Streams

Matching Money Announced for Calif. High Speed Rail Construction

Monday, December 20, 2010

California's High-Speed Rail Authority approved matching funds to the latest round of federal money the state has received. That means the state will match the $616 million slated for California after Ohio and Wisconsin turned it down. With the new federal money and now matching funds, California has $5.5 billion available to begin construction on the high-speed rail project to connect Los Angeles with San Fransisco.

Here's the full press release from California High-Speed Rail Authority:

HIGH-SPEED RAIL AUTHORITY APPROVES STATE MATCHING FUNDS  TO EXTEND BACKBONE OF STATEWIDE SYSTEM

SACRAMENTO – Moving quickly to take advantage of $616 million in new federal funding, the California High-Speed Rail Authority Board voted unanimously today to approve committing state matching funds to extend construction of the initial Central Valley backbone of the statewide system south to Bakersfield.

The new federal funds – which were redistributed from other states that returned federal high-speed rail support – will now be coupled with state matching dollars, bringing the total available funds to begin construction to $5.5 billion. The new total will allow engineers to significantly extend initial construction, potentially building as many as 120 miles of the project’s 520-mile first phase, and incorporate the Valley’s largest urban centers: Bakersfield and Fresno.

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Mixed Signals for NYC Pedestrians

Monday, December 20, 2010

(New York-- John Keefe, Jim O'Grady, and Brian Zumhagen, WNYC; Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation)

New Yorkers are famous for crossing streets whenever they feel like it, taking a blasé attitude toward crosswalk signals. But the signs tend to capture the attention of pedestrians when the "walk" and "don't walk" icons are lit up at the same time, which is the case at intersections all over the city.

At the corner of Spring and Greene Streets in SoHo, the orange "don't walk" hand is illuminated. But so is the "walking man" icon. Latonya Turner and her husband Otis are visiting from Arkansas. What would they have done if they'd been left to their own devices?

"We probably would have stood here and thought, 'Okay, what do we do?'" "I guess you have a choice then, you can either walk or not walk," Otis said.

"I guess you can just take your chances," Latonya added, laughing.

Listen to WNYC's story on the pedestrian crossing signals:

See WNYC's mixed signals map here.

And upload your photo to the map here!

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TN Moving Stories: Ray LaHood Talks High-Speed Rail, Chris Christie Takes To the 60 Minutes Airwaves, and the MTA Tries to Get A Handle on Health Insurance Cost

Monday, December 20, 2010

NJ Governor Chris Christie appeared on 60 Minutes to talk about his state's dire finances --and explain, once again, why he killed the ARC tunnel. (CBS)

The NYC MTA is selling $350 million in Build America Bonds. (Bloomberg)  Meanwhile, the agency is also auditing its health care benefits in an attempt to find out who might be illegally tapping into the system (New York Post). And: NY Daily News transit reporter Pete Donohue says that frivolous lawsuits brought by injured straphangers hurt the MTA--and taxpayers.

A dozen livery cab drivers will begin wearing bulletproof vests for protection in high-crime areas. (New York Daily News)

England's transport secretary will unveil the tweaked high speed rail route between London and Birmingham. (UK Daily Mail)

Ray LaHood talked about trying to build a national high speed rail system on NPR's Weekend Edition.  And the DOT wants to ban commercial truck and bus drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving. (AP)

Author/illustrator/humorist Bruce McCall comes up with a shared streets proposal in the op-ed pages of the New York Times. "Under the new system, sidewalk parking for all vehicles becomes not only mandatory but also illegal — a one-two punch expected to fatten the Department of Finance’s coffers by an estimated $13 million per day in added traffic summonses!"

The National Journal's transportation blog asks: "FAA: Could it finally happen?"  The agency, which is operating under its 16th funding extension, "could actually see a multiyear funding blueprint by sometime next summer."

