Streams

TN Moving Stories: Car Sales Jump, Houston Transit Takes $168 Million Hit, and CA HSR Advocates Get Ready for Hearings

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New and used vehicle sales jumped 20% in 2010 -- making cars the only retail sector to see more than 5% growth. (NPR)

Indianapolis is installing solar-powered parking meters. (Indianapolis Star)

California high-speed rail supporters are turning out this week for transportation hearings headed by John Mica. (Los Angeles Times)

Houston's Metropolitan Transit Authority is preparing to declare that it has spent $168 million on what have turned out to be useless assets -- like rail expansion projects that never will be built or will have to be started over. (Houston Chronicle)

Unrest in Libya prompts a spike in oil prices. (Marketplace)

The Takeaway talks Florida high-speed rail with a Republican State Senator Paula Dockery.

A group of teenagers from Nairobi won a video contest with "Me and My Bike" -- an ode to how bicycles can change the world.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: opponents of the Park Slope bike lane want a moratorium on future bike lane construction. And the TN documentary "Back of the Bus" is now available to be downloaded--for free--on iTunes.

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Back of the Bus Now on iTunes

Monday, February 21, 2011

Our Transportation Nation documentary, Back of the Bus, on transit and civil rights is now on iTunes!   Hear Rosa Parks, archival tape of 1968 riots, national experts on transit and civil rights...and lots of riders!  For instructions and to download from iTunes, click here.

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TN Moving Stories: DOT Doesn't Like Mica HSR Plan, Israel Lowers Transit Fares, and Some Cities Get On Board With A "Crash Tax"

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Department of Transportation doesn't like Congressman Mica's plan to scale back Florida's high-speed rail. (Miami Herald)

A New York Times editorial accuses some federal fund-rejecting governors of trying to "keep up with the Christies."

Census data shows that Chicago's central core gained population over the past decade, while outlying neighborhoods lost. (Chicago Tribune)

Some communities are imposing a "crash tax" -- a fee for services -- after car accidents. (Marketplace)

Israel's cabinet lower bus and rail fares and increase subsidies in an effort to encourage the use of public transportation as an alternative to private vehicles. “This will greatly benefit society,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “Who uses public transportation?  Not the people in the top decile, but rather those without means and those who want to, and can, use buses and trains, as well as whole groups of people who want to avoid traffic jams while entering cities.  We want to encourage this." (Jerusalem Post)

The NY Daily News's Pete Donohue says the MTA knew it needed better snow-thrower cars two years ago -- but "relies in part on a bunch of deafening relics" to clear the tracks.

The Star-Ledger profiles Jim Weinstein, the head of NJ Transit, and previews the "balanced scorecard" the agency plans to release this summer detailing on-time performance, employee safety, financial stability and customer service.

Snow day tweet, courtesy of Newark Mayor Cory Booker: "Snow Snow get out of here/ Leave my city alone until Jan of next year/ Snow Snow I want rain instead/Cause of u my budget is heading 2 red"

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: John Mica proposes a plan to save Florida's high-speed rail, after Rick Scott's rejection of the program leaves bidders perplexed. DC's new mayor slams his predecessor over transportation. And: do more cyclists mean safer streets?

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Back of the Bus Airing Soon in NM, DC, IL, SF, Dallas, Pittsburgh, El Paso

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Airtimes in Washington, DC, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Dallas, El Paso, Pittsburgh,  Central Illinois, Southern Missouri,  Little Rock, San Francisco, Wyoming, Montana, Minnesota (or listen anytime by clicking here or on icon at right)

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Mica's Plan to Save Florida's High-Speed Rail Cuts Out Tampa -- And Possibly The Governor

Saturday, February 19, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation)  With a week to save Florida's high-speed rail program, Florida congressman (and House Transportation Committee chair) John Mica is spending his President's Day weekend floating a plan that would shrink the project down to a 21 mile line linking the Orlando airport to Disney World.

Mica says this smaller program has the best chance of attracting riders and making a profit.  It would also transfer "the project from the state to another entity."

Read Mica's proposal here or after the jump.

