows about his style and that he’s very direct and smart" the Center for Neighborhood Technology's Sharon Feigon told us. Feigon is also the CEO of I-GO car share, a non profit Chicago-based car share outfit.

"I was impressed that he knew as much detail about all the stuff he’s talking about. A lot of  candidate meetings -- they end up being very general. This struck me as more detailed. He had done some homework"

The participants presented Emanuel with a "Sustainable Transportation Platform," which

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Comments [1]

TN Moving Stories: Maryland's Transpo Woes, GM Reports Profits, and TED Takes On Transportation

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Although Virginia gets a lot of attention for its transportation woes, Maryland may be in a worse position. (Washington Post)

General Motors says it earned $4.7 billion last year -- the most in a decade -- and turned its first profit since 2004. (NY Times)

Google invests in a company that could make electric cars more efficient. (AltTransport)

New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a five-year contract with McKinsey & Company -- where Jay Walder once worked -- to help managers cut costs in a range of expected purchases totaling $880 million. (NY Daily News)

At a field hearing in California, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair John Mica said “Anyone who comes to Los Angeles and thinks we do not need improvements in transportation must be living on another planet." Meanwhile, LA Mayor Villaraigosa tells the committee he has some ideas about how to fund mass transit. (Los Angeles Times)

TED takes on transportation: the TEDActive Mobility Project is exploring ways to reduce the cost, time and necessity of driving. (PSFK)

RayLaHood blogs about streetcars.

Streetsblog reports on a wide-ranging panel discussion about the future of large infrastructure projects in the NY region.

Second Avenue Sagas looks at yet another plan for a trans-Hudson tunnel that's making the rounds -- wonders "if too many cooks are stirring the cross-Hudson soup."

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: With two days left to save Florida's high-speed rail program, talks are ongoing -- but the governor remains unconvinced. The NRDC lists its 15 "smart cities" for public transit. Chicago has elected a mayor who is pro-bike and pro-transit. And greater Houston politicians may vote to curtail funding for alternative transit projects.

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NRDC List: Top 15 Metro Regions for Public Transportation

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) New York, Chicago, Boston all made the cut. Los Angeles, not so much. The Natural Resources Defense Council released their top 15 "Smart Cities" for transportation Wednesday.

The study compares metro regions according to public transit accessibility, cost, use as well as household auto habits. Innovations, like pedestrian plaza construction and sustainable transportation programs are factored in as well.

The NRDC announcement offers some highlights of what constitutes a "Smart City" In Lincoln, Nebraska, for instance, low-income riders pay a mere $7.50 for unlimited bus rides all month long.

Around U.C. Davis in Yolo, Calif. the local transit provider, Yolobus, does such a good job of balancing the needs of students (who bike a lot), government employees, and casino patrons that the area boasts the highest rate of transit access, 91 percent, of any small region (population under 250,000).

NRDC partnered with the Center for Neighborhood Technology on the study, drawing data from the U.S. Census as well as CNT's H+T Affordability Index that quantifies household transportation costs by location.

Getting from place to place is more affordable in New York—at an average annual household cost of $5,289—than in any other large city, according to CNT.

And at an average of 9,920 miles a year per household, New Yorkers travel fewer miles in the car than residents in any other region in the country besides Jersey City, New Jersey.

The 2011 Smarter Cities for Transportation aren't ranked. Sorry, there's no a number 1 city here. But they are grouped by city size, and each city gets it's own web page extolling the efficiencies, access, or other admirable elements that earned them this eco-accolade.

Large cities (population more than 1 million)

Boston, MA/NH, Chicago, IL, New York, NY , Portland, OR, Philadelphia, PA/NJ , San Francisco, CA, Washington, DC/MD/VA/WV.

Medium cities (population: 250,000 – 1 million)

Boulder-Longmont, CO, Honolulu, HI, Jersey City, NJ, New Haven, CT.

Small (population less than 250,000)

Bremerton, WA, Champaign-Urbana, IL, Lincoln, NE, Yolo, CA

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Funding For Some Bicycle, Transit, And Pedestrian-Oriented Projects in Houston May Be Stalled

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

(Houston - Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) Transportation policy makers may vote this Friday on a proposal that would stall money for bike and other alternative transit projects in greater Houston.

A portion of the eight-county region’s four-year $8.1 billion dollar transportation budget may see a reduction in funding for bike, transit, and other pedestrian-oriented projects if the Transportation Policy Council (TPC) votes in favor of the proposal. That means a number of these so-called “alternative mode” projects could be delayed by one or more years.

Alan Clark, the director of transportation and planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council, says if the proposal is approved, up to $13 million dollars that would have been spent on “alternative mode” projects could go to road and freight rail projects instead. He says the money could be made available for projects like, "intersection improvements, additional improvements to ramping or interchanges, the widening of an existing road, construction of one that’s in poor condition, that sort of thing.”

But Clark says none of the scheduled “alternative mode” projects are at risk of losing their funding, it just means the money for some of them might come later. Clark says there will still be money available for bike paths, sidewalk improvements, and other bike/transit/pedestrian projects. Fifty-four percent of the total budget is going to transit, while just under two percent is going to bicycle and pedestrian-oriented initiatives.

But BikeHouston board member Aaron Chang thinks that last number should be much higher. "Pedestrian, bicycle, and livable centers have been severely underfunded," said Chang.  "And we can’t keep looking toward old solutions to tackle new problems that we’re trying to solve right now."

Wang says he and other BikeHouston members are going to Friday’s meeting to make their case against the proposal.

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Florida High-Speed Rail: Talks Ongoing, Gov. Remains Unconvinced

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) With two days left to broker an agreement on high-speed rail in Florida, talks are ongoing -- but Governor Rick Scott remains unconvinced.

The parties -- among them Senator Bill Nelson, the U.S. Department of Transportation, Congressman John Mica, and Congresswoman Corrine Brown -- are keeping it close to the vest.

A spokesperson for Senator Bill Nelson's office would only confirm that talks between the DOT and Florida officials were ongoing -- and that there were no new developments.

Congressman John Mica (R-FL) is in Los Angeles holding hearings on the transportation reauthorization bill. A spokesman didn't return requests for comment.

But Congresswoman Corrine Brown (D-FL) who has been toiling with Mica, Nelson and other members of Florida's congressional delegation to salvage the state's high-speed rail program, has been working the phones and will return to Florida tomorrow for the final push, according to her press secretary, David Simon. An official familiar with the US DOT says "discussions are still ongoing and Friday is still the deadline."

Governor Rick Scott's press office hasn't responded to Transportation Nation queries, but a spokesman did tell the St. Petersburg Times (article here) "Nothing in the discussions so far alleviates the governor's concerns that Florida's state taxpayers would still be on the hook."

Scott last week said he was sending back $2.4 billion in federal funding for high speed rail. He said Florida's $280 million contribution was too risky.

Meanwhile, tonight in Orlando there's a pro-high-speed rail rally, organized by the former Orange County commissioner.

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