Remember that crisp morning five years ago? When New Yorkers came together and shared cabs, and walked and biked to work...because of the transit strike? Happy anniversary! (CBS New York)

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Houston METRO Cancels Controversial Contract With Spanish Rail Car Company

Friday, December 17, 2010

(Houston -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF News) METRO’s board has approved a deal to terminate its controversial contract with a Spanish rail car company. The settlement means METRO is moving closer to negotiating a much-needed federal grant for the construction of two light rail lines.

Earlier this year the Federal Transit Administration ruled that METRO, under the previous leadership, broke "Buy America" rules when it awarded two light rail contracts to Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), a Spanish-owned rail car vendor.

The violation put $900 million dollars in FTA grants for a rail expansion on hold. METRO president and CEO George Greanias says, by canceling the contract with CAF, METRO has a better chance of securing the funds. “This meets a very important requirement the FTA put on us if we were going to move forward on the full funding grant agreement,” Greanias said.

Listen to the story here.

METRO had already sunk $41 million dollars into the construction of the rail cars before the Spanish company was told to stop work. Under the agreement CAF will pay back $14 million dollars of that to METRO. The agreement stipulates that CAF will forfeit any additional payments for unpaid work and lost profits.

Greanias says METRO plans to rebid the light rail contract in January. CAF USA, a subsidiary of the Spanish company, will be able eligible to participate in the re-procurement process. Greanias says CAF USA will be treated like every other bidder. “We’re being very careful in putting together the re-procurement request that we have a very level playing field," Greanias notes.  "And we have the Federal Transit Administration working with us to make sure that what we do creates a level playing field.”

As for the $900 million in federal funding, Greanias says he expects to get a definitive answer from the FTA in June or July. He's confident METRO will receive the funding, but stresses that if it doesn't, the agency has a backup plan to keep the rail expansion moving.

“If for some reason the full funding grant agreements did not come through we’d have more than sufficient local funds to do exactly what the fall back alternative says, which is to complete the East End line, bringing it across Main, and cleaning up the streets—getting everything back in better shape than we found it when we started—and being prepared to extend the other lines as money comes available.”

Greanias says he doesn’t anticipate any problems in qualifying for the grant as long as METRO continues to comply with the FTA.

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NYC is Raising Parking Meter Rates to Close Budget Gap

Friday, December 17, 2010

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) It will be more expensive to park in New York City next month. The Department of Transportation announced parking meter prices will increase around the city.

The rates for Manhattan below 86th street—the most congested part of the city—are set to go from $2.50 per hour to $3 per hour. Throughout the rest of the city, where it costs 25 cents for 20 minutes, or 75 cents an hour, a quarter will now buy you just 15 minutes.

The fee raise is part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's deficit reduction plan. It is scheduled to begin on January 3.

Needless to say, this isn't pleasing city motorists, along with some of their elected representatives.  The Queens Courier reports on outer borough ire at the move, while Council members James Vacca, chair of the Transportation Committee, and Diana Reyna are planning to introduce legislation to restrict the city's ability to increase meter rates.

Vacca's office says the Council has the authority to regulate how the city manages parking meters. They want to cap any increase at a 25 percent per five years.

Two years ago, the City raised meter rates from 50 cents to 75 cents per hour in the outer boroughs. Under the Vacca-Reyna plan, that would prevent this new increase. They have yet to back their proposal with legislation so, for now, if you park in New York, be ready to keep a few more coins in your car.

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The $128 Million Question: Where's the ARC Tunnel Letter?

Friday, December 17, 2010

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey Governor Chris Christie stood up at a press conference on Thursday morning at the state house in Trenton and uttered what could have been a $128 million phrase.

“The offer was a nice start,” he said.

He was referring to a letter from federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that offered a rebate in the above amount against a $271 million charge the feds have presented the state for preliminary work on the cancelled ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson.

Christie killed the project in October because of projected cost overruns. LaHood, in the letter, proposed to give the state $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion. But only if New Jersey pays the whole bill by December 24.

The governor’s positive reaction on Thursday was a reversal of sorts. The prior two days, he’d refused to acknowledge the potential deal because the letter that contained it, dated Tuesday, hadn’t been sent to him. Instead, it was addressed to New Jersey Senators Robert Menendez and Frank Lautenberg. By Wednesday evening, though the offer had been widely reported, Governor Christie’s spokesman Michael Drewniak insisted it still hadn’t reached the state house.