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Florida High Speed Rail Bidders Frustrated, Perplexed

Friday, February 18, 2011

A conceptual rendering of a Florida high-speed rail station (from presentation by the Florida Statewide Passenger Rail Commission)

(Matt Dellinger, Transportation Nation)  When Governor Rick Scott (R) announced this week that he planned to return $2.4 billion in federal grant money for a proposed High Speed Rail line that had already been three decades in the making, many were shocked. A bipartisan group of Floridian Congresspeople—including the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee chair John Mica (R-Fla.)—was almost literally falling over itself with consternation at a press conference yesterday as they announced an emergency effort to keep the funds in Florida.

To one member of the Florida Mobility Partners—one consortium that had expressed interest in building Florida’s high speed rail line—the announcement was downright disturbing. “What does [the Governor] have to lose?” Nora Friend, the Vice President of Public Affairs and Business Development at the Spanish rail company Talgo asked, when I reach her by phone today. “To allow all of these strong companies and

concessionaires to do their own diligence and to come and see if they could make it work? What would the state lose?”

Indeed, Scott’s decision came at a highly disorienting moment for prospective bidders. At least eight teams had assembled and were anxious for the state to issue its formal Request for Qualifications. The RFQ was drafted late last year and, according to Friend, bidders were expecting its formal issue within a month.

The state was clear in its hope that the eventual public-private partnership would be a DBOM&F (Design-Build-Operate-Maintain-and-Finance) arrangement. As such, to be eligible, each consortium bidding would have had to present a financing plan as part of their initial proposal. At a hearing in November, Friend said, her consortium had gone on the record as saying they were confident they would be willing to accept the risk of construction costs, currently estimated at $280 million (or roughly 10 percent of the total cost). This, of course, is the very risk from which the Governor wanted to save Florida taxpayers.

Friend wasn't willing to guarantee anything—the due diligence wasn't done, and bidders don't like to show too many cards—but she felt that with the strength of tourism (Disney) and the chance to extend the line to Miami, the project looked healthy and doable. "We feel that the project warrants the risk, with the expectations for the second segment to Miami," she said. "Unfortunately this is the third time around for Florida. It’s unfortunate for the United States because we are lagging behind so terribly because of politics. All these partisan issues, and in this country they choose, unfortunately, rail as one of those very contentious partisan issues. And we think it’s just terrible. If we don’t assume some risk and launch at least a first initial project that can be successful, the rest is not going to come."

"You can tell I'm frustrated," Friend apologized. And with good reason: Talgo suffered similar disappointment last year when Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) returned Wisconsin's share of HSR stimulus money just months after the company opened a rail car factory in Milwaukee. "It seems like wherever we go, they’re returning all these ARRA (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) funds," Friend said. "We basically did everything the administration was hoping for—to attract companies and technologies, to transfer this know-how to the United States."  The Milwaukee facility is making four trains, two for the Hiawatha line and two for the Cascades line between Seattle and Portland. "We’re going to be forced to shut down the manufacturing part of the facility after we deliver those four trains in early 2012."

Friend believes that it's time for the Florida State Legislature, the DOT, and the people of Florida to speak up in favor of the plan.  She's obviously watching closely to see what fruit current negotiations bear. "We are hopeful that Secretary LaHood is not going to rush, like the U.S. DOT did to take away the funds from Wisconsin and Ohio. We hope that they’ll try to figure out how to make it work. We are very—I'm not sure how to say this politely—disheartened may be a good word—about this governor’s decision of returning the funds and not going ahead with the project, without any proof to validate his concerns."

“The truth is that this project would be far too costly to taxpayers and I believe the risk far outweighs the benefits,” the governor said in making the announcement earlier this week. “President Obama’s high-speed rail program is not the answer to Florida’s economic recovery.”

Transportation Nation posted Scott's speech where he laid out his reasons for the decision.

Even if Secretary LaHood, Senator Nelson, and others find a legal, willing place to park $2.4 billion, the path forward relies on Governor Scott's cooperation. But there's only one way to find out who's right and who's wrong about whether the private sector is willing to bear the risk in building high speed rail: let the bid process move forward. And let the consortia place their bids.

