Streams

Christie Vs. Schumer on ARC - Round 4

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) First, U.S. Senator Schumer took the podium at a business breakfast this morning and slammed New Jersey Governor Chris Christie for killing the $9 billion ARC rail tunnel under the Hudson River.

Easy for you to say, retorted a spokesman for Governor Christie, when New York will be on the hook for "zero, zilch, nothing" if the project goes over budget--perhaps by several billion dollars.

In response, a spokesman for Schumer accused Christie of "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" by not negotiating with the Feds about relief from potential cost overruns, thereby costing area workers "tens of thousands of jobs in the near future and ease travel for millions of commuters." He added that by terminating the tunnel, Governor Christie had "flushed $6 billion in federal and Port Authority money down the tubes.”

Now Christie's spokesman, Michael Drewniak, has made yet another reply. "We are very comfortable with our decision on behalf of New Jersey and its taxpayers," he said.  "Senator Schumer embraces deficit spending, we do not."

Drewniak concluded by implying that Schumer's 30 years in Congress have made him something of a free-spender: "He’s been in Washington a long time."

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Interview: John Mica says Transpo Bill Needs "Alternate Means of Financing"

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Official Government Photo of John Mica

Transportation Nation's Todd Zwillich spoke with Republican John Mica, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, about rumors of raiding the Highway Trust Fund, stretching infrastructure money farther, and why the new chairman is so optimistic he can get a transportation bill passed in a partisan congress.

"The Highway Trust Fund will remain the purview of the Transportation Committee and can’t be used for other uses."

Listen to the interview here:

TRANSCRIPT:

Todd Zwillich: Thank You Mr. Mica. With the new rules coming in with the new Congress, you have heard Democrats ... warning that the Highway Trust Fund will be raided under the new budgetary rules that were passed by Republicans… Is that a real fear?

Congressman John Mica: Well

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Schumer vs. Christie -- Round 3 in ARC Tunnel Bout

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) If words were wrestling holds, Senator Schumer just slipped Governor Christie's suplex and countered with a double-knee facebreaker. Or at least their spokesmen did.

This morning, Schumer told local leaders at a breakfast that Christie made a "terrible, terrible decision" in October by shutting down the ARC commuter tunnel under the Hudson River. In response, Christie spokesman Michael Drewniak said it was all too easy for Schumer to call for the reinstatement of a "boondoggle" with projected cost overruns that would be borne by New Jersey but cost New York "zero, zilch, nothing." He added that the only way Schumer could have made his remarks was if he "didn't brush up on the topic before he spoke" or was merely scoring political points.

Now Schumer spokesman Mike Morey has answered back.

“The people who are out of work in New York and New Jersey are not interested in insults, they are interested in jobs," Morey said in an email to WNYC. "Thousands of people could be put to work today on a project that will create the infrastructure we need to create tens of thousands of jobs in the near future and ease travel for millions of commuters. You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, and in this case thousands of jobs. Rather than come to the table and work with federal officials to deal with overruns, and preserve an asset everyone agrees is needed in the region, the Governor’s decision flushed $6 billion in federal and Port Authority money down the tubes.”

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Bill Seeks To Prosecute Young Impaired Drivers For Vehicular Homicide

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(Helena, MT-Jackie Yamanaka, Yellowstone Public Radio) – Montana legislators are considering a bill that would allow teenagers charged with vehicular homicide while driving under the influence to be prosecuted as an adult.

House Bill 18 is sponsored by Republican Representative Janna Taylor of Dayton.

“In Montana,” she says, “we need to name the crime correctly because in Montana we take DUI seriously.”

Montana's state house (photo by Jackie Yamanaka)

In two recent cases involving then-17-year olds, both were prosecuted as negligent homicide rather than vehicular homicide.  Prosecutors say there is a difference in sentencing. Negligent homicide carries a 20 year maximum prison sentence; vehicular homicide is 30 years.

But prosecutors say the real difference is court-ordered and supervised treatment that carries over when the offender becomes an adult if the youth is prosecuted as an adult.

Mark Murphy represents the Montana County Attorneys Association.