“Neither the Governor’s Office or New Jersey Transit has heard from Secretary LaHood,” said Drewniak in a statement. “If and when we are contacted by the secretary, we will review their proposal.”

The disconnect may have had something to do with testy public relations between the Republican Christie and the Democrat Lautenberg.

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TN Moving Stories: Christie Considers $128 Million Offer, Vote on Taxi Driver Dress Code Postponed, and BART Eyes Late Nights

Friday, December 17, 2010

Governor Christie will consider the FTA's offer to credit New Jersey with $128 million towards the $271 million the feds say the state owes.  "I would say that offer was a nice start, and we’ll continue to talk," Christie said at a press conference Thursday. (Star-Ledger)

A vote on a taxi driver dress code is postponed until next month. (WNYC)

Police will begin conducting random bag searches on (DC) Metro trains and buses. (Washington Post, WAMU)

BART may try operating trains later than 12:15am on Saturday nights. Par-tay! (San Francisco Examiner)

NYC's MTA "stealthily" renames a transit stop, so "Broadway-Nassau" is now just "Fulton Street." (AM New York)

Religious ads have been banned on Fort Worth buses, because of a furor sparked by an ad for atheism. (Houston Chronicle)

Broward County, Florida, will begin a bike share program this spring. (Sun Sentinel)

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Houston's Escalating Traffic Woes: Study Says Commute is Third Worst in America

Thursday, December 16, 2010

(Houston, TX -- Wendy Siegle, KUHF) Earlier this year we learned that Houston has five of the top ten most congested roads in Texas.  Now, Houston’s been given the title of third worst place to commute in America. 

Bundle.com and reporters at TheStreet.com compared data to come up with the rankings. The study factored in travel time, hours wasted in traffic, and car expenses like gas and vehicle maintenance. Alan Clark is the manager of Transportation Planning at the Houston-Galveston Area Council. He says more and more people are transplanting themselves in Houston every day, making it nearly impossible for the infrastructure to catch up. Clark points out that growth in job activity, in population, and in travel, "far outstrips the increases in new roads and expansion of existing roads to carry that traffic.”

Hear the story over at KUHF News.

Clark offers a pretty bleak outlook for Houston commuters . With funding options limited, he says there’s not a lot of cash for transportation projects. “The resources for improving our road system continue to decline, and are expected to decline further in the next ten years, says Clark. "We’ve really been spending a lot of time prioritizing the dollars that are available,” he says.

Clark says some of the money is going into transit alternatives, like vanpools, carpools, and public transportation. H-GAC is also working with employers who can provide compressed work weeks or tele-working from home. Clark hopes all of these things will reduce the number of cars on the roads.

Still, if current projections hold true, you may have to leave earlier to get to work on time. Clark puts the problem in perspective this way: "Today, let’s say that you’re able to get to work in about 40 minutes; in the future that travel to work might take more than an hour.

Of the 90 American cities studied, Houston came in at 88. We’re better off than our northern neighbor though–Dallas came in dead last.

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Hertz Offers All-Electric Rental Cars

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Nissan Leaf

(Alex Goldmark, Transportation Nation) The fledgling electric vehicle market got a little boost yesterday, when Hertz Connect began renting all-electric cars.

The rental car giant is starting small, with just five Smart Electric Drives in New York City. "That's all we could get our hands on right now," says Rich Broome, a Hertz Senior Vice President. But he says, the company is committed to ramping up to 1,000 electric vehicles nationally—including plug-in hybrids—by the end of 2011. Other cities slated to get the rental EVs are Washington, D.C., San Fransisco and select college campuses.

The move is  good news for EVs, even if it isn't totally new. The first generation of electric cars, like the original electric Toyota Rav4, were available for rent at major rental car companies in the late 1990s before carmakers backtracked on production of the vehicles.  Zipcar currently offers plug-in Toyota Priuses as part of a pilot program in partnership with the city of San Fransisco. Zipcar tells Transportation Nation they've been renting alternative-fuel vehicles and hybrids since 2003, and they "welcome Hertz to the space." Zipcar does not offer an all-electric vehicle currently for rent to its members.