Matt Dellinger is the author of the book Interstate 69: The Unfinished History of the Last Great American Highway. You can follow him on Twitter.

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Do More Cyclists Mean Safer Streets?

Friday, February 18, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The latest data comes from Minneapolis ' League of Bicyclists. (hat tip: Streetsblog) which shows steadily fewer bike accidents as more cyclists hit the streets.  In 1999 there were three hundred some-odd bike crashes -- a decade later, that number was 269.  During the same period, daily bike commuters jumped from 3000 to 8000.

New York's trend has been similar: city data shows a huge spike in cycling in the latter part of the last decade.  But overall bicycle crashes have not been rising, according to the New York City DOT.   Bicycle deaths did increase from 2009 to 2010 -- to 18. That's up from 12 in 2009 but down from 26 in 2008.

New York's pedestrian safety report also found that the installation of bike lanes makes those streets safer for all users, whether on foot, in a car, or on a bike.

But San Francisco is showing the opposite trend -- as Kate and Casey reported earlier this month . According to a pretty lengthy analysis by the Bay Citizen, crashes are rising faster in San Francisco than the number of cyclists.

What's going on here?  Planners &c, please weigh in!

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DC Mayor Slams Predecessor On Transportation, Could Politics Be Involved?

Friday, February 18, 2011

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) A scathing report has just been released by the transition team of incoming D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray. The report is something of an indictment against the city's Department of Transportation, as led by Gray's mayoral predecessor, Adrian Fenty, and his young, charismatic transportation director, Gabe Klein.

Among its grievances:

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Back of the Bus Airs Today in Knoxville, Cleveland...

Friday, February 18, 2011

Want to know when to listen to "Back of the Bus" in your area?  Here are some upcoming airdates in Ohio, San Francisco, Illinois, Washington, DC, Missouri, Montana, Wyoming, and Minnesota. (You can also listen anytime by clicking on the icon to your right, or here.  The icon to listen online or download is on the right of your screen once you click over to the site.)

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TN Moving Stories: Metro-North Gets Earful from CT Commuters; Home Buyers Moving Closer to Transit, and Florida Pols Try to Save That State's HSR

Friday, February 18, 2011

NY's MTA scrapped plans to hire the main technology company working on the city's scandal-plagued CityTime project. (NY Daily News)

Metro-North got an earful from Connecticut commuters about this winter's service woes. "We need a reliable commuting system. This is not just an inconvenience, it's affecting our economy," said one. (Hartford Courant)

Home buyers are moving closer to public transit. (Marketplace; adapted from Back of the Bus)

Princeton University and local officials meet to try to resolve issues over the university's $300 million arts and transit neighborhood. (Star-Ledger)

Florida politicians try to save that state's high-speed rail project. (Marketplace)

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford “can’t get into details” on his ambitious plan to privately fund $5-billion worth of subway, but he says residents should feel confident they’re getting the transit they voted for. (The Globe and Mail)

Good posts a beautiful film about cycling in Copenhagen.

Top Transportation Nation stories we're following: Florida politicians met with RayLaHood to try to make an end run around Governor Scott's decision to refuse federal money for high-speed rail. California tells feds: if they don't want the HSR money, we'll take it. Delta got hit with a $2 million fine for violating disability rules. And rural residents are losing access to intercity transportation.

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High-Speed Rail: Florida Lawmakers Look for End Run Around Gov.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Washington, DC -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Florida lawmakers are scrambling in Washington to keep $2.4 billion in high-speed rail money in their state after Gov. Rick Scott (R) yanked support for the funding yesterday.

A new plan hatched on Capitol Hill would transfer the federal funds to a third party in an effort to insulate Florida from any financial risks association with building or operating trains. But the plan would still need Scott’s support, an uncertain prospect in the politically-charged environment of government spending and debt.

Scott dropped a bombshell on Obama Administration officials and lawmakers Wednesday when he announced he would reject federal money to fund a long-planned project running trains high-speed trains between Orlando and Tampa.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), told reporters Thursday that lawyers are working on a plan that appoints a third-party entity to receive the money from the feds.