“In these cases, the most serious that we deal with,” he says, “there is a dead victim in this case. Although we want to reform the youth, we also want to protect the community.”

The House Judiciary Committee did not immediately vote on House Bill 18.

Wednesday and Thursday (Jan 29-30, 2011) the Joint House and Senate Judiciary Committees will hold hearings on nearly 20 bills that address the issue of driving under the influence.

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NJ Governor Christie Hits Back at Schumer on ARC Tunnel

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(New York - Jim O'Grady, WNYC) Governor Christie's spokesman Michael Drewniak isn't pulling his punches over New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer's criticism on the ARC tunnel.  Earlier today, Schumer blasted Christie for making a "terrible, terrible" decision to kill the $9 billion commuter rail train under the Hudson.

"Where was the senior senator from New York with funding alternatives to a project that was predicted to run billions over projections – all of which were to be borne by New Jersey and its taxpayers?," Drewniak said. "This was a ‘bi-state’ project for which Senator Schumer’s state and the federal government were set to pay zero, zilch, nothing for the cost overruns.   We can live with the criticism while protecting taxpayers from this boondoggle, which was simply a bad deal for New Jersey."

Drewniak went further in questioning Senator's Schumer's timing and motivation in slamming Governor Christie's decision on ARC, which was made in October.

"I’ll also give Senator Schumer the benefit of the doubt and assume he didn’t brush up on the topic before he spoke.  Unless, of course, his remarks are merely political, which is always a possibility," Drewniak said.

No reply yet from Senator Schumer on this latest round of comments.

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Republicans Say Highway Trust Fund Won't Be Raided

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

[UPDATED: With added quotes.]

(Washington, D.C. -- Todd Zwillich, Transportation Nation) Republicans in the House of Representatives say they've been reassured by their newly-empowered leadership about the future of the Highway Trust Fund.

Democrats have been spending first weeks of the new Congress--in response to headlines touting the new Republican House Majority and its austere rules on government spending--complaining that the GOP was preparing to raid the fund to use the money elsewhere in the federal budget. That is a possibility because rules adopted by the GOP require any increases in government spending to be offset by cuts elsewhere. The big pool of money that is the Highway Trust Fund is an attractive reservoir for lawmakers who don't want to raise taxes or cut popular social programs.

But newly appointed Republican Chairman of the Transportation Committee, John Mica (R-Fla.) tells Transportation Nation in an interview that won't happen. "I think what was put in place were some good protective measures. ... The Highway Trust Fund will remain the purview of the Transportation Committee and can’t be used for other uses."

Listen to the interview with John Mica:

The Highway Trust Fund is funded largely by an 18.4 cent per gallon federal gasoline tax. The money is meant for road, bridge, highway and transit projects.

Democrats are unconvinced the funds are safe. "They have said the firewall is down," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) warned reporters on Capitol Hill. "This is irresponsible to violate a law that created a trust fund for the American people." Reid asked rhetorically of the GOP, "Are they out of their mind?"

Turns out pro-transportation Republicans are bracing for cuts to the Trust Fund, but not in the way Democrats think.

Rep. John Duncan (R-Tenn.), a high-ranking member of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, says newly-mined House speaker John Boehner (R-Calif.) assured Republicans that new budget rules notwithstanding, Highway Trust Fund money won't get used for any other purpose.

Duncan said many Republican lawmakers went to Boehner with concerns about the fund's vulnerability as a revenue source. That was after organizations from the Chamber of Commerce to trucking and labor groups voiced similar worries. That's when Boehner offered the GOP conference his guarantee.

"As long as we stick by that, I'll be satisfied," Duncan said in an interview with Transportation Nation.

That's not to say the road projects will enjoy a bottom line close to what its been in years past. Rep. Mica has said that money from general government funds that for years supplemented the anemic trust fund is soon to dry up. "Now our challenge is taking diminishing revenues and making them go further. But I think we can do that by speeding up some of the process, cutting red tape and leveraging some of the funds we have better."