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Titan of D.C. Transit Abruptly Resigns

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Chris Zimmerman

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) In news that has come as a shock to many—especially myself—Chris Zimmerman announced this morning that he will be stepping down from the Board of Directors of Washington D.C.'s Metro system at the end of this year.

Zimmerman had served on the Board for more than a decade, and he had been instrumental in guiding Metro through the darkest period of its 34 year existence. Over the past 18 months, Metro has faced multiple budget crises, a rapidly crumbling infrastructure, federal condemnation and a train collision that killed eight of its passengers. Zimmerman, whose main job is as a local politician in Arlington, Va., was there through it all, rarely—if ever—missing a Board meeting.

Before I joined WAMU, I reported for a weekly newspaper in Arlington, so I got to know Zimmerman fairly well. And I can say definitively that he lives and breathes transportation. His influence in the D.C. region far exceeds that of his job title, as he sits on no fewer than four regional transportation bodies. (Although, after today, that number is reduced by one.)

Zimmerman has become something of a boogeyman for the pro-roads set in Northern Virginia. Many believe he is the man pulling the strings behind Arlington's efforts to block the expansion of several major highways that lead in and out of the District. But he is also a hero to the burgeoning transit-oriented anti-sprawl community in D.C.

We will continue to follow this story and watch to see if other changes are coming to Metro's leadership.

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MTA's 2011 Budget Is In The Black--Just Barely

Thursday, December 16, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The New York City MTA passed a spending plan for 2011 that erases the $900 million deficit officials had projected earlier this year.  But authority chairman Jay Walder warns the budget is just barely in the black.

"It is an extremely tight budget for the MTA," he said at yesterday's board meeting. "We're running an incredibly complex, multi-billion dollar company with essentially no margin."

The $12 billion budget has only an $8 million dollar cushion--less than a tenth of one percent of the total.

The agency says it filled the gap by laying off 1,000 workers and cutting bus and train service back in June. Those savings will continue to this year. And the December 30th fare hikes will kick in more than $400 million.

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TN Moving Stories: New Yorkers Face Long Commutes, More DC Residents Are Taking Public Transit, And How To Modernize Air Traffic Control

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Census data, commuter edition: More DC residents are using abandoning their cars and taking public transit to work. "Only New Yorkers take the subway to work more than Washingtonians do." (Washington Post)

Meanwhile, four of New York City's five boroughs logged the nation's longest average commute times to work (New York Post).  The country's worst commute continues to belong to Staten Island, where residents spend 42.5 minutes each way traveling to work (Staten Island Live).  But remember, New Yorkers --commutes cost less in NYC.

The blog Ride The City published data about more than 600,000 NYC bike rides planned on their site since April 2009. Median ride length: a little over 4 miles. And: 85% of all rides started or ended in just 7% of census blocks.

In other news:  The tax cut -- with its attendant transit benefit -- passes the Senate. Next stop: the House. (New York Times)

New York City has launched a new pilot program that will allow some disabled Access-A-Ride customers to take taxis instead. (WNYC)

Amtrak passengers can now bring unloaded guns on some trains. All aboard! (NPR)

A federal task force has some ideas about how to modernize air traffic control -- and ensure transparency in pricing. (Wall Street Journal)

Richard Florida digs into neighborhood walkability--which he writes is "a magnet for attracting and retaining the highly innovative businesses and highly skilled people that drive economic growth, raising housing values and generating higher incomes."  (The Atlantic)

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NJ Governor Mum About Feds' Offer to Cut $271 Million ARC Bill Nearly in Half

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(New York -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) New Jersey could be off the hook for almost half the $271 million  the federal government says it owes for scrapping a rail tunnel under the Hudson after work had been started.