That entity—possibly Amtrak, a metropolitan planning organization, a transit authority, or some other public or private group—would administer the project and also shoulder Florida’s financial exposure. That amounts to about $280 million, at least at first. Nelson and other lawmakers argued the arrangement would take care of Scott’s concern that Florida could be on the hook for costs of building or running the system.

“That should meet the governor’s requirement,” Nelson said after a short meeting called between Florida lawmakers and Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The plan needs sign-off in Scott’s office in Tallahassee, Nelson warned. LaHood has given the parties until February 25 to reach a deal.

“The governor is going to have to cooperate for that to happen,” he said.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), the chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee who’s been tepid on high-speed rail funding in general, said he backed the high-speed rail in his state.

“If I didn’t think the project was cost-effective, I wouldn’t be here,” he told reporters gathered outside Nelson’s Capitol Hill Office.

But Mica said he was blindsided by Scott’s announcement.

“We were all taken aback by it,” Mica told reporters. “I had every indication prior to that that he would go forward.”

Scott’s decision sent lawmakers from other states clamoring for Florida’s money. Members of Congress from New York, California, and Minnesota and all made public appeals to the Obama Administration for the money if Florida passes.

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California: Florida's HSR Loss Could Be Our Gain

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) If U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is unable to put together a deal to save Florida's high speed rail, California wants the $2.4. billion.  And California is likely to get a bunch if it if the Florida deal falls through: it has the most advanced program, after Florida, in the nation.

Governor Jerry Brown and Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have already issued statements similar to those released after Wisconsin and Ohio returned their funds. "It is now clear that California will lead the way in demonstrating the viability of high speed rail to the rest of the country," wrote the senators; "The $2 billion that Florida rejected are more than welcome here," said Brown.

At least one congressman has also gotten in on the action; John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) wrote "we’re prepared to show the rest of the country what a modern transportation network looks like and will gladly invest every penny the federal government is willing to provide."

The politicians' statements get at the curious paradox of high-speed rail in this country: the more states reject high-speed rail because of perceived political and financial risk, the better the chance that the systems that do get funded will have the resources to avoid those problems. "The money reallocated to us from Ohio and Wisconsin enabled us to double the length of our initial construction," said California High Speed Rail Authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall. "We know how to use this money." Wall said the Authority is currently in discussions with the Federal Railroad Administration about whether and how California would obtain the funds.

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White House: High-Speed Rail Was Heavily Oversubscribed

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) In his second press conference as White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney fielded a number of questions about Bahrain, the economy -- and high-speed rail.

When asked about how Florida's rejection of high-speed rail money would impact the Obama Administration's infrastructure plans, Carney said:

"Well, our support for these plans -- the President could not have been clearer in the State of the Union about the absolute importance of investing in infrastructure in order to allow us to compete and win the future in the 21st century.  The decisions by individual states are the decisions they can certainly make.

We don’t support those decisions because we think it’s harmful to the economic growth of those states.  And certainly there are other states that are eager to participate in these programs.  I know that the high-speed rail, in particular, was heavily oversubscribed in terms of the states that wanted to participate."

Here's a transcript of the exchange:

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BREAKING LaHood: Give Us A Week on Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation) After a meeting with Democratic Senator Bill Nelson of Florida and a group of Florida Congress members, the U.S. DOT wants a deal put together in a week  in which a third party assumes all the financial risk of building a high speed rail line.

More soon.

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Delta Fined for Violating Disability Rules

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) The U.S. Department of Transportation said today that it fined Delta Air Lines $2 million for violating federal rules on passengers with disabilities.

This civil penalty is the largest penalty ever assessed against an airline by the DOT in a non-safety-related case.

Airlines are required to report disability-related complaints to the DOT, which provides that information to the public here. In 2009, the most recent year for which this information is available, Delta had more complaints lodged against it than any other domestic carrier.

The DOT said today that its investigation had found many violations of the requirements to provide assistance to passengers while getting on and off airplanes. The government also said that Delta frequently did not respond adequately to disability complaints from passengers.