And keep in mind: Just because the GOP says it won't use trust fund money for other purposes doesn't mean its revenue can't be cut. Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.) who chairs the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee acknowledged in an interview that some Republicans on his panel would like to lower the federal gas tax. "I know its under discussion," Camp said. He declined to elaborate. Mica, however said that's unlikely to happen. "I think it’s almost impossible to drop the rate." Though he added that he expects gas tax revenues to fall. "Fewer people are using gasoline. We have alternative fuels. The revenue will go down" whether we like it or not.

Both Mica and Duncan, who also counts himself a supporter of transit and infrastructure projects, suggest highways spending would be austere but not eviscerated. Duncan explained, "I think you're still going to see many billions spent on highways and transit in the coming years ... Just not as much as everybody wants. But that's just the way it is with almost everything now."

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Senator Schumer Blasts Christie on ARC

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

(Photo by: Jim O'Grady) U.S. Sen Charles Schumer talks NY region transpo infrastructure while taking a shot at NJ Gov Christie for canceling the ARC Tunnel.

New York U.S. Senator Charles Schumer is calling NJ Governor Chris Christie's decision to cancel the ARC tunnel a "terrible, terrible decision...By not completing the ARC tunnel, we are sacrificing the region's growth for the exigencies of the moment."

Schumer's remarks came at a Crain's New York Business breakfast forum, a venue politicians often choose to make pithy remarks about regional policy.  Schumer has so far been restrained in his public comments on ARC -- expressing disappointment with Gov. Christie's decision, but not taking him on directly.

But today Schumer went all out.  Governor Christie's proposal to use $1.8 billion of ARC money for other projects, he said, "compounds one mistake with another."

And Schumer pooh-poohed Mayor Bloomberg's plan to extend the number 7 line to Secaucus. "Let's be honest - this is Mayor Bloomberg taking lemons and trying to make a little lemonade."

We'll have more on this story later today.  You can read his prepared remarks here or below.

Schumer Crain's 1.18.11

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TN Moving Stories: NYC's Transit Police Scooters, Airlines Set to Report Robust Profits, and Seats Available for 2013 Ride to International Space Station

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Transit police scooters in Union Square subway station (Kate Hinds)

The New York Daily News says that "law enforcement in the subways has taken a cartoonish turn with transit police increasingly tooling around on three-wheeled standup scooters."

Having failed to get federal stimulus money to establish new Amtrak passenger rail service from Jacksonville to Miami, the Florida Department of Transportation wants to spend $118 million out of the state's transportation trust fund. (St. Augustine Record)

As it prepares to enter one of the largest construction booms in its history, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority is operating with an internal watchdog staff that has been cut by more than half since 2000. (Los Angeles Times)

Seats are available for a 2013 ride to the International Space Station. All you need are many (many) millions of dollars and hundreds of hours of training. (Wired/Autopia)

The Washington Post says that Metro's board is off track.

Continuing a recovery from one of the worst economic slumps in airline industry history, the nation's air carriers in the weeks ahead are expected to report robust profits for 2010. (Los Angeles Times)

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority said it hasn't received any complaints from F and G train riders in Brooklyn after big service changes went into effect on Monday. (WNYC)

The Mountain Line--Missoula's bus service--is setting ridership records and planning high-tech upgrades. (The Missoulian)

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New NY State Transpo Commissioner Draws Cheers, Groans

Monday, January 17, 2011

Photo: State of Connecticut

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The appointment by NY Governor Andrew Cuomo on Friday of Joan McDonald to be his new transportation commissioner is drawing mixed reaction from those familiar with her work in Connecticut, and, earlier, in New York.

First, the ecstatic:  Tom Wright, the Executive Director of the Regional Plan Association (a group that's done a lot of transit-oriented development planning in CT), emails  "Fantastic appointment.  She was great in CT. We're thrilled."

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a transit-advocacy group that also focuses on "smart growth,"  was also pretty happy.

"Since 2008, NYSDOT has lacked a commitment to progressive transportation policy and this choice marks a new era for the stagnant agency, " the group said in a statement.  "Ms. McDonald showed a clear commitment to promoting an economic investment strategy focused on transit oriented and smart growth development while Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. We expect Ms. McDonald’s solid experience to guide the way towards a more progressive transportation agenda and to further promote Governor Cuomo’s sustainability goals."