The U.S. Department of Transportation says it will give the state $128 million back for projects that improve air quality by cutting traffic congestion. But only if New Jersey pays the whole bill by December 24.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood released a letter containing the offer. A spokesman for Governor Christie said he had no comment on it because the department hasn't contacted him.

Governor Christie halted the $8.7 billion ARC tunnel project in October because of potential cost overruns. The decision has been controversial. New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, for one, repeatedly decries it as “disastrous.”

Lautenberg took credit on Wednesday, along with fellow New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez, for brokering the rebate offer from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. A press release from Lautenberg claimed that, “The Senator has been working quietly with DOT on reducing New Jersey’s burden since the project was killed.”

Now the Christie administration must decide if half a loaf is enough to end its scrap with the feds. Earlier this month, the governor directed New Jersey Transit—the state agency overseeing the project—to hire well-connected DC law firm Patton Boggs at $485 an hour to fight the tab from LaHood, which is for preliminary work on the ARC tunnel.

James Weinstein, executive director of New Jersey Transit, stood before reporters after a recent board meeting at the agency and contended the federal government was wrong to ask for money it spent in collaboration with the state.

“This isn’t like they sent us a check for $270 million and then walked away and let us spend it,” Weinstein said of the U.S. DOT. “They were a participant in everything we did, every day, every minute, every hour.“

If the Christie administration sticks to that position, it could be that the Transportation Secretary just made an offer that can be refused.

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Feds to NJ: Okay, We'll Credit You $128 Million For ARC Tunnel

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

TRENTON, N.J. (AP) - The U.S. Transportation Department tells New Jersey it will be credited nearly half the $271 million it owes the federal government for a scrapped NY-NJ rail tunnel if it pays back all it owes.

New Jersey got the tunnel tab for money already spent after Gov. Chris Christie abandoned the $8.7 billion project because of potential cost overruns.

The bill is due Dec. 24.

Sen. Frank Lautenberg has been negotiating with federal transit authorities to get the bill reduced. Christie approved the hiring of a Washington law firm to fight it.

A Dec. 14 letter confirming that $128 million would be credited to a congestion mitigation account after New Jersey repays the debt was signed by Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The Associated Press has obtained a copy of the letter.

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Officials Say Rescues Completed In Ontario Highway Emergency

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

(Detroit -- Pat Batcheller, WDET) Emergency officials in Ontario say they believe everyone who was stuck in deep snow on Highway 402 has been rescued. Blinding lake effect snow and strong winds off of Lake Huron have closed the highway between Sarnia and London, Ontario. The Blue Water Bridge, which carries traffic between Sarnia and Port Huron, Michigan, is closed to commercial traffic.

More than 300 people became stranded on the highway Monday after a massive winter storm dumped almost two feet of snow and ice along a  stretch of 402 between London and Sarnia. The weather made plowing all but impossible, leaving motorists to fend for themselves overnight in sub-zero temperatures — many without food, water or warm clothing. The National Post reported that in some areas, snow drifts reached as high as five feet.

Larry Gordon, the news director at Blackburn Radio in Sarnia, says the Canadian military used helicopters to reach motorists--some of whom were stuck for more than 24 hours.  “They are actually landing at various locations along that usually busy highway," he said,"  "and taking those people to their first meals in over a day and warm and dry conditions at a number of warming centers that have been set up around the community.”

Environment Canada is forecasting snow squalls through Wednesday for counties near Lake Huron.

The closure of the Blue Water Bridge is forcing trade to be re-routed through Detroit. Many of the trucks that normally cross there are being diverted to the Ambassador Bridge, causing heavy traffic on I-75 in Southwest Detroit.

You can see a slideshow of travelers and cars stranded in the snow here.