Delta says it's addressing the problem.  "We take the responsibility of serving customers with disabilities seriously and have made significant investments in technology, feedback assessment, and training since the issues in 2007 and 2008 that the DOT cites in its consent order," said spokesman Morgan Durrant. "We will continue to coordinate with DOT and our Customer Advisory Board on Disabilities to ensure that these efforts are appropriately supporting customers with disabilities and providing them with a consistent travel experience."

Delta is allowed to use most of the fine to improve its service for travelers with disabilities, especially those in wheelchairs.

You can read the DOT's press release here.

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U.S. Senator Nelson's Office: Florida Planning Organization Wants to Take Over High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

From Florida Senator Bill Nelson's office:

"Officials now studying ways to help Florida, despite governor’s rejection of federal money for high-speed rail.  Today:

"Ø  A metropolitan planning organization in Tampa and a rail authority in South Florida have volunteered to step forward in place of the state to accept oversight of the bullet-train project and the $2.4 billion from Uncle Sam.  Lawyers are researching how to do it.

"Ø  At 1:30 p.m., U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson will meet on the plan in Washington with the federal transportation secretary and members of Florida’s congressional delegation."

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SF MUNI Faces $1.6 Billion Deficit, But Big Projects Get a Federal Boost

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) It's a truism well-known in transportation circles that it's much easier for transit agencies to get money for new projects than it is to find cash for ongoing operations and maintenance. Here in the Bay Area we've got several big expansions on in the works, despite the fact that all of our transit agencies face ongoing cash-flow problems.

President Obama's proposed federal budget includes hundreds of millions of dollars for the Bay Area, including money for SF Muni to move forward on two big projects : $200 million to build the Central Subway from downtown up through Chinatown, and $30 million to build BRT on Van Ness Avenue. Both projects are also depending on additional federal grants.

But there's a wrinkle.

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Rural Residents Losing Access to Intercity Transportation, Report Says

Thursday, February 17, 2011

(Helena-Jackie Yamanaka, YPR) About 3.5 million rural residents lost access to scheduled intercity bus, ferry, and rail transportation between 2005 and 2010. That’s according to a new report from the U-S Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS).

The report says North Dakota had the lowest percentage of rural residents with access to intercity transportation.

BTS reported significant changes for the state  since 2005, including reductions in Greyhound Lines bus services and the suspension of Amtrak’s Sunset Limited New Orleans-Jackson route.

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BREAKING: LaHood to Meet with Florida Delegation to Salvage Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LaHood rides high speed rail in Japan last year with Central Japan Railway Chair Yoshiaki Kasai

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  A DOT official tells us "Secretary Ray LaHood has agreed to meet with the Florida delegation to discuss options for salvaging the [Florida high speed rail] project without the state's involvement."  The meeting comes a day after Florida Governor Rick Scott said he was returning $2.4 billion dollars to the federal government for the project. That move was met with widespread criticism, including from the Republican Chair of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, John Mica.

More coverage below and here.

The meeting between LaHood and the Florida congressional delegation  is set for 1:15  today.  We'll update as we get details.

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WMFE: LaHood and U.S. Senator Nelson Looking to Restore Florida High Speed Rail

Thursday, February 17, 2011

On our partner The Takeaway this morning, Mark Simpson of our newest partner, WMFE in Orlando, reports:

"Readers of the tea leaves might have been able to anticipate this was coming. Last week Governor Scott was speaking with Wisconsin Governor Walker Scott who also rejected high speed rail money.  So you might have been able to anticipate this was coming up soon, but still it really did rock the Florida political establishment.

"But I wonder whether it really is dead, because you've already seen U.S. Senator Bill Nelson and U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood working on just finding out if there is a legal work-around to still do this project without state participation."

Here's video of Nelson, who says "We are exploring how we could keep this project going forward since the state of Florida will not participate."

Simpson added:  "Rick Scott has kind of seen his base become the Tea Party in Florida.  When he unveiled his budget just a few weeks ago he didn't do it in the capitol Tallahassee, where all the establishment legislators could come hear the announcement, instead he went to a small town north of Orlando with a hand-picked crowd of Tea Party supporters to unveil the budget, kind of disavowing the Republican establishment that's been ruling Florida for a good long time. "

Listen to the Takeaway segment below.

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