Now, the less-than ecstatic.   Sources in CT who've watched McDonald, who was appointed by former Republican Governor Jodi Rell,  note that she ran Connecticut's economic development department at a time when that state dropped to "dead last" in job growth.   And, as one source familiar with CT state government pointed out to me, CT's economic development website is literally static when you compare it to say, Virginia's .

There's also concern among some urban planners and environmentalists that McDonald, who served as Deputy Commissioner for Planning and Traffic Operations under former New York City DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, has views on traffic closer to Weinshall's, than to Janette Sadik-Khan's, the current commissioner.  Weinshall's  views on traffic were recently expressed in a letter to the editor of the New York Times opposing a bike lane on Prospect Park West.

"When new bike lanes force the same volume of cars and trucks into fewer and narrower traffic lanes, the potential for accidents between cars, trucks and pedestrians goes up rather than down," Weinshall, former Deputy Mayor Norman Steisel, and others wrote in the letter.

Assuming that traffic volume is fixed -- and that DOT commissioner's jobs entail making that fixed volume moves more quickly -- has been a hallmark of DOT thinking in the past, in pretty much every DOT in the country.   By contrast, Sadik-Khan and a new group of urban planners argue that traffic volume is mutable, and that good design can lower the amount of automobile traffic on a given by-way, without hindering people's ability to get from point A to point B.

There has been no NYS Transportation Commissioner since 2009, when Astrid Glynn departed after an unfortunately timed vacation in Borneo, just after the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- the stimulus bill -- was signed.

McDonald requires confirmation by the NY State Senate.  A date for those hearings has yet to be set.

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Cool Quiz from Gothamist: Where is this?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Mystery transit photo, via Gothamist.

Cool news quiz from Gothamist:  Where is this?   I'm going to guess Flatbush Avenue and Fifth Avenue, in Park Slope, because there was an El there.   But honestly, I've no idea.  To find out the original caption:  click here. (UPDATE..I'm wrong, but only by about a half mile.  It IS Flatbush Avenue, but the corner is Fulton.) -- Andrea Bernstein, TN

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GM Expands Truck Recall

Monday, January 17, 2011

(Detroit -- Jerome Vaughn, WDET) General Motors is expanding a recall of sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks because of a faulty part could cause the rear axle to lock up.

The recall includes a dozen different models from 2011, including the Cadillac Escalade SUV as well as the Chevrolet Avalanche and GMC Canyon pickup trucks.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says pins in the rear axle may not have been heat treated…making them more susceptible to fracture. Broken pins could allow the rear axle to lock, increasing the possibility of a crash.

GM had originally recalled 1,200 vehicles last month, but expanded the action to more than 26,000 after finding more trucks with the faulty parts.

The automaker is advising owners not to drive the vehicles until the rear axle pins have been replaced by dealers.

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TN Moving Stories: MTA Defends Performance During Blizzard, and Disconnect Over Transit Btw. Candidates and Voters in Chicago Mayoral Race

Monday, January 17, 2011

MTA officials went before the New York City Council to defend their handling of the recent blizzard.  Speaker Quinn: "It really left me not feeling any greater level of confidence that the MTA can handle the next storm." (Wall Street Journal)

The Chicago Tribune says that transit is a sleeper issue in that city's upcoming mayoral race--and highlights a big disconnect between candidates and voters. "Transportation issues are not raised on the candidates' campaign Web pages, and no one has put together a position paper.  But a new public-opinion poll on mass-transit issues found that the Chicago electorate cares greatly about CTA service, extending even to individuals who don't ride the system."

Are drivers just eminently distractible? USA Today looks at federal distracted driving efforts and wonders if the focus on phones and texting is misplaced.  One hospital researcher says that cellphones are "yet another thing that's distracting people," but a "flood of new distractions are being built into vehicles."

Edmonton, the only city in Canada that doesn’t allow alcohol advertisements on its buses and rail, wants to overturn a long-standing ban on transit ads for liquor. (Edmonton Journal)

Top Transportation Nation stories that we're following: The new GOP chief is not a fan of high speed rail.  One study says that biking infrastructures create more jobs than road-based ones. And Governor Cuomo appointed a state DOT commissioner.