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TN Moving Stories: NYC Cabbies Find It's Hard To Answer Nature's Call, and Obama Talks HSR

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

So many NYC cab drivers, so few bathrooms. "Out of 62 taxi relief stands in the city, only one that recently opened in lower Manhattan has onsite bathrooms drivers can use." But: J&R Music World to the rescue! (WNYC)

Plow cam! Montgomery County, Maryland, has a new interactive map on its Web site, where residents can check to see if snow plows have cleared the roads in their area. (WAMU)

NJ Transit wants to raise parking fees. (Star-Ledger)

San Francisco backs away from "border toll" idea. (San Francisco Chronicle)

President Obama talks high-speed rail with a Florida journalists, says: "My hope is that everybody looks at this objectively and take the politics out of it. If they do, then I think Florida will benefit in part from decisions that were made in Wisconsin and Ohio that I don't think will serve their people well." (Tampa Bay Online; transcript)

Why are fewer people killed in auto accidents? A variety of reasons--including the bad economy. (Wall Street Journal)

Indianapolis's old minor-league baseball stadium has been turned into "cash-for-clunkers" graveyard. (Jalopnik)

AAA forecasts a 3% increase in travel during year-end holidays.

Reminder: Watch today's NYC MTA meeting live via webcast. (It starts at 9:30.) We'll have analysis of the meeting later on today.

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Despite Controversy, SF Supes Vote to Study Congestion Pricing

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) It's a controversial plan, but the city of San Francisco is pushing ahead anyway: this morning, the board of supervisors voted to continue studying several options for congestion pricing cordons in the northeast corner of the city. The options include a $3 toll to enter and leave the cordoned area during especially busy times; alternatively, commuters who parked downtown all day would pay a $6 toll upon leaving. A third option, which would have charged drivers to enter the city from the south, was scrapped after politicians from Peninsula city councilmen to a state Assemblyman threatened a counter-toll. Don't hold your breath, though – the earliest anyone will pay to drive into the Financial District is 2015.

I interviewed Matthew Roth of Streetsblog SF about why it's so controversial to price driving; hear our conversation over at KALW News.

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Cars Gone: Vehicle Rapture or Minnesota Snow Reef?

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Snowbank in snow city Minneapolis. Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio

(Minneapolis -- Dan Olson, Minnesota Public Radio)  Where's the rest of the car?  Buried under a nearby snowbank near this Interstate 35 and Washington Avenue intersection here in Minneapolis?

Probably not.

Our "processed" snow here has been bladed and pushed into rock-like snowbanks, winter time reefs that just like the maritime hazards can shear off otherwise necessary portions of our vehicles.

Greetings from snow-blasted Minnesota!

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U.S. Senate Voting on $230 Monthly Commuter Tax Benefit

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(New York--Jim O'Grady, WNYC) The U.S. Senate is voting today on a tax cut compromise that includes a provision allowing transit riders to deduct up to $230 per month for the cost of their commute.

The move would be a big step toward extending a benefit that began last year as part of the Obama administration's federal stimulus package. Before then, a transit commuter's monthly pre-tax benefit was capped at $120. Raising the cap to $230 put bus and train riders--and van poolers--on par with those who drive to work and pay for parking.

Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group that works in Connecticut, New Jersey and New York, has been pushing the provision. Spokeswoman Ya-Ting Liu said, "At the end of the day, given the growing need for affordable transportation options, and the growing economic cost of traffic congestion, fed policy should reward transit use. And that’s exactly what this does."

After the Senate vote, the tax package compromise will be taken up by the House. Should it pass there, the House and Senate would need to come up with a reconciled bill and then pass that bill before the end of the year.

Liu said the yearly suspense over the $230 benefit for transit riders could be avoided if the provision were to be written into the tax code, as it has been for drivers.

"The underlying issue is parity between transit and parking," she said. "Right now, this is a permanent benefit that only drivers enjoy."

For more on the issue and its economic ramifications, see this Marketplace report.

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The Country's Best And Worst Commutes -- From Your Wallet's POV

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

(Click for larger image)

(Kate Hinds, Transportation Nation) TheStreet and Bundle took a look at how much Americans in different cities spend commuting by car each year and ranked their findings.

Dallas fares the worst, with a commuting cost that averages $593 a month in gas and other auto expenses. They also "lose" about 53 hours annually.  At the opposite end of the spectrum is bike-friendly Eugene, Oregon, where residents average $348 in monthly car expenses and lose only (!) 11 hours annually.

You can read the report here.

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