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New GOP Party Chief Not a High Speed Rail Fan

Friday, January 14, 2011

Reince Priebus, Newly Elected RNC Chairman (Getty Images)

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  The new head of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus,  is no fan of high speed rail.  Priebus, who's been serving as Chair of the Wisconsin Republican Party, worked strenuously for the election of Governor Scott Walker of of Wisconsin, who recently returned some $810 million in high speed rail stimulus funding to the federal government. U.S Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood redistributed the money to other projects -- mostly to California and Florida, who are actively working on rail systems.

Scott was the most vehement foe of high speed rail in the 2010 election cycle, setting up a anti-high speed rail website, notrain.com, and mocking rail investment in an "our roads" versus "their rail" television commercial.

Priebus wasn't as vocal in his opposition, but he did mock the project in this July tweet:

"Wis Dems & WH are pushing an unpopular high-speed rail that the state can't afford before Republicans can stop it. http://bit.ly/bpm21I"

National Republicans are showing little appetite for spending on big projects.  In addition to Walker, NJ Governor Chris Christie recently killed a $9 billion commuter rail tunnel under the Hudson River, and Florida Governor Rick Scott expressed queasiness over spending any state money on a Tampa to Orlando high speed rail line, now backed with $3 billion in federal funds.

But Priebus hasn't exactly made opposition to high speed rail a central issue, and it remains to be seen whether such opposition finds its way into national GOP politics.

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Wanted: More Conversation on the Subway

Friday, January 14, 2011

Urbanist, Alex Marshall has a proposition for New York City Transit: add a conversation car to subway trains. In his gentle modest proposal published in the Daily News, Marshall waxes nostalgic for a day before iPods and kindles invaded the frenetic but friendly subway.

"Subway cars now resemble libraries or monasteries. That's why the recent altercation over New Jersey Transit's Quiet Commute program, with commuters arguing over the precise definition of what constitutes "quiet," is especially silly. With a pair of earbuds, we can all have as much solitude as we'd like.

"But what about someone who wants to engage in an activity that used to be normal: talking to the stranger next to him or her? What if, instead of treating your morning commute like a yoga retreat, you actually wanted to take a (wholesome, noncreepy) interest in one or two of the several thousand human beings around you. Where's the car for that? Where, on your bus or train, do you go for decent conversation?"

Have we lost a social space in the subways? What do you think?

Read the rest of his argument here.

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Study: Biking Infrastructure Creates More Jobs Than Auto-Based Road Projects

Friday, January 14, 2011

(Andrea Bernstein, Transportation Nation)  This study comes to us via Ray LaHood, the U.S. Transportation Secretary.  It's brief -- but by giving it the imprimatur of his blog, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood is forcing us to pay attention.

Workers install bike lane. Photo: Marianne McCune, WNYC

The Political Economy Research Institute, a University of Massachusetts, Amherst-linked public policy group, looked at 2008 data from Baltimore, and found that while road projects created about 7 jobs per million dollars spent, bike projects created 11-14 jobs per million, and pedestrian projects, 11.

The report says  this is because bicycling and pedestrian projects have a high ratio of engineers to construction workers, and that engineering jobs are both more labor intensive and have a great "multiplier" effect -- meaning each engineering job creates more demand for labor in supporting positions, like clerical jobs.

We are fascinated that LaHood is calling this to our attention, particularly at a time when road builders are giving a bit of a sneer to the Obama livability agenda.

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Cuomo Appoints Joan McDonald as NY State DOT Commish

Friday, January 14, 2011

This just in from New York Governor's office. We'll have reporting on this later, but for now here is the full text of the press release:

Governor Cuomo Announces Appointments and Nominations

ALBANY, NY (01/14/2011)(readMedia)-- Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the following appointments and nominations to senior positions within the state government.

Joan McDonald will be nominated to serve as Commissioner of the State Department of Transportation. Ms. McDonald is currently serving as the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development. In May, 2008, she was appointed Chair of Connecticut Innovations, an authority providing development capital to emerging businesses. From 2003-2007, she was the Senior Vice President of Transportation for the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Prior to joining the NYCEDC, she spent five years as the Vice President of Jacobs Engineering. Ms. McDonald was Deputy Commissioner for Planning & Traffic Operations for the New York City Department of Transportation from 1995-1998 and served as the Director of Capital and Long Range Planning for the MTA Metro-North Railroad for the three years prior to that. She served as Special Assistant to the Speaker of the New York State Assembly from 1991-1992. She began her career in public service with the New York State Assembly in 1978, serving in various capacities on the Ways and Means and House Operations Committees, including Deputy Budget Director and Assistant Director of Research.

Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy said, "Commissioner McDonald is a talented and hardworking individual, dedicated to helping create new jobs and engaging Connecticut's business community. I've enjoyed my working relationship with her, and we're sorry to see her go, but I know that her work ethic, her experience and her dedication to the job will be of great service to the people of New York State."

Denise Richardson, Managing Director of the General Contractors Association of New York, said, "Joan McDonald's broad range of expertise dealing with transportation and infrastructure contract, budgeting and project delivery issues in both the public and private sectors will be an asset to Governor's Cuomo's goals to create jobs and streamline government. Joan is an excellent choice to lead DOT and we look forward to working with her to ensure that the state's transportation infrastructure needs are met."

Yomika S. Bennett will serve as Assistant Secretary of Transportation. Ms. Bennett currently serves as the Director of State and Local Relations at the New York State Department of Transportation. Prior to joining the NYSDOT in 2007, Ms. Bennett served as Executive Director for the office of Assemblyman David Gantt. From 2001-2005, Ms. Bennett was the Senior Legislative Budget Analyst for the New York State Assembly Committee on Ways and Means. In 2000, she worked at Schenectady County Community College as the Coordinator of Institutional Research and Grants Support.

Assemblyman David Gantt, who serves as Chair of the Assembly Transportation Committee, said, "Yomika Bennett is well known for her expertise, leadership and dedication to the State of New York, and particularly for the field of transportation. She is exactly what is needed to help develop a new vision for meeting the challenging transportation needs before us. Her integrity, intelligence and comprehension of the big picture, synthesizes issues and develop cogent responses will serve Governor Cuomo and his team well in their quest to preserve and rebuild our State's transportation program. I commend the Governor on his choice."

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TN Moving Stories: Florida Gov Lifts Freeze on Transpo Contracts; DC Metro Considering Selling Station Names, and LaHood Tells Bike/Ped Advocates That Now Is Th

Friday, January 14, 2011

Top Transportation Nation stories that we're following: NYC MTA raids show evidence of ongoing faked subway signal inspections.  DC's Metro is eliminating phone booths, and New Jersey Transit's website was briefly derailed when they failed to renew their domain name. And in other news:

DC Metro's budget has a $72 million gap (Washington Post). Metro now considering selling naming rates to stations (WAMU).

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has approved 71 transportation contracts worth nearly $90 million--a day after the state Senate's Democratic leader complained that the new Republican governor's 90-day freeze on state contracts is delaying job-creation. (AP via Bloomberg)

DOT Secretary Ray LaHood blogs about a new report that says "on-street bike lanes and pedestrian measures created more direct jobs, more indirect jobs, and more induced jobs per dollar than either road upgrades or road resurfacing." LaHood writes: "Now is the time for advocates of cycling and walking to get into gear once again."

Drivers entering San Francisco during the morning rush hour have shaved four minutes off their commute, says a new report about the Bay Bridge's congestion toll pricing. (San Jose Mercury News)

Southeast Queensland (Australia) public transportation will be free for a week in the wake of flooding. “Making the network free for a week will keep unnecessary cars off the road, help people do some shopping and get around to help others if needed," says the region's premier. (Brisbane Times)

Orange County transportation officials are seeking to change their funding guidelines to resolve whether a mega transit center planned for Anaheim can receive almost $100 million in sales tax revenue that has been earmarked for the project. (Los Angeles Times)

Calgary Transit is looking for passenger love stories.

Hmmm...How to put a positive spin on this? Let's see: the New York Daily News reports that one subway passenger was awakened by the furry caress of a rat crawling on his face. (Warning: if you find rats upsetting, avoid the video):
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Bay Area Transpo: New Years Resolutions

Friday, January 14, 2011

Photo from the Facebook group, "Make BART Trains Run 24 Hours”

(San Francisco–Casey Miner, KALW News) We've got a new weekly segment on the show looking at what's going on with transportation around the Bay. Have a listen over at KALW News.

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NYC MTA Raids Show Evidence of Ongoing Faked Inspections

Thursday, January 13, 2011

(New York, NY -- Jim O'Grady, WNYC) A pair of raids at MTA locker rooms in the past week have turned up evidence that subway workers are continuing the widespread practice of faking signal inspections.

Criminal charges may be next.

Last Thursday, authorities opened a locker in a crew room at the Times Square subway station and found hundreds of photo-copied bar codes from subway signals. A signal inspector can scan bar code copies with a hand-held device to falsely report that inspections have been done throughout the system--without ever going out into the field. A 2005 report by the MTA Inspector General said some workers claimed to be walking the rails and inspecting signals when, in fact, they'd been on vacation.

A second raid on Monday turned up dozens of copied bar codes lying around a crew room in plain sight. A city worker with knowledge of the raids said binders with copied bar codes "were on top of lockers, in common areas. They could be used by anyone in the room, like a kind of shared set of codes." It is illegal for signal inspectors and maintainers to be in possession of copied bar codes.

Michael Boxer, a spokesman for the MTA Inspector General, said the copies, and where they were seized, "raise issues of discipline, issues of possible criminality." A staff member for an elected official who'd been briefed on the raids said MTA supervisors who encouraged or knowingly signed off on the false inspections may be charged with criminal conspiracy.

Last week's raid, which was first reported by The Daily News, was conducted by investigators from the offices of the MTA Inspector General and the Manhattan District Attorney. It occurred as NYC Transit president Thomas Prendergast was giving testimony to the City Council Transportation Committee about how his agency was trying to get a handle on the problem. "This is a senior management failure," he said. "It's a cultural failure. We're going to take severe action."

Officials from Prendergast's division conducted Monday's raid.

The MTA has known for years that up to 90 percent of signal inspections are faked. A 2000 report by the agency's Inspector General first identified the problem. The report further said that the signal system's archaic technology did not allow investigators to figure out who was lying. In response, MTA managers put bar codes on the signals to insure, they thought, an inspector couldn't claim to have checked a signal without having been physically present to scan a specific code.

But workers took photos of the bar codes on the signals, printed those photos and then photocopied them for scanning. Once that happened, rampant fakery could occur--and did, according to yet another report by the Inspector General, this one in 2005.

When City Councilman James Vacca asked NYC Transit officials, including Prendergast, at last week's hearing why no action had been taken on that report, the MTA managers said they didn't know because the abuses had largely occured before their tenure. Prendergast became NYC Transit president in November 2009.

"The MTA is out of excuses," Vacca replied. "It's time to take action."

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said the raids represent just that. “This has been a problem for quite some time now," he said. "This is essentially the first administration of the MTA that has taken solid, concrete and immediate action to put an end to [falsifying signal inspections]. We're working on a change of culture, communicating to employees that record falsification will not be tolerated.”

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Sorry Superman, Can't Change Here: D.C. Metro To Eliminate Phone Booths

Thursday, January 13, 2011

(Washington D.C. - David Schultz, WAMU) D.C.'s Metro announced this morning it will eliminate almost all of the 1,074 pay phones in its train stations.

The reason why shouldn't be surprising to anyone who has ever seen someone who appeared to be talking loudly to themselves but was actually using one of those tiny Bluetooth thingies in their ear: cell phones are pretty prevalent nowadays. It seems like everyone has one. Yes, everyone.

Long, long ago, you had to find a phone booth (and a quarter) to make a phone call. Now, if you have a cell phone, you just have to find something to say - and even that's not always necessary